I spent my adult years in the UK living in two of the most happening cities in England; first in Britain's party capital, Brighton, for three years and then in the culturally diverse and exciting Bristol. In both of these cities, I was spoilt for choice, whether I wanted to put on my dancing shoes and head out to a club for an electro night, enjoy some acoustic folk music in a quiet pub, join a raucous crowd listening to a gypsy band, see a bigger name from the indie/pop scene at a large venue, skank along to some live reggae, throw my hat into the ring at an open mic night, catch some of the finest world music from West Africa or even go upmarket and watch a classical concert. All these options and more were on offer every night of the week. Of course I know that this spread was not representative of smaller towns across the UK (such as the one I grew up in) but this range of musical styles and tastes is one of the elements that makes me proud to be British.
Before I moved here last autumn, I had visited Turkey several times, often venturing out to enjoy a bit of nightlife, so I knew roughly what to expect. I was, however, hoping that living here might allow me to find a few more choices down Antalya's side streets. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Don't get me wrong; there are many options if you want to listen to live music in Antalya on most nights of the week, but what there isn't, is variety. Believe me, I have looked. In fact, I've spent many “selfless” hours trawling Antalya's pubs, clubs and gig venues on the search for something different musically, and whilst this has turned up a few more options, it hasn't quite satisfied my broad musical tastes.
Rock, pop or folk?
Apart from opera, classical concerts and ballet, there seem to just be three main categories on offer: traditional Turkish folk music, rock bands playing covers and DJs playing crowd-pleasing Europop. Whilst I do really enjoy my nights out in Antalya, spending time with old friends, making new ones, dancing a little and drinking a few beers, I do pine for nights out planned according to what musical style struck my and my friends' fancy that evening. These days my nights are dictated not by what we can listen to but where we can find the best atmosphere.
When foreign friends visit Antalya, I like to take them to see some traditional Turkish music in Antalya's Çiçek Pasajı or in one of the smaller meyhanes. Çiçek Pasajiı usually has the advantage as its popularity with locals means that it almost always pulls in a good crowd on weekends and there's usually dancing. This provides a great source of entertainment as my less coordinated English friends raise their arms, snap their fingers and fail miserably attempting to wiggle their hips in the Turkish manner, or link little fingers and trip themselves up while trying to copy the fancy footwork of the locals.
Having introduced them to the indigenous music scene, if on subsequent nights (or occasionally later that same night) we want to watch some live music with more familiar dancing rhythms, we often head to one of Antalya's many rock bars. The longest running of these venues, located in the old town (Kaleiçi) is ingeniously titled “The Bar.” On Friday and Saturday nights here, you can watch one of the best-known and celebrated rock bands in Antalya, Blue Life, play covers of songs by a mixture of Western and Turkish artists such as U2, Talking Heads and Duman. Like many of the other bands that have residencies in Kaleiçi's rock bars, they are talented musicians who work hard to play the songs perfectly whilst simultaneously putting on a good performance. Yet, they do not play their own songs. For me this is the key difference between the live music scene of Antalya and that in the UK, where cover bands tend to be more unusual than those playing original music.
I spoke to their lead singer/guitarist Emre Sönmezcan to ask why this was. “We tried playing our own songs,” he told me, “but the audience wasn't interested. They want to listen to the songs they know, so we went back to playing covers. We try and keep it exciting for our audience and ourselves by adding new songs to our repertoire as often as possible and our set changes, depending on the venue where we're playing and who we're playing for.” Perhaps then, this is the problem; revelers here have become so accustomed to hearing the same songs in the city's various live music venues that bands that try to inject something new are not met with a welcome reception. As there are so many bars and so many bands competing with one another to attract the same crowd, bar owners are forced to book bands that bring in the crowds, and these bands are forced to play songs that are popular. As there are no venues willing to break out and fill a different niche, there are no other options for musicians who wish to eat. The old joke: “What's the difference between an aspiring musician and a large pizza?”... “A large pizza can feed a family of four,” comes to mind here.
During these busy summer months, Antalya does see bigger name acts performing. Recently the renowned Tarkan, Emre Aydın, Sezen Aksu and Hayko Cepkin have all played in Antalya to large crowds. Often these more popular artists perform in the open-air venues in Konyaaltı's Beach Park. Rock artist Hayko Cepkin's concert in a hotel was notable in that it was cut short by the police who allegedly presented an official letter issued by the Antalya Governor's Office banning loud noise after midnight because it was the night before the university entrance exam. Again, this is something that would be unheard of in the UK where concert venue and live music licenses are all arranged far in advance and the police would only have the recourse to shut down a gig if they suspected any illegal activities taking place or had crowd safety concerns. This also reflects that attitude of the local council towards live music concerts and explains why it has not been encouraged in the city.
Occasionally, though, Antalya does see some less mainstream but nevertheless famous acts playing in and around Kaleiçi. In the past six months, I have been lucky enough to watch İstanbul-based Turkish bands such as the delightfully eccentric Baba Zula, politically motivated Bandista, indie band Kreş and rocker Ogün Sanlısoy perform at the smaller venues of Simurg Temple and Filika Promil (which has since shut down). Yet these gigs are few and far between and are often not promoted well enough to attract the crowd they should. Many cities in the UK have a local monthly listings magazine that contains details of all the events happening on a day-by-day basis. As far as I'm aware, this doesn't exist in Antalya, and thus prospective gig-goers have to rely on seeing a poster, which often do not get put up until just a few days prior to the event itself, meaning they'd be lucky to catch it. More recently, promoters and venue managers have turned to using social media to advertise their events. I only hope that with the popularity of this on the rise, we might start to see Antalya follow İstanbul's lead and witness some changes to the music scene, bringing more original creativity to this potentially dynamic city.