Hakan Henry – Interview

(Posted in Interviews)

Hakan Henry

Hakan Henry is a DJ from Istanbul who has been living in Australia for a few years, and we have grown very fond of him while we have enjoyed dancing to his fine selection of house music. We are saying farewell to Hakan at Montague in Fortitude Valley, the home of an event he ran with Brisbane DJ and promoter Rikki Newton, called drũm. The last drũm party will be on Friday 17 August, and it will be a night to remember.

Q. Hakan Henry, I have clear memories of first meeting you at a mutual friend’s birthday party years ago, who happens to be Underground Sound interviewee and lover of fine house music, Anna Sonnenburg! You and I were walking and talking as we left the restaurant after the party and then went our separate ways. But I ran into you again when I attended your drũm events at Montague in Fortitude Valley, which you put on with Rikki Newton! Brisbane is such a small town, and the electronic music community here is even tighter. How did you get involved in the scene and find yourself behind the decks?

A. I remember that night vividly 🙂 Anna was actually the very reason it was possible for me to connect with music in Brisbane. We met post a 2012 LGM boat party, where we ended up playing some music. A littler later she got me my first Brisbane gig at an LGM event in the park in St. Paul’s Terrace on a beautiful winter’s day. Then through her, CoolHand Luke, who I had met briefly before, booked me for Sundae, which was on another beautiful winter’s day.

I also had met Adam Swain, and a little later met Rikki Newton, and we discovered we liked similar stuff. Then they booked me for a Subtrakt event, which had Jus-Ed as the guest. That was the year I moved here, six years ago now. The beautiful part of it is that you may get to make good friends with people you connect with at a musical level and I’ve been fortunate to experience that here, and also got to play some music too. Thanks to all those friends. Most grateful and happy.

Q. You are from Istanbul in Turkey. What is the electronic music scene like there? How would you describe it to someone who is used to partying here in Australia?

A. As an importer of electronic music, it’d be fair to say that Turkey has done well, mainly at an underground, and at times in the more mainstream level as well, still remaining pretty niche overall. Historically it has mostly been in Istanbul, which is the biggest city.

We had an all ‘underground dance music’ radio station in Turkey as early as 1994, called Radio 2019. Then there was Radio Oxigen, also starting in the mid-90s, dishing out jazz, with a healthy dose of acid jazz and broken stuff that were up and coming at the time. There have been various collectives and promoters pushing different ends of the spectrum along the years, and many incredible names have come through both as live acts and DJs, and initially more underground ones rather than the bigger names. I remember hearing The Prodigy in Istanbul in 97. There was a Def Mix tour in 98. 1995 to 2010 was probably the more happening time for electronic music in Turkey, with more clubs, festivals etc, given that the atmosphere back then was also more welcoming for such occasions.

Still, after those years too there has always been access to quality music. We’ve always had a few good clubs, several festivals and plenty of good gigs. The last decade has also seen an increase in the number and exposure of local artists in electronic music getting international recognition, especially those like Baris K who have fused Turkish folk and 60s/70s psychedelia with newer technology and sounds. Hats off to all those that have kept the local scene going amidst economic and political challenges. I’ve been in Istanbul for the past eight months and saw that, given that the current atmosphere is a bit more tense, I think people need the release through music more than ever!

Q. Tell us about what it was like growing up in your home country Hakan. What part does music play in everyday life there? How have you and your family and friends experienced the joy of music at important times in your lives?

A. Music is quite available in the daily life in Turkey, probably more so in the cities through media than in the rural areas. I think a good sign of this is when private radio started happening, it multiplied in Turkey really fast. We are definitely a more emotional than rational people, for instance when we speak the intonation is constantly changing. It may not sound like a musical language phonetically, but there is a musicality in the sense of storytelling there.

I remember as a kid growing up in the 80s and earlier 90s Turkish pop was good quality music and it was everywhere, then again 80s and 90s were good years for music globally. Venturing off topic, I feel that actually has to do with the fact that the world had not yet lost its emotional essence to consumerism completely, which I think changed after the millennium. Of course, there is always quality available, previously I think quality was more available in the mainstream, then it went underground, and now with the aid of technology is becoming more accessible again.

Back to topic, Turkey too is made up of many different peoples, tribes that brought their own melodies along, and therefore there is a history of different ethnic sounds in different regions, so it has a rich heritage musically, though the awareness of such is not maybe as wide. Culturally, in areas where conservatism is not so strong, like with humans anywhere else in the world, music and dance are forms of expression or celebration. The Turkish psychedelic folk sound of the 60s and 70s incorporated these influences, and later some of the more mainstream artists have incorporated these influences in their work throughout the 70s and 80s. Overall, it would be fair to say that there is still a strong Turkish pop culture and again a relatively healthy dose of subculture in the bigger cities.

Earlier in my life, music was part of life at home, though not a main attraction really, as our household was really more work-driven. For a while my mother was attempting to learn the piano and I was included in the attempt, which I later protested as I was keen to learn kung-fu, watching the movies she brought home from the video store she was working at. So that childhood journey on the keys didn’t last more than a year or two. This has been a big regret later, which I am still committed to turn around 🙂

It wasn’t till later, maybe when I was 10-11, that I discovered the local record store’s mixtapes and I started developing a personal relationship with music – making tapes, getting my first mini radio, etc. It was also the start of MTV in Europe and private radios started popping up in Turkey, so then foreign music became really accessible and a bigger part of life every day. I was also taken by sound at an early age, I remember there was a store at the top of the street where we lived, and it was selling commercial sound systems and I would stop and stare at their windows returning home from school. I then have vivid memories of hearing good sound systems, both at hi-fi and larger scales, and them having a distinct impact on me. That is basically the form of choice for me that achieves some sort of flow state, sound & music.

Q. Do you remember some of the first electronic music that you heard? What was it that drew you to house music and the sound that you have played for years now? How did you start DJing?

A. The earlier stuff I heard was on the compilations that came out of UK, which featured some of the early rave anthems, like KLF which was probably around 91. I also remember hearing some earlier hip house like Jungle Brothers and really liked the earlyish hip hop too, especially De La Soul!

At the time, upstairs neighbours had two boys, and the older one was really into music. He had already ventured past the local territory into an alley of record stores in the centre of the city, where the local DJs were shopping for their vinyl. I remember him taking us there and felt being mesmerised. Dance music in general had taken off around that time commercially too, so we were familiar with the more popular stuff, but here was a deeper level of stuff that sounded good! Probably the biggest effect any song had on me the first time I listened to must have been Mr. Fingers ‘Can You Feel It’. So we started buying our first records. The first 12 inch I bought was DJ Duke ‘Blow Your Whistle’ on FFRR, which I think was in 93. That meant all our allowances through our teens turned into 12 inches of black gold 🙂

It was the dynamism and vigour in there woven at times with joy if it was garage, or melancholy if it was deep stuff. It really felt powerful. Here was that soul alchemy that I found that my peers had already found in rock & metal. The energy aspect is why I think a lot of people are drawn to house & techno originally. The lack of mythical substance in the outside world is shattered through music. Given the atmosphere of where & when house music originated, it has a very strong sense of creative energy, the 80s in the US, with the material world outside in its apogee, where most of the producers or the kids didn’t really connect with, or even felt oppressed, yet in their psyche it was booming and still is, I think we all know the feeling 🙂

At the time, my father was working in hospitality and there was a sound system and DJ booth at the place he was managing. I became friends with the resident DJ there, and later on started fiddling on the gear. The DJ started working for that first dance music radio station in Istanbul and I asked him if I could be his intern, which he accepted, so I was lucky to be sweeping the floors of Radio 2019, where all the local DJs were playing on air in 1994. That’s where I was able to watch these guys do their thing and started practicing, which is how I started.

There were some of the US DJs coming to play in Istanbul too and hearing them was mind opening every time, namely Frankie Knuckles, Derrick May and Derrick Carter. Then along the years I was lucky to have residencies in various clubs, which I always loved, because it meant you could have the comfort and the space to try stuff. So pretty much until I moved to Brisbane in 2012, I kept on playing and also booking foreign artists in Istanbul eventually.

Q. You’ve played at a bunch of events in Brisbane and Sydney over the years, including Spice, drũm, Subtrakt and Andromeda Festival. We’ve been very happy to have you. Would you like to share with us some of the memories you’ve made?

A. Thank you, I’ve been very happy to be here. Each had their own vibe and was memorable in different ways. I loved hanging out at Sundae, in the afternoon, breezy by the river, very relaxing. Subtrakt always had a solid dance floor, bringing proper international talent to town, this is where I have perfected the Indian chant practice. It was great to be able to get to play out of Brisbane a few times too, namely at Spice in Sydney and also to participate somehow in the local scene with our take on a gathering, with drũm. I must say, the second Andromeda was quite a special vibe, deep in the forest, with DJ Deep, Fred P and Nobu, all three proper shamans, aye!

Q. What have been some other events in Brisbane and around Australia that you’ve enjoyed as an attendee? Do you have any favourites?

A. Out of what I have been to, Simon Caldwell & co.’s party, and Mad Racket in Sydney! I’ve been a few times, and probably one of the best parties I’ve been anywhere I reckon. People are getting down proper!

Q. You’re leaving Australia and moving to Tokyo. I know you went to Japan for the first time in December 2013, with Rikki Newton. What was it about Japan that made you want to live there? What do you have planned?

A. It’s a work opportunity with a friend before anything else, that will hopefully allow me to be a bit more flexible with time and spare more time for love stuff like music. There isn’t a definite time frame to it, so we’ll see how it goes.

I have quit my full-time job in January, after 15 years, taking a year off last year, traveling first and then spending time in Istanbul for the most part of 2018, learning basic introduction to music production 🙂 I have always been split between the two lives as I think most of us who do it have been, pursuing some sort of conformism mid-week and non-conformism on the weekend. There’s a radical paradigm shift between the two and I think that has an impact on the psyche, I certainly always felt I didn’t have enough time and energy to explore the more creative sides of life. Especially if you are conscientious with your output on either side, as it matters to you, and especially at work with the responsibility to other comrades, it can be energetically challenging. So, the plan is to keep on exploring with a healthy balance of in & out.

Tokyo is an amazing city, especially the downtempo teleport network they have underground, and that you can literally bike anywhere makes it pretty liveable as a large city.

Q. In the years that you’ve spent down under, knowing you I know you would have made a lot of good friends. Who would you like to take this opportunity to say farewell to, in the hope that you will see them again one day?

A. All brothers and sisters we’ve connected with. Thank you for your friendship, I will miss you all! Take care, keep in touch & much love!

Mad respect to all those keeping the vibe alive in this part of the world and thanks once again to Anna, Luc & Chantal, Adam and Rikki for their support too!

Q. Your friends can say goodbye to you at a special event in Brisbane at Montague, drũm #10 – Hakan’s farewell. It will be great to have one last dance with you and share a few more laughs. I’ll keep an eye on you if you fall asleep on a couch in the club, again! You must be looking forward to seeing everyone and having a fun night with some good music. We’ll miss you mate! What are your hopes for the evening?

A. Hug and get down with as many mates as possible hopefully!! We’ve got Luc’s Funktion Ones at Montague, and we’ll be taking the new Mastersounds mixer with valves on each channel, Linear 4V, for a ride on the nite! So keen to hear how that sounds. That’s going to be a special one, I don’t think I’ll try to squeeze sleep in this time 🙂 Come along & participate, it’s free. Looking forward to getting together in space & time!! ✌🏾💚🌏

Drũm #10 - Hakan's farewell

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