It’s an outwardly calm evening on Vienna’s Danube Canal, but in a moored-up boat, three visitors from Istanbul are proving mightily intimidating. They achieve this, inadvertently, by playing spectacularly loud, impassioned, impressively skilful rock ’n’ roll. And this is just their warm-up. The band waiting to soundcheck afterwards, watching on wide-eyed, look ready to give up and go home.
The setting is an Austrian showcase festival called Waves, much of which takes place on converted boats. And that raucous trio are The Ringo Jets, whose presence initially raises eyebrows because of their country of origin. Turkey is not a nation readily associated with rock music.
“People actually laughed at us at first, really laughed at us,” recalls Lale Kardes, the band’s female drummer. Finally, satisfied with the floating venue’s sound, The Ringo Jets have decamped to a nearby restaurant to discuss life as a band in Istanbul. “We don’t have a rock ’n’ roll culture,” explains one of the two singers and guitarists, Deniz Agan. “Everyone has an expectation about Turkish music: ‘it’s Middle Eastern, there must be some balalaika, some violin’.”
Reha Öztunali, their charismatic manager, elaborates: “The Turkish market is very much dominated by easy pop music, all sung in Turkish. It’s really hard to get popular in Turkey doing music in English.”
With an ethos inspired by loud transatlantic acts such as The Who and The Stooges, singing in English just “sounds better”, concludes the other guitarist, Tarkan Mertoglu. “In Turkish it sounds kind of weird. It doesn’t fit. It’s strange.”
The band’s visceral brand of bluesy garage rock is clearly at odds with Turkey’s regular pop-rock scene, but it says much for their talents that The Ringo Jets are now making waves elsewhere in Europe. The three members bring different qualities to the table.
Kardes, influenced by a jazz-musician uncle, attended music college before joining a covers band featuring the German-born, punk-obsessed Mertoglu. They decided to form a new outfit and contacted Agan, whose passion is classic 1970s Turkish psychedelia. Kardes had first seen him play “when he was 18”, she recalls. “He was rolling on the ground playing Twist and Shout.”
Despite their varied tastes, the musical bond was almost instantaneous, and a debut EP was recorded shortly after their first jam session. Gigs have proven more challenging, however: the band struggled to be taken seriously because of the lack of a bass player and because their drummer is a woman. “They just expect me to sing, or they say ‘are you playing the harp?’” says Kardes with a sigh. “Then it’s ‘it’s so noisy, can’t you please turn it down a little?’”
Öztunali suggests a fan base is gradually forming as crowds acclimatise to their noisy output. His presence as manager clearly helps. With his contacts, they recently recorded their debut album with the Italian producer Tommaso Colliva, whose clients include Muse and Franz Ferdinand: useful names to be associated with, worldwide.
The trio have already appeared at several prestigious festivals, notably Barcelona’s Primavera Sound, although Turkey’s non-EU status poses further challenges.
“You have bureaucracy, visa issues and the distance,” says Öztunali. “But this is also a bonus – that we’re coming from Turkey,” suggests Kardes. “We also have this ‘exotic’ thing.”
It certainly creates interest among Waves’ industry delegates, many of whom wobble down the gangplank for The Ringo Jets gig. After a worryingly sluggish start – nerves, presumably – the trio suddenly find their mojo and tear through a blisteringly powerful set, even throwing in an instrumental that sounds traditionally Turkish, late on. “That was a TV jingle from the 1970s,” reveals their beaming manager.
Eavesdropping on the industry views afterwards, there’s a real sense that The Ringo Jets could be very big, very soon. Perhaps even back home.