Author: Deniz Kırkalı
Photo Credit: Radyo Modyan
This series consisting of three texts will introduce independent spaces and cultural producers, initiatives, and collectives from Istanbul, Turkey in visual arts, publishing, film, and music. It questions who or what contributes to our communities and investigates the urgencies, challenges, and potential of collective and collaborative modes of production. These endeavors do not necessarily abide by the highly institutionalized and professionalized models but instead provide alternative methodologies and insights for artistic and cultural production in the locality of Turkey.
The series aims to present a partial portrait of the underground, underfunded, and underrepresented attempts in the arts and culture that are quite loud and powerful at the moment amidst the social, political, and ecological conditions. It does not wish to romanticize the work, render such endeavors sustainable or lament the limitations and challenges they face.
Instead, they simply note and map them down, give them visibility that they might lack especially in international arenas and create an alternative archive. It also wishes to expand to other localities in order to create alternative international networks and solidarities, allowing in diverse voices from outside of Europe more towards the so-called periphery.
The previous pieces of this series have, in part, addressed the scale of the impact of the pandemic on the arts and culture scene that already has its hurdles, lacks governmental support, and runs on limited resources.
In the second year of the pandemic, the music scene is still trying to recover from brutal restrictions such as keeping nightclubs, venues and bars with live music closed for 16 months and the still ongoing music ban after midnight.
As of March 2022, a majority of the pandemic restrictions have been lifted but the music ban continues which implies that it is more of an intervention on the lifestyles of the citizens of the country with an intolerance to the music scene and particularly the nightlife. In the past year, over a hundred musicians have committed suicide due to not being able to work for months and the high costs of living.
Therefore, the music scene faces numerous obstacles that many artists, musicians, and programmers suffer from but there are also quite a few examples that prove that it’s not possible to preclude production and to silence a society.
Radyo Modyan is an independent internet radio based in Kadıköy on the Asian side and founded in 2016. Their Instagram bio defines the radio “A bumpy ride between the source and the listeners.” Radyo Modyan simply aims to create space around music for free production, self-expression, listening, and exchange. It’s a practice of being together and free.
As there is a growing number of people producing content and wishing to spread it, internet radios are significant for both quantity and quality. Having occupied various spaces in the past years and currently having more than 30 programmers, Radyo Modyan is one of the prominent internet radios in Turkey.
The radio does not have a fixed group of people running it nor any broadcast supervision. Instead, it is run in a decentralized and collective manner which avoids many forms of censorship including self-censorship. Having no sponsors or major supporters, the radio operates through a pool where the programmers pitch in as much as they can.
They strive to produce and present ever new and diverse content, make new collaborations and events, and differentiate themselves from the other existing internet radios while producing outside of the mainstream in a free and uncensored spirit.
When I invited Barış Yalaz, one of the founders of Radyo Modyan, in 2019 to one of the workshops held within the scope of Etut | Study Session, he stressed that the radio also has an educational mission towards younger generations on how to consume sound and listen to audio content.
The programmers and the community of the radio wants to be together, make certain voices heard, self-organize, and determine their own tasks while adapting to the conditions in order to support their network. Since this year, they have been working on building a self-sustaining model that would not depend on a permanent space or people, yet is organized by its community members getting to understand and perform various tasks and responsibilities.
As of this year, they have been using Karga, a prominent bar and venue in Kadikoy, for recording, doing live sessions with an audience, and playing sets from the DJ booth there. Having recorded from their homes since the beginning of the pandemic, they are now enjoying having this space which is already a gathering space for a certain community as well as the locals of Kadıkoy.
Some programmers took a break when the pandemic started and now in a new space, with a new programme and new programmers joining the group, the radio is perhaps more active than ever and the community is taking advantage of having a space for physical gathering and exchange.
They are also currently preparing for the upcoming 8th edition of Wunderfest in Gökçeada between the dates of 19-22 May, 2022. As they have pointed out in a recent online conversation, Wunderfest is a “free-party” that opens room for being together and free in an alternative setting and context. The festival is about experiencing and enjoying a space together with all the constituents of the radio without any hierarchies, through collective work, and collaboration.
Their drives are doing things differently, supporting musicians and producers in various possible ways, and bringing the community together, emotionally, virtually and through the festival, physically. They also put great emphasis on not having any negative or harmful impact on the island but rather collaborating with the local producers and businesses so that the island also benefits from this event.
When I ask them what currently excites them the most- apart from Wunderfest – their answer is straightforward: doing things together which is both the most exciting and the most challenging aspect. They try out many things in building a sustainable model and never stop contemplating on how else to keep this auditory space a fruitful and active one.
Art is Dead
Art is Dead or A.I.D. is an initiative that was started by İpek Odabaşı, Çağrı Erdem, Görkem Arıkan and Alp Çoksoyluer in 2014. It aims to set itself free from the defined musical criteria and experiment with new technologies, methods, and tendencies.
It hasn’t always been as active since many of its members and collaborators have relocated to other countries. However, A.I.D. currently operates in many spaces, scales, disciplines, and manners through a series of events with an open and fluid spirit.
I spoke on the phone with İpek Odabaşı as they are preparing for their upcoming event on April 3rd in Istanbul. Odabaşı, who is now based in Berlin for two years, is temporarily in Istanbul and is organizing events juggling many challenges; financial, cultural, and administrative.
She, nevertheless, emphasizes the amount of support and encouragement they receive from their community and venues like arkaoda where they held their latest event.
A.I.D. simply aims to give stage to music genres and styles that are experimental, not easily digested and understood, and that often can’t find an arena or a stage. They want to make their music heard. Odabaşı stresses how the popular venues in Istanbul find their music unconventional and not always suited for their desired audience. This is why A.I.D. creates its own spaces and temporary venues.
“A.I.D. Room” is a series where they turn spaces that are not concert venues such as parking lots, tattoo studios or textile factories into an event space. They also organize free jazz concerts with Şevket Akıncı under the name of “Take the A.I.D. Train”.
The money they raise from these concerts is donated for the protection of street animals. They create zines where they discuss genres and styles, share inspiring texts, and give a literary voice to their activities and curiosities.
In the past, as a non-profit initiative, they used to self-fund their events as they were a bigger group and it was relatively affordable to organize such gatherings in Turkey. Their priority was to keep producing and reach more people through public events. They did not ask for an entrance fee but put up a donation box. The money that would be raised that evening would be shared equally between the artists. In the current economic climate in Turkey, they have no other option but to hold ticketed events as there is little to no outside financial support for initiatives like them.
Odabaşı points out that what they do at A.I.D is indeed highly political. They use this space and sound that they create to raise their voices, turn the performances into protests, empathize with others, and resist through music. In line with that, they call themselves a non-art and non-music initiative.
When we chat about the current scene and what is exciting as well as challenging about it, she says there is an incredible amount of production despite the lack of resources and restrictions. Not having been in Istanbul for a couple of years and coming back, she discovers a lot of young and inspiring musicians.
Even under the worst conditions and in such hopeless times, people continue to create and to show up. She adds that before when they relied on donation boxes, people were hesitant to contribute but now the events are ticketed but always crowded. I believe this is partly due to the urgency and necessity of supporting the ecosystem ourselves because it is us who make it and who will sustain it.
Kabin is a recording studio run by Ahmet Kazım Müftüoğlu who is a jazz student at Istanbul University State Conservatory. Having moved to Istanbul four years ago from Ankara where he was born and raised, he has been looking for a studio which he would also turn into a gathering space for other producers, musicians, and artists.
He found the 20 meter square space in Moda, Kadıkoy right before the pandemic hit. Therefore, the space was unused for over a year and a half and Müftüoğlu is only actively using the space now. The space, located in a passage right next to Outro which is a prominent record store, was previously used as a dark room by a photographer. He built a floating 6 meter square cabin inside the space and made it into a recording studio where he records many different sounds ranging from jazz quartet recordings to poetry readings and to street sounds.
The compact space with movable panels is his personal studio but also a space for collaboration as he is recording various other musicians and instruments simultaneously. He also, at times, uses the space for live sessions, video shoots, and as a space for the community to practice producing and being together. This is why Müftüoğlu wanted to have a space of his own rather than depending on others to create spaces for the community and for further collective production.
Kabin is not really a for profit space (and honestly is not a very sustainable business model anyways as Müftüoğlu confirms) but a space where he can practice drums, invite others, and meet new people. I met him through friends who are active in the music scene and such encounters across disciplines and practices is exactly what he aimed at. He is sustaining the space through his personal music and sound practice and he is also a dog trainer.
However, the lack of positive reinforcement (a term he borrows from training dogs), be it financial or in the form of feedbacks, he sometimes struggles to keep going but he, then, finds the strength to do so because of the people that make the space into a community in which he feels inspired. He is also excited by the opportunity to use the space in ways that he can’t foresee now that the restraints the pandemic has put on the music scene slowly starts to lift.
Head here to read the previous entry in this series. For more stories from We are Europe, sign up to our newsletter down below.
About the author
Deniz Kırkalı an independent curator and writer based in Istanbul and London. She has co-founded Garp Sessions, a summer research programme in Babakale, Turkey and topsoil, a transnational curatorial and research collective. Her writings have been published in international magazines and platforms such as AQNB, Flash Art, this is tomorrow, Art Rabbit, Cogito and Art Unlimited.