The Untitled Night Forum

Berna Göl, Günseli Naz Ferel, Ümit Üret

This text is the transcription of the forum held in Torun as a parallel activity to the solidarity event Untitled Night, where independent music initiatives Badmash, Bankpank, M4NM, Table Records, and independent musicians came together. In this forum is organized to focus on not only the sounds of musicians but also on their experiences, and it is moderated by Berna Göl, Günseli Naz Ferel, and Ümit Üret. "According to which criteria are music and its producers defined as the alternative and or the underground? What lies behind to be positioned in these fields? How do independent labels maintain their functionality, and do they aim to maintain that? Of course, experiences are not homogenous, at what points do we diver from each other and how can we learn from each other?" are such questions the forum focused. 

In this forum, where we had the opportunity to participate in on the first days we had started working on Issue #28 was very impressive for us. When we replace the word of the musician with the photographer, or when we use the term of photography instead of the music, we noticed how common our problems are. Therefore, this text, which looks like the most irrelevant content of this issue, positioned in our conceptual framework and our desire for collaboration with different fields. For this reason, we asked permission from the moderators to publish the transcript of the from in the magazine. We thank them very much for the forum. 


On the underground culture, independent culture production, and counterculture

Günseli Naz Ferel: Hello to all, welcome. We have the opportunity to listen to each other's music, dance, and unite through music at Label Night held in last year or many other events with a similar purpose. Although this event is similar to previous ones, this time we have prepared a theme about how and why we come together, and what our collaborations and collective activities are. We are planning to open some concepts and cooperations to discuss through our experiences. Most of us are actively involved in several initiatives. My name is Günseli, and I am currently a part of the Bankpank. Apart from that, I broadcast on Radio Modyan. I have participated in some collectives, initiatives, and art spaces independent of music before. In the meantime, I am interested in the sociology of music, and writing my master thesis on the subjects that we will discuss today. I am with Berna and Ümit.

Berna Göl: I make my living as a full-time academician. My priorities in the field are provided through academics are different things. Although I am generally involved in music-based collectives, I am also active in the feminist movement in an indirect way. I am also one of the Bankpankers. Apart from that, we have a collective, ppqqmm, that is older than three years old, and it is a bit nondescript. It was established in Pixie Underground. We were aiming to sustain that place, make it attractive for other people, and talk about new issues. We have seen it worked somehow. Finally, I have been playing a band called Kim Ki O for 13 years, my favourite thing. 

Ümit Üret: And I am Ümit. I am working on the underground. I was a part of Açık Alan. Although Açık Alan mostly composed of architects, people from different disciplines were also involved. Besides, there is A.I.D, the Art is Dead, a non-art and non-music platform which makes art and music. It has an aim to make events in venues which are not concert halls. It is still active, but as many of the people from the founder-team were moving abroad, it has tapered off a little bit. We also publish A.I.D Magazine, and I am the editor of it. Then, there is Bankpank. We found Bankpank with Kıvanç (Sert) two years ago. It was a radio program at the beginning, but now, it is more like a collective. We are very crowded. Lastly, I also intend to make a series of events, workshops, and panels in Torun focusing on sound, body, and technology. 

B: Today we will deliberate on three subjects/concepts. The first one will be the underground related to culture, that is, underground culture. The second one will be independent music and independent cultural production. And the final one will be the counterculture. We will start to discuss the differences between them. Then there will be some questions we will ask you. We plan to focus on the situations bothering us, the shortcuts and methods we can share, and the topics of sustainability/unsustainability. We can start with the underground, I guess.  

Ü: The concepts we refer to as the underground, independent are a bit chin-wagging. There are a lot of discussions, and everyone has an opinion about them. But these are the things related to senses, and everyone also has a different sense. Although all these different opinions, I still remember Althusser's words stating we should not throw the concepts in the street like stray dogs and should pursue them. We should think twice about these opinions. Because although there are a lot of people who define the underground, there is no clear answer. It also changes and transforms through time and place/geography. It is necessary to pay attention to the transformation of these concepts, and not make them superficial. I think we should approach underground, independent, and alternative through the perspective of production. Being the underground does not only mean publishing your records from an independent record label, but you should also criticize the system. There must be something that makes us bring out our shells that we called the safe zone, the safety island. I feel in this way. Now, everyone has their own definition for the underground. With the Internet getting involved, a lot of people became more aware of the things, and the way that we consume has begun to change. 

B: In issues such as underground, independent, and counterculture, I think we should approach them with their opponents. For instance, the underground and mainstream. I would like to say that we can accept that they are in a changeable, shifting position. So first of all, I would like to claim that being underground or mainstream is not referable to a single production or an individual artist. Then we should talk about why underground or independent productions, and even countercultural productions, are crucial needs. Then, more importantly, we should talk about why they are that crucial. Let me pick up where Ümit left off: The sharing technology is based on algorithms. All the mediums you follow analyze what you will like, and offer you them. That is inevitable and also means that: Although you may think that you followed something within the illusion of you have established on your own, some of them are sponsored. Only by taking our initiative, doing something together, we can manage to stay outside the mainstream that is invisible and diffuse, spreading everywhere. That is why the underground is an actual battle. 

G: And a position. 

B: Yes, definitely a position. Moreover, the underground is something that you tell it a mile off, and you can reach over it through some networks. Independent is the concept that can produce things autonomously. Is it okay to describe like that? And I will give an example with "How was the independent misunderstood?" theme. We hear a lot about "the independent record labels." At the end of the 2000s, a venue -I do not want to mention their name, I even do not want to remember them- decided to establish a record company. Accidentally, they sent a contract to us, too. It was an example of "How did the concept of independent record labels be misunderstood, how and why did things go bad?" They intended to buy the copyrights of the artists' songs forever, make the decision of using it in advertising, etc. And the band members would not do anything without asking the company. They just intend to buy the copyrights forever, I mean. As if they believed that what should be independent is the record company, they have never thought that artists should also be independent. We fought with this a lot, but we could not reach anyone. Everyone released their albums from that company. On the other hand, there was another label in the 2000s. They invited to each of the 14 groups that they selected in their office one by one. They put a contract in front of them, got their best songs, and said: "Let's make a compilation to you." There they bought the copyrights of the best songs of all the bands forever, and the bands became unable to release albums from anywhere else. Knowingly or unknowingly, that is the politics. I do not know which one is worse. I mean, to be vicious or be a novice and uncaring that starts to work without the knowledge of these rights. So, I mean, there is no singular evil, but everybody is doing something that makes the situation worse and worse. 

G: What do you think, how would you describe the underground? 

Şükrü Çetinkaya: For many years, I have not described even a singular definition for the underground or the independent. For instance, when I think about counterculture, I can picture something. Counterculture is a flexible structure against the dominant culture, the capital, and the tyranny. I mean, the underground or the independent need a definition, but the counterculture does not. And the counterculture reforms itself through a specific place and geography. Whatever the dominant culture at that time or wherever it attacks from, the counterculture positions itself against that. That is why I can understand the counterculture while the experimental, the underground, the independent seem vague to me. 

Of course, there were times that I have worked for the capital, too. But they have never controlled the song. The reason for this was that M4NM has insisted on what it demands in the field of the counterculture. The companies admitted that our resistance was also adopted by the audience. The success in this field is related to how much you can resist. To be able to resist, you need to hold firm. 

B: So, can we say about the counterculture that: For example, there is a similar situation in comedy. Some comedians feed and breed the cliches, and recreate them. Therefore, if sexism sells, they would be sexist. If discrimination is popular, they would be racist more than anyone. That makes them popular little-by-little in a very conformist position. On the contrary, the counter one digs and pokes it. That is why the counter one is risky.


On sustainability, finance, and criticism

Ü: Sustainability is another subject of ours today. How does M4NM manage its sustainability?  

Ş: We could not give anything to anyone financially, so it is easy to sustain. Nobody except Ağaçkakan made money. Two years ago, we tried to make it commercial, and all our relationships had been broken. I gave up my financial expectations from the music, and now I am going very well. I became incapable of making music two years ago. The popular one can sneakily grow even in the field that you call underground. I believe that if you want to sustain an independent, underground, counter collective, you should earn your income from somewhere else. 

When 100 audiences believe in what you produce and say "Glad to have you", you can last the thing that you do ten years more. Then, when you go to bed at night, you have the motivation even if you do not have the money. As I said, it was no more pleasant when we tried to make it commercial.

Audience: So, why commerce? Especially big companies such as Sabancı, Eczacıbaşı, and Koç attach great importance to these productions. They try to confess their sins by transferring money to the subculture, independent collectives. As you mentioned it, they set you a condition. Although the pieces that eventually produce are not bad, they lose their innocence. 

B: Although I agree with most of the things that you said, some points need attention. First of all, a person may not want to work in another job to make a living. Everybody has that right. Trying to earn an income with a music production does not mean commerce. These situations have remained in the past century romance in Turkey. We neither live in a social welfare state, nor there are financial supports that keep us going. And we are very alone. Therefore, to be idealist if we say "Everyone trying to earn money from music is bad, the ones who do not earn money are good", we would be discriminative. Because in this scenario, only people whose parents can support them can be a musician, and the situation becomes even more ironic. That is why we should reconsider that idealism. For example, as far as I know, the people in M4NM live and breathe music. I guess they are people who do not want to go to work in the daytime, and they prefer to spare more time for music. 

G: While Şükrü was talking about counterculture, the matter of position became clear to me. It is not about making something marketable, but to produce it out of culture imposed on you. Otherwise, why cannot you sell your music and earn money? You say you gave up concerning and have enjoyed your music much more since then. One day, if your music turns into more popular in the mainstream like the trap, what would you do? Would you adopt the counterculture again? 

Ş: It is hard to imagine. Because the mainstream was never in the way that you suggest, and I am not used to getting popularity from what I am producing. 

G: The positions are not black or white. Criticising and repositioning do not have to mean that we should be against every dominant ideology. Approaching the subjects with an anti-racist position does not mean that it is not sexist or homophobic, for example. Therefore, although the counterculture is a concept against dominant and discrimination, the underground does not necessarily shape by it.

Ş: Leaching into something is as important as resisting. You already exist in your sphere. If we declare this place as a countercultural space, we would do whatever we want here. The main issue is how much we can do what we want outside of this space, and how much we put across our demands. "It is gonna work in this way, and this festival is gonna work in this way, the royalties of musicians will be paid." The important thing is how much we can resist. How much we can determine the payments, line-ups, contracts. Here, amongst us, having fun in our 20s does not go beyond creating a safe zone. How much you use your influence in the field of capital, how much can you resume yourself, how much can you determine the conditions... 

B: Something came to my mind. You say, "Being able to exist in other fields while resuming yourself." I can suggest a stand-up comedian named Hannah Gadsby. She is a lesbian and has a very creative show where she talks about her own life while fighting with the history of art. She had grown up in a small, isolated city where the stories were not reaching her. She was talking about how she felt lonely and how the stories should be shared. That is lesbianism for her and other things for us. Moreover, we are trying to build a space for actively creating. While doing this, the efficiency of our individual stories is limited. It is hard to manage this collectively, but we have to do it. 

G: On the one hand, we have an attitude against the formulas of content that can make a profit or reach masses. But on the other hand, we wish our activities were not limited and reached someone. Then, isn't it a bit of luck? Because as a principle, you never sacrifice from your content, but you also want to play in Zorlu. Because you want to touch others and tell them your stories. Then it is just waiting for what you do to be popular one day. 

Ş: You can negotiate. The attitude is significant, that critical attitude in the beginning. Little things can be changed. I don't know, the tone of a drum can change, it is okay. I like to use the term of occupation rather than reaching. And it is not happening by saying "Huzza, we are here!" You can be agile, you can be flexible, but you should keep the main idea. If you do not keep it, you would suddenly find yourself like Ezhel. It is necessary to check yourself from an external perspective. At some point, if you cannot approve yourself but keep going in that way, you screw up.  

G: So you have to be on the alert as everything you do has a potential to capture you.

B: We should talk about the culture of criticism, too. We, as producers, may talk about how to make a criticism, but when we look at the other things, we cannot build it properly. Anyway, the situations that suffer from, in general, are due to the lack of proper criticism. 

Ü: Criticism is not such a thing in Turkey. In Turkey, you either flatter or humiliate someone. That is not what we should call as criticism. There was a thriving series of articles about criticism in Şerhh Magazine. I distinguished that a bit there. There are two kinds of criticism: One of them is from outside, the ignorant criticism, and the other one is from academia, the systematic criticism. How criticism is established; for example, how do you approach what you criticize? I summed this from there. For instance, you are looking at this cup; look at both the bottom and the top. Why is it here, why is the made up of glass? Change your perspective. In addition to the absence of ignorant criticism, we do not have systematic criticism. That causes the problem. This situation causes the lack of the tradition topic that we talked about a little earlier. 

B: Let me bring up the tradition topic, so that can be understood. The productions we make do not accumulate in any way, and we can only remember them by a dreamy, shadowy groundlessness. Not being able to form the base of something, not being able to follow the effects of one thing to another. One thing cannot react to another. Groundlessness. 

Ü: There is a book on that shelf called Punk'ın Kesintili Tarihi (The On and Off History of Punk). That "on and off" statement is significant to me, and explains many things.  

There was a movement in the late 70s, but the book states that the coup d'etat destroyed everyday life not only socially and politically but also culturally. Perhaps this is one of the most important reasons why we do not have a criticism tradition. There is a lot of production, but they are not related to each other, they cannot be joined together. For example, we said that we would make forms when there were some incidents and resistance against a concert hall. But it did not happen. Everyone is after their personal pleasures, production, and tastes. And I would like to go back to the subject of the venue again. The venues in Turkey provide a basis for something to occur. People come together, experience something together, talk to each other and share something. There is a venue called Vault 34, and we are somehow a part of it. There is also a situation written in their manifesto. We come together and drink something in the evening, and dozens of ideas rise. It is a place for both taking in action and talking about again during the day.

B: Here is the thing about the venues. Except for a typical, defined place where you have coffee/tea/soup and visiting an exhibition by chance; how can you subsist in Beyoğlu? Existing venues are also increasingly taken away from us. And we are in a new search. Therefore, the venue should be a space that will also provide opportunities for encounters. 

Ü: But when I talked with Vault 34, it is said that no one from our team has visited for six months. However, when it was first established, everyone was very excited, a lot of things would be done, and so on. We shall not talk about Vault 34 in specific, but such a venue was established, and the people who supported it at the beginning are gone. Why can't we organize, why can't we unite? I still question this. And why is a space crucial, do we need space, what does space provide us are the main questions in my mind.   


On collective production, division of labour, stopping, and healing

B: I think the biggest problem we have about collective existence is the tensions that arise suddenly due to the uncertainty of the distribution of duties. These tensions cause serious problems as they accumulate. Whether horizontal or vertical organization model you adopt, if there is no division of labour, some of you would feel very tired, overused, and miserable. Or, some people would say, "I am not going to bother myself today." They want to have the right to say this because time is infinite and they can do it tomorrow even if they do not do today. This situation causes intolerance. I think this is the biggest problem. 

The second problem is that we are not familiar with each other's duties. We are only aware of these duties by name. If you do a single type of work, you would be unaware and isolated from the other works. We have become blinded to many different duties and then the state of unappreciation. I mean, we do not understand how much effort other people put into it. 

The third is that nothing has been taught to us except individualism. 

Ü: If we say selfishness rather than individualization, we talk more frankly, because people are selfish. In the second problem you mentioned is also related to selfishness, because people do not read the room, and focus only on what they do. Or, let's say that they will have an exhibition somewhere, they see the space only as a venue where they have an exhibition. They never think about what instincts have when people establish that space, what the people are doing in that space. There is no support for the venue there. No heart bonds, no solidarity. There they pursue a value they can add to themselves. 

G: They invest themselves, increase their capital and their merchantability in the market. My reason for speaking with such terms is the mentality. I think this mentality comes from a capitalist approach. People see the field as a market and act with this instinct. That is the reason why they are selfish, and this is what we learnt. To survive by ourselves and by investing in ourselves. 

B: I can ask that after your words: What is the source of that thing, the one that I call as individualism and that you call as selfishness? 

Ü: Family, growing up, institutions, everything that you see around you. 

B: Are there any breaking points? That is the main point I want to talk about, actually. 

Ü: The breaking points are where you can act together. People do not have to read books to learn something, we can learn by doing something together. We need to take some action. 

B: Then, although it's a difficult question, let me ask this to everyone. Have you ever experienced that turning, breaking point? What has helped you to shape things, even though the result was not perfect? We have to know that to continue. 

Audience 2: I think this was born as a result of some emotional experiences. What made me a political activist was my first boyfriend, for example. It is easier to become a part of something with cordial feelings. That sense, the sense of friendship and love motivated me. 

G: For example, I am relatively younger than you and what motivated me was the Gezi Movement. It was an important milestone. I had motivation before, too, but I had never experienced such coexistence.  

Audience 2: exploring something intrinsically/personally offers a unique experience. 

Ü: I cannot say it was a complete breaking point, but I find the Gezi as a huge impact, too. In fact, in an article by Nur Gürbüz, which we talked about today, she was talking about the increase of collectives after the Gezi Movement. It was a good article. I think we experienced the idea of creating a new world in the Gezi. 

G: And the collectives established afterwards were practical. Of course, there were theoretical discussions, too. We were studying together. But in general, there was a desire to create something new in many collectives. That impressed me a lot, being able to practice. 

Okay, maybe initiatives arise from emotion. So, what problems do we experience while trying to come together more systematically and create a label? Because the senses are not enough to organize after a while. 

Ü: As Berna said, the lack of division of labour is a crucial reason for this. That is why the Açık Alan terminated. 

B: Meanwhile, another key to the division of labour is counting the duty-sharing as a duty item. And to rotate it. The rule should be that not the same person always doing the same duty. In this way, people would start to understand what the other people are doing and what they are going through. Thus, people would begin to get angry less. For example, going to the printing shop is the most overwhelming part of the work, and to understand this, everyone should go to the printing shop at least once. 

G: On the other hand, let's say the division of labour was established at the beginning. After that, because of the other issues and life stresses, the room for the collective is getting narrower. At some point, what you do in the collective satisfies you neither economically nor emotionally. The change in the political and economic situation also has an impact. For example, you constantly pay for printing, and at some point, you become unable to do this. My other experience independent of music was the Kolektif Cafe. After a while, instead of covering my daily expenses, I started to spend on the cafe from my pocket. Everything was so limited, and my salary kept me up scarcely. When I did not get even that pocket money, I started to feel that my burden in the division of labour was heavier. 

Audience 3: The collective structures also sometimes turn into voluntary labour exploitation. 

Ü: Let's talk about that, too. Because there is a fine line between labour exploitation and volunteering, and at some point, voluntary labour exploitation is the worst. You do not notice it when you are in it, but you can accept it after your other experiences. 

B: But our labour is not exploited every time we make/sell an effort. Sometimes, as the labourer, we favour ourselves too much. It is necessary to be aware of this while working collectively. The work we do seems more valuable to us.

Audience 3: And you state that rotation solves this problem. 

Ü: In some cases, the rotation is unable to solve this. For example, sometimes only one person has a technical ability on a subject, and nobody else can do that work.

B: Now, I will say something incredibly cliche, but I believe it. One of the most crucial things in collective work is to take a step back before every action. I cannot tell you how fundamental a change this has made. The breaking points for me happened this way. For example, there have been awful problems in the ppqqmm's events at Pixie. Sometimes the people from the collective are also shocked. So, you should take a step back before going mad while everything is going wrong, while the crew is not showing up, while the instruments are broken, minors are caught in shitty positions. Stop and wait a minute. Note down what happened and think about what you will do next time to prevent the same thing from happening. Not to feel like a victim and go mad. 

Ü: I also want to build something with this method. Sometimes the initiatives need to notice that their existence should come to an end. And the initiatives should take a step back. People cannot decide to terminate for many reasons. Instead, they give up their identity and turn into something else. We always heard that "In the first two years they were going well, and they broke down after then." It is actually about not noticing the time of termination. In this sense, I think everyone should have this virtue. Or, of course, new ways can be searched. For example, Ipek said that making collaborations with other initiatives could be a cure for this. There may be other solutions, too. But sometimes doing nothing can be a solution. Make 2-3 events instead of 30. While you satisfy yourself, you can act without thinking about the people you have touched, and this may turn into a disaster. So these are the issues that need attention. 

B: We do not spare enough time to solve a conflict. In daily life, instead of solving a problem, we shift our ground. On the other hand, you have to find enough courage to leave what you are afraid to quit. That is what we call the cleaning. But neither of them is the answer, and I still do not know how to find a balance between them, especially when it comes to collectives. I think there is no correct answer. But I believe that we should look for a solution while maintaining the collective. That's why I disagree with you. 

Ş: Things have taken up space after a while. The footprint has become crucial. It seems more logical to let it cool down instead of cutting it off. It is a serious decision to put an end. You struggle and make something done, then some things start to go wrong, but the footprint is still crucial to you and the audience. You can say "We couldn't handle it" and terminate it, but it would make you feel aimless. For example, how many times we considered finishing the M4NM, but then we let it cool down instead. We said everyone should cool down and continue after that. We do not manage to calm down, and we do not have this in our culture. We are very prone to explosion, emotional and instant reactions. We become victims of anger immediately. I do not want to return this conversation to a personal development symposium, but this happens. We need to calm down. 

B: This indicates that we were unable to make a proper criticism, and we did not prepare a suitable ground for discussions. 

G: As soon as these tensions begin to occur, we start to become individualists. The things that we can discuss while everything is fine falls apart when things start to go wrong. Meanwhile, even if everything goes fine, it is hard for teams to meet regularly. I think this needs discipline, a system. 

B: I will say two things. First of all, we immediately notice the things that go wrong and get annoyed. We do not think much about the resolved issues, and our social history does not write those either. We should keep this in mind. The second issue -the three of us agreed with each other on this issue- if you want to create a new world, you have to start with yourself. That is not a world where you can feel good. This feeling is taken from us, and we have to reclaim it.  

Ü: For instance, you last organized an event like this, didn't you? 

B: Yes, it was an event that we put papers on Pixie's walls and called people up in an early time. We tried to create an environment in which we encourage the people who want to be a DJ but afraid of it, especially the women. Nobody fully undertook the event, and everyone was doing something together. Even though our starting point was drawing, the street art was added, I brought a vegan meal, someone else added something, and at the end of the event, we talked about this: "We do not feel good." Nobody feels good. Everyone's life is a mess, and we are tired. I noticed that, when something goes wrong, I am short of breath. We said that we should repeat this activity over the therapy theme. In the basement of Vault 34, while a friend was making aromatherapy, we made paper toys. Someone put music from YouTube. And it was the best event we have ever made. Sometimes the things can be solved with lower productions and smaller goals.  

G: We made a similar thing in Food not Bombs. It was very difficult to go out after the coup attempt. In general, every table would be set in the street like occupation, and we would have conversations in the meantime. However, in the last year, when it was very difficult to go out on the streets, when everyone's life fell into pieces, and when the situation was extremely uncertain; we organized a dinner in the place where we cooked the meal, and ate together, read and listened to what we wanted. That togetherness was incredibly healing. The value of being together in this unsafe environment is also significant. 

B: Happy ending.

G: Yes, happy ending.