Türkiye'de Punk ve Yeraltı Kaynaklarının
Kesintili Tarihi 1978-1999

An Interrupted History of Punk and Underground
Resources in Turkey 1978-1999

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On Punk in Turkish

Sezgin Boynik

1. Showing Your Left Ear with Your Right Hand

There is something very valuable that Punk could teach us, especially to social scientists and theoreticians: simplicity and immediacy. It teaches us how to speak the word without protracting, beautifying, evading, glorifying and fearing. There is another world culture that can teach us the same lesson and that is anarchism, which is most of the time the synonym of Punk. Yet, since anarchism is more of an issue of culture in comparison to Punk, its simplicity is inclined to be easily blurred by Lacan or Deleuze. Thus today we should search no more for simplicity and immediacy in anarchy. There are two reasons not to do so especially in Turkey. The first one (the historical explanation) is the systematic counter propaganda of the fascist culture industry, which since the 70s used the word anarchy in the most degrading meaning possible. (It is enough to take a look at the titles of the books printed in this period; "Anarchy from the View of Islam and Its Cures", "The Chaos of the Universe: Anarchism") Anarchism has become obsolete; if a bit of cynicism is allowed, it has become a "infantile disease". Yet the second reason is more subtle, more devious and naturally more cultured. That is the greatest blow to simplicity. This time radical thought has become obsolete not because it has been blemished but because it has been made more complicated. This complicatedness means showing your left ear with your right hand; with the influence of the Baudrillard fashion (interesting enough this fashion was also evident in many fanzines) and of Deleuze, Zizek and then anti-Zizek and various post-modern thinkers, the possible simple immediacy of anarchy has turned into a deadlock. I think we can find the opposite of this attitude, which supports this situation and which turns the simplicity of anarchism (abolishing the state) into a grammatical spectacle, in Punk.

I believe that we can do this not by understanding Punk as a political movement but rather by thinking simple. As we have said before Punk means simplicity. The same thing should be emphasized once more; in many places around the world and especially in Turkey, anarchist theory has become something quite strange. Elusiveness and complication have joined forces with grammatology and destroyed anarchy’s transforming value. Because as we have shown it has become obsolete. If we picture the anxiety caused by not being able to understand and the boredom experienced by the readers faced with this discourse, the picture becomes clearer; for instance imagine a young anarchist trying to understand an abstract writer and getting bored.

Yet while criticizing blurriness, we have almost completely complicated the issue in favor of simplicity. In the end, we are talking about popular culture which is Punk and about modernism keeping in mind early Brecht and Benjamin who believed in the revolutionary power of popular culture and simplicity. When we interpret Punk from this perspective, we liberate it from the post-modern idea of it as fun and hedonism, and open up a new possibility of understanding the world. For me the importance of Punk lies in this potential.

In this introduction, which can be perceived as a eulogy to simplicity, I wanted to underline why I found Punk interesting philosophically and emphasize that if I was interested in Punk in Turkey or anywhere else, it was only because of this simplicity and immediacy. (I also need to state that I totally agree with Halil Turhanlı’s commentary on simplicity but since that critique of simplicity is more about form, it doesn’t concern us here.)

In the following pages we will see it it in more depth but probably it is not hard to guess that in Turkey a song so direct, so simple, so clear and so aggressive as "Suratına İşemek İstiyorum" (I wanna piss on your face) could only be sung by punks. What our theoreticians and social scientist can learn from Punk is a strong theory that wants to piss on faces. Of course this book was not written to produce such a theory. This is a book about Punk in Turkey. But while preparing this book we somehow carefully abstained from being intellectual at least as far as our approach and options were concerned.

Hence this book should not be read as a sociological case study or a "schizo-survey" or an oral history project. The research we have conducted in the process of preparing this book (usually interviews) was not done according to any methodology. This approach, which is as personal as can be, helped me a lot in understanding not only Punk in Turkey but also life and people.

2.Making a Cow out of a Crow Modernization in Turkey, which anyway has been a top down process from the start, has followed a very discontinuous course due especially to the military coups that took place almost every ten years. You don’t need to be far-sighted or very smart to understand that modernism is an unfinished project here.

Hence it can seem to seek for the traces of Punk in this history of Turkish modernization little strange, to be more exact, it is strange.

In the prior section, we actually treated Punk almost like a philosophical category. However aside from that, Punk is also a subculture movement that has a certain history and that has been seen predominantly in a certain geography. How can a movement that is accepted to have officially started in 1977 in London be understood in Turkey?

Because we do know (or more accurately it will be known through this book) that it was in the year 1987 (plus/minus 1 year) in Istanbul with the band Headbangers that Punk has gained a public meaning in the fullest sense, for the first time in Turkey. If we don’t take into account the imported "Punk Rock" of Tünay Akdeniz ve Çığrışımlar, then in Turkey, Punk has started 10 years later than it normally should have. The first official Punk album on the other hand was released almost ten years after that.

In this book we dealt with people who have concerned themselves with Punk in between these two dates in Turkey. The interviews and some of the articles in this book will give the reader an idea about this unknown history; I don’t think that anyone needs further specialized sociological interpretation.

Still a couple of words on methodology and the course of research; preparing this book proved much more difficult than I thought it would be. There can be several reasons for that; unwillingness, unfaithfulness, impatience or laziness on the part of the people we interviewed; the claim of most of the people we interviewed to having not much to say on the subject (though every time it was proved to the contrary); various psychological difficulties (like amnesia, remembering wrong, exaggeration or other things that can be explained with the effects of chemicals or changes in the political stance); and physical difficulties (like the lack of documents or the difficulties in accessing the people we wanted to interview). The total lack of documentation on the subject was the primary difficulty. Yet from the very beginning we tried to avoid a common mistake seen in "underground" research of this kind; "making a cow out of a crow." Our aim was not to create a new urban legend with no reason

Punk easily lends itself to something like that, both as a philosophical category and as a historical phenomenon. Punk can have a different meaning in every place and every situation. For instance, it was a sign of tolerance that supported the theory and the practice of the Third Way theory of autonomous socialism in ex-Yugoslavia (think of the first and the best film of Emir Kusturica "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?"; only the hero in the film was playing not Punk but Rock ’n’ Roll). It was one of the pluralist nationalist voices in Latvia in the course of independence (the movie "Is It Easy to Be Young?" by Jri Podnieks). But then again, Punk is revolutionary, anti-authoritarian, aggressive and critical in relation to its time; it is also a Western, urban, elitist and against kitsch culture. Today, searching for traces of Punk and finding its followers in even the smallest and most underdeveloped of places can also be a sign of the unbounded influence of this modern/urban culture. If there are punks in Iran, their noise goes to show that there are voices other than the ezan (call to prayer) of mullahs and this noise guarantees that there is a modern urban culture even "there". Hence to guarantee this, in many situations and places, people resort to the tactic of "making a cow out of a crow". Thus a nonexistent history and a nonexistent tradition are invented.

In this book we tried to avoid this -at least as much as we can. Yet at the same time it is necessary to state that this research is not a Sherlock Holmes case.

Luk Haas follows punks all over the world and his report on Turkish Punk Community appears in this book. Can the practice, which he kept up for years with his label Tien An Men, be regarded as a case of "making a cow out of a crow"? Some people think yes, this is the last stage of exoticism: Hard-core Punk in Tajikistan! (It must definitely be an oxymoron!)

Yet since we believe in the sincerity of Luk Haas and his practice (putting into circulation the underground products of the Third World without utilizing any big mainstream channel, preparing all his products by himself, DIY, etc.), we presume that there is no cynicsm in this example and that his records are no more dangerous than their material vinyl. So much for Luk Haas.

The argument we have just started on Punk being the guarantee of modernism and urban culture is very crucial; because in some cases Punk can also be a lakmus paper for multi-cultural, democratic, tolerant and "open societies". If we caricaturize, we can say: "Ok, if you had Punk in even your darkest and most depressing times, then it is easier for you to be European."

The existence of Punk in Turkey, especially its existence in the 80s, can be retroactively interpreted as a sign of political correctness and as something which guarantees that Turkey is a modern and open society. If we present Punk to be different or to be more than it really was by "making a cow out of a crow", then we can easily become a spokesman of the neo-liberal view. Since this book is published with foreign funding, we should warn our readers even more in this respect. True, Punk can paradoxically be the voice of high culture (just like poor dead Debord can be a French intellectual) but we neither have any agenda (explicit or implicit) in this book, nor have we used Punk as explanation in any way.

If you let me, I want to pee in your theories -both on the complicated ones and the ones of conspiracies!

2.Not a Hammer, Not a Mirror, But a Window

Karl Marx’s assertion that "art should not be a mirror but rather a hammer" does not really hold for Turkish Punk music. Punk music in Turkey is a window. We will slowly prove that throughout this section.

When Punk had become a subculture movement widely known and popular among youth in London, Continental Europe and USA in 1977, the articles written in Turkey on Punk in specific and Rock ’n’ Roll in general were of a critical kind. Punk was synonymous with imperialism, Western decadence, decay and apoliticism. Those who criticized Punk were aware that it was an agent and a warrantor of Western democratic capitalism and that it could go hand in hand with the IMF (even though it appeared to be opposing it). In 1977 in Turkey, the Leftist movement was as far from Punk as can be; yet it was more radical than the most anarchist versions of Punk. At the same time, it was more internationalist than Punk in Turkey could ever be; at that famous year, Yar Press was publishing the manifestos of the guerilla movements of numerous countries including Italian ‘Brigate Rosse’ (Red Brigades), German ‘Rote Armee Fraktion’ (Red Army Fraction), Iran and Cambodia with the most modern of book designs. Militants and sympathizers were following the Leftist theory and practices of all the countries including Albania, China, Cuba and Bulgaria.

But the music of the Left was never a hammer; more accurately it was not a noise generating 3-chord annoyance in the sense understood by Punk. The music of the Left has either been the strong macho voice of male peasants or the thin voice of the female mother whining with melancholy. Political music in Turkey has always been that way; consecutive loses have even intensified this fatalistic tone of its. No matter how internationalist the Left had been in theory, it has remained at least localistic (gecekondu type!) in practice.

It seems to me that a melancholic Left voice cleansed of noise can bring with it a strange kind of conservatism. So much so that today if you visit radical political formations like Autonomists that are nourished by quite a bit of international theory (from Negri to Balibar), you should be ready for the most dated and dullest folk music of the world. Hence the Arabesque-Punk comparison made by Murat Belge in the early 80s is actually wrong. If we interpret Arabesque -as a Vox Populli with revolutionary potential and an amateur voice in opposition to high art music- to be synonymous with Punk, then we reduce the noisy simplicity that is the foundation of Punk to just a conservative outcry. Leftist music was not a hammer but it was also definitely not a mirror. Probably, mirroring and middle class psychological problems and depressions in music were started in the 80s by Sezen Aksu, and the dumbest liberals who still follow that trend.

But in the 80s, there also arose a voice from the youth which was not leftist, and was, for that reason, apolitical but was not the least middle class or mediocre either. Though this voice was of course raised initially with Heavy Metal, soon it acquired its real radicalism with Punk. We can see what kind of a place Turkey was in the 80s from the interviews conducted with people who lived here in this period; black outs, constant oppression, lack of clarity in everything, a weird and disgusting style, conservatism and savage capitalism. In that period, Punk was one of the rare radical movements that did not act as a mirror; and since they were not Marxists, they also didn’t have the chance to be hammers.

Besides, the number of Punks was very small at that time and the typical "underground" party proceeded as follows: a couple of Metal bands, then a Punk band and a break dance show in the middle, all performed in day time and at a rented wedding hall. As far as we can understand, underground culture of the period was trying to find itself anew after that amnesia of the 80s; thus no one could identify himself exactly as a fan/performer of Metal, Punk or Hard-core. Because of the shortcomings in Turkey, this period of search could also turn into something funny like the party mentioned above. Hence, while we explain the emergence of Punk in Turkey with that (dark) political and cultural environment of the 80s, we take into account that Punk was opposed to this situation. punks were young people who were tired of the melancholic Left of their parents, of the depression Pop around them, of being local and national and of self-enclosure. They were definitely willing to learn about new alternatives and to try out new things; if we really need to say it, they wanted to open up. Thus liberalism and the figure of Turgut Özal were hanging like the sword of Damocles over the dark side of Punk (like all else in Turkey). Özal, whose name is mentioned a couple of times in this book, is a troublesome name for the theory of opening up. Because both punks’ will for emancipation and Özal’s liberal Capitalist market program can be interpreted as reflections of the same wish of opening up and belonging to the world. Let’s not forget, the first Istanbul Biennial and the formation of the first Punk band took place at the same year. While promoting liberalism and savage capitalism with his will to open up, Özal was also supporting the most backward and the most conservative culture, with the same level of determination. For punks, this culture of opening up is different; it is to understand the world without the mediation of any official representation. Since this opening up could never be realized thoroughly -in the sense of getting rid of provinciality and localness (we will see the conditions under which this is possible in the following section)- we can see this take place more in the form of looking outside or taking an interest in the outside. Here, again, we should be careful not to reduce Punk to a spokesman for open society. We can leave aside this reductive interpretation very easily because punks in Istanbul did not worry or make plans about how the society could become a more suitable place and the Punk attitude had nothing to do with representing the country more openly. This resolution does not mean that punks cannot be interpreted in this way by others; at least we won’t do that even if the name of Özal and Punk come dangerously close to one another in a couple of places throughout this book. We can describe the theory I developed above in the following way: punks don’t have a problem of representation but they are problematically susceptible to being represented.

That’s why we define Punk art as a window, because punks are searching for something other than their boring parents and the dumb politicians. This searching and learning process can of course create very funny outcomes. For instance, the imported Punk of Tünay Akdeniz and his synthesizing of this with abject entrails and fashionable safety pins will probably remain as a prototypical Punk comedy. Turkey’s history of opening up is full of examples resembling the hero of Araba Sevdası (Love for Cars): from the "helter skelter" of Barış Manço ve Kaygısızlar to the movie Şeytan (The Devil) by Metin Erksan. I guess the funniest one, which was as dangerous as it was funny, emerged in the interview we conducted with the vocalist of Dead Army Boots, Tarkan. When we asked him why he used swastika and gave a Hitler salute in one of his concerts, the old Punk replied that then Turks needed to do Turkish Punk, Germans German Punk and Americans American Punk. Then we reminded him that Dead Kennedys always did anti-American songs. Tarkan’s answer was the most interesting part of this story: "We were Dead Kennedys fans, we knew all their songs by heart and we also hated America."

Like Marx said, sometimes understanding can be misunderstood. Since punks do not give a damn about political correctness, it can be an exaggeration to claim that this example is as dangerous or nationalistic as it seems. Anyhow we can multiply these Felliniesque examples as much as we want; after all we are talking about the Punk of a late and different modernization.

However, as readers will understand through this book, there was an incredible mass following what was going on in the world from the late 80s till the early 90s (pre-internet era). Even if small, this mass of people who became knowledgeable about the demos and fanzines all over the world by way of letters, still represent a possibility; the possibility that an alternative and critical urban culture in Turkey can exist. For some people, this window was going abroad, exchanging letters with people from abroad, for others it was the shop of Deniz Pınar; yet whatever form it took, it sure opened up to a different world.

3. Selling Snails in a Muslim Neighborhood

This saying with its obvious conservatism points towards an impossibility in Turkey; not being able to be totally Western. At the same time, it cynically criticizes Westernism or Occidentalism if you will.

You can easily figure out from what we have told so far, the reason why Punk and other subcultures in Turkey are compared to the act of selling snails in a Muslim neighborhood. These same reasons also reveal the true nature of conservatism: that the social and cultural reality of Turkey is different from the West, and the myth around "it cannot be enough". National values plus cultural anti-imperialism equals to this ambiguous conservative consciousness. As you might guess there is no place for Punk here. I don’t want to develop an opinion on how the categorical, historical and political possibilities of Punk discussed above can provide an alternative to this situation. Anyway I believe that only a Punk developed in a laboratory environment can accomplish this; moreover, I think that such an agenda will totally destroy the essence of Punk.

However in handling the issue of Punk, we can approach the subject from a totally different perspective; from the opposite of Occidentalism or more accurately from the view of Orientalism. Thus we can revisit the question we left unanswered in the preceding sections; under what condition can a Turkish Punk/Underground band open up to the world and become a part of world culture? It can do so only as long as it remains modern on the inside and traditional/folkloric on the outside. When examined from the viewpoint of Orientalism, Punk and other similar music and lifestyles that originate in Turkey should be of Turkish cultural (or more accurately, folkloric) origin. If a Turkish Punk band is willing to be successful, its music should definitely be spiced up by sa" or zurna, or contain an archaic rhythm structure. Otherwise its music will not have any meaning. Or as the Turkish underground music specialist Jay Dobis with whom we conducted an interview states: "It won’t be interesting at all. When there is such a rich folk music culture, why not use it? The Brits and the Americans are doing enough of this (underground); why to add more of the same thing?" Though they did not take it this far, we know that DJ John Peel, Tim Hodgkinson and Thuston Moore also took an interest in "oriental" tinted Turkish underground and Punk in general (but then again no one was specialized and clear enough as Dobis who gave "saz" counseling to Punk/Underground bands).

The most hilarious version of this is the limitless talent of Turkish bands in synthesizing East and West. The latest movie shot through the eyes of the bassist of Einstürzende Neubaten presents this in its most hideous and intolerable way; underground musicians of Turkey, of Istanbul have evolved into something really shallow with their worries of saz, klarinet and synthesis. Actually the poor old Piyer Loti Hacke could not see a serious alternative in Turkey even if he wanted to; because the music and subculture scene in Turkey has been subjected to total auto-Orientalisation. Most of the bands on the market are competing with one another to synthesize neo-psychedelic hippie post-rock confusion and the beautiful multi-cultural folk sounds of their country. Underground bands are usually defining the novelty of their music as being situated somewhere between The Can and Müslüm Gürses, or Velvet Underground and Orhan Gencebay and they don’t fear that this synthesis can evolve into something most conservative.

I could examine how this situation arose and make a good cerebral exercise by dwelling into the available post-colonial theories but there are two instructive bands/phenomena that document this transformation in Turkey very well: Zen and 2/5 BZ. Both bands started around the same time (end of 80s and beginning of 90s) and they did avant-Punk and experimental music in a political fashion (something non-existent in Turkey). Yet by mid 90s, they slowly left aside the guitar and gravitated towards the saz and while rediscovering the richness of the folk melodies of their own country, they both reduced the noise of their music and approached a performative sound mythology in the name of synthesizing. Zen changed its name to Baba Zula and after their latest album Tanbul (again with saz) they completely advanced being oriental and became the most successful Turkish band to synthesize "belly dance, Punk, Dada, Psychedelic and Dub". Meanwhile though the band 2/5 BZ is trying to conceal this oriental condition with a fake cynical self-criticism "no turistik, no egzotik"; we can see that they have no relation whatsoever left with their earlier work. (Here the hats are off for Bülent Tangay!) The relation of these two bands and of many other formations that follow their lead to Orientalism should be analyzed more seriously; however here we should at least mention this much: we can’t help but notice that there has been a direct proportional relation between the orientalization of the sounds and attitudes of these two bands and the increase in the level of their opening up to the world and the respect they receive as musicians.

In this book we took a look at the sincere and strong underground sounds produced between late 80s and early 90s and that usually escaped the attention of most people. We hope that the readers become aware of a possibility, a possibility different than today; a possibility that belongs neither to snails, nor to Muslims.