Turkish Producer Mahmut Orhan Talks Hit Single 'Feel' & Signing With Ultra Records

Emre Koşak
Mahmut Orhan

In 2015, the Turkish producer Mahmut Orhan lighted on a club-wrecking sonic combination: what he refers to as "nu-disco mixed with eastern vibes." As soon as Orhan began playing the resulting track, "Age of Emotions," during a DJ residency at Club Chilai in Istanbul, rapt dancers, failed by their phones' Shazam app, begged to know what it was. So Orhan released the song, and it became his first hit on the Beatport charts, cracking the top 15 in the Nu Disco section. 

"Everyone is making the same style [of music]," the producer explains over Skype through his manager, Sezer Uysal, who is acting as interpreter, as the pair drive from Ankara to Istanbul. In order to stand out on "Age of Emotions," Orhan sampled a riff from a Turkish song, Canbaz's "More Ve Otesi," played on a violin.

Working off a similar aesthetic blueprint, the producer has now put together an even bigger success: "Feel," featuring the singer Sena Sener, has amassed over 115 million views on Youtube, cracked Shazam's Global Top 100 chart, and earned Orhan a deal with Ultra Records. The violin in "Feel" arrives quickly -- distant at first, as if you're driving towards a fiddler on the street, but then coming into sharp focus. It winds through three repeated phrases, deviates on the fourth, and passes the baton to a crunchy rhythm section. Sender's vocals are mysteriously indistinct, containing references to "19th century atmosphere," but she plays hide and seek with the beat, burrowing syllables into rhythmic gaps with an expert hand. Later, a bullish saxophone arrives on mop-up duty, practically screaming "dance already!" to whatever club-goers are still learning on a wall.

A friend in Greece encouraged Ultra Records founder Patrick Moxey to listen to "Feel" as it started bubbling across the Aegean, and Moxey picked up a phone as soon as heard it, sensing a similarity to past Ultra hits. "We knew we had great hooks in the song," he tells Billboard Dance. "We had previously done Edward Maya's 'Stereo Love' [which hit No. 1 across Europe and cracked the top 20 in the U.S.]. Whoever would have thought an accordion record would take over the world? I knew the potential was there with the unique violin sound 'Feel' had -- eastern Mediterranean, Balkan, fantastic."

According to Moxey, that's just the first enticing element in the track. "The horns are very catchy," he adds, "and we've also had many successful records with horns in them, like Alexandra Stan's 'Mr Saxobeat' [which dominated the European charts and made it to No. 21 in the U.S.]" Moxey was also enamored with Sener's vocal. Orhan ran across the singer on SoundCloud and thought her voice would be well suited to his hemisphere-blending approach, so he reached out online, and she agreed to collaborate. "She's some west, some eastern," the producer says via Uysal. "Other vocalists are always the same melody, always the same tones. She was not just like that." 

Vocal tracks tend to do better than instrumental ones, and the addition of Sener has surely helped "Feel" blow past the singer-less "Age of Emotion" in terms of club play, but Moxey insists that its success comes from a deeper source. "It's not a formula record," he asserts. "It's so different than anything else -- even when I played it for Spotify, they're like, 'what is this?' That's what so appealing about it to me."

Many listeners seem to share Spotify's feelings of pleasant discombobulation. Ultra picked up "Feel" roughly six months after its release, made some small tweaks -- Moxey describes that process as "pull[ing] those three hooks to the front" -- and shot a video in Istanbul to drive home what the Ultra boss refers to as "the allure of Istanbul and the Turkish coast." The result appears to be like a tumbling stack of dominoes: "The record has grown from Turkey to Russia to Greece into Croatia into Poland into Italy into Germany," Moxey says. "Right now it's top 5 Shazam in Germany."

He's cautiously optimistic about the continued growth potential of Orhan's single. "It takes time for a record like this to cross the world," he notes. But, "it just seems to be growing." Ultra has a track record with hits that creep up slowly -- most recently, the Felix Jaehn remix of Omi's "Cheerleader" summited the Hot 100 in 2015 after a lengthy climb. 

As "Feel" bounces from country to country, Orhan is working on a full EP with Ultra. "He really has something special in his grooves," Moxey declares. "He was born in Turkey," Uysal says. "He has these things in his blood."


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