INTERVIEW: Amsterdam-based Turkish group Altın Gün takes on first U.S. tour

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Altin Gün, including Merve Dasdemir (second from left), and Daniel Smienk (third from left). Courtesy photo.

NEW YORK — Merve Dasdemir and Daniel Smienk are outside the Rough Trade record store in Brooklyn, taking a smoke break and chatting about their Amsterdam-based Turkish psychedelic folk band Altin Gün while their bandmates mill around inside, flipping through stacks of records inside the shop.

Outside Lands Music Festival
12 p.m., Aug. 9 to 11.
Golden Gate Park
Tickets: $155-$1,595.

In a few hours the band will play at Rough Trade’s performance space, and the entire band—which includes Jasper Verhulst, Erdinc Yildiz Ecevit, Ben Rider, and Gino Groeneveld—is exhibiting a kind of nervous excitement. Altin Gün is ready to take the stage right now.

Altin Gün translates from Turkish as “Golden Day.” The group came together three years ago after Verhulst decided that he wanted to put a new twist on Turkish folk songs. Rider, Verhulst and the band’s original drummer had previously played together in another band. They then recruited the Turkish members of the band—Ecevit and Dasdemir—over Facebook.

“We played our first show in November 2016. We were rehearsing and we just did this tryout gig in a very cool place in Amsterdam called Pacific Parc,” Dasdemir says. “The bookers approached us immediately and then it just happened pretty fast.”

Last fall the band released its second album, Gece, a collection of songs that blends modern production and percussion with psych-rock grooves and traditional Turkish singing and melodic inflections. The band incorporates numerous folky embellishments, such as Ecevit’s saz, a stringed instrument sort of like a sitar. All 10 of the songs on the album are revisionings of Turkish folk standards. 

The group will be performing at Outside Lands on Aug. 10 but we caught up with Dasdemir, a vocalist, and Smienk, the drummer, before their performance at Rough Trade, which came at the end of July on Altin Gün’s longest U.S. tour to date. The Golden-Gate-Park-set festival will mark the band’s first appearance in San Francisco. 



RIFF: The songs on the album are all covers. Why did you go that route? 

Merve Dasdemir: They’re folk traditionals. So it’s like [with] jazz, you know, like “House of the Rising Sun.” Like, everybody does their own version of those.

Daniel Smienk: We are rearranging in our own way. We’re trying to reach as far back as traditional as it is, so basically it’s just a guy with a saz, and … we try to be as original as possible. 

Dasdemir: If you would listen to the original “Leyla,” it’s a whole different story than what we make.

What’s the meaning behind “Leyla?”

Dasdemir: “Leyla” is about a woman named Leyla and it’s about how pretty she is and this guy is just like dying for her. So it’s a lot of basic human emotion.

Is there any particular song that was most significant for you as you recorded it?

Smienk: Maybe “Anlatmam [Derdimi]” is pretty valuable for you [motions to Dasdemir].

Dasdemir: In an emotional way, I guess, because it’s such a soulful song.

Do you see yourself branching out into different genres for future projects?

Smienk: Well, it kind of shifted already.

Dasdemir: It could be; yeah. Now we have, like, some Italo-disco stuff going on.

Smienk: The first album is kind of more rootier and the second album already has a shift towards more electronic.

Dasdemir: I guess we grow within the genre.

Follow reporter Aarushi Nanda at Instagram.com/aarushi_nanda and at Twitter.com/aarushi_nanda.

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