We talked about the course of the relationship between music and Istanbul with Alper Bahçekapılı who is a firm fan of listening to music, an author, and even a director. Status update according to him: We lack a few things but the situation is pretty good. Our music hasn’t stopped.
There are certain people you go to to get a better grasp on a subject, to help you comprehend something better than anyone else can. If that is the case and the subject is Istanbul’s relationship with music, a name that comes up undoubtedly is Alper Bahçekapılı. For many years, Alper’s influence and words touched upon so many issues about music. His circle of musicians who are his dearest friends, concerts he has been following for years, and his articles on what he listens to, form Turkey’s Istanbul-based music scene; more than that, he is one of those that shape it. His views lend to a large following, along with a 15 year long journalism career and a column in the Birgün paper. However that only reflects one angle of Alper and his music. Because there is more: Alper has been directing the Nokia music services for four years as an “Entertainment Manager” as well as Microsoft, and is currently the general manager of MixRadio which is an active streaming service in 31 countries. So either as a professional or a listener, he has music in all corners of his life. He says “On one side I’m in the institution, and on the other I’m in the audience.”
When talking to Alper, we are unavoidably curious about the moment his commentary on music began. Years ago, when this type of job did not exist on a professional level in Turkey, how did one find his way? “Actually I studied in a department that had no relation with journalism or music authorship. I graduated with a Management degree from Uludağ University in Bursa. Later, I did my masters degree in Product Management & Marketing in Marmara and in Cultural Management at Bilgi University – of which I’m still working on the thesis. When I was a student in Bursa, there was not much that grabbed my attention about the music in this city. In contrast, we had a lot of time and we wanted to do something about it.”
“In 2001, there was a night when we went to a PJ Harvey concert in Harbiye Open-Air Theatre. That night, the idea was born to publish a magazine by the name Lull which was one of our favorite Radiohead songs. We set to work with four people. In those years there weren’t any music magazines other than Roll and Blue Jean. We wanted to do something different and fill this hole that we sensed.” Thus his amateur interest evolved to a professional worklife.
When a culture begins to form, it opens the door for followers. It’s successive. Therefore an audience is formed, concert halls are fuller with an audience who follow good production; this being the case, new hubs are opening.
Then the period arrived when he got involved with the last years of Aktüel magazine which was considered as a journalism school and worked with colleagues such as Mehmet Tez, Mansur Forutan, Yiğit Karaahmet, Yenal Bilgici, Selçuk Tepeli. He recalls “those were the years when magazines still sold a lot and the internet wasn’t still common.”
After two-and-a-half-years, Alper came together with Mehmet (Tez), Melis Danişmend, Ayhan Abayhan and Yeşim Tabak; this was followed by two-and-a-half-years with Rolling Stone magazine, which was the turning point in Turkey’s musical industry. He remembers it as “a place where I believed that we tried to comprehend and explain what was going on around us in regards to music and we achieved exactly that to a large extent.” As an editor he took care of everything, specializing with interviews. After all, he always considers himself lucky because he interviewed the likes of Woody Allen, Morrissey, Kraftwerk, Manic Street Preachers and more during his career. Forwarding through the years where he was institutionally interested in music, contributing to newspapers and magazines with his articles, we arrive to the Alper of today.
Istanbul is rising to an urban status where big names and bands are regulars, live music centers are large in number, great events for local indie rock takes place, almost every night there are alternatives for good music. Is it just an appearance? “It’s not appearance; I think it really is like this. Despite the problems musicians went through, production increased a lot recently. Just a few days ago, I was looking at local album lists of 2015; from Yasemin Mori to Palmiyeler, from Can Güngör to Nilipek, so many high quality albums came out. I remember while we were publishing Rolling Stone, we had a hard time when we wanted to make portfolios for new local musicians. One of the reasons for this increase is that, thanks to technology we can hear the voices of musicians composing and making quality content. When a culture begins to form, it opens the door for followers. It’s successive. Therefore an audience is formed, concert halls are fuller with an audience who follow good production; this being the case, new hubs are opening.”
“When I used to live in Moda, we didn’t have a lot of live venues. Now I look at it, Dorock and Kadıköy Sahne are incredible. There is another stage being currently built next to Moda Deniz Kulübü. Before, concerts were managed by specific organizations in Istanbul, first and foremost by Positive and IKSV. I think they educated a crowd for years, however now there are a lot of individual initiatives. Next to these huge institutions, small cultural initiatives also contribute to Istanbul’s music scene. Besides you think about the new venues; Volkswagen Arena is a flawless place with its acoustics and organization ability. Babylon Bomonti, Zorlu Center Performing Arts Center (PSM) are also amazing. When we line down all these indicators, yes, we can say Istanbul’s music scene is pretty active. If we consider how frequently international musicians come to Istanbul and the increasing production of local music, also with the influence of concert halls added to the city, I cannot say that I personally, as an audience, feel like something is missing.”
Of course we cannot argue the value of our rooted festivals, notably Istanbul International Music Festival, Akbank Jazz Festival and Istanbul International Jazz Festival that have been ongoing for years, feeding this city with music. However this optimistic picture we talk about cannot cover the fact that Istanbul has some drawbacks. For example, Alper wishes as an audience that a big sponsor would come out and handles the Rock’n’Coke problem. “Despite these new venues and cultural shifts, one of the biggest problems is that we are losing a lot of things from the past,” he adds, “We have amazing venues that are not used or lost because of unearned income and ideological interests. Even though cultural production in Istanbul multiplies, we are also losing and have lost many cultural heritages like AKM, Emek Cinema.”
Among the most memorable concerts in Istanbul’s music history, he lists Morissey and Massive Attack in Parkorman, Paul Weller in Harbiye Open-Air, Sonic Youth in Maslak Venue, also U2, Daft Punk, Rammstein, Steve Wonder. He follows music news from Consequence of Sound, Under The Radar, Pitchfork, Gorilla vs. Bear, Sputnik Music, Metacritic, Flavorwire, Nowness and The Guardian. One can sense the happiness on his face when he talks about getting in line for Primavera to watch The Strokes, and Tame Impala in Rock En Seine; he says “I would love to see Oasis too, I’m waiting for them to make a comeback,” if only he could interview Thom Yorke and Noel Gallagher, he says he would be so happy. Then, maybe we need to conclude with a hope of these names coming to Istanbul so that we could listen to them along with Alper, and read his interviews with them on his column.
Photography: Tabitha Karp