Rock band Altin Gün, which puts a psychedelic twist on traditional Turkish folk songs, had big plans for 2020: compete for best world music album at the Grammys (its second album, Gece, lost to Angélique Kidjo’s Celia), make its Coachella debut and work on its third album in Malibu, Calif. Instead, the sextet spent last year remotely swapping demos with one another while in pandemic lockdown.
Come February, third album Yol will arrive on ATO Records. (The band signed to its first U.S. label in 2019.) Altin Gün was founded by Jasper Verhulst (electric bass) and includes Ben Rider (guitar), Daniel Smienk (drums), Erdinç Ecevit (synths, saz, vocals), Gino Groeneveld (percussion) and Merve Dasdemir (vocals, keys). The group first impressed label GM Jon Salter during a set at the 2018 Gizzfest, the Melbourne, Australia, festival founded by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Salter, like much of the band’s wide-reaching fan base, doesn’t understand its Turkish lyrics, but Dasdemir believes that makes its live shows even stronger.
“We have a lot of fun playing together onstage, and that translates to the crowd,” she says. “All the boundaries — cultural and language — disappear.” That inclusive mentality has earned Altin Gün slots at jazz, pop, rock, folk and dance festivals. “Maybe they have to have a certain amount of world music artists on every festival [bill],” wonders Verhulst. “It’s usually a good sign if you’re hard to classify.”
With the new album approaching, Verhulst and Dasdemir anticipate when they will again have a full performance schedule. Until then, says Verhulst, “The only thing you can do is start working on the next project” — which he has. “I still want to have the feeling that I’m a full-time musician.” Working remotely led to experimentation, with Dasdemir improvising and Ecevit contributing more synth than usual, giving Yol a stronger ’80s sound. (They are the band’s only Turkish members, having grown up on national folk icons Neset Ertas and Barıs Manço, among others.)
Verhulst says the shift in process benefited the album in another way, too: “It made it less traditional and less Turkish,” he says, “and, in a way, more Altin Gün.”