New generation of Turkish psychedelic music wows Europe

When American actor and DJ Elijah Wood five years ago listed an album by 1970s Turkish star Selda Bağcan among records that blew him away, he did not know that he would play an important role for Turkey’s second generation of psychedelic musicians recent popularity in Europe.

"I love you, I adore you Selda. Thank you for introducing Turkish music to me,” Wood, known for his role as Frodo Baggins in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, told the 66-year-old Turkish musician at a festival in Turkey in 2015.

Before Wood discovered Bağcan, Mos Def, an American hip-hop singer, had already featured one of her songs in his album The Ecstatic, which brought him a Grammy award in 2010. Later in 2015, American rapper Dr. Dre used a sample of the same 1976 Bağcan song “İnce İnce” on his album Campton.

British record company Finders and Keepers introduced European listeners to other classics of the first generation of Turkish psychedelic music, known as Anatolian rock, by reissuing records from the 70s. 

In the last decade, a new generation of musicians has used the same mix of Turkish folk music and classical rock, and mixed it with other forms from later periods to reach a wide audience in Europe. Today, many European DJs play Anatolian Rock. 

Swedish DJ Rober Huselius frequently plays Turkish psychedelic music on his radio programmes, even came up with a new name for the genre; Turkadelica.  

Huselius said he discovered Turkish psychedelic music through musicians such as Erkin Koray and the bands 3 Hürel and Moğollar who featured in a series named “Love, Peace and Poetry” that included examples from a range of countries. 

“When I made my friends listen 3 Hürel, they did not understand the music. It was very difficult to find in Sweden archives materials on Turkish psychedelic music,” Huselius said. He then decided to go to Turkey to find more. 

“When I went to Istanbul, I purchased as many records I could get with my budget,” he said. Huselius then started Turkish psychedelic music nights in clubs in Stockholm. “In the beginning we were not sure whether people would be interested. But it sparked a curiosity beyond our expectations and there were queues in front of the clubs.”

British musician and DJ Daniel Spicer first heard of Anatolian Rock when The Wire magazine asked him to write an article on the genre. Last year Spicer published the first and most comprehensive book on the subject in English: The Turkish Psychedelic Explosion: Anadolu Psych 1965-1980.

“I could barely believe my ears. The music I discovered was a major revelation, and spoke to me in a very powerful way. Here was a whole world of hitherto uncharted sounds that blended several of my abiding musical passions: psychedelia, progressive rock, funk and folk with distant echoes of Indian raga and weird non-Western tunings,” Spicer said. 

“I began to realise I had indeed found my unknown super heroes. Amazing larger than life characters, impressive moustaches and hair styles to die for.”

Spicer noticed that information in English about Turkish psychedelic music was limited so decided to tell the story. He lists Cem Karaca, Barış Manço, Erkin Koray, Ersen Dinleten and Selda Bağcan as his favourite Turkish musicians.

Turkish psychedelic music band Kırkbinsinek.
Turkish psychedelic music band Kırkbinsinek.

Today, Turkey’s psychedelic music scene is dominated by names such as Elektro Hafız, Gaye Su Akyol, Grup Ses, Babazula, Fairuz Derin Bulut, Ayyuka, Replikas, Zen, DandanaDan, Kafabindünya, Kırkbinsinek, Dinar Bandosu and Altın Ses. Such musicians can sometimes struggle to be heard in Turkey, but have been building bridges with performances and collaborative works abroad. 

American musician Iggy Pop several times praised Gaye Su Akyol on his radio programme. Electro sax player Elektro Hafız has been featured in the Guardian and played at Europe’s most important festivals. Babazula has collaborated with German musician Alexander Hacke. Meanwhile, the Turkish band Kırkbinsinek released their first album on the German record label World in Sound. 

“When there was no response from local music companies, we decided to seek foreign ones. At the time, we were listening to a band called Sansara Blues Experiment. We sent an email to World in Sound that released their album and presented ourselves,” said Tolga Öztürk, one of the members of Kırkbinsinek. 

A week later they sent their samples to World in Sound, they received the news that the company was willing to release their album, the musician said. 

Öztürk said there are some important differences between the first and second generation of Turkish psychedelic music. “Rock music forms multiplied after the 70s. Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Grunge, and even electronic music entered the scene. Therefore the second generation can use more Western music forms. That diversity allows space for experimentation,” he said. 

But the presence of Turkish folk music could still be felt, Öztürk said.

“What we have are very good authentic productions. This happens with indigenous music, rhythms, compositions and folk poets authentic to our land. Europe likes our second generation psychedelic music and embraced it.”