There are few bands today who make their presence known with as much vibrance, exuberance and cultural relevance as Dutch/Turkish collective Altin Gün. The multi-faceted outfit emerged through bassist Jasper Verhulst’s vested interest in Turkish musical culture, something which had such profound impact on him that he felt compelled to start a band of his own which incorporated (read: adopted) all the finer elements of rare Turkish music. Enter the frame Turkish musicians Merve and Erdinç, who responded to a Facebook post looking for Turkish artists to join a brand new project. Together with guitarist Ben, percussionist Gino and former drummer Nic (who has now left the band), Altin Gün was born. The result? An infectious mixture of unassuming and undiscovered Turkish ‘standards’ which received their own lease of life and which was as invigorating on record as it was onstage. As part of All Things Loud’s #FESTIVALSEASON interview series, we sat down with the band at Best Kept Secret to discuss the creative process and cultural impact of their music.
Hey guys. Let’s start at the beginning, when Jasper went to Turkey.
Jasper: So, Ben (Rider, guitar) and I went there together. It was the first time for us both, and we went there with Jacco Gardner. I stayed a couple of days to do some record shopping and bought a lot of music. It was the basis of my interest in Turkish.
Was it from that moment on you decided to make Turkish influenced music of your own?
Ben: Kind of, yeah. It was around that time that the Jacco Gardner live band started to fizzle out a little bit, so it was Jasper’s idea to do something new with the same band and then get some other guys involved for a whole new project.
The songs themselves are originally Turkish standards. Why did you take that approach instead of working on your own songs?
Jasper: When we first started this band, all we did was covers and existing versions of standards. We kind of copied that. Then after a couple of rehearsals we figured that we could maybe take these standards and do something else with them, something that hadn’t been done with these songs – making our own versions. It’s nice to just be a folk band. Before The Beatles, most bands took traditional standards and played them in their own way.
You don’t see yourselves as a ‘cover band’, though, right?
Jasper: No, more like a folk band.
Ben: A folk band who play traditional standards.
Gino (Groeneveld, percussion): Like, with us, we can’t write the lyrics a lot. It’s different for us.
Ben: It’s also different for Merve and Erdinç as they’re both Turkish. They grew up with that music, those songs are more in their memories than they are with the rest of the band.
The songs that you do take on and make your own, what are they about? What’s behind these standards?
Merve (Dasdemir, vocals): Turkish is a very soulful language, so it’s mostly about a lot of human emotions and the situations they get you in. They’re also a lot about how we’re all just passengers in this world, and also about love or death. That type of stuff, generic.
Ben: And quite dramatic!
Merve: Yes, very emotional stuff.
Let’s take two or three songs from your debut album, On, and look at them in some greater detail. What are they all about?
Ben: Cemalīm is easy.
Merve: Cemalīm was written by a woman after a tragedy. It was written as a cry after her husband, Jamal, was killed by some enemies in the middle of Turkey. She wrote this as a sort of poem which was turned into a song.
Ben: Cemalīm means “my Jamal”.
Merve: It’s basically about him being shot and killed, leaving an infant and his wife behind.
Ben: Also Goca Dünya.
Merve: That’s about the big world and how we’re just passing through. You have to deal with the unbearable lightness of just ‘being’.
Ben: What about Tatlī Dile Güler Yüze?
Merve: Haha, yeah. That’s about Ben’s girlfriend! I think it’s about social interactions and the way we behave, if we say nice things for example. You can’t get enough of that.
Is there an end goal you want to achieve with these standards?
Merve: It’s just about basic human emotions and how we express them. They’re obviously far more relatable if you speak the language, but in other countries not many people do. They feel the music instead of the lyrics, which is super fucking cool.
Gino: When I joined this project, I had to think of where I lived. I live in a neighbourhood in Amsterdam with a lot of Turkish people in it. I shop in Turkish grocery stores, that kind of stuff. Turkey was, at the time, seen quite negatively on TV and in the news, and I really liked the music so I thought it would be nice to do something great with the music that Turkey has, just here in the Netherlands. Just to bring some positive Turkish vibes to this country.
Do you also hope to change the general perceptions of Turkey through your music?
Merve: No, just to bring positive vibes!
Ben: That’s the cool thing about playing in Holland, though. Turkish people come to our shows quite often, and so do Dutch people. They mix together in this really weird way.
Merve: Which is really nice, because someone from Woodstock (Bloemendaal) once told me that so many Turkish people came to the show. It occurred to me that they really came just for us. They wouldn’t go there – ever! – but they just came to Woodstock especially for us.
Would you suggest that your music could serve as a device for Turkish people in Holland to relate to?
Jasper: Of course! Music is something which unites people in a special way. They feel the vibes together and they dance to the same stuff.
Homeliness, in a way?
Jasper: Yeah! I guess that was kind of a goal, but the main one was to just play nice music. There’s not a very big concept behind it; it’s just nice music which I wanted to play.
With Jacco Gardner you also toured a lot of different countries around Europe and the rest of the world. What was it about Turkey in specific which drew you to the music?
Jasper: I really fell in love with everything about Turkish music: the scales, the melodies, the sound of the words. It really appealed to me on an emotional level even though I didn’t understand the lyrics.
Ben: The production is somehow also very familiar. You can recognise it in a way. It’s all recorded on tape, which we love. Whenever I hear fuzz going through a tape recorded in the 70s I feel really good, and that’s definitely to do with how I – and we – grew up.
On is out now via Les Disques Bongo Joe, and you can stream it below.