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How Turkish Label Drug Boulevard Is Using Dream Pop to Resist Oppression

"You feel an invisible hand pulling you back from progress," says founder Kubilay Yigit, but that hasn't stopped him from creating an international roster. Listen to the premiere of Astronautica's "Reasons" from the label's debut compilation now.

It's not easy to start a record label anywhere, and doubly so when you live in a country shaken by political repression and terrorist violence. That's the struggle of Kubilay Yigit, the 25-year-old founder of the new Turkey-based dream-pop label Drug Boulevard.

Yigit shares the dreams and aspirations of many creatives his age—frustrated by what he felt were formulaic trends in a monopolized electronic pop scene, he recently launched the project as a way to discover new avenues of creation and establish connections with like-minded artists over the internet. Standing in his way, however, is the chaos engulfing his home country of Turkey, where in recent months the neighboring conflict in Syria has spilled over with an increasing number of terrorist bombings and shootings while the government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has cracked down heavily on political opponents, journalists, and social media amid public protests and a coup attempt last year.


Yigit, who lives in Istanbul and previously founded the trance/progressive dance music label Blue Soho, says he's endured internet slowdowns, electricity cuts, self-censorship and a growing sense of insecurity while trying to get Drug Boulevard off the ground. On New Year's Eve, at least 39 people were killed in a terrorist shooting at Istanbul's Reina nightclub, filling people with dread and dashing his hopes of staging a local show to celebrate the label's launch. "Just because of the geography you're living in, you have to push aside lots of ideas that would be easily done in an ideal world," he says. "You feel an invisible hand pulling you back from progress."

But he's remained undaunted, and Drug Boulevard's debut compilation, DRUG BLVD—out February 17—offers a welcome escape from stress and crisis, drawing on artists from both his local scene and overseas. On opener "Reasons," LA beatmaker Astronautica (pictured) glides melodiously through pulsing bass and sun-dappled synths. In slow jam "OH," fellow Californians FMLYBND lay down a mellow groove that culminates in a double-time bridge and a "Careless Whisper"-esque sax solo. As for Australia's Mammals, in their trip-hop cover of Télépopmusik's hit "Breathe," their soothing voices urge you to do just that. The project, mastered by Barry Grint (David Bowie, Radiohead, Prince, Oasis, Fleetwood Mac, Guns N' Roses), compels you to breathe, gather your people, and look to new horizons.


We spoke with Yigit over email about Istanbul's music scene, the challenges he faced while starting the label, and his plans for the uncertain future. Read on and listen to the premiere of Astronautica's "Reasons" below.

Noisey: What were some of the challenges getting Drug Blvd. together given the current internal issues going on in Turkey right now?
Kubilay Yigit:The situation in Turkey creates a lot of struggles. For example, I sorted out a label night to celebrate the release of the album, and even though most of the artists were surprisingly on board, it was too risky for me to do this event judging by the current situation of the country. Besides, after all the things that happened in the country, you're left with nothing but doomsday scenarios. Therefore, just because of the geography you're living in, you have to push aside lots of ideas that would be easily done in an ideal world. You want to make a payment for a service you received. Once you've seen an email containing that person's PayPal profile, you try to tell them PayPal is not available (banned) in Turkey and you have to sort out an alternative payment method. You feel an invisible hand pulling you back from progress.

[The] mental challenge is another dimension of this. Although the aforementioned examples are already mentally challenging, there are more striking examples. How about the auto-censor I am reflecting on my thoughts as I am doing this interview with you? This not done on purpose; your life goes in such a direction that you unwillingly internalize the way of thinking imposed to you on your lifestyle. Meanwhile, in a society which has a tendency to be wearing and restraining, you start to value and embrace your job more than ever. Even though the obstacles shake you up at first, you then learn to make them another element to motivate you. I should tell you that I personally find it rather sad for a person to develop such a trait.


You mentioned when you first contacted me that the internet was cut off in Turkey at some points while you were putting Drug Boulevard together. Is that a common occurrence? What happened?
First of all, let me make it clear that the internet is never totally shut down in Turkey. Instead, it gets slowed down to an incredible extent, which merely allows "them" to say "See, we're not cutting off internet access." Also, with heavy censorship and restrictions, internet becomes extremely dysfunctional. The potential of news spreading rapidly among people has created an allergy to social media. We face these limitations almost as frequently as a terrorist attack or another sensational incident happening in the country; at least once a month within the past few years. The limitations don't stop just with the internet; at times we also don't have access to electricity or even water.

You can picture it this way—you get in touch with a band from California, they know you live in Istanbul and have basic knowledge about the city. You share your enthusiasm on what to do, what you plan for the album and the label, and how you will make your plans come true. They share your excitement and together you schedule a Skype meeting. As the agreed time closes in, the city surrenders to darkness district by district. If you're lucky, in this case if you have access to electricity, you work out the conversation (supposing that the internet is at a reasonable speed). If misfortune is upon you that day, you end up saying, "I'm sorry, the power is cut off. Can we do it some other time?" I honestly don't actually know [what] that person feels at that moment. I can tell you that it is a very challenging and a very embarrassing situation for me.


How did you react to the terrorist attack at the Reina nightclub on New Year's Eve? Has the current political climate and the violence affected life for musicians and music lovers in the city?
Naturally, it made a huge impact. I agree that a certain amount of pressure can have an opposite effect on creativity; but if it has become something more than a pressure, if it has become an unstable and a temperamental chaos atmosphere, people eventually lose their enthusiasm over the art they are trying to create. I think this is a breaking point. As far as I have observed, the "it is not right to have fun at these times" advice implied on musicians from time to time is also a serious buzzkill for them. Nevertheless, despite all the negatives, knowing that there is a core of people who still supports music, who knows that they cannot do without music and who tries to protect music gives me a dose of relief.

What's the music scene like in Istanbul right now? 
It's getting more and more introverted. I personally believe that this kind of progress has both positive and negative outcomes. When you take a look at the alternative scene, there is a fraction of enterprising people trying to carry out fresh ideas, which is a tough task for them. To start with, they have to obtain a certain base in the scene to pursue their lives through music, which is quite difficult in a crowded environment where each day there is a brand new act coming out of nowhere. The lack of a serious "know-how" at points to support musicians is a chronic problem of the music scene in Istanbul. Since venues only aim for profit, most of the musicians have extremely hard times trying to make their efforts go more than a hobby.


The music on this album isn't really political in nature and doesn't address the current political situation in Turkey, but do times like this make you think any differently about the importance of what you're doing or why you're doing it? 
Yes, works in the album do not harbor any political discourse. However, even though the content isn't political, we can consider the stance it's trying to create as political. In these times, people get insights from others who think the same way and have similar experiences with them. The point where the album gains its importance is, it does not convey a message that the world has no borders—it shows it by proving it, by forming it. All I can hope for is the fact that I have realized something similar to what I had in my mind; despite the negativity that surrounded me, [I] can inspire other people. In the end, a practical statement conveyed for people around me—who are as passionate, as determined, and are dreaming as much as [I am]—is more worthy than a political discourse.

What are your next plans for the label?
The debut is not released yet, but I have already started working on a follow-up compilation album planned for the summer. Judging by my experience from the first album, if you want to deliver a truly acceptable work, you should sacrifice at least six to seven months of your life. Apart from that, I would really like to reunite artists from Hotline Miami (which has hit my heart with its OST) in a new album.

Speaking of games, instead of just making a music brand, it is one of my dreams to strike a balance between interacting industries like fashion and gaming under the same brand. What I mean by fashion is not a "label merchandise." Creating original designs by pushing the brand back as much as possible and showcasing style would be the essential objective for me. Of course, in order to achieve this, I would have to meet people who work in these areas that could guide me through and that I could get along with.

Also, where does the name Drug Boulevard come from?
I am aiming to create a ground for those who prefer to take the "red pill" musically. Everyone I have worked with in this project has a certain goal, an ideal. Even though they don't verbally state this, you can easily extract it through their work ethic, and the way they develop dialogues. The more you interact with these artists, the more you get involved with how committed they are to their art without any distractions. This feels incredible! Sometimes you lack the motivation to go forward, but the person you are doing "business" with is the one who supports you, picks you up, and guides you. That's when you realize you're communicating with the right person. You start to notice people who are really addicted to music in one way or another. As time goes on, you start to comprehend that the number of people who are compatible to your vision at this extent can only fill a "boulevard."

Pre-order Drug Boulevard's debut compilation here.

Peter Holslin is a writer based in Cairo. Follow him on Twitter