photo by Orhan Cem Çeti
Even before I got to Istanbul last year, I had already heard rumblings about an underground scene there. Other than the tradition music (i.e. the famous Whirling Dervishes), it seemed that there were a small group of rock-influenced bands that cropped up in the last ten years. The history goes back to the '60's and '70's when the 'anadolu' bands and performers started out with garage and psychedelic music swirling around in their heads. Then, a military coup in 1980 effectively squashed most of the artistic community in Istanbul. When Western-influenced music began to resurface a decade later, it was cultivated by a tight-knit circle of musicians who worked with each other in different bands. First, the fabled group Zen had their music seep into the West thanks to a re-release on Ecstatic Peace! a few years ago. Now there stands another wooly ensemble that wouldn't sound out of place in the time-warped San Franciso ballroom of the '60's or a Krautrock bill in the '70's. What's truly amazing is that despite the utter lack of support from local radio stations, TV networks, local publications and even their own record company, this group has managed to stubbornly thrive. Though I didn't have the pleasure of meeting up with the group while in Turkey, the miracle of Internet allowed us to do this interview as the band is now on the cusp of conquering the West (see below).
Interview by David Manning (July 2001)
Special thanks to Jay Dobis who originally introduced me to this musical universe. A much more extensive history of the Istanbul scene can be found in the March 2001 issue of the Wire.
To hear some of Replika's exotic sounds, see the Replika's page at IUMA. Their new album, Koledoyuran, is available through ReR/Recommended and Other Music.
PSF: Could you talk about growing up in Istanbul?
Not all the (band) members grew up here but we all had our maturity in Istanbul. We may agree on a shared basis of life experiences. Istanbul is an amalgam of all cultures and living styles that have been existent in Turkey- we cannot infer that it is homogeneous. On the contrary, it is an isolated city when we consider with the other cities in Turkey. Like many metropolises, Istanbul has its doors wide open for other cultures. As a result, we are faced with the richness of variety, which helped us to shape our music.
PSF: What kind of music did you hear when you were young?
When we were teenagers, Heavy Metal was the initial point to do music. When we came up with a band, we were all playing Heavy Metal. In the meantime, the band Nirvana appeared, and later on we were much influenced by bands like Sonic Youth, Pixies and the Violent Femmes that helped us to change our music concept.
Purism was left behind, and the emphasis was more on sound concept. For the people who realize music as a part of their lives, there has always been a desire to perform it. Since the very beginning, our aim was not only to play instruments, but (also) to write the music. We wanted to play a role in the creation of music- that's why we were interested in music and it was our meeting point.
PSF: When you first started in music, what kind of music scene was happening in Istanbul?
The scene was very pessimistic. There was nothing but the new flourishing cheesy Turkish pop movement. There were many bands dealing with Rock, Punk, or the derivatives but the conditions were not enough to stand for. There were not enough places, even stages to show up. The recorded materials were small in number when it is considered with the number of the bands. Unfortunately the ones who succeeded in publishing materials vanished in time under this many difficulties. On the other hand there were few audiences and (little) interest. Now we may say that things are becoming better and better.
PSF: Before, you talked about how some American bands influenced your group. Was there any Turkish music or bands that influenced your work also?
Definitely. Violent Femmes, Sonic Youth were the ones who helped us to explore different kinds of music. Within a few years, our interests were focused on different styles. The very first musician from Turkey who influenced us was Erkin Koray. He is a Turkish musician, singer and songwriter. His ability to use ethnic music and eastern music with his understanding was our main interest. We were interested in listening in Erkin Koray, because he was reflecting properly his background to music. He was not struggling to do a synthesis, because it has never been his preference. There was an atmosphere he created. This atmosphere was our main concern. Erkin Koray was a school for Replikas.
Afterwards, we also studied other Turkish musicians (between '60's and '80's). Other names of importance, Cem Karaca and his bands (especially Apaslar, Kardaslar), Mogollar, Baris Manco, Bunalimlar, Haramiler were very important figures for us. These names were the stones of the bridge- they let us be aware of our own ancestors. We have found ourselves being more involved in the music of our own culture and geography. But our influence with the east has never been suspended.
PSF: Where you in any groups before Replikas?
Some of us has played with different bands. When we first met Selcuk, he was a member of a cover band playing in various clubs in Istanbul. But for rest of us, RepliKas has always been the first serious band in our careers.
PSF: How did the band Replikas form? What kind of band did you want to have?
Gökce and Barkin were friends since their childhood, and they were looking for musicians to perform the music in their mind. In 1993, they met with Orcun, and suddenly they had started playing together, because they had a lot of things in common. After playing with different band names, in1995 they had an era of doing nothing in music. In year 1996, they had come together under the name RepliKas, but they were different in minds. In 1998, Selcuk Artut joined the band, and the concrete band structure was formed. In year 2000, Ozer Yalcinkaya joins the band as a sample player.
PSF: Is it important to the group to use Turkish instruments rather than Western instruments (like guitars)?
We have no preference/difference for defining the instruments. It is true that we have a basic band structure, but for us the crucial thing will always be playin' the sound. We have no preference but to choose the instrument that fulfills to our tastes. There may not even be a traditional instrument- a source of sound is ample.
PSF: When Replikas started, did you find there was a local scene to support the group?
When we were eager to play somewhere, there were some potential clubs, but only cover bands were showing up. At the beginning of '98, there appeared a club called Peyote in Beyoglu, Istanbul. The managers of Peyote were seeking bands who performed only their own music. A lot of bands had a chance to let people listen their music in that club. When we started playing there on Monday nights, there were few people, mostly friends. But within a few months the club was full, and we were the headliner of Peyote and playing Saturday nights. This was the beginning of the story of Replikas.
PSF: How would you describe the Istanbul music scene today? Do the bands support each other?
There is an increase in the number of people who are interested in music. Day by day, new bands are forming. But the major problem is that they are not novel. They are influenced by the music of their choice or they locked up playing with usual techniques and they are not interested in different kinds. So they are working on a narrow perspective. And the other problem is that there are still a lot of cover bands. On the other hand, there are some important bands. For instance Nekropsi, Baba Zula, Zen are some names within our generation.
We may say that some musicians of a neighborhood are helping each other. However lacking necessary conditions, they can not create common projects. All they can do is to (ex)change information or technical equipment.
PSF: How do the more traditional musicians view the music that you do?
Generally positive. We have not faced any negative feedback. People who meet us first may think that the music is weird, but if they are interested somehow, this weird music attracts (them) gradually. Because this music includes a part of their emotions. They unconsciously become aware of listening to this similar music in a different form. In addition, this is the idea shared by the young musicians. We didn't receive any response from old generations.
PSF: What do you think of Turkish traditional music (Fasil, for example)?
Basically, Turkish traditional music may be divided into two subgroups, Art Music and Folk Music. Fasil is a performance in which the participants play the same scale of music. It is true that we are more close to the Folk Music. There is something crude and passionate in Folk Music. Saz (a string instrument) is a characteristic instrument for Folk Music, and it has a very simple design, but there are so many different playing techniques. Neset Ertas is a very important name for us- his incredible fuzz effects in playing Saz is very astonishing.
PSF: How does the group write songs? You talk about 'instant composing' in your biography. Do you play spontaneously until songs and ideas form?
We have different methods for writing songs. One of the methods is to arrange a basic structure that has been come up with by someone in the band. Improvisation is one of our main concerns. Also in some of our songs, we release some parts unwritten to be performed at a sudden. Some parts of our improvisations are chosen to be a basic structure, then we develop them into a song form. We also prefer to play different versions of our songs on our live performances.
PSF: You talked about turmoil happening in the group in 1995. What exactly happened?
In that era, we were unhappy to have structured songs and also to write lyrics in English. We were not sure about our identities- there were some question marks. There was a destination but not a description. The turmoil was not planned.
Rather than playing, we preferred to feed our ears, to develop our understanding of music. New ideas started to appear. Our archive was extended by new and different kind of musics. It was a necessity to change the things and we had changed our name into Replikas. It was a year of reformation.
PSF: You've also mentioned the influence of Zikir rituals in your work. Could you describe this?
Zikir is a ritual, a form of praying for god. In musical terms, it is related with minimal melodies and repeated rhythms. Basically, Zikir coincides with electronic music in the same manner. For example there are some musicians who emphasize the technical and emotional similarities between rave parties and Zikir rituals. We were mostly influenced by the hypnotizing effect of the repeated sentences. We think that it's a special experience to lose yourself with overwhelmed emotions by the music.
PSF: What kind of problems have you faced with your record company? What about the recent economic problems in Turkey itself- has that had an effect on the band?
The reason we have signed with this record company is that they did not interfere (with) us while creating, recording, and designing (performing) our songs. Points of dissension are generally same with problems between other bands and their companies. We think that these kind of companies do not work effectively for promotion. Another problem is lack of communication. Our questions and requirements could not be met as fast as in a way we want it to be. Besides, the main problem is (the) foreign side of music market. Companies are not so much interested in matters such as selling and distributing albums in foreign countries. We try to do something by ourselves.
Of course, economical crises affected us. Every matter related with the band declined dramatically such as album sales, number of concerts. It is an interesting point that video clips in Turkey broadcast in charge of payment. Television (stations) stopped showing our newly made video clip. Moreover, law related with reconciliation brought new problems to us. There occurred a boycott in all televisions and radios because of this law in equal standards with eastern countries. Nowadays they started to broadcast again. The biggest sorrow is that the second copies of our album could not be printed for 1.5 months because of the crises in (the) record company.
PSF: Istanbul is described as the most secular of Muslim cities. Do you think this openness has allowed the band to work more freely? Certainly. There are so many advantages in living (in) metropolitan areas in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. Istanbul is a perfect place for performing art.
Also it has full of opportunities. More than openness, we can tell that these formations and opportunities feed us. Many bands all over Turkey, no matter how extreme they are, can perform their music even under difficult conditions.
PSF: How would you describe the music scene now in Istanbul?
We can say that the music scene in Istanbul is just a reflection of other metropolitan areas. DJs and electronic music is getting spread. Hip-hop culture is common. Suburban areas keep their music always in any case. Easily acquired (shoddy - cheap) pop music is everywhere. Besides, alternative music as we do is also in increase. Every group has its own place, so you can imagine what kind of a place Taksim is as the center of Istanbul. Taksim is such a place where all these music and their cultures stand side by side.
PSF: What do you think of BabaZula and Zen (other Istanbul bands)?
We all agree that Zen is an important pioneer in Turkey. Since the beginning of the formation of Replikas, we followed their concerts and albums. We are much more influenced by their ideas rather than their music. BabaZula's (a band formed by members of Zen) soundtrack album was another interesting issue for us. We are mostly excited by sharing the same standing for the Modern Music of Turkey. They are one of the rare bands of our kind. In addition, we personally help each other for some circumstances: sometimes we show up together on stage, we help each other to find equipment and so on.
PSF: What are some of the more interesting places that you've done shows at?
We are following up a project called 'Experiences'- it is somehow different from our song formation techniques. We try to use every sound in the means of performance. The second of the 'Experiences' were performed in a place called 'Room: A place for art.' It was indeed a room situated in a suburb of Istanbul. A basement in an apartment was used for exhibitions of the young artists. We had decorated the room, and performed our second 'Experiences' in there. The reaction of the audience, mostly children and housewives, was kind of interesting.
PSF: What is Replikas planning now and for the future?
There have been many materials collected for our second album. We are planning to record at the end of summer, and release as soon as possible. We will compose music for the new film of Serdar AKAR who is a novel (new - innovative), important director in Turkey. This is an exciting project for us. Frankly, we do not have any other plans except recordings and concerts. We are trying to label our albums in foreign music markets. Nowadays we are in contact with Chris Cutler, from Recommended. Our biggest aim is to reach our music to the places it can go.
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