Altin Gün Gives the Turkish Psych-Rock Tradition a Modern Twist

Altin Gün
Altin Gün Photo by Julia van der Veen
Turkey is often considered the crossroads where Europe meets Asia. Even the capital city, Istanbul, straddles both continents. So perhaps it's not surprising that Anatolian rock (AKA Turkish psychedelic rock) developed in the nation, grabbing influences from Western psychedelic rock and Turkish folk music.

While the genre saw its heyday during the 1960s through the '80s, there are still contemporary acts looking to keep the Anatolian rock sound moving forward. One of those acts happens to be Amsterdam-based Altin Gün, a sextet made up of Turkish and Dutch musicians. The band is set to make its Florida debut tonight, May 3, at the North Beach Bandshell.

Speaking over the phone to New Times from Joshua Tree in California between the first and second weekend of Coachella, where the band was scheduled to perform, percussionist Chris Bruining excuses himself as he tries to find the right words in English to describe the band's sound.

"Sorry, I just woke up from a nap. My English is just starting up," Bruining says, laughing. "[Our sound] is pop as well, but live, it might sound a bit more psych-y."

Though the band formed in 2016, Bruining joined the lineup only a year ago, officially becoming a member when he helped record the band's pandemic-produced 2021 album, Âlem. "We couldn't really get together in the studio, so we all did our parts at home," he says of the recording process.
Prior to joining Altin Gün, Bruining says, he'd seen the band perform live and knew the members — a fact he credits to Amsterdam's intimate psych-rock scene. He'd also shared a stage with the band a few times, including in 2018 when he joined Altin Gün on tour.

When percussionist Gino Groenveld decided to focus on other projects, his friend, Bruining, seemed a logical choice to replace him. But Bruining admits he really came to discover Anatolian rock through Altin Gün. Though the band's music is sung exclusively in Turkish, the music feels familiar to Western ears thanks to evident rock, disco, reggae, and funk influences.

On the 2021 single "Yüce Dağ Başında," off the band's third studio album, Yol, vocalist Merve Daşdemir sings the traditional Turkish folk song while the band gives it a nu-disco sheen that feels ready-made for the dance floor. Then there's the track "Kısasa kısas," which feels at home in the tropics, sounding reminiscent of Madonna's "La Isla Bonita."

This is to say that a well-constructed pop hook like those found in Altin Gün's music can transcend language barriers.

Still, Bruining acknowledges that Altin Gün wasn't the first band to merge Western rock and Turkish folk. "There were bands that already did this kind of stuff in the '70s. We're just progressing from that in a way," he says. "It's 2022 now, so, of course, it sounds a bit different than what these guys were doing."
Yet, if any band seems poised to take Anatolian rock mainstream, it's Altin Gün. The band earned a Grammy nomination for "Best World Music Album" in 2019 for its sophomore effort, Gece. (There's long been a debate about whether it's appropriate to lump non-Western music under the umbrella of "world music." Bruining doesn't personally see a problem with the categorization, adding that the band would never have had the chance to be nominated in the rock or alternative music categories.)

They've also just performed at arguably the most important music festival in the U.S., Coachella, to a crowd of about 1,500 people.

But perhaps the people who really validate Altin Gün's success are the Turkish people and diaspora who have come to see the band as representative of the country's music scene despite being based in the Netherlands. The band often performs sold-out shows in Istanbul and is seen as pushing forward a rock resurgence inside Turkey.

That hasn't shielded the group from accusations of cultural appropriation — a criticism the band dismisses. In a 2021 interview with the New York Times, Daşdemir, who was born in Turkey before moving to the Netherlands as a young adult, said, "I’m 100 percent Turkish. If I’m not going to cover my own culture’s music, who’s going to do it?"

For Bruining, Altin Gün helps keep this style of music alive. "Some of these songs [that we play] are hundreds of years old," he says. "The instrumentation and the structure are more Western. It's pretty comprehensible to a Western audience, but also the Turkish audience can really relate to the lyrics and melodies."

Altin Gün. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; Tickets cost $25.
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Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran