City Life: Young Turks get a taste for techno

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A YOUNG woman in a miniskirt climbs on to the stage and begins to dance with the lead singer of the band. Other women, dressed only in bikinis, are queueing for the bungee jump.

It could be a festival in any Western European city. But this is Istanbul, where only in February women the same age protested because the government would not allow them to wear Islamic headscarves at university classes.

Turkey's authorities insist that the country has a Western European culture. At the festival it seemed as if they could be right - in terms of popular youth culture.

Dressed in the latest European dance fashions, thousands gathered at Maslak, half-an-hour's drive from the mosques of the historic centre of Istanbul, for Turkey's first techno-festival.

The bands and DJs were imported from Europe, most of them from Britain. There was no sign of the Islamic conservatism that has caused so much controversy in Turkey: the festival was sponsored by a whisky distiller.

The only thing that was different from Western Europe was the setting. Instead of the muddy fields so dear to English festivals, Istanbul provided a wooded park, complete with giant, kidney-shaped swimming pool and a replica Greek theatre.

But this was not like the tourist-orientated clubs of Turkey's beach resorts. Here, the audience was overwhelmingly Turkish.

Orcan Yigit travelled 280 miles to be at the festival, though he didn't even like the bands that were scheduled to play there.

"I've never had the chance to go to a festival before," said Mr Yigit, a 22-year-old student dressed in baggy jeans.

"This is the music young Turkish people listen to. It isn't European, it's international music.

"Young people in England don't listen to morris-dancing music - we don't listen to traditional Turkish music," he added.

But while Western popular music has its fans in Turkey, like Mr Yigit, its appeal is not universal. It has to compete with domestically produced pop, featuring Turkish stars, and Arabesk, a fusion of Turkish lyrics and Arab-style pop music.

Istanbul has a lively club scene featuring European dance music, but the clubs are expensive and they remain the preserve of the wealthy.

The same was true of the festival. Although a ticket cost only pounds 15, that put it beyond the pockets of most of younger Turks. The children of Istanbul's wealthy business community made up a large part of the festival audience.

"The price is a problem," said Mr Yigit. "I can't believe English people have to pay this much for a festival.

"But if it was cheaper you'd see people here from all social backgrounds. Only the rich can afford to come, but it's not only the rich who are into this music."

Gokhan Burhan, a 27-year-old graphic designer who attended the festival, agreed. "I'm not from a rich background. I'm doing all right now, but I grew up really poor. My father was an ordinary builder.

"This sort of music is catching on in Turkey," he added. "But it takes a while. There isn't the same drug scene here as in Europe, so you don't get dance music coming in as part of the scene.

"If you'd held this festival a few years ago it wouldn't have been so popular," said Mehmet Irdel, a 20-year-old student. "Techno music is a new thing for Turkey."

But Mr Yigit blames European bands and DJs for the absence of festivals in Turkey. "They don't want to come here. Most don't even include us on their regular tours.

"Maybe they're worried about the religious difference. Personally, I don't have any religion."

The performers seemed delighted with their reception. "I would never have imagined an event like this would be so popular in Turkey," said Jamie White of Tzant, who wrote and produced the song "Choose Life" from Trainspotting.

"Coming here and finding we speak the same musical language is like meeting an old friend. If Turkey's like this all the time, I'd happily live here."

"I hope they don't become like Western Europe," said Stuart Duncan, from JDJ.

"Over there you've got to play the big commercial tunes or the audience isn't happy. Here they're interested in anything new. It's unique."

Mr Yigit, though, hopes the novelty value wears off. "This is really too late for me. I wanted to go to festivals like this five years ago. We need regular festivals in Turkey, like Donnington and Reading."