Mehmet Aslan + Barış K + Flamingods (DJ set) at The Jazz Cafe.
Pitched as a ‘trip to the Middle East’, when I saw a couple of my favourite DJs on the line-up, I had to review this night at the Jazz Cafe. Barış K is often given much kudos for revitalising public interest in Turkish psych and disco. With his release of collections like Istanbul 70: Psych, Disco, Folk Classics and weekly shows on Istanbul’s Dinamo FM and Açık Radyo he’s well known as a veteran DJ and expert crate digger. Along with this, Swiss-born Turkish DJ Mehmet has developed a reputation for increasingly in-demand edits and being a DJ with a fondness for playing a myriad of sounds. It has come to a point now that deep Turkish cuts are being played by the likes of Gilles Peterson in clubs globally, and if you’re a DJ it’s a secret expectation that you’ll have a tune or two tucked away in your box.
Mehmet’s selections were an amalgam of disco, house and tech-y tunes. A pleasant surprise of mine was hearing his rework of Okay Temiz’s ‘Denizalti Rüzgarlari’ – Okay Temiz being played in The Jazz Cafe is so right, and so unexpected to me. Temiz is one of the most well respected figures in Turkish music, and a jazz legend, he’s played with Don Cherry, Johnny Mbizo Dyani and Maffy Falay. Mehmet’s reworking didn’t shy away from the spirituality of Drummer of Two Worlds, the album that ‘Denizalti Rüzgarlari’ is taken from. He allowed the see-saw wind instrumentation and batucada breaks to take their time over his dreamy reverb and restless bassline. It’s an experimental track to play in a venue like The Jazz Cafe and it scared away the Saturday night crowd who happened to end up in the place just because they like going out in Camden – no complaints there. Some other highlights included the deep aquatic edit of ‘Baladi’ by Disco Halal and cosmic disco humming with the presence of Sun Ra.
At one point in the night Barış K had a crowd belly dancing to ‘oyun havaları’ a type of dance music that is always played at weddings, resplendent with darbuka and the modal lines popularly used in the Middle East. He always remains keenly attuned to the roots of Turkish psych, playing famously anti-establishment songs such as Selda Bagcan’s ‘Nem Kaldi’, a song that uses the poetry of ancient ‘Aşık’ truthsayers in her lyrics. Stand out lines include ‘Yiğit geçinenler namert çıktılar’ meaning ‘The ones who made out that they were mighty, came out cowardly’. An important voice of Turkish protest music, Selda is also one of the reasons Mos Def won a Grammy in 2010. Her song ‘İnce ince bir kar yağar’ featured on his well-loved song ‘Supermagic’. It’s clear that the songs being played by Mehmet and Barış are brimming with Anatolian funkiness, but they often have political overtones that have an uncanny resonance with Turkey’s current situation, much as they did back in the ’70s.
Overall, watching Barış and Mehmet go back to back at the DJ decks was great fun. They had a familiarity that made me feel like they’d been practising together over the passing week, but really it just shows how slick they are at what they do. I feel like they were thinking about the technical side of things just as much as about selecting rare tunes and dusting off their edits. A great pairing.
A quick nod to warm-up act, Flamingods’ Kamal Rasool, his set had a well-stamped passport of songs demonstrating some good psych knowledge and flair. Despite the excellent music, the atmosphere felt slightly lacking for me. For all the Jazz Cafe’s brilliance as a live venue, it’s not designed to get the best from DJ sets, and I can’t help but compare the venue with warehouse-style places like Oval Space and miss the open-plan dance floor and quality sound. It makes you think of recent developments in public hi-fi sound that make venues such as Brilliant Corners and the much-missed basement club Plastic People.
There were moments during this gig where it genuinely had more of a café vibe than a place designed to host world-class DJ sets. Mehmet Aslan and Barış K had a varied set that really brought an energy to the room, playing electro-psych and edits that needed a full-bodied sound behind them. I felt confusion when it had reached 1am and still the volume had not been whacked up, and I could actually hear people enthusing about the music while they danced. Nice and all to be able to hear people having fun but not exactly the immersive experience you sign up for when you’re paying up to £15 entry.
Nonetheless, The Jazz Cafe really seem to be moving towards this. They’re taking on resident DJs with a solid reputation for selecting an eclectic range of jazz, psychedelia and more, along with being closely tied to the UK jazz scene. Their new weekly sessions, ‘Soul City’ promise Disco, House and Soul played by DJs like Zakia (also resident DJ for Skin Deep magazine) and Anne Frankenstein who also sings with Wah Wah 45’s tropical funk outfit The Gene Dudley Group. Bringing in underground DJs who are creating an archive of rare songs and interesting edits, I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on what The Jazz Cafe have in plan for the future.