Turkish electronic-pop duo Portecho are the proud owners of at least one bona fide classic song in “Permanent Runaways.” High praise I know, but in a country not exactly known for producing implacable Kraftwerk-meets-Neu-meets-Bowie-meets MGMT magic, “Runaways,” lead track from their Motherboy album, Portecho achieved just that. Impressive on first listen, PR just gets better and better, subtly delivering its nuanced-yet-enervating charm over and over again. Gradually, you fall head over heels in love with it. The crisp, tight, early 80s motorik drum motif leads into vocalist Tan Tuncag’s (pronounced ‘tuun-chaah’) desperate but hopeful tale of persuading his companion to escape a city ‘built by pricks’ – a clear reference to the mass concrete expansion of Turkey’s ruling party, AKP, and its determined removal of every last green space in Istanbul in favour of hotels and/or shopping malls. Tuncag’s collaborator brilliantly steers the pop dynamic of the track with his choppy acoustic, and some immaculately deployed synth sounds. It’s truly the sound of postmodern joy wrought from bleak circumstances – the place where all the best pop has ever come from.
“Runaways” isn’t the only weapon of mass dancefloor obliteration in Portecho’s arsenal, of course. Another of their high points is furious acoustic techno stomper “Sympathy,” Tuncag repeatedly bemoaning the fact that his city – Istanbul – doesn’t have any left, if it ever had any at all...though the rooftops glimmer seductively all the same. The more reflective “Papers” and sepulchral “Senna” impress in a different way, showing how their authors have perfectly soaked up every valuable piece of smooth sound in the urban sonisphere – the latter being an impeccably brief masterclass in post-Eno ambience – the shimmering calm after the electro storm if ever there was one.
If this all sounds a little like ‘money music’ to you as opposed to ‘soul music,’ that couldn’t be further from the truth. Tuncag and Deniz Cuylan are genuinely conscientious citizens of the new harsh capitalist Turkey, critiquing through soundwaves the feel of a BMW cruising through well-heeled Bebek - while just up the hill are shanty towns and real despair - along the Bosphorus with lyrics of subtle protest and dissatisfaction. Tuncag sings in English don’t forget, so to communicate these complicated realities in a second language is no mean feat. Tuncag comes over as a more tuneful Cathal Coughlan (ex of The Fatima Mansions and Microdisney), imparting his social messages in a markedly more club-friendly manner. Deniz Cuylan is more The Edge meets a bearded Brian Eno (yep, him again), supporting the insights with his intricately formed arrangements. In the video for “Studio Plastico,” a young woman walks the seven hills of Istanbul, dressed in alluring black tights, heels, mini skirt, and...a Burkha. Portecho are not afraid to highlight a culture clash when they see it.
And here is where the crux lies. Tuncag and Cuylan are sons of the secular republic of Turkey, and as Tuncag said in interview last year, “since Gezi [the anti-government protests of the summer of 2013], we feel we have more of a responsibility to the music we are making.” What he meant is that Portecho are commenting in sound and words on a country in a ten year overhaul, where the values of capitalism and religion have replaced quality control, standard of living and, dare I say it, socialism. I beseech thee, embattled A&R people – if you are looking for the sound of perfect postmodern Euro-pop, you need to look to the far eastern edge of the continent for the timeless sound of simmering, seething frustration juxtaposed with pure electro joy.
By Sean Bw Parker