Meet Zozo, the DJ at the centre of Istanbul’s shifting underground scene
“Do the people in England still party like they used to in the Summer of Love?” Nigar Zeynep, the Istanbul- based DJ better known as Zozo, asks me over email. The 34-year-old, who had only just entered her teenage years during the “heydays of Istanbul’s nightlife” in the late 90s, is fascinated by the positive repercussions of rave culture.
Zeynep has long been a household name in her native Turkey and she plays regularly at local venues like Suma Beach and Gizli Bahçe. In 2010, Zeynep began curating the music in a bar-meets-gallery called Hush and now she’s also the music director of a venue named Luzia Istanbul in the city’s Besiktas region. Zeynep’s music can vary from dark, crunchy techno to Turkish psych, and her genre-spanning taste has earned her bookings at international venues such as Berlin’s Panorama Bar and Helsinki’s Kaiku.
But since the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013 – which saw approximately three and a half million people protest against President Erdoğan – Istanbul has been occupied by a climate of fear and conservatism. Following a 2016 coup, which led to the arrest of over 150 journalists as well as corruption and bombings in the country’s southeast Kurdish region, many of the city’s musicians and promoters have had to adjust to a very different political landscape.
“With a conservative government ruling the country for 16 years, there has been an erosion of values and serious change in culture,” explains Zeynep. “It has been done intentionally and we are living witnesses to that.” The closing of cultural institutions across Turkey is one of the many issues linked to President Erdoğan’s government. “It used to be freer, greener and happier,” she says. “Today, 90 percent of the bars, clubs or concert halls are gone – either turned into shopping malls, hotels or residential buildings.”
Just like the UK in the second Summer of Love, however, political unrest seems to have bought the underground community closer. Venues like Suma Beach and Wake Up Call, which sprung up in response to Turkey’s right wing government, have become symbols of progressiveness and tolerance – pockets of dissent in an ever-growing landscape of intolerance. “Suma Beach is really important for me because it opened six years ago, after the Gezi Park protests. Everything magically started there, right after another magical resistance,” she recalls.
Nevertheless, the homogenisation of the city’s cultural venues is still a concern for Zeynep, who sees internet culture and globalisation as contributing factors to Istanbul’s diminishing musical identity. “It has made the city lose its edge,” she
argues. “In the 90s, dance music was new and unregulated, whereas now it has turned into an industry,” she says. “Obviously everybody including artists, promoters, and governments want to have their share of it.”
But Zeynep is enthusiastic about the potential of dance music to bring communities together. Soon to embark on the summer festival circuit, she is dividing her time between live gigs and opening a new venue in Berlin. “Culture is something people create with consistency, patience and resistance,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s just about getting lost in the music and sharing new discoveries and emotions with people.”
Sounds Like: Catharic club music with an esoteric twist
Our Favourite Tune: Zozo’s Red Light Radio Mix
Soundtrack For: Humid summer nights
File Next To: Container / The Body
Where to Find Her: soundcloud.com/zozo-on-soundcloud
Zozo appears at Dekmantel, Amsterdam, 1-5 August