The Dead Bhuttos, bringing punk back to Pakistan

Named after the political family, the Dead Bhuttos are bringing punk to the streets of Pakistan. We speak to the trio about why the music is a perfect fit for a frustrated country.

Hassan Amin, Basim Usmani and Sheraz Ahmed hope to shake up Pakistan’s musical landscape with the Dead Bhuttos. Courtesy Dead Bhuttos.
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Looking at Pakistan’s current DIY music scene, it seems that there has been a persistent focus on indie-rock, pop and electronic – making these genres a standard sound for the underground.

While metal bands have been scratching at the surface, trying to provide a new musical landscape, a band from Lahore has emerged to shake things up and add another genre to the scene, one which is often overlooked – punk rock.

And they’re doing so in a rather interesting way: by naming themselves the Dead Bhuttos, after Pakistan’s most renowned political family who founded the Pakistan Peoples Party. It is difficult not to wonder what this new band is up to.

Hassan Amin, Basim Usmani and Sheraz Ahmed are in the final mastering stage of their three-song debut EP, titled Democracy is the Best Revenge after the statement by the late Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister, and reiterated by her son Bilawal Bhutto after she was assassinated, in 2007.

Amin and Ahmed have been an integral part of the Lahore metal scene and are members of the grindcore/hardcore punk band Multinational Corporations. Usmani, of The Kominas fame, lives in the United States but made a trip to his hometown of Lahore to work on this project.

“The concept of us doing a band has been discussed by Hassan and I for a year or so,” Usmani says.

“What’s surprising is that it took this form because we all like similar music and we could have just as easily been making industrial, doom metal or hip-hop.”

For Usmani, punk is a good entry point into the DIY scene, due to the frustration he has had with the Pakistani music scene for being too “show-off” and “glitzy”, and Amin and Ahmed’s Multinational Corporations seemed like an antidote to that.

“I saw what Sheraz and Hassan were doing, and I really wanted to be a part of it,” he says.

It was punk that connected Usmani to Amin and Ahmed in the first place – “an antisocial social network” as he put it. The music of Dead Bhuttos is a supplement to what the pair are already doing with Multinational Corporations, according to Usmani. It’s fast, bass-driven punk rock with a sense of humour locals are familiar with.

But the band’s sound is not at all what Pakistani music listeners are used to. Dead Bhuttos are more raw – no holds barred with raging vocals and full of energy. It’s not so much elaborate melodies and guitar solos but pure unadulterated hardcore music.

While the lyrics are in Urdu, the songs have a very crust punk (a type of punk influenced by hardcore punk and extreme metal) feel to them, something punk fans sitting anywhere in the world can appreciate.

“Pakistan is pretty punk – with or without punk music. It’s a young, underemployed and frustrated country with way too much energy,” says Usmani.

When it comes to music in the West, punk and metal have been intertwined in the music scene in the United States, but in Pakistan there has always been a discrepancy. According to Usmani, people in Pakistan know more about metal than punk. In punk music, context is key and has a lot to do with pop culture. “It’s hard to really get excited about old punk bands today because they’re really localised almost to a fault,” says Usmani. “I think Dead Bhuttos is unapologetically a Pakistani band ... it’s Lahori as hell.”

This project has been on Usmani’s mind for a while, since he started looking for parallels between the Bhutto family and the Kennedys in the US. His feelings are lukewarm about the Bhuttos and he feels that way about all dynastic families, be it the Clintons, Trudeaus or the Bush family. “The cult of personality surrounding these political families is fascinating and extremely morbid,” says Usmani.

Referencing early US punk band the Dead Kennedys, Ahmed says: “The Dead Bhuttos are inspired by Dead Kennedys as much as any other hardcore punk band. Dead Kennedys is an essential punk band. So it’s difficult to pick a particular element of their music. Dead Bhuttos is not a Dead Kennedys tribute band or anything of that sort. It’s just the name that is a homage to Dead Kennedys, but with Pakistani sensibilities. Our music comprises all things punk, hardcore, grind, and even a bit of doom, along with some post-punk influences as well.”

The writing process for the EP went smoothly between the three members, and while they hope to be able to play live together soon, there aren’t any plans on the cards yet.

“They’re both [Amin and Ahmed] the two most talented rock musicians in Pakistan. “The rest make me snore,” says Usmani.

The role of political parties in Pakistan is similar to that of parties the world over when it comes to supporters. Hardcore party supporters in Pakistan are referred to as “jiyalas” and the Pakistan Peoples Party (Bhutto’s party) has attracted decades of support from them. While the band is sceptical about punk having the power to change politics in Pakistan, watching a band called Dead Bhuttos could help people to understand there are wider possibilities about what they can write about.

Whether an emerging band named Dead Bhuttos will be taken as offensive is yet to be seen. “I’m not afraid of ‘jiyalas’ … I think our beliefs as three individuals are all left-leaning, and we like to make fun of the things that are dear to us,” says Usmani.

“I hope if people take anything from it, it’s that more people should form punk bands in Pakistan. There are so many young people and not enough of an outlet.”

Zahra Salahuddin is former multimedia producer at Pakistan's and studying at Aarhus University in Denmark.