Global Beat: Altın Gün

Justin Jacobs on July 17, 2019
Global Beat: Altın Gün

The Dark Star Orchestra of Turkish folk rock usher in a new era of fuzzy, funky psychedelia.

If the music of the Amsterdam-based, Turkish-inspired psychedelic act Altın Gün throws you into a time warp, then you’re not imagining things—it just means the band is successfully doing its thing. Indeed, this multinational collective is stirring up fans across Europe and the States by reimagining Turkish folk standards and cult-rock hits from decades ago, pumping up the fuzz and the funk.

The band’s name even means “Golden Day” in Turkish; call them the most innovative Ottoman cover band ever, or even the Dark Star Orchestra of Turkish folk-rock.

Within the first 30 seconds of Altın Gün’s sophomore album, Gece, it’s clear that these songs groove as hard today as they did when they were originally written back in the ‘70s or before—and the band’s sonic brush-up hasn’t taken away any of the originals’ entrancing appeal. Album opener “Yolcu” takes a gorgeously mesmerizing acoustic incantation from Turkish legend Neşet Ertaş and transforms it into an echoing, bass-heavy psychedelic jam straight out of an Istanbul garage, begging for some incense and dim lighting.

The fact that Altın Gün wasn’t founded by a Turkish musician could be contentious, sure. But bassist Jasper Verhulst is as culturally and musically reverent as one would hope. He grew up in Amsterdam and spent his youth digging through his father’s record collection. There, he found standards: The Beatles, Kraftwerk. And others sent him spinning through musical styles that were a far cry from his European upbringing—namely, a CD box set of the history of Jamaican music.

But then, in 2006, London’s Finders Keepers Records (“Uncovering the best in Psychedelic/Jazz/ Folk Funk and Avant-Garde rarities,” as their website declares) unleashed a reissue of Turkish singer Selda Bağcan’s 1976 self-titled album—a record that, in its time, turned the star from a Joan Baez-like folk hero to a leader of Turkey’s burgeoning psychedelic movement.

The reissue’s track “Yaz Gazeteci Yaz,” says Verhulst, “was a bit of a cult hit out here, and a lot of DJs were playing it. I loved the combination of Turkish scales and traditional music with these psychedelic sounds of the ‘70s. The synths, the fuzz guitars, the delays and phasers. It totally moved me.” Just like that, the seeds of Altın Gün were sown.

Those seeds began to sprout in 2015, when Verhulst and future Altın Gün guitarist Ben Rider touched down in Istanbul as part of the touring band for Dutch psych-cult hero Jacco Gardner. They stuck around the city to explore the scene and plunge through record crates, and returned with a far deeper appreciation of Turkish music than ever before. It was time to form a band—and, naturally, he’d need some Turkish people to sing the growing collection of Turkish songs he wanted to play. Verhulst put out a call on Facebook. Two musicians from Holland fit the bill: singer Merve Dasdemir and singer, keyboardist and saz player Erdinç Ecevit Yildiz.

“They loved the idea,” says Verhulst. “Erdinç had already wanted to start a project like this himself. He just couldn’t find the right people where he lived.”

Verhulst already had a bank of Turkish folk favorites, but his newly formed ensemble—which also included Rider and Jungle by Night percussionist Gino Groeneveld plus a recent addition, drummer Daniel Smienk—made that musical to-do list a reality. Altın Gün set to work, tearing apart songs by Turkish icons like Selda Bağcan, Barış Manço and Erkin Koray, and reassembling them as twisting, twirling psychedelic anthems.

“Luckily, for us, [the songs to choose from] are endless,” says Verhulst. “I usually pick out a melody I like from my Turkish records, or Spotify or YouTube. I don’t speak Turkish, so the Turks in the band have to approve the lyrics before we play a song. Usually, we try to pick songs that haven’t been done in a groovy way so we can really make them our own.”

By 2018, Altın Gün had cut their debut, On (or “10,” referring to the number of tracks on the LP), which they self-recorded in their Amsterdam rehearsal space. International tours and festival dates quickly followed, as music lovers with a flair for more esoteric sounds ate up the band’s densely rhythmic, idiosyncratically melodic sets.

“It felt natural to start this project when I had an empty year ahead of me in 2017,” says Verhulst. “But I never expected to travel with it this much.”

And yet, Altın Gün’s success raises the question: How important is it for a band to write original songs? And is that the only measure of artistic creativity?

Verhulst would answer that it’s not—and not simply because he describes himself as “definitely not a songwriter.”

“I love the idea of just playing standards and traditionals,” he says. “It’s kind of old-fashioned in a cool way. Before The Beatles, almost every [rock] band was just playing standards or covers. Turkish music is a beautiful and rich tradition that deserves to be heard all around the world. And there are people coming to our shows who haven’t heard much Turkish music before.”

With Gece, Altın Gün deftly straddles the line between gatekeepers to a musical tradition and creators of something wholly new. The album’s 10 tracks are covers (except for one improvised piece) but in the loosest sense of the word, as these classics and lesser-known songs are melted down and reshaped into their funkiest forms. And, when the band hurls themselves into the whirlwind riffing of “Kolbastı” or the undeniably catchy synth backflips of “Süpürgesi Yoncadan,” one thing is clear: Altın Gün is forging a golden age of its own.

This article originally appears in the June 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.