Anatolian Rock: The Greatest Genre You’ve Never Heard of

todayApril 12, 2021 287

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By Daniel Barrett
Music Journalist

If you’re a fan of music, or even pop culture for that matter, chances are you’ve heard about a revolutionary period in music history known to most as “The British Invasion.” Iconic rock bands of the 1960s such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks were making undeniable waves across the United Kingdom with their boundary-pushing sounds and rebellious attitudes. Their successes were so undeniable that it wouldn’t be long until the rest of the world would start to take notice.

Britain’s influence on the music industry would be felt all over the world, but American audiences seemed to take the greatest interest in this fresh, exciting style of rock music. This new wave did not just radically transform the American music industry; it marked a complete culture shift in American society that would be felt for decades to come.

While history tends to remember this era as transformative for both American and British cultures alike, the British Invasion was not the only musical revolution of its time. Though it never reached the same global audience, another artistic renaissance was brewing in Europe just as U.K. rock was taking over the world.

Anatolian rock may not have gotten its due on the first go around, but a developing modern revitalization of the genre might finally give it the recognition it deserves.

Anatolian rock originated (and still resides) in Turkey, and derives its name from the Turkish ethnic group, “Anatolians.” Although the term “rock” implies a heavier, more punchy sound, the Anatolian rock movement was far more diverse than the name would let on. Inspired largely by psychedelic rock, originators of the Anatolian genre combined influences from the western hippy movement with their own Turkish roots. The result was a colorful fusion of psychedelic rock, folk, jazz, pop and even classical music, all colliding under one umbrella.

The origins of Anatolian rock can be traced back to the 1950s when Turkish audiences began to be exposed to more modern western sounds. Turkish artists would produce covers of American songs that they would hear on the radio, generally trying to emulate the sound as closely as they could. It was not until 1964 when the first original Turkish-language pop song was recorded and released for public consumption.

That piece was Timur Selҫuk’s “Ayrilanlar Iҫin,” a floaty, down-tempo ballad that lacked most elements of what generally constituted a pop song by western standards. With almost no rhythmic qualities, this track was driven largely by a moody string section, organ-like electric keyboards (in the same vein as “The Doors”), and Selҫuk’s ghostly vocals. It was a far cry from where the genre would eventually go, but nonetheless, Timur Selҫuk had gotten the ball rolling towards a new era in Turkish music.

Anatolian rock would reach its height in popularity around the start of the 1970s, as the genre was starting to find its footing sonically. An element that set it apart from any other music at the time was the unapologetic embrace of its cultural surroundings. Turkish instrumentation was unique and allowed for innovative sounds that pushed the psychedelic genre in a different direction than its western counterparts.

Anatolian instruments were heavily acoustic at the time, consisting of mostly strings, woodwinds, and wooden, leatherhead drums. Saz (a seven-stringed, guitar-like instrument) and sipsi (similar to a flute) were two of the more common sources of melody within the genre. Though classic rock drums did start to pop up more often as the genre shifted, Turkish percussion often carried a more Moroccan feel to it. Rhythms were complicated, but groovy and sometimes even flaunted a tribal quality in certain arrangements.

Combining all these moving parts amounted to what could best be described as an acid-fueled tour through the streets of Turkey. Commotion meets harmony, and surrealness meets technicality. It was a niche genre with unlimited potential.

Sadly, this potential was never fully realized, at least outside of its country of origin. The genre’s biggest names, such as Erkin Koray and Bariş Manҫo, continued to progress Anatolian rock well into the 70s and 80s, but the sound would slowly fade into obscurity as the years passed on.

That is, until recently.

Within the past few years, a new energy has taken over the Turkish music scene. Though psychedelic-inspired music never fully died out in the country, it did not seem as if it was ever destined to transcend stylistic and linguistic constraints to a wider audience. Now, for the first time since its arrival in the 1960s, it seems as though the Anatolian rock movement is gaining real ground in the music scene.

Even more so than before, the term “rock” is a bit of a blanket statement when applied to the current psychedelia coming out of Turkey. The genre is more diverse than ever and it features fantastic blends of electronic, dance and funk to go along with the already established sound of previous eras.

With the modern capabilities now attached to it, Anatolian artists are given limitless space to experiment with mind-bending synths and state-of-the-art effects. This new generation of artists wear their cultural inspirations on their sleeve, but do so with a healthy influence from their global contemporaries.

Groups such as Altin Gün, Ayyuka, and Gaye Su Akyol are just a few of the genre’s innovators, and they are a true breath of fresh air into a larger global psychedelic revival that has largely become stale over the last decade. They’re producing fresh, exciting and colorful depictions of a country that has flown under the musical radar for far too long.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and jump on the Turkish-psych bandwagon before you’re late to the party!

Featured Image by Daniel Barrett 

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