In 1980, following a decade of political upheaval and violence, Turkey’s General Kenan Evren staged a coup. When the conservative regime shuttered trans brothels and banned performances by trans artists, Turkish transgender singer Bülent Ersoy began her sexual reassignment process, publicly revealing her new body at a national trade show. Subject to intense discrimination, Ersoy attempted suicide before fleeing to Germany, where she was able to rebuild her career in a place where her choices were accepted and understood.
This history of fascistic bodily control looms over the work of the Bay Area DJ, producer, and multidisciplinary artist 8ULENTINA, named after Ersoy. Along with Lara Sarkissian, aka FOOZOOL, 8ULENTINA co-founded Oakland’s Club Chai, a collective that cultivates safe spaces for trans and women-identifying individuals working at the intersection of electronic music and disaporic traditions. On Bodyguard, 8ULENTINA raises existential quandaries familiar to anyone whose personal boundaries have been violated. “How do bodies protect each other? How do we deal with that mutual responsibility and trust?” they ask in a text accompanying the album. As on their previous EP, last year’s Eucalyptus, 8ULENTINA refracts percussion and melodies sampled from Turkish and Middle Eastern music through angular club rhythms. They chop and loop excerpts of traditional instrumentation and hand drums alongside kicks and snares at techno BPMs.
Bodyguard’s five tracks are meant to be conversant with each other, with vocal samples formatted as a quasi-poem on the EP’s Bandcamp page. Making sense of these somewhat inscrutable bits of text feels a bit like eavesdropping on a hushed exchange in a corner of the dancefloor. On the opening track, a barely audible voice mumbles, “No, I was fast,” accompanied by an urgent stringed riff based on the makam (a system of scales utilized in Turkish and Middle Eastern music). It would seem to be a response to a question posed in the closer, featuring the Lebanese-Australian producer DJ Plead, punctuated by entrancing woodwind and hand-drum samples: “Were you tough?” Elsewhere, on “No One Could Get By You,” someone murmurs “I’ve never felt this safe before” in a hushed tone that belies the churning acid drone beneath. It’s a fleeting moment of relief before horror-film violin stabs introduce the next track, “Doesn’t Always Work.” “I spend a lot of time trying not to react to things that other people do,” someone says—de-escalation as a survival tactic.
Post-#MeToo, the policing of bodies, especially in a nightlife setting, can be complicated. Bouncers decide who enters the club based on appearance, and even when nightclubs establish codes of conduct, it can be unclear how to enforce them. 8ULENTINA is clearly committed to fostering conversations about these issues in their artful manipulation of samples. No solid answers to their questions emerge by the end of Bodyguard’s 15 minutes. But the push-and-pull between prickly and intimate makes for a mesmerizing EP that provokes with every listen.