NOVEL PREVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms




Until recently a regular contributor to the Monolith Cocktail, Ayfer Simms has taken time away from the blog to concentrate on finishing her debut novel, A Rumor In Üsküdar. Living with her husband and daughter in the same region of that title, in the sprawling metropolis that is Istanbul, Ayfer moved back into the family home after her father was unfortunately taken ill: later passing away. Within a wider context of political hostility in Turkey (bordering on the dystopian), the process of grieving is explored both evocatively and metaphysically by Ayfer in what is a semi-biographical, semi-alternative futuristic geopolitical purview of her home country and home city.

We’ve so far been proud to feature three extracts from A Rumor In Üsküdar. Part four in this series of previews from the book is both a real and metaphorical archeologist dig into the problems facing modern Turkey. A psychogeography you could say; one that merges veiled fantasy versions of a political cast and events.

 

Part Four:

Mrs. Muazzez must now be at least 100 years old or perhaps older. Specialized in Sumerian culture, she has a vast knowledge in all archeological matters. In 2006, at the age of 92, she was accused of hating the state: for having published a book on the wearing of the veil. She claimed that the custom came from the Sumerians, priestesses initiating young people to sexual practices.

Veysel pulled his hair no doubt and put the veil back in its place. He is not crazy, however, and did not incarcerate the centenary. Mrs. Muazzez lives on the European side in an old house that looks like a museum. She has an unprecedented passion for Veysel’s dead rival, Mustapha. At her age, she saw the former statesman shake the country and give a bit of a voice to women (mostly privileged ones).

 

370 days after the beginning of the excavations under the Bosphorus, the digging got interrupted by the discovery of Byzantine vessels, silver coins, cooking utensils and other trinkets. Skeletons have also resurfaced that day. What we did with them I do not know. I did not see them at the Istanbul Archeology Museum, at least not yet. Time erases the status of humanity, everyone knows it. The Üsküdar wharf was then disemboweled in a hurry, in a rush, because there was a lot of money to lose. The Japanese were politely impatient: they wanted to finish there anti seismic tunnel and leave at once.

I was not yet in Istanbul during these works, but I arrived just in time to see the opening of the new Marmaray line. The train station was planted in the middle of the ruins; the rest was covered with earth, after taking pictures that were hung on the walls leading to the turnstiles. The archaeologists spread coffee all over their shirt to save everything, but they were hungry and witnessed the swallowing of the site with cold sweats.

Since the opening of the line that joins Asia to Europe under the sea, several years have passed while work continues everywhere. Large shopping centers, widening of the wharf and other projects make the wound still fresh.

I see from time to time the black casings rising from the cement, the glowing stones – are they old? I try to guess what is hidden in the old earth, hoping also to discover the Byzantines or the traces of the life of those who walked on this patch before us. It’s a stealthy look that I throw nevertheless. I check over my shoulder that the mud spits out its piece.

 

An object has however made its appearance during the excavations and the rumors reach us only now. Turkish archaeologists – those who are not in cahoots with the government in power, or who are unaware of the impact of their discovery, or who are conscious of having to protect it at all costs – are scientifically eager to let the international scene know: on they pass it to a French specialist team. The results of which, we have only echoes despite discretion, suggest that this is something likely to displease the President of the Republic Veysel. The latter also ordered to stop the excavations, the object in question would have been confiscated upon the return of archaeologists and they were obliged to “resign”. It is impossible for us to know if this news is true or if it is the propaganda tool of the opponents of Veysel or is invented by its own entourage to make a diversion on other fundamental subjects. As nonsense is commonplace, we believe everything and we believe nothing.

The president is not afraid of anything. But, it is said, bad tongues – that he is afraid of his wife. She let him put his head on her knees, and ask her to recite prayers to appease his troubles and ill moods.

She whispers to him “God is great and he is behind you”.

It is said that he has seizures of depression. That he happens to be confused. That he sometimes does not believe in God.

That he has shoeboxes full of money.

That he has nightmares. That one hears him exclaim in the morning: “I killed God !!”

In the opacity of the still deep night, he murmurs, “I’m the greatest”, at the same time he beats with all his might his chest like a furious gorilla. He takes an ax and strikes God in the face. No more reverence. Veysel knocks, beats the air and collapses. They say he sleeps badly. We understand why. How can you sleep well after doıng what he does? He looks terrible, yet his cancer is healed – his cancer is also hidden – but his complexion remains pale and faded. Is he cured, really? Like a superhuman defying all the viruses feared by all of us? The emotions shake him and it is visible in his features. He is agitated. But he does not die of illness like his population.

Veysel feels great but lost. He has reflexes of a believer and has shaped his image on Islam. Islam is its legitimacy. He must perhaps now go beyond religion to remain powerful.

Why say such a thing? It would cost a lot to anyone who dares saying that kind of thing: Unless it’s a rumor. The object accidentally extracted from the depths of the Bosphorus, or rather from the banks of the Bosphorus, would put an end to the monotheistic religions, they say. They would put these religions in the class of superstitions or medieval folklore. This book/object (we do not know anything more) would be like the famous comet that put an end to dinosaurs.

Veysel is naked without his religion. We imagine that it would be his end. That, however, we still have trouble believing it. The danger is that he does not give up so easily. He would continue to urge women to have four children, to avoid laughing out loud, to be modest in all sense of the term.

I look over my shoulder. Watch a smart shark spring from the waters of the Bosphorus to swallow me for thinking these things. The Bosphorus swallowed me once; I fell in it when I was 4 years old. My parents’ friend fished me out before anyone noticed I was gone. I do not remember. It left me with a fear of algae and everything that swarms in the undulating mass. The second time in 1999, the sea caused an earthquake of 8.7 on the Richter scale and claimed 17,000 lives. That summer, my apartment in Kozyatagi was scorching with heat. It was one of those summers that we could only spend dozing. I was bored. Birant had decided to leave me without telling me openly by planning a holiday to the south. I had hoped he would not leave me behind, but I read it in his eyes.

The evening of the earthquake, I drank wine, alone. When I was ready to go to bed, drunk, and feverish I was like Veysel facing a dilemma: to be independent and turn the page over Birant or continue my pathetic grip. When I decided to leave Turkey, Veysel was put in prison for 4 months for reciting a poem judged to be inciting religious hatred.

When I came back some twenty years later, as it happens it is him who boxed us all in.

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Extracts from Ayfer Simms debut novel, ‘A Rumor In Üsküdar’




An integral part of the Monolith Cocktail team for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has contributed countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – and even appeared in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to focus on her debut novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before travelling aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway and settling in Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in so many ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we previewed back in March 2019, and subsequent ones, including today’s chapter three extracts, are inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father a few years back. Part three, ‘The Old Man’, plays out a part soliloquy, part grieving monologue like imagined conversation between Ayfer and her late father, set to various Istanbul landmarks, one of which turns out to be a final resting place.

These familiar settings are given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer, who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of the novel’s title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though, within that framing we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter three, ‘An Old Man’, awaits.

CHAPTER 3 

An Old Man


I go up the stairs looking at the time. All I can do now is to take the boat to reach the European shore. An old man blocks my way. I feel my irritation rise, as since this morning there seem to be too many obstacles.

– Help me daughter.

He is old. Too old to hurt me but I do not want to be disturbed. I imagine shaking him and feel satisfied that he is no threat. I weigh him up like I do every other person who comes up against me, just in case. Could I neutralize him with a twist of an arm? What do my years of training in martial arts serve me if I can not let some steam off mentally, if I cannot stretch my limbs and let others rush to it, break their balance whilst keeping my center, what do I care if they fall on me like comets from the stars?

– Sir, I do not have time, I say.

He is so wrinkled that I feel remorse. I change my phrase.

– What can I do for you?

– I live near the quarters of Ayazma. Put me on the right path, will you. I’m lost.

– It’s near my house.

He is polite, haggard.

 

Around us the rumor swells that there is no boat, the bridge is blocked. Taxis do not take travelers. I am stuck. I warn my teacher. He must think my excuse is a bit phony. Excuses are the martial artists’ enemy and downfall. Train at all cost.

– Times have changed, but I do not see very clearly. Where are the fig trees…?

He turns to me, the crowd is pouring over us, and he is waiting for me to react. I do not answer, I’m stuck, frozen and the words as usual are heaped in my throat. Because taken by surprise my Turkish sometimes takes odd forms.

– I’m dead my daughter. That’s why you have to help me.

– Don’t say that! You are in good shape.

– I died 120 years ago.

– Sorry?

He is a poet or he is crazy. However complaining about one’s health is not unusual in Turkey, the idea of ​​old age settling early confers a vulnerability and respect that Turks bizarrely seem to enjoy. But already I believe him. He is a ghost.

 

There are helicopters in the sky. The titans are fighting and we hear the squeaky echoes of their metal armor. It is probably Veysel who tries to crush his opponents, they fight back, and it is their chase we hear in the starry sky. Or just patrols, special operations, special measures, a hunt for anything that moves, so called terrorists.

– I’m dead; I’m not any wiser though. I know nothing more than I knew in my lifetime. I realize it now that I am here. It’s a shame; death is useless in fact. A rest maybe, but since I woke up…

– Who woke you up?

– I would like to know … I feel like I have not learned anything since my death. The ignorant souls remain so too and that is a pity. A real pity. Disappointing in fact. Well, that does not stop me from being curious…and the absence of fig trees bothers me.

– They are around still.

– I do not know by what mystery I find myself here. God is great; I am the result of his miracle. The dead sleep peacefully in their bed. Their tomb says, “He was a person who loved kindness and justice”. At Karacahmet, Uskudar’s most treasured cemetery, we rest surrounded by trees in the breeze of the sea not far away; calm prevails. We are the permanent quiet residents under the hiss of the leaves, except at the time of visits, too numerous I should say, which force us to sink a little more in the ground, not to undergo the lamentations. The living pour out their anguish in the form of prayers. Yet already I am no longer. I am old, buried in the beautiful cemetery of Uskudar. I listen to the cry of the living, their desperate whispers, I see their patience rolling in their throats, they raise their hands to the sky to see something, because they find it difficult to bear. They have trouble breathing while me from my bed I feel the nature that lasts and the earth under my bones stretching to the center of the earth. I do not say that to defend death, I’m not crazy. I speak to the person that I was in my lifetime; I address the anxieties that I felt for years at the thought of silence and cold and especially the thought of loosing my loved ones. I fought day and night against those thoughts that sometimes made my life dreadful. But you must know that there is only peace later. Peace in the soul and in the body. The land feeds us. Good and evil blend in a nameless heap, the human veil spreads in the air so that it loses all meaning. It remains only shapeless hands underground, intertwined because the enemies of the past become our neighbours, in indifference.

So when our visitors arrive with their tears, the dead man turns in his hole, really.

He does not want to delve into the universe he has finally escaped. If the dead man is old, he does not have enough desire to remember wanting to live. If he clung to life, perhaps a young dead he probably worries about his loved ones, he does not want to see them in tears again. Why do we want to remember those whom our death has made suffer? Do we wish to stir painful emotions, to mop up the darkness or to see again sad faces, tears that bead in a wounded soul?

To revive these emotions means to revive a bygone era, to try to inject blood there, to release it from its natural pallor whereas when the ardours and the passions dry up it is not necessary to wake the dead.

 

The old man walks slowly forcing me to stand still. I begin to see it as the fruit of my unconscious still bereaved by the death of my father.

– Life is a constant unfolding of dramas. I was lucky despite everything, I will never pretend otherwise. But even the lucky ones have to say goodbye. There is no good way to die or to leave forever. To die is an enormous responsibility. I died without surprise. Old. A little tired. The mind does not always learn to cease to exist. My body could not take it anymore, but my soul? At the time of departure, I thought that my head no longer held. In my time I attended the departures of my family. I stayed in my neighborhood and faced their absence. They had vanished, yet still more alive than they were alive. On each wall I saw their face, or rather their “being” infused into the bricks. And for a long time I had the impression that their departure was only temporary. They would come back and we would laugh at those separate moments. How sad to say goodbye. It is better to hide the truth. Keep thinking vaguely that one day there will be a meeting.

– And sometimes it is possible?

– You are speaking to a dead person. Or…who am I? Why am I here? I do not know anyone, what’s the point of coming back? I do not feel in tune with anyone here. I do not even care about them. Those who have suffered from my absence are already underground. They shrug. The living have a great deal of trouble with the notion of death, and the dead are no longer living.

 

The old man does not speak anymore. The name of Karacahmet makes me shudder. My father often talked about death, joking about his own end, telling me “I’m going to finish in Karacahmet soon”. This cemetery, a terrible character, a monstrous beast between my French and Turkish village, remains like a suspension bridge. So is it any wonder that, finally on his deathbed, he refused to be buried there? He did not even pronounce its name again, he just said, “Do not burry me in Istanbul, they’ll lose me there.” He turned his back on me, doing me a favor without knowing it because I live near the Karacahmet cemetery. How did he understand? That he spared me, that I will not have to avoid this graveyard because of uncomfortable fits of sadness?

With this specter, I wander between the mosques of the sixteenth century, while it brews stories: century-old trees, Byzantine ruins, wells of another age…the ruins we brush against, under our steps, are tunnels and hot brick stones. He says “the well made of red lime under us leads to a buried archduke”. That the bizarre plant in my garden wriggling and breezing through the otherwise solid rock, its roots covered with small, seductive paws goes back his époque. This bizarre plant horrifies me in a way, I say.

 

With the ghost of this old man, my father seems far away whilst I am struck by the gap between them and us, the past and the present, the dead and the living, even if death does not mean anything, anything at all.


Words: Ayfer Simms


Review: Dominic Valvona



Altin Gün ‘Gece’
(Glitterbeat Records) 26th April 2019


Injecting an enthusiastic energy and desire into the music of their forbearers, the Dutch sextet with Turkish roots revitalize the Anatolian songbook once again, on the follow-up LP to last year’s debut.

As the band name eludes, Altin Gün, or “golden days”, celebrate a halcyon age in Turkish music, with the germ being the country’s folk legacy, but emphasis on the developments and reinvention of the 1960s and 1970s.

Pitched somewhere between the cult, often kitsch, nuggets you find in abundance on various collections compiled by the Finders Keepers troupe (Özdemir Erdoğan ‘Karaoğlan Almanya’da’ in particular, and anything from Sevil & Ayla), and the failed Eurovision missives of bubbly zappy disco, this limbering dexterous group take the listener on a sonic flight of fantasy: both romantic and cosmic.

Some of the chosen songs on this album are associated with the late national icon, Neset Ertaś, others less so familiar. Whatever the source the halcyon tingle, shimmer and psychedelic funk licks that pump throughout each one are given a contemporary livener, but undoubtedly sound retro – though there is at least one original composition, the Lalo Schifrin meets Anatolian rap funked-up psych number, ‘Şofor Bey’.

Currently very much in vogue – though the already mentioned Finders Keepers team and many crate diggers were already on this wave decades ago -, both the old and present Turkish music scenes are enjoying their moment of exposure. Glitterbeat Records, the fine provider of this group’s latest album, have already had success with the burgeoning psychedelic-Turkish siren Gaye Su Akyol and released a collection from the legendary Istanbul doyens of acid-saz and dub, Baba Zulu. All of which, alongside Altin Gün can’t help but feed into the prescient politics of Turkey itself – all of which is far too convoluted and numerous to go into detail here, but in short, a country under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, moving away from the more secular foundations of its celebrated moderniser Atatürk towards authoritarianism under a leadership that – after a staged (allegedly) coup – has crushed countless dissenters, critics and oppositional voices. In this heightened tension, artists, both in the country and overseas, remain cautious; the very act of playing certain kinds of music almost rebellious, especially anything with traces or a heritage that can be traced to the Kurds.

 

The group’s second LP, Gece, looks out wider than its own borders however, absorbing an eclectic collage of Egyptian, Moroder like arpeggiator, Bossa, fuzzed-up psych and funk; a sound that often simultaneously evokes Africa, Arabia and the Mediterranean.

Though tracing an ancestry back to Turkey, the sextet only born-and-raised band member from the homeland is Merve Daşdemir, who as one of the lead vocalists lends a lingering dreamy romanticism to the music, shifting between nostalgic B-movie soundtrack swoon and gauzy disco diva. Sharing those duties with her is the oozing, yearning and resigned suffering Erdinç Ecevit.

Rifling through the crates of an Istanbul record mart bazar, Altin Gün revitalizes a golden period in Turkish music; a grand age reconfigured and introduced to a global audience, saved from certain obscurity. Many listeners won’t be concerned with any of that, and will nevertheless enjoy the cosmic-fuzzed internationalism of a troupe on the rise. The Turkish legacy is in good hands.




 

Novel Preview: Ayfer Simms





Contributing regularly to Monolith Cocktail for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has posted countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and conducted a far amount of interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – she’s even appeared, alongside her daughter, in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to pursue dreams of writing a novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

 

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side for a number of popular French fanzines), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before alighting aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway as she made her way east towards Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but also got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in some ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we previewed back in March, was inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father, a few years back. A familiar setting is given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of that title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though; within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter two, ‘Back For Good’, arrives just as the authoritarian controlled Erdoğan government seeks to overturn or re-run the recent Mayoral elections (which his AKP party lost) in Istanbul. How this will pan out is anyone’s guess, with tensions running high.



Chapter 2- Back For Good

The neighbors, the passers-by, the baker, the hairdresser, the grocer, are puzzled to why I am in Turkey.

Once upon a time, a Turk coined the phrase, “to come back for good” – probably in the 1980s, when the first people started to tiptoe back (a small percentage no doubt).

Did you know that he who returns never leaves? Says a voice to me. That’s because moving between countries is not to be taken lightly for these “migrants”.

Well, I say, to that invisible person, this is why you are curious about me. I move like a feather in the barn. With no intentions or plans.

That question pounds in my head: “did you come back for good?” Why?

In the 1980s the French government offered emigrants the chance to give up all their rights in exchange for a sufficient amount of money to buy an apartment in Turkey (under the conditions of the economy of the time). Most of my friends’ parents have seized the opportunity, the chance for a new start in their home countries. My parents shrugged: why block the future of our children?

Turks of that wave are forever hybrids. Their emerging personality got thrown into another world. None of them accept to reveal their secret. None of them admit why they are here. Money or a fake sense of nationalist flattery. Stuck between monuments, caught like seagulls in the net. (Seagulls are monstrous animals, pierce kitten eyes, and defy crows, cats, and humans).

“I have never lived here”. I simply add. I can’t say anything else in truth.

The idea that the experience of being here or there is immutable seems to me incongruous. I get tangled in my explanations of my deep complex sentiments. I am in moving sand facing people who’ve never left this ground. Do they care? They are not listening.

“Well”, I say, “I’m not a clairvoyant, and I can not now say that I will not leave again. I may, or may not.”

– Do you want to leave?

– I did not say that”.

Confusing explanations.

Their eyes are floating in the air as if I did not speak Turkish.

“If it were me, I would have stayed there,” they say dreamily.

 

The country is bleeding, especially in recent years. The Turk takes to one’s heels, those who can anyway. I can, and I did take to one’s heel for lesser troubles. I’d rather not, leave behind my father’s house.

Others continue to vote for Veysel. Who are they?

We are in a decadent Eldorado.

Those who support Veysel from abroad are too comfortable in Europe. They have no wish to settle back here. We, on the other hand, are raving mad. The Turk drinks tea and surveys the Bosphorus and the seagulls, the currents could take him far.

I envied these people for a long time, the chant of the birds above their heads. I imagined they had a sense of belonging. I did not know then seagulls sounded like a baby’s tormented shrieking cries.

 

“Why undo what your parents did?” Someone once said to me.

“I am after the seagulls”, I said.

It’s better if I don’t answer these remarks because I can flee when I wish; I am a bird with a crooked leg (hard for landing).

 

“Of the two countries, which one is the most beautiful?”

I hasten to praise the merits of Turkey, to please them, and I pierce in the looks a sign of relief while heavy sweat runs down my neck. I look like a cripple. “We may not be able to leave, but at least we have a nice village”, that’s the message.

 

My house is surrounded by five historical mosques, all equipped with loudspeakers, and every morning and noon, afternoon, evening and dawn, it begins to sizzle before the pugnacious verve of a young religious preceptor compresses the air of his lungs as if to tear it better before unleashing his chant. Powerful cries erupt, wild animals land in the middle of a city after a hundred years’ war. He is imposing himself like a farmyard rooster. Some old-people-as well as the most devout-rise up, mumbling prayers on the way to their ablutions. The woman: with a samovar from the East boils the tea in the early morning. The call to prayer follows the movements of the sun, tea, that of the Turkish soul. When calm returns, the far-flung mosques scattered throughout Istanbul complete their tunes in turn and descend on us like a whisper.

Yet this morning the call is late. Instead of falling asleep, I look at the time. I have to take the Marmaray for my Judo class. Yesterday the Great Wealth Party proudly occupied Üsküdar’s Square to make speeches about its glory and shook small flags there. There were women in bright scarves. Under these scarves, something shaping the skulls in a rather wide form, giving them the look of praying mantises and the comparison has nothing to do with the name of the insect. This is it seems the official fashion of the women of the party.

 

When I go down Uncular Street, it’s still dark, but an electric blue rises from the depths of the night. The streets are deserted. Most gray buildings sprawl on twisted sidewalks. I dreaded taking this street dominated by men, when I came on summer vacations growing up. Today it’s different. I am no longer afraid and those who intimidated me at the time are dead. Sadly this is valid for my father.

 

In front of the stone market with the rusty shutters, at the intersection of the street overlooking the Marmaray, a man fails to overthrow me. He rushes towards the wall that surrounds the Mosque, pressing the pace; he hastily wraps a scarf over his head. The fabric floats in his legs and barely hides his belly emerging like an island in the middle of the ocean. He runs up and does not apologize for almost tearing my arm out.

He disappears in the big yard. Several men in a lively discussion jostle me again on the steps that lead to the train. One is short of breath, his cheeks are red and his headdress is in his hand. He follows the others with great difficulty. I hold in my mouth dry comments. Do not be angry in Istanbul because there are so many opportunities.

 

Living space in the public arena is as hard to find as cherries in winter. We push each other to the detriment of others: those before us, old people, pregnant women: no other rules than one self apply.

Sometimes I lose control. I hurry, I breathe, I push with my elbow through an aggressive mass, ready for anything, to get on the train or be in the elevator first, aiming for free places, rushing. A movement then, before sinking in the seat satisfied.

Once I did a crooked-foot. I realized the gravity of my act when I saw my ogre profile in full edge on the train window.

On the platform, a man from the railway company blocks me: the trains are canceled for the day, because of a “generalized breakdown”. The last travelers from the European side come down. Men in robes flock. Something is happening in the city this morning.


Words: Ayfer Simms

Preview: Ayfer Simms




An integral part of the Monolith Cocktail team for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has contributed countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – and even appeared in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to focus on her debut novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before travelling aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway and settling in Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

 

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in some ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we are excited to be previewing today, inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father a few years back. A familiar setting is given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of that title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though, within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter one, ‘When Going Üsküdar’, awaits.


CHAPTER 1 

When going to Üsküdar


It is two years after the death of my father that the very first dream of mourning appeared, leaving me startled. Reality caught up with the other world. Or rather I did. For these last two years, my dad could clearly not get up, but he was alive, in a good mood, in fine health in his bed. We laughed together. My unconscious did not wish to alarm me and even spared me for all this time.

At the beginning of the week, everything changed.

In that dream, my father’s name was Depardieu and I saw myself crying for him without knowing why. In the morning, I wondered about this fusion of characters. Were the protuberant bellies of the two men the common denominator perhaps? Dreams never rely on one single clue however. They conjure deeper meanings. And then I got it: so simple. The French actor’s name, of course, indicated to me the sad reality of his absence for “de par Dieu” means “ by God”.

Now, dreams, thus my subconscious, are warning me: “He’s dead. You see, he’s dead”. “Why do you think it is a good time to stop sparing me?” I say out loud. When I wake up, I am not happy and feel outraged. 

“I will rebel! I say. He died once; I do not want to be deprived of these short, nocturnal encounters.

Dreams are my meager, but cherished consolation. Reality is aiming far this time, all the way to the sunken heart of intimacy. This phenomenon leaves me aghast. The same evening, I put on my warrior armor. Nobody should touch my father in the pith of my kingdom. I decide to enter this universe consciously, to resurrect my dead.

The night splits in two. In my first dream, he appears in a bad mood. He does not even glimpse at me. He blames my mother of being naive. My mother nods without emotion. SHE knows and she agrees. He says with his eyes “What are you trying to do?”

When I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, I realize my semi-success. Semi, because despite appearing alive, he is anxious whilst warnings us. His attraction for the cold land is obvious. Where else would a dead man want to belong? I consider the encounter a failed one.

Before going back to sleep, I repeat several times: “No, not like that, that’s not how I want to see him”.  On I go back with my battle attire, perfectly prepared. Indeed as soon as heavy sand sacks falls on my eyes, I manage to see him smiling. He is lying in a large comfortable bed. In the background, I see a television set. He is relaxed. He says to me, “Yes it’s alright, but I do not know what to do with my days, bedridden that I am”.

There, I realize the measure of the problem. It is all very well to make him come back but isn’t he bored there in the cluster of my mind? After this conversation, I find myself eating sweet cakes with my mother in our old village apartment. The light is dim in the narrow kitchen but the room is filled with warmth.

When I wake up again, I feel like this is a small victory. I see that upon summoning I can meet him again, to fill the void of his absolute silence.

Yet what am I really to do? Listen to the messages of my subconscious and make peace or prepare for battle and mutiny every day?

I know the truth without wanting to admit it. My inner self will win because it is always a step ahead of me in its frantic rationality. For 2 years, the subtle message has been the same: My father will never rise again.

Drunk, he used to sing:

When going to Uskudar, there is rain

The coat of my clerk is long; his basques are covered with mud

The clerk belongs to me and I belong to him, why would anyone care?

The boats passing from Uskudar to Istanbul

My clerk sits, he peels hazelnuts

In his dream, the clerk speaks to me aloud

The clerk belongs to me and I belong to him, why would anyone care?

 

Now, here I am in Üsküdar, in the house where he was born and where he died. I was not in a hurry to leave the country but the recent events have forced me to stay.


Words: Ayfer Simms

Illustration: Volkan Albayrak

Reviews Roundup: Dominic Valvona




Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular monthly roundup of eclectic pan-global recommendations and reviews.

This month’s edition includes the iconic Mekons debut release for Glitterbeat – a desert psychodrama of an album, the band’s first in eight years; the stunning sweetly despondent and woozy melodious new album from Blue House, ‘Gobstopper’; the poetic sound designer troubadour and composer Ben Osborn’s debut album for and in conjunction with Alex Stolze’s Nonostar imprint, Letters From The Border; a flight of analogue synth fantasy (literally) from the Cambridge composer Willie Gibson, with his aviation imbued homage to Saint-Ex; the second songbook of Anatolian and Kurdish imbued tradition from the soaring Turkish siren Olcay Bayir, Rüya; and a boxset oeuvre of the obscure but legendary late 70s and 80s Hanover cult band The 39 Clocks.

There’s also two recent unearthed curios of both psychedelic and improvisational counter-culture “head music” from the Spanish Guerssen label hub – the first, rediscovered nuggets from the English prog and pop-sike fuzzed Mandrake Paddle Steamer, the second, a blues odyssey of free-form jazz and Fillmore style West Coast acid from the Hasting’s Street Opera.

And finally, I also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Vinita Joshi’s most eclectic independent label, with a perusal of the special Rocket Girl compilation; a collection of mostly unreleased tracks from both artists that have featured on the label and admirers alike, which includes tracks from Dan Treacy, Silver Apples, Bardo Pond and Andrew Weatherall.



Mekons ‘Deserted’
(Glitterbeat Records) 29th March 2019

Removed by geographical distance and a general disinterest from the headline grabbing London punk explosion the infamous Leed’s outfit the Mekons enjoyed a wry, cynical at times, disassociation from their earnest over-preened compatriots in the capital. This distance allowed them to build up a unique reputation; the rambunctious gang of musical misfits more engaged with reality than myth, questioning the motives and authenticity of others with such barricade rattlers as ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Never Been In A Riot’.

Always on the fringes, drawn throughout their five-decade (and still going) haphazard career to the rough and ready origins of not only punk but also, and with this their latest album, country music, the Mekons have suffered as many setbacks as triumphs. One example of a Lazarus like rise in popularity being through the infamous Revenge Of The Mekons movie, which gained them new audiences and a new generation of followers in the US on its release.

Gravitating towards Joshua Tree in California, with all the various lore and history that iconic location holds, the Mekons rabble find all the space and landscape they need on their first album in eight years, Deserted. Recording just outside the shrine to counter-culture country – resting place homage of that visionary troubadour Gram Parsons -, at the studio of Mekons bassist and foundering member Dave Trumfio, the group explore the metaphysical and psychogeography of their desert muse: An open-ended stark landscape that’s, since the dawn of time, inspired a wealth of literature, music, film and travelogue.

Though entrenched in the “big country” desert panoramas of the USA, the Mekons scope falls wider, taking in the cultural isolation and self-imposed exile of a mournful Rimbaud – turning his back on poetry to leave his fated France to trade coffee – in the remote Ethiopian city of Harar on the slightly swaggering young poet channeled, wandering ‘Harar 1883’, and, at least, by referencing T.E. Lawrence’s Arab freedom fighter persona in ‘Lawrence Of California’, the deserts of Arabia. The wonder, awe and sense of isolation as a speck in the great expanse goes further than the sandscape and into space itself: Grains of sand as stars and galaxies; the Mekons mixing the desert wilderness with respect for the infinitesimal.

Gangly traversing this landscape without a roadmap, they have been pushed, successively, into new terrain sonic wise. Entirely self-imposed, the band showed up to recording sessions without any finished songs; just a few ideas exchanged over email. A continuation of the Mekons un-ended visions, Deserted certainly offers adventure, yet not so experimental as to lose the band’s signature rebellious streak and sound. Spikey, striding towards a mirage, sharing the camel-driven caravan with the Bad Seeds, Damned, Slits, Wovenhand, Radio Clash, Damon Albarn and PiL, they limber in a dub-y post-punk fashion or rattle through a hexed no-wave arid plain when in desert imbued mode, and channel ‘child-of-the-Jago’ old English romanticized poesy and Ronnie Lane gypsy serenaded folk rock when gazing upwards at the night skies.

Two of the album’s most distinctive tracks, ‘How Many Stars?’ and ‘Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?’ pose inquisitive and surreal open-ended titles, but also leave the sandy trail to go off-road into the past and plain weird. The former of these, which features the atmospheric atavistic Celtic swoons and haunting malady of Susie Honeyman’s violin, reimagines a sweetly, if fatefully forlorn, Georgian lament (“Father dig my grave, upon my hand a velvet glove to show I died for love.”), the latter, riffs on a drug-induced (no doubt) Iggy Pop anecdote from the hazy, heady junked-up days of Berlin – the sinewy maverick apparently coming across a peculiar vending machine that sold bags of sand. This madcap, or metaphorical dream, inspired tale launches the band on a suitably Kurt Weil – as bastardised by Iggy and Bowie – like strut that takes in Aladdin Sane at the drive-in, a disturbed Mott The Hoople glam doo-wop chorus and a subtle hint of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.

To be fair, there is a hell of a lot going on sonically and texturally; the instrumental accompaniment featuring such exotic sounds as the saz and cumbus, but also violin and accordion alongside the standard wanes, tremolo and bendy heated vapour trail guitar and shared vocal duties.

Forty-one years in and showing no signs of fatigue, prompted to probe new sonic horizons, the Mekons inaugural album for Glitterbeat Records (easily one of the best, most diverse labels of the last five years) is possibly the Leeds troupe’s most expansive, deep and tactile albums yet: A distillation of all the group’s best assets. Without doubt one of 2019’s most impressive albums, Deserted reaffirms a legacy and status but offers a way going forward for a band baptized in the inferno of punk.







Blue House ‘Gobstopper’
(Faith And Industry) 29th March 2019



On a roll of late, the sweetly despondent songwriter-singer-musician James Howard continues to survey This Sceptred Isle with wistful melodious aplomb. Howard, under the guise of the Thomas Nation alter ego, delivered a minor historical-spanning album that metaphorically attempted to make sense of Brexit, and in turn nationhood, community and sense of belonging. That cassette tape chronicle, Battle Of The Grumbles – which rightfully made the Monolith Cocktail’s ‘choice albums of 2018’ features – never raised above a peaceable whisper and sigh, but through articulate melody and subtly worked its magic well enough.

The fruits of two-years labour, Howard’s latest appearance as principle writer, is with the Blue House collaboration; a group that boosts the talents of Ursula Russell (drumming for the brilliant Snapped Ankle, and soon to release music under the Ursa Major Moving Group), Dimitrios Ntontis (film composer and member of a host of bands including Pre Goblin) and Capitol K (the nom de plume of the ever-in-demand star producer Kristian Craig Robinson). Following up on the group’s 2016 acclaimed Suppose LP with another rich mellow empirical state-of-the-nation address, the Blue House’s Gobstopper is suffused with a languid disdain, as they drift through the archetypal bleak waiting rooms of nostalgia and the limbo of benefit Britain.

Gently stunning throughout with hues of a gauze-y Kinks, a less nasal Lennon, a more wistful Bowie and woozy Stereolab, Howard and friends perform a disarming mini opus that soaks up the forlorn stench of an out-of-season postcard seaside pub, air-conditioned gyms and quaint English motorways – ‘Accelerate’ in name only, the speed and candour of a hitched-up caravan that’s more ambling (with the radio dial set to Fleetwood Mac bounce) than autobahn motorik futurism.

Revealing its beauty and ambitious scope slowly, Gobstopper often soars with aria like ethereal warbles and dreamy filmic soundtrack panoramas: The soliloquy sepia tinged memory lane heartache of ‘Stay With Me’ marries Morricone with Lee Hazlewood and Richard Hawley, whilst the swooned ‘Delecta’ reimagines an English dancehall Lou Reed rewriting the introduction from the TV show, Jamie And The Magic Torch. Countless passing musical references linger, including the coach tour surrealism of The Magical Mystery Tour, the more serene elements of David Axelrod, Aiden Moffat and Serge Gainsbourg (if he worked on a minimum hours contract in Margate); a full ploughman’s lunch of cozy, if pining, 60s and 70s quality songwriting.

A snapshot of a lifetime, both misspent and blue, Blue House suck on the bitter aftertaste of the original peoples vote, whilst reflecting on the idyllic misrepresentations of nostalgia, yet also drawing forlorn comments on fleeting indignations and trends: Howard references a string of quintessential English preoccupations, from Abu Hamza to Coronation Street (which I never miss an episode of personally), reminding us of the inevitable nature of these obsessions that distract us, “When this is over, something else will come along.”

I may find plenty to discuss, even disagree with, but Gobstopper is without doubt a magnificent, beautifully crafted album; already a choice highlight of 2019.







Ben Osborn ‘Letters From The Border’
(Nonostar Records) 19th April 2019



For a number of reasons the poet-troubadour composer and sound-design architect Ben Osborn could be said to have found an ideal platform for his music, joining the German-based Nonostar label. Sharing both an East European Jewish heritage with its founder, the artist/producer/violinist maestro Alex Stolze, Osborn’s often majestic, sometimes mournful, quality minimal electronic undulated neoclassical compositions and lyrical pining also seem heaven-made for this label; at times crossing over and seeming almost indistinguishable (in a good way) from Stolze’s very own signature solo work. This is hardly surprising as Stolze also produced this debut effort, crafting this subtle gentle songbook at his remote studio on the German-Polish border, in the summer of 2018.

An idyllic sounding retreat that can’t fail to lend the recordings a suffused naturalistic feel, this border positioned studio allowed elements of the surrounding environment to bleed into the production. Aleatory to a point, helping to form a certain ambience, the wandering winds, distant birdsong and chatter, and creaking, stretching movements seem, alongside all the musical breaths, notes and melodies to be purposefully placed: almost perfectly so.

The award-winning sound designer and deft soundtrack composer of acclaimed “libretti” feeds a rich provenance into his debut, Letters From The Border. Drawing parallels with the lamentable diaspora of his ancestors heart-breaking displacement during WWII with the current flight of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, Osborn yearnfully finds a common ground. The heartache of isolation and alienation are beautifully swooned and felt throughout this tactile diaphanous album; the movement of people across, increasingly, hostile borders often hauntingly conveyed in the most emotive if nuanced of maladies; points made in a disarming series of venerable but poetically descriptive lyrics.

Reaching into the mystical profound etymology of that Jewish heritage, Osborn chooses to open his ethereal-charmed plucked album with a minor romantic instrumental overture, based around the atavistic Hebrew word for “joy”, ‘Chedvah’. As Osborn himself explains the reasoning behind this choice, the sad waning and earnest introduction represents “…the joy of connecting to something bigger than yourself.” Musicality wise this piece follows a numerical sequence based on the Hebrew letters of the same word: originally taught to Osborn as a breathing meditation by the artist Daniel Laufer.

Later on, coming full circle, he references the equally profound if lamenting, third section of the Hebrew Bible passage, ‘Psalm 22’, on the album’s dreamily nigh sky finale. This oft-quoted, if debated and trawled for meaning, passage features the famous “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” line; the words of a people in exile at the time; the distress, plight and search for some kind of meaning and purpose to their sufferings inspiring Osborn’s far less despairing but aching swansong.

The plight of refugees, a subject close to both Osborn and Stolze’s hearts, as they occupy the tip-toe piano and choral mood accompanied border soundscape of the Leonard Cohen meets T Bone Burnett like title track, or, wistfully cross a clitter-clatter train track motioned avian symbolic ‘Bridge Of Starlings’.

Osborn also shares, if under a veil of hazy descriptive metaphor, even more personable material amongst the border themes. The woozy, delightfully longing clarinet featured nostalgic malady, with tints of that imbued East European ancestry, ‘My Sister The Swimmer’, is elegiac like; Osborn tenderly cooing sepia toned pool side recollections and memories. No less personable, if meant to “examine” a “universal experience of grief and bereavement”, the dainty piano with quivered violin and gleaned wispy harp accompanied ‘A Guide To Gothenburg’ uses the city’s backdrop to find solace.

Beautifully conveyed at every turn, Ben Osborn uses an assiduous steady hand to evoke connection; a connection to nature; a connection to the plight of modern-day displacement; a connection to our shared roots. Letters From The Border is a delicate, yearning reveal of an album; an album that finds a fine balance between the classical and contemporary to soundtrack an accomplished suite of lyrical venerability and learning: Poetically sublime.







Various ‘Rocket Girl 20’
(Rocket Girl) 1st March 2019



Perhaps one of the most cherished of independent UK labels, Vinita Joshi’s Rocket Girl imprint has over the last twenty years attained an impressive legacy and loyalty from its artists. A mark of that loyalty and respect can be found by way of the contributors lining up to celebrate the label’s twentieth anniversary: some of who, never even released a record on it.

Vinita has come a long way, on a haphazard travail trajectory at times. The Indian lass from Rugby – called an ‘anomaly’ in a white male-dominated music industry by this compilation’s chosen linear note biographer, the Faber author (and super-fan) Richard Milward – gained one of many footholds in the business by managing the influential void-of-despair probing Telescopes. As a precursor to Rocket Girl itself, Vinita set-up, in conjunction with Nick Allport, the London-based Ché label, in 1991; borne from the ashes of the Chere label, intended as a vehicle for the music of Disco Inferno but expanding the remit to include the Tindersticks and the Detroit duo Füxa, who would later, join Rocket Girl, and feature on this anniversary special – a Congo Hammer remix of their acid-blurp Orb-meets-Cabaret-Voltaire dreamy goer ‘Sun Is Shining’ is featured on this most eclectic of spreads.

Despite personal tragedies and various setbacks, Vinita’s label has been both successful and prolific since its inception in 1998, the inaugural ‘rgirl1’ release a 7” single featuring the wonderful psychedelic cosmic electronic progenitors, Silver Apples. Long since a solo affair, the original late 60s founded duo sadly losing Danny Taylor in 2005, under the custodianship of Simeon Oliver Coxe III the Silver Apples brand continues to covet acclaim and attention as an experimental force of giddy nature. Now, as then, a whirly wiz-bang remix of the surreal culinary, chicken-dish mad, ‘Susie’, opens the compilation.

Both established icons and emerging ones appear regularly in the label’s back catalogue; this anniversary package that spans a series of special flexi-discs (a throwback to one of the first formats Vinita was involved with) collectable 7” singles, prints, a fully illustrated hardback book and 16-track compilation (a fuller digital version, which I reviewed, includes the flexi-disc tracks to make it 20), features just a mere smattering of them. The most poignant of which, the Television Personalities wry ramble through their maverick troubled leaders reputable back pages, ‘All Coming Back’, represents one of Vinita’s most enduring if turbulent musical relationships. The TV’s erratic treasured icon Dan Treacy has received plenty of prestige as an influence on everyone from Pavement to Pete Doherty, and released a string of comeback records, including 2006’s acclaimed My Dark Places LP. Volatile and prone to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Treacy has suffered badly for his art; addicted to drugs, battling mental health, adding up at one point on remand, the enigma has been off the radar since suffering from a brain injury in 2011, his legacy and blessing for the featured song on this compilation, taken from a small batch of unreleased tracks he recorded before these latest woes, coming from Treacy’s sister.

Another leading light of their particular sound, and again, major influence on those to follow, Robin Guthrie, co-founder of the ethereal vaporous Cocteau Twins, makes an appearance with the suitably echo-y heaven spindled track, ‘Flicker’. Joining him from north of the English border, fellow Scottish band, doyens of post-rock filmic panoramas, Mogwai, lend their fishing port earnest opus ‘Fight For Work’, as one of the flexi-disc specials.

A diverse roster is represented by artists as different and distinct as those earlier acrylates of (though they hate the term) the witch house phenomena, White Ring, and philosophical name-dropping no wave disco troubadour Kirk Lake. White Ring on their part offer a daemonic pulsing industrial skulk with broken-up salacious siren vocals on the brilliant darkwave ‘Heavy’, Lake, goes-for-broke parading countless symbolist thinkers (Lucan, Foucault, Barthes and the song’s own “Adorna”) as he limbers to a DFA meets Blurt NYC sidewalk shuffling ‘Go Ask Adorna’.

It’s telling that the Rocket Girl back catalogue and class of those who gravitate towards it is so immense with quality and diverse in breadth that I’ve not even mentioned the stoner anthemic Philly act Bardo Pond, or the Hazelwood dream pairing with Richard Hawley hymnal troubadour John DeRosa, or, even, the polygenesis producer/remixer extraordinaire Andrew Weatherall. And I could go on.

With discerning taste and strength-of-character to take chances, Vinita has built up a formidable if unassuming and assured label; one that has the depth and scope to keep on going in the face of ever uncertainty. The Rocket Girl anniversary package is a perfect encapsulation of that independent spirit. Go enjoy and celebrate one of the true individuals of the industry while you can. And let’s hopefully raise a glass to another twenty years of equally quality risk-taking.







Mandrake Paddle Steamer ‘Pandemonium Shadow Show’
(Sommor) 17th January 2019

Hasting’s Street Opera ‘Slippery When Wet’
(Out-Sider) 17th January 2019



Via the “head music” and rediscovered musical nuggets channel of Guerssen two extreme rarities from the 1960s for fuzz freaks and progressive psych rock fans to drool over. The first, Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, released by the Sommor imprint, collates a smattering of the Middle Earth Tolkien imbued Walthamstow band’s archived recordings (none of which were ever released), whilst the second, Hasting’s Street Opera’s Slippery When Wet, released by the most brilliant Out-Sider label, makes a previously private pressing (less than a hundred copies ever produced, and only ever handed out to friends and family) available to the great unwashed public for the very first time.

 

Formed by an art-school rabble of pals from an East End postcode, the Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s providence is most notable for the fleeting 45” they recorded at Abbey Road in 1967 for Parlophone. Though this fabled label, run by straights admittedly, launched The Beatles, the band was aiming for a deal with the more switched-on and hip Harvest label. Neither in the end took them on, and so what is a “lost classic”, the fuzz pop-sike ‘Strange Walking Man’ single remains their only shot. Still, in a short blossoming, they managed to support Floyd, The Nice and Vanilla Fudge (all three of which rubbed off on them sound wise), do a turn at the infamous salacious spit-and-sawdust Star Club, and set up their own club night (in honor of The Lord Of The Rings naturally) called Asgard.

The Pandemonium Shadow Show features nine varying tracks of bewitching esoteric psych, bordering on the progressive, from the key years of 1968 and 1970: The year they disbanded for good; even after dropping the river boat “paddle steamer” from their name to become just Mandrake. 1968 does seem to garner the lion’s share, with six of the nine tracks recorded in that musical pivotal year, as psych got real and heavy; the step-change being not just culturally but politically too; folk even more weaponised as the totems of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement across the Atlantic sank into the consciousness of the Boomer generation that kicked off the whole Hippie revolution. Still inspired on this side of the pond by the antagonistic post-mod rave-ups of John’s Children and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Floyd, the MPS condensed these inspirations and the metaphorical language of Gothic Poe into the title-track that opens this album. Painting a vivid Halloween phantasm that stars a “moon shadowed witch” siren waltzing on a “fairground of fate”, the band go all out on a spooky acid trip. With the use of the funhouse organ and that quintessential Mellotron – part Procol Harum hymnal tripping, part mind-melting carousel – they evoke The Doors, sometimes, Family, and when the bell tolls and shit gets real, Deep Purple. On the ominous unhinged funny farm ‘The World Whistles By’ – a place where the melancholic and all-too serious themes of mental illness and isolation are highlighted – I’m sure I can hear the early genes of Genesis and even The Alex Harvey Band.

By 1970 they were knee-deep in the primordial, building from a mists-of-time like trudge towards a tavern-staggering-patron opus that consumes The Master’s Apprentice and Vanilla Fudge in a rolling crescendo of epic prog-psych rock lament on the sea-shanty fantasy ‘Stella Mermaid’. And on the waning shimmery wavy, with a polka-like merry-go-round gallop, ‘Simple Song’, they almost merge Focus with The Nice.

All the right ingredients, even ahead of their time as far as the progressive elements are concerned, the MPS story could be painted as a sorrowful tale of a band that were denied a shot – Parlophone putting the kibosh on that inaugural 45” launch after a general lack of interest. Yet, as good as they sound, certainly ambitious, they weren’t quite there and lacked the magic and personality (though luck does come into it too) of their peers who did. Still, the Pandemonium is a real discovery that’s worth investigation and a punt.







Willie Gibson ‘Saint-Ex’
(Gare du Nord) 1st March 2019



An electric glide in blue, maverick synth composer Willie Gibson sets off for an aerial traverse of the philosophical articulated horizons of the legendary pioneering aviator and author Antoine de Saint Expéry. Using the fateful aristocratic pilot’s poetic 1939 published memoir Wind Sand And Stars as a launch pad, Gibson channels the spirit and lament of romanticized adventure through his Eurorack of various iconic modular synths and plugins.

A famed French laureate, the author of The Little Prince novella found his own inspiration in the clouds; first as a commercial mail pilot, later as war drew near, joining the (as yet defeated) French Air Force. When Hitler’s Germany forced an armistice with France, Saint-Ex found himself demobilized. Moving soon after to North America for a total of 27 months, he bided his time writing and importantly trying to convince the USA to enter the war. It was during this imposed sojourn that the enigmatic polymath wrote three of his most important works, including the lyrical, elemental book that now informs this album. Far from grounded, he would travel to join the Free French resistance air force in North Africa. Spurring untold flights of fantasy, Saint-Ex went missing in 1944, disappearing after a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean: Neither his body or plane were ever found.

The stuff of adventure then, Saint-Ex’s fate and various exploits as chronicled by those memoirs make for an interesting concept; the passion for flying that underlines it all shared by Gibson, who has himself obtained a “private pilot’s license”. Finding “similarities between operating light aircraft and patching and crafting sounds” with his modular synth apparatus, Gibson composes a linear suite of various knowing library music and 1970s synthesizer imbued peregrinations. His first mini-opus of original music – the previous album, Seasons Change, being a Wendy Carlos like neo-classical riff on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – plays with the formula, inviting the Gare du Nord label polymath, founder and producer, Ian Button to drive along two of the suites’ five tracks on drums, and Deerful’s Emma Winston to woo the odd accentuate vocal line.

Following an arc, from takeoff to Bermuda Triangle mystery disappearance, Gibson’s fantastic voyage ascends loftily from Saint-Ex’s book cover to arch and loom across a South American, European and North African panorama to a Kosmische style accompaniment that evokes Tangerine Dream, Rick van der Linden and Moroder. Once-up, up and away the serene ‘Dawn Flight’ offers ‘time for reflection”; stirring idyllic memories of the artist’s childhood in Saint-Maurice with a Baroque-synth and Theremin quivery soundtrack that conjures up not only images of the past but some otherworldly, even alien, ones too. The next two desert strafing tracks allude to both Saint-Ex’s dangerous and awe-inspiring mail-drops; ‘Cap Juby’ a staging post on the hazardous Saharan route, where Saint-Ex and his co-pilot navigator crashed in 1935, the pair lucky to survive were rescued by a Bedouin, and ‘Black Pebbles On A White Plateau’, which features a paean to a desolate white stone mesa (tabletop) landing spot – the shiny black pebbles that covered this plateau having a philosophical profound effect on the aviator. The first of these uses a crystalized sandscape of ominous sounds to describe the jeopardy, whilst the second stirs-up the immensity of nature with cathedral and tubular grandeur, and ethereal wafted cooing.

A theatre of lament, ‘July 44’ marks Saint-Ex’s final ascendance into the history books. Gibson uses a stained glass Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze sonic palette to convey a certain tragedy on this venerable soaring mission.

An odyssey of aerial balletic synths and more moody cascading arpeggiator elemental drama, Gibson’s homage to Saint-Ex is another curious oddity of retro-futurism and serious modular-synth based composing from the Cambridge-based maverick; a nostalgic trip that despite the addition of Button and Winston seems plucked from the pioneering analogue electronica age of the early 1970s. Interesting though, and a potential cult release in its right, Saint-Ex is worth the indulgence.







Olcay Bayir ‘Rüya’
(ARC) 29th March 2019



Marrying an Anatolian heritage with the polygenesis sound of the London metropolis, the multi-disciplined singer Olcay Bayir has injected a new energy and enthusiasm into the traditions and cultures of her homeland.

The daughter of a famed ‘ashik’, a musical bard of the Anatolian region, the purveyors of oral culture in the Alevi sect of the Muslim religion that follows the more mystical teachings of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, who ruled over the fourth caliph between 656-661 AD, and his twelve Inman successors – Bayir’s most formative years were imbued with the atavistic music of worship and social ceremony. Born in the ancient southern Turkey city of Gaziantep – among the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world; so old in fact that even the ancient Hittites were around to destroy it – her musical odyssey, from the very start, was steeped in history and reverence: That same city stands as both a “geographical and cultural counterpart” to the fated Syrian city of Aleppo, which lies just across the border.

The southern regions are where Anatolian Turkish and Kurdish cultures meet; forming the inspiration for Bayir’s own music alongside a belief that it’s “culture more than religion or nationality that provides identity.” It is an often frayed relationship; those that follow the Alevi tradition, whether Turkish or Kurdish, for obvious reasons, coming to blows with their Northern compatriots; the Kurdish question of autonomy and in recent years implosive civil war and ISIS insurgency in Syria enabling an ever more autocratic Turkish leader to ramp-up divisions.

Moving around the region every few years with her jobbing ashik father, Bayir was introduced to a cross-pollination of communities before the family’s eventual move to the London melting pot. A cultural shock, to put it mildly, for the sixteen year old who didn’t yet speak any English – though to be fair, Bayir is multilingual, her debut LP sang in five different languages. But through music the vulnerable burgeoning siren slowly opened-up; as the press release puts it, “music was the manner by which Olcay could best interact with the new world around her.”

Absorbing even more of the electric hubbub of her new city, Bayir, who began composing at the age of six, trained as a classical soprano. Those aria soars and vocal control are unmistakable when you hear those rich performances, adding a certain gravitas and expanding the range still further. Refashioned to reflect this providence, the folk songs of Bayir’s homeland were given an endearing, swanned lift on the 2014 debut album Neva (‘harmony”). An introduction to a highly skilled adroit vocal talent, this album showcase brought attention to the Anatolian songbook. Steeped more in that tradition, Neve provided the groundwork for Bayir’s new dream entitled album Rüya.

Still alluding, even referencing, the spiritual yearn and pining mountain steppe folk of that tradition, the afflatus Rüya showcases for the, first time, Bayir’s own original compositions. Taking sagacious romantic wisdom from both the Alevi and Sufi poets, she weaves the journey metaphor of the renowned bard Âşik Veysel Satiroğlu into the album’s serene opener ‘Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim’ (“long narrowed road”), riffs on the tradition’s analogy for the folly of trying to separate those both destined and integral to each other, such as the honey and bee, on the album’s slinky swooned closer ‘Ari Oldum’ (“I become a bee”), and covers the “graceful” brooding Kurdish love song ‘Ferzê’.

Using a similar enriched lyricism to envisage a better world, whilst yearning wistfully about lost and found love, Bayir’s original lines seem almost indistinguishable from those written in lore.

Lifting those traditions with a sophisticated production and backing, Giuliano Modarelli and Al MacSween of the transglobal music collective Kefaya accentuate the timeless qualities of Bayir’s melodies with a nuanced swirl of jazz, bouncy backbeats, amorphous sounds from Arabia and North Africa, and on the 17th century homage to the asik minstrel Karacaoĝlan, ‘Elif’, a whiff of Ennio Morricone.

Livening up the Anatolian songbook once more, Olcay Bayir and her collaborators make those traditions relevant; stirring the melting pot with dynamic vibrancy, and pushing those enchanting, soaring but also earthly vocals even further.







The 39 Clocks ‘Next Dimension Transfer’
(Tapete Records) 22nd March 2019



Going it alone as the sunglass adorned leather clad beatniks, Hanover’s 1980s cult lo fi (with ambition) miscreants The 39 Clocks were always a bit of an anomaly. Alienating even their fans with a general attitude of indifference and antagonizing audiences with shambling performances more Dadaist provocation than musical (replacing guitars with cleaning appliances for one), even the duo’s identities were masked (well, barely), with chemical equation code, JG-39 and CH-39, replacing the human vessels of Jürgen Gleve and Christian Henjes.

Neither hardcore proponents of punk nor comfortable in the company of Germany’s emerging New Wave, the Clocks were an idiosyncratic bridge between the Lutheran Gothic drone of The Velvet Underground and primal garage band petulance of Nuggets; the results of which proved highly influential to the next generation breaking through: Their self-coined signature “psychobeat” can be heard driving The Jesus And Mary Chain and most of their ilk.

Delivered in the driest of tones with an almost comical heavy deadpan German accent, but with English lyrics, the Clocks, on paper anyway, read as a put-up job from the mischievous mind of Martin Kippenberger. Yet they were certainly committed, and had providence; the Clocks arriving via after two previous incarnations, the Killing Rats and The Automats; the groundwork done during the punk epoch. They even had a cheerleader, in the guise of that most archetypal German-named boffin of rock trivia and taste, Diedrich Diederichsen, who considers them to be the best German band of the entire 1980s.

They only released a handful of albums and singles proper during their tenure career, but left, as this oeuvre-spanning box set proves, quite the legacy. Over-egged in places and perhaps indulged, nonetheless Next Dimension Transfer collects sixty revealing recordings from the duo’s (though they could of course expand to accommodate extra band members when the occasion raised) official and unofficial back catalogue for the very first time.

Sanctioned by the band themselves and featuring a bundle of previously unreleased tracks, both studio and live, this behemoth eases in those that are unfamiliar with this group; the first 2 CDs in this 5xCD overview featuring the Clocks first two albums, 1981’s Pain It Black and the 1982 Subnarotic. The first of these introduces the Clocks’ punk hangover turned spindly jangly futurism rock; tracks such as the grueling cold-war chiller ’78 Soldiers Dead’ inhabit, phantom style, The Normal, Cabaret Voltaire and garage terrains, whilst ‘Psycho Beat’ lays on the flange and phasers, accelerating towards a sulk-in with both the Velvets and Hawkwind. Saxophone, neither jazz nor no wave, is added to a general broody deadpan Gothic stringy malaise; a highlight being a prowling Lou Reed on Mogadon live version of ‘Twist And Shout’ (‘Twisted & Shouts’) that reimagines a bastardised Star Club Beatles transported decades into the future, playing at family fun day event at the local social club.





Subnarotic is no less abrasive and strung-out, beating its junk to a psychodrama of Suicide, Nico, the Voidoids (again, check ‘Shake The Hippie’ from that last album) and Can. ‘Rainy Night Insanities’ though, with its whining nerve-endings violin, sounds like unholy communion between Terry Conrad and John Cale, and ‘A Touch Of Rot’ merges Johnny Thunders, Television and Eno.

Previously (probably for our benefit) unreleased, five scuzzed-up vortex indulgent live performances from the Clocks’ heyday make-up the entire third CD of this set. Met with mostly silence, the odd hand clap applause from either an indifferent or stunned audience, extended versions of ‘Shake The Hippie’, ‘DNS’ and ‘Past Tense Hope And Instant Fears On 42nd Street’ are caked-in reverb, fuzz and distortion – ‘Three Floors Down’ has an erratic avant-garde ring of the Beefheart about it. Shambolic in places, on the verge of collapse, wandering out-of-time, these lo fi deconstructions are heavy and experimental. As a warning, there’s plenty of screeching feedback to pierce the eardrums, so look out. As atmospheres go it is a dank, creepy and Gothic one, the quality of recordings raw.

Let’s be honest, this shelved “live” LP and the material missives that make-up CD4 and CD5 will be what fans and hardliners are craving. With the duo’s involvement, overseeing this collation of their material, there’s plenty of oddities and “what ifs” from the vaults to drool over. Tracks like the California punk, ala The Dils, ‘New Crime Appeal’ and Siouxsie Sioux flanged dreamwave ‘39 Progress Of A Psychotic’ are interesting, and the lion’s share of that 1987 collection 13 More Protest Songs is fantastic: all transmogrified acoustic and electric guitar Byrds and harmonica Bob Dylan, mixed with the Velvets.

If you haven’t heard of The 39 Clocks than wow, what a revelation this box set is going to be for you. They will undoubtedly soon become your favourite 1980s visionaries. For diehards there is something to get excited about in the unreleased 1981 live album and two collections, updated, which make up this homage.



Words: Dominic Valvona


Istanbul writer, Ayfer Simms new column of music reviews.





Here’s the premise: We throw loads of new music releases at our contributor in Istanbul, the Franco-Turkish writer (currently working for the French Institute, and in the middle of writing her second novel) Ayfer Simms, and wait for the lyrical, literature-rich responses. Currently deflated, with the worse kind of despondent hangover after the results of Turkey’s recent elections, Ayfer finds sanctuary, joy, solace, sense and escape in the music of Canshaker Pi, Simon Love, Pete Astor, St. Jude The Obscure and Soft Science, on her daily journey across the Bosphorus.

Ayfer Simms:

I am far from the tumult of the western cities, buzzing with the sound of many musicians and artists trying to make it out there.

I listen to these bands on the Bosphorus, crossing from one shore to the other on my way to work each day. No matter what day of the year it is, the sea always shimmers and is for us “Istanbullulars” the mirror of all our thoughts, and therefor of those bands that arrive to me via the Monolith Cocktail.

One morning, Pete Astor transported me to a breezy afternoon, made for cups of tea and literature and love. And lightness, and hope, and grass, apple green, for melodies as fresh as the pine on a festive tree, sprayed with golden metallic dust. Pete Astor’s details, pop, clock and gentleness soothes me, you or anyone else who dares to be gloomy. Deep Wild West, regular beats, enough to go on smoothly rocking the past or present. It does not matter; just raise that glass with Pete.

Sharply intuitive Pete has a gentle soul. The guitar is reassuring, going country at times, Indie, brandy, chilling, happy and ever so romantic. “You better dream” is perhaps a mundane message for you if you’re sitting in a grey office with no hope of ever escaping your much needed boring work, yet, it works if like me you live under a dictatorship. Dreaming chases all our demands; gives courage, makes the impossible come true. I’ve looked at the shiny sea while crossing with my headset on and listened to Pete’s bright songs, and it made me jolly. Even though ‘golden boy’ rules the country, we dream away with those who rise a glass to beauty.





Days after that I was just strolling to catch the boat, and a real explosion happened with St. Jude the Obscure, the tunes capable of taking veins, like riverbeds out of their courses and through ants and bees, a sensation of fire and bites, impossible to ignore or not care, as I turned my eyes toward the sea, in the faint hope of seeing dolphins – they come out real early in the morning- but with these notes I threw the book I was reading in my bag and stood up in the middle of the boat and danced to the music: euphoric. Or could have done it very easily. In the same line, I cursed my poor Wifi connection and slid my fingers on the phone to get a non-connected version of their songs and couldn’t get to it. There’s one spot on the Bosphorus where you are not “connected” because it’s the sea and it is so vast, so I entered a stage of panic. Repeated the same tracks. Communed with nature. Got elevated. I’ve been playing them at parties (the few free Spotify tracks) and can’t get enough.



A different kind of energy with Canshaker Pi as they roll up and down on a broken escalator; they shout, with pots and string less guitars, or rave on rock n roll in your neighbour’s basement – in my case on the boat next door, to wake up everyone: rise and shine early my friend. And then the rave becomes a head shaking grunge ballad on the shore of your city, at that spot where it is ok to drink cheap wine-dog killer – and be cool. Any way you look at it, Canshaker Pi is noisy-good – and rebellious with it.



Here is a proper “pop” maker: Simon Love is a very British one (at least by the sound of it), soft voice, of that theatrical-semi comique style breed, he takes revenge on his past in the one (free) tune released on the internet. A good little listen if you don’t want to dig too far and too deep into your own mood. It’s quiet witty, and romantic in its own special way.



Ethereal, longing, serene, let yourself glide with the Soft Science’s contemplative pop rock. I found this single a perfect way of ignoring reality outside my window: Exotic and compelling melodies, enough energetic and firm guitar presence to tie your arms behind your back and stay there, waiting to learn what your fate will be. The lead singer’s voice is sweet and crispy, palatable and eatable: Yum.





Today I am not taking my usual boat. I am staying in, mourning the total end of democracy in Turkey after yesterday’s election and the re-election of the dictator. He said, “Democracy won”. What are we to do? Stay fearless and keep the music flowing.

Ayfer Simms


LIVE REVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms



Tinariwen live Zourlo, Istanbul 2017

We sit, and wait. The lights are on, the stage is empty, there’s a glow but we are unsure where it comes from. The room, a sort of Amphitheatre dressed in red velvety fabric has the allure of a drama play setting, it is dressed for it, whereas it has witnessed some grandiose, yet intimate moments I shan’t say.

The public is young and energetic; this public can appreciate what is to come. The public in Turkey is not eclectic. You can cut it with a sharp knife, clean carving; you will most definitely not see any lines get blurry in the cultural arena. This crowd is educated, have a bit of money, and is relentless, perhaps in the light of the newish developments that have been occurring: the rise of power all trapped in one single man. Read between the lines, that is how much we can give without watching over our shoulder these days.

 

This public is thirsty for this music, rather than an easy escape, it is a sort of shamanistic experience that they/we call for. As if the need for leaving our body would somehow liberate us for a moment, of the unspoken troubled iron fist that tightens its grip on this particular youth- and everyone else if they care to notice- in this modern area of Istanbul, a bastion in the fight against bigotry and subjection. We wonder then how being seated will work for us, nailed to our chair while our chests are already glowing in the midst of the room, as one great energy swirling around, ready to combust. Our bodies will enter a weirdly autistic convulsion, and our legs locked and handcuffed will soon frantically shake, like stoners from the 60s, our chains eager to break free will chime like those of the slaves on a field. We smile. We lose our breath when they finally appear on stage, one by one with a cool sobriety.

 

They take us higher than we’d imagine, with their ever so cool blues and mystical presence. There they are, welcomed by the crowd as if they carried under their shiny djellabas the secrets of freedom. Trance, entrance, and slowly the rhythms pick up and, some break free in the crowd and out of the cuckoo nest gather in the empty spaces between seats and vales, march in tremor, taken by seizures of pleasure, and surf the notes to outburst in front of the blue lights, summed by the members of the band. Tinariwen didn’t bring the desert to Istanbul, as enticing and magical that may be, they brought an air of rebellious fever, quenching the thirst for freedom, for all the while that they played we felt hope, we lost fear, and we felt igniting in our core, the courage to fight back. We left the venue filled with a reinforced desire to defeat our own local demons, if not with our fists, at least with our art. And as long as these bands don’t abandon us, we will be alright.



Ayfer Simms is a Franco-Turkish author, Agatha Christie obsessive, martial arts practitioner and contributor to the Monolith Cocktail who lives in the ancestral family home of Üsküdar-old Scrutari in Istanbul, Turkey with her husband and daughter. Ayfer currently works for the Institute Francais in Istanbul; a role that has recently involved her organising musical soirees and helping to bring Mali’s desert blues doyans Tinariwen to Turkey. Ayfer is just putting the finishing touches to her debut novel. 


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