How Silence Festival is putting Nepal's metal scene on the map
Overcoming natural disasters and corrupt cops, Silence festival aims to put Nepal’s metal scene on the map and become a destination for international bands. We flew out to raise our horns
There are many things to love about Kathmandu. Its history, for one. Though the capital of Nepal only officially came into being in the 18th century, its roots can be traced back 2,000 years. The weight of the years hangs in the air, almost as thick as the dust kicked up by the heavy traffic that jams its streets.
And there are its inhabitants. The people of Nepal are uniformly friendly and welcoming, an approach that permeates the whole of the country. Compared to its bigger neighbours – chaotically crazed India to the south and stern, stentorian China to the north – it’s laidback and relaxed. You can see why hippies have been flocking to this country since the late 60s.
But there are a tiny handful of things not to love about the city, too. Chief among these are the police. The local enforcement officers have a reputation for being impatient, brutal and quick to crack down on rebellion, real and imagined, meting out justice with the big wooden sticks they carry. If you’re a white westerner, you’re unlikely to experience this side of things. It’s a different matter if you’re a local metal fan or musician.
“I’ve seen kids being beaten up just for being at a metal show,” says Avishek K.C., singer with Underside, who can lay genuine claim to being Nepal’s biggest rock band. “A few years ago, if you were walking down the street with long hair, they’d take you to a barber and shave your head: ‘We are going to clean the streets by cutting people’s hair.’”
Things have quietened down a little since then, but it’s still a tricky line to walk – especially for Underside. Since 2010, the band’s guitarist, Bikrant Shrestha, has been the prime mover behind the Silence Festival, Nepal’s sole metal festival. Each year, the authorities make him jump through hoops to get the necessary permits. Luckily for the festival, and for his country’s metal scene, Bikrant is persistent. “I’ve kind of got used to it,” he says. “I know how to work with them. You have to smile a lot and just go with it.”
But heavy-handed cops aren’t the greatest existential threat the Silence Festival has faced. That came in 2015, when Nepal was devastated by a massive earthquake that killed more than 9,000 people and caused more than $10 billion damage across the country. For the next two years, the festival was put on ice while the country struggled to recover. This year’s event is the first since that terrible tragedy. This is a festival literally rebuilding itself from the rubble.