A few years ago, I came across an album called "Love, Peace & Poetry 9: Turkish Psychedelic Music", one of those compilations that suddenly opens up a new corridor of musical investigation.
A few years ago, I came across an album called “Love, Peace & Poetry 9: Turkish Psychedelic Music”, one of those compilations that suddenly opens up a new corridor of musical investigation.
At around the same time in the late ‘60s as British and American bands were appropriating vaguely Eastern influences into their music, it revealed that a bunch of Turkish artists were taking the trip in reverse. On these tracks, Anatolian folk influences and traditional instruments – like the saz, a kind of Turkish bouzouki – became electrified and thrown into battle with blazing rock, and some extraordinary musicians emerged, notably Erkin Koray (whose “Elektronik Turkular” I can wholeheartedly recommend).
As is the way with some of these things, however, it can be hard to work out how these musical scenes moved on, and what their local legacies are today. Like the Brazilian Tropicalia uprising of the same time, it’s embarrassingly convenient for us to fence a scene off, consign it to history, or concentrate on how it influenced UK and American artists (Beck and Devendra Banhart in the case of Tropicalia; Voice Of The Seven Thunders with the Turkish stuff).
At the end of last year, however, an album turned up in the Uncut offices from a new band called Hayvanlar Alemi (“Animal Kingdom” in translation, apparently), which logically suggested that a psychedelic scene had continued to develop in Turkish over the intervening three or four decades. “Guarana Superpower” is released on the Sublime Frequencies label, the Sun City Girls’ outlet for putting out a frequently intoxicating mix of field recordings, informal ethnomusical surveys, and artist albums by the likes of Group Doueh (from the Western Sahara) and the frenetic Syrian bandleader, Omar Souleyman.
Initially, it’s easy to imagine that Hayvanlar Alemi are a prank concocted by the fertile minds of Alan and Richard Bishop. If the Sun City Girls raided countless musical traditions with a certain vigorous irreverence, Hayvanlar appear to operate in an uncannily similar way. Guarana Superpower draws on North African jams and Far-Eastern pop as well as an Anatolian psych tradition, while the likes of “Mega Lambada” have very strong affinities with the Sun City Girls themselves circa “Torch Of The Mystics” – or, indeed, with Richard Bishop’s current unit, Rangda.
Occasionally, too, the guitarist Ozum Itez seems to be channelling the wild desert twang of Dick Dale (“Snakesurfing”, especially, is pure Tarantino catnip).
It’s a great record and, once you’ve penetrated Sublime Frequencies’ customary haze, it proves to be the tip of an iceberg. A few minutes on www.myspace.com/hayvanlaralemi reveals Sun City-esque levels of productivity, twinned with a demystifying spirit of generosity. “Guarana Superstar” is their second “proper” album, mostly culled from a bunch of low-key releases that are available to be downloaded for free. Hayvanlar Alemi’s 2006 debut, “Gaga”, on sale at iTunes, is revealed to be a brooding, post-rockish salvo.
Of the others, I can only suggest caution with regard to “Visions Of A Psychedelic Ankara”, which looks promising but actually consists of crusty dub reggae, which may provoke mildly distressing flashbacks to a far-flung corner of the Glastonbury Festival in about 1992.
Here, though, is a band with a rich hinterland, and a musical agenda that reflects but, ultimately, transcends their cultural origins. And if we need any final proof that they’re not a Bishop brothers hoax, Hayvanlar Alemi are set to play at London’s Barbican on May 13, supporting Group Doueh.