I first heard Ethnique Punch rap seven years ago when he grabbed the mic after a live set of  2/5 BZ who is something like a father figure to many electronic producers from Turkey. That night, the artist was booked on a double bill with DJ Zuzu in the first incarnation of Berlin Gallery Savvy Contemporary. Only a few people cared to show up, which left plenty of space for actor Birol Ünel’s ecstatic dance moves (the only crowd response of note)… and rapper Ethnique Punch who was pacing the room, mic in hand, pulling the cable with him like a leash, spitting staccato rhymes in Turkish like I never heard before. With his beard and growling voice he seemed way older than he was, and this hasn’t changed much over the last years. Since then the multitalented artist has moved from his hometown Eskisehir to Bremen to pursue a masters in visual arts. But you can still meet him any other weekend in Berlin, where many of his musical connections provide gigs and couches. The video clip for ‘Dünyazede’ with Japanese DJ Scotch Egg gives a pretty accurate picture of the energies he can unleash when he is out for fun. With a series of solo releases and collaborations he has managed to build a steady flow of Turkish rap delights, and a career always seemed just within grasp … only to be thwarted by forces like the Turkish military, that wanted him to do his army service, and now of course the Corona virus. In an email conversation, Ethnique Punch considers his options.   

What are you working on these days, and with whom?

I am currently working on 2 EPs and a solo album. One of the EPs is with Orcun Atilla, he is a multi-instrumentalist based in my hometown Eskisehir, Turkey. We’re planning to release four songs where we both play and sing. The other one is a tape release with Ghaku Okazaki, a painter and musician based in Bremen. We’re studying at the same art school here. The first single is about to drop in next weeks. Besides these, I am jumping between ideas for my next solo album and also recording some new stuff for other collaborations with other friends. Latest, we recorded a single called ‘Inat’ with Levni, which will be out very soon as well. Another song is done with Dj Scotch Egg and Orcun Atilla for the upcoming Small But Hard Compilation. And finally, I made another compilation where I tried to gather the sounds of young producers under the name of ‘Turkish Underground Eclectica’. It will be released soon on tape via Small But Hard Records.

How has the virus situation affected you and your work over the last months?

It was weird, as there was not much to do except waiting and looking further for what’s going on and coming up. I was more prolific during the first days, recorded some tracks and even made an impromptu work called ‘Stay Home?’ with a videographer friend from Istanbul. Then it has slowed down conditionally, I was overwhelmed by the newsfeed everyday and stopped there for a while. It’s not easy to focus on regular works or creative processes while such sensitive things are happening out there. And I want to visit my family in Turkey asap.

You left Turkey after the Gezi protests. What changes did you notice in Turkey during your last visits?

I came to Berlin as an exchange student right after Gezi but it was just a coincidence, I was already accepted for the program by UdK Berlin before Gezi. A lot has changed since then. Brutality, corruption, despotism and economic collapse took all over. In 2017 I moved back to Germany and since then I had only short trips to Turkey. I saw many of the people got more depressed due to the economical collapse and we’re living in such a time that people commit suicide out of poverty and hunger in Turkey. The amount of systematic oppression has increased dramatically since Gezi. People are still trying to keep up with social norms and structures but it may be the hardest thing to sustain it in such a stressed psychological condition while there are many discriminations and provocations. Freedom is just a concept which is missing now. 

How is the artist life in Bremen, compared to Berlin?

It’s quite a generous and supportive base here for learning and experimenting at HfK Bremen. I am trying to learn more theories and new techniques of new media in order to improve my abilities and knowledge in this area. Also, Bremen is perfect for focusing and producing period. I really like it but can’t say the same thing when we talk about musical acts. It’s a much smaller territory of acts and subjectives here, and I couldn’t show too much presence in that circle. I think Berlin is like an ocean of these sorts of acts in comparison with Bremen, so it is easier to get involved with random things. And many newcomers from Turkey from my generation are living there now. Also Berlin is the precise place where Turkish rap story has begun,  

Can you elaborate a bit on the rap side: Which songs, albums and rappers turned you on to the game?

This could be an endless list but to sum up, I’ll mention some songs and albums. Sagopa Kajmer’s ‘Bir Pesimistin Gözyaslari’ would be the top album on my list, the best Turkish rap album ever which goes much beyond rap. Also some older albums like ‘Hassickdir II’ by Fuat, the ‘Yeralti Operasyonu’ compilation, ‘Meclis-i Ala’ by Nefret, ‘Rapüstad’ by Rapüstad from Kreuzberg, ‘Narcotic’ by Sirhot, ‘Ihtiyar Heyeti’ by Silahsiz Kuvvet, ‘Med Cezir’ by Ceza were the albums that got me involved with Turkish rap. I spent very long time with all these tapes, much respect to all of them for the spirit! 

Who was the first you heard rapping in Turkish? How did you decide for Turkish language instead of English?

The very first rap i heard was from Fuat Ergin on his album ‘Hassickdir II’. It was the first sparkle of a drastic story. Right after that, i have noticed more of rap on music channels and then started to dig out for more Turkish rap in albums. I was scanning many more names besides all the pioneers. Their sound was not the best maybe but it was unique and the lyrical content was very concrete with a full attitude about social issues and institutional corruption. 

Among your collaborators I really dig Grup Ses. Will you go on making music together?  

I loved his music so much since I heard it for first time, I guess 12 years ago. Then we met in person and had a good friendship in the  next years. He has a unique signature on his beats where he blends rare samples, dialogs, folklore and a sense of humour resonating in groovy. Grup Ses is a guy who dives deep into his work with a good workflow and encourages the ones working with him a lot. Currently there’s no new collab upcoming since we are both busy with life and other things but I am working on three new videos for ‘Düzkontak’, ‘Delibas’ and ‘Miskinatlar’ from our album ‘Deli Divan’. Besides these, he is constantly enlarging and sharing his cassette tape archive under the name of #AwesomeTapesFromTurkey.

I like the dense sound you create with DJ Scotch Egg. How was it working with him. Did he do all the beat work?

It was so much fun to work with Shige San. I was visiting his place very often to hang out and work on some tunes. We have a good chemistry together. So many new ideas came up after our long jam sessions until mornings and we wanted to make the songs quickly. Shige made almost all of the productions. I only made a small contribution by editing the Orcun Atilla’s oud takes on ‘Tiff’. Also ‘Ostraka’ was a song I made but then Shige added an extra banger part to the beat, so I added rap vocals and we used it as the album version. I think it’s a good example of mashing up the mashup technique (‘Delibas’ from ‘Deli Divan’ could be another example). He has a brilliant conduction of details in music and he is the fastest producer I ever saw. Now we are considering to start with a new album soon.

What’s the story behind that video? 

Levent Sevi, the director of the video was making series of performances with musicians in Istanbul and he asked me to film some songs together. I made three performances for his series, this was one of three. I took the sample from Mogollar’s ‘Peri Bacalari (Fairy Chimneys)’ from 1971. I tried to leave the sample as pure as it is, just added some new elements, chopped the parts and tried to reshape the soundscape to get a new composition from the same elements with a different style of beat structure. Later on, it had a good feedback from the audience. I think they liked the refrain which says ‘a poulty trick, capital of the order is a telescope to the fake heaven, this zany order, we’d buy it to burn it down but we shoot pennies’, and they sing along with me at concerts. A very good moment about this track was when I noticed Taner Öngür from Mogollar has shared it. It may be the best compliment I ever got for a track yet. As a final note, we filmed 2 more songs with Levent from ‘Deli Divan’ and ‘Kanpai’ last year after I finished my military service in Turkey.

Interview by Eric Mandel