Last summer, a teetotaling mob burst through the doors of local record shop, Velvet Indieground, to bloody the faces of some innocent beer-sipping listeners. Later that summer, during International Women’s Day, a horde of similarly-minded thugs hopped the fences of a local university to brawl with people marching in support of gender rights. Just a few months ago, Orouba Barakat, a human-rights activist, and her daughter, Halla, a budding journalist, were stabbed to death in the home they shared.
This is the environment that Istanbul punk trio, Secondhand Underpants, draws inspiration from and the audience that it delivers its material to. Istanbul is a large city with a population well over a million and a half, where the tension among traditionalists and modernists, the government and the governed, the socially-mobile elite and the locked-in-place masses have polarized along a multitude of difficult-to-parse lines (not to mention, an impossibly large and annoying group of tourists and backpackers) The dimensions of social polarization within the city are built around any number of culture-war issues: secularism, democracy, getting-rejected-by-the-EU, etc, etc ad infinitum.
Despite the heaviness of their environment, S.U is committed to having a good time. They do not acquiesce to the self-serious pomposity of an endless number of socially-minded musicians. To this end, they more closely fall into step with the party-ready Sløtface or Martha than they seem akin to grad students outlining the syllabus for a course in 4th wave feminism.
The track itself? Give it a spin and fans of early-90s riot grrl will not be disappointed. The vocalist outlines the thesis of the track over shuffling half-time drum rolls, quickly segueing into a double-time groove and ultimately culminating with a highly chant-able verse/chorus. The trio builds a solid groove upon a foundation of classic bar chords, root fifths and kick-snare rolls which all serve to disguise the half-sung, half-yelped melodic hooks.
Significantly, S.U doesn’t run from its roots like so many other non-American musical entities who endeavor to play American music are wont to do. In the same vein as their ideological cousins, Pussy Riot, they have absorbed the language of their influences and utilize it to speak to their own audience, addressing their own issues and airing their own grievances. Many musical acts, especially within the world of punk rock, lack the confidence to limit their subject matter and audience as this group has elected to do. Punk rock is a visual medium as much as it a sonic one and, with Ege Okal, the band has crafted a video and a track which very neatly encapsulates the audience that it speaks to and comes from.
To be sure, this is neo-riot grrl, a contribution to the revivalism of a sub-genre within a sub-genre and the group clearly views itself carrying on the legacy of classic riot grrl punk rock. However, they must contend with more than few obstacles, both ones that afflicted the classic American RG’s of yesteryear as well ones that are unique to the band’s own spatial/temporal geography. S.U does not have the luxury of having had Bratmobile and Heavens To Betsy criss-crossing around the country, playing in the back of pizza kitchens and rented VFW Halls, as an example to take direct inspiration from. Rather, it must blaze the trail on their own.
Let’s hope that they do.
RIYL: Ida Maria, Bikini Kill cover bands, 90s revivalism