“Nepal really is the last place people would expect to find punk rock.” So says Abinash Shrestha, lanky singer and bass player with the mountainous Himalayan nation’s premier punk band, Squirt Guns.
In a country most usually associated with its breathtaking natural scenery, the raucous trio’s angry racket offers a grungy, gutsy and sometimes gutterly decrepit contrast to the pristine, soaring peaks and valleys of popular perception.
In songs such as Futility of Existence, Fabricated Reality and Bullshit People, there’s little risk they’ll be rivaling Everest for space in the country’s tourism brochures. But Abinash sees Nepal’s nascent hard rock scene differently.
“It’s one of our hidden treasures,” he says.
Nepali punk has grown from a niche genre that emerged at the turn of the millennium to a movement that has spawned bands — a handful of them, such as Nude Terror and Rog, semi-professional — in the capital Kathmandu and provincial cities including Dharan and Pokhara. It’s even gestated a host of splinter “core” movements, such as Nepal’s own brand of dark and brooding grindcore.
‘Nepal is just like any other country in the world – it has its share of good people, some of whom are Buddhists, and it has its share of assholes, which makes up the majority of the population’
If it changes popular perceptions of Nepal as a peaceful, spiritual place, so be it, says Abinash.
“The Buddhist thing is just hippy propaganda,” he says. “Nepal is just like any other country in the world — it has its share of good people, some of whom are Buddhists, and it has its share of assholes, which makes up the majority of the population, as is the case with the rest of the world.”
Immersed in Western music since childhood, it was American pop-punks Blink 182 and hardcore legends NOFX that fostered a love of music among the band’s members: Abinash, guitarist Sandesh Shakya and drummer Dipesh Gurung. But it was the anarcho-punk of Britain’s Crass that drove them to form the various bands that eventually coalesced into Squirt Guns.
“Crass changed my life and I was no longer just a kid,” Abinash says.
While Kathmandu’s music scene is dominated by covers bands and Asian pop clubs, Abinash says Squirt Guns have found it relatively easy to build up a following.
“Punk is not huge but it is big within a small community, if that makes sense,” he says. “The scene is growing and becoming more inclusive at the same time. Otherwise, we couldn’t have played the music we play and be considered a real punk band here. I think it’s a very positive sign.”
They sing in English and Nepali (“because some things sound better in English and others flow smoother in Nepali”) and have released two albums and a handful of self-produced singles.
Lyrically and musically Squirt Guns can be as brutal and unremitting as the brooding Himalayan peaks. Their music rails about all the regular tropes of western punk – unemployment, social dysfunction, and oppressive authority – while finding emotional fuel in the nation’s history of political instability to produce a unique take on the genre.
Abinash says the Royal massacre of 2001 and Nepal’s long-running civil war with Maoist insurgents played a part in the emergence of the scene, but it’s the deprivations of modern life that hastened its growth.
“The two events did bring a shift in the political arena of Nepal and did become one more thing the punks sang about,” explains Abinash, whose band formed in Kathmandu five years ago. “But compared to the economic difficulties and social scrutiny people face on a daily basis, they are secondary factors in the rise of punk in Nepal.”
‘If your education system takes a shit load of money from you and you can’t find a job, this song is about your country’
Their latest recording, Chaidaina Sikchya (translated as Don’t Need Education), was released late last year and is a collaboration with friend and local rapper Chatterbox that sounds not unlike the rowdier tracks of Linkin Park.
“Chatterbox wrote this song about the education system in Nepal since we grew up in it. However, the problem is universal and may apply to all education systems. If your education system takes a shit load of money from you and you can’t find a job, this song is about your country,” says Abinash.
Abinash says Squirt Guns stand out from the rest of the nation’s punks because “for us it’s always been about what we stand for more than what we are rebelling against.”
“We’re just fighting to be individuals in a world that is becoming progressively homogenized,” he says.