”Last time we came here there was water covering the entire floor” Özgür Baltutan says with a small laugh, pointing to a big moist stain in the roof in a corner of the 20 square meter dancefloor. “But we fixed it!”
On a smaller side street to Istanbuls glittering shopping artery, Istiklal Caddesi, the pulse of the bass vibrates from underground despite problems with location as well as authorities. Since 2008, Baltutan has been the owner of Pixie Underground (Pixie on facebook / Pixie on twitter), Istanbuls only club for bass music and soundsystem culture.
“It all started when we built our own custom soundsystem: Dread Culture Soundsystem. We used it for two parties, but after that it was just lying around collecting dust. Sound system culture is not very known here, people didn’t know what it was all about so no established clubs wanted to hire us for gigs.” Özgür explains when I ask him about Pixies beginnings.
“In the early 2000’s Istanbuls electronic music scene was dominated by techno and trance, but we felt there was space for more alternatives farther away from the mainstream. So we decided to start our own place, play the music we liked: dubstep, jungle and drum n’bass, and teach the public to appreciate it. When we started only 4 DJ:s in the entire city even played music like this, now we have around 50!”
The small, tightly knit community around Pixie has also spawned names of international renown, like Ex Nihilo and Turkeys most internationally famous dubstep DJ: Gantz who has played the Boiler Room in London and has releases out on respected dubstep label DEEP MEDi music. Both had their humble beginnings spinning dub records at Pixie.
Running a small establishment focusing on a small niche of underground culture is not the easiest in Istanbul, a city run by conservative authorities where change is constant and gentrification takes unexpected turns:
“Right now, the only way to get a new alcohol license in (Istanbuls central shopping and tourist area) Taksim is to own a big fancy restaurant, the authorities are trying to close and chase away all the bars and smaller spots so they can sell the valuable land to their hotel developer friends” Özgür laments.
Corruption and conservatism go hand in hand: its easy for the politicians and cops to harass young urban adherents of a suspicious subculture when their own political support comes from the uneducated countryside. “Our greatest practical problem is the amount of fees we get: the sound limits in the street are absurdly low and the authorities know we’re a source of easy money so they come visit us quite often.” The interview is suddenly interrupted: word has gotten around that the cops are on their way to enforce another petty, arbitrary and new regulation, and the chairs and tables where we had been sitting down for the chat quickly have to be stowed back into the dark, small and increasingly loud bar: “Can you imagine they are trying to stop us from bringing our chairs and tables out and sitting in the street? Its just another way for them to try to censor us and hide us away!”
A longer version of this article (in Swedish) will be published in the February issue of Ny Tid Magazine .
Gantz is playing in Helsinki 26 February at Innamind Recordings label night in Ravintola Lämpö.
Article and pictures by Otto Ekman.