Born in Canada to Russian parents, Michelle Gurevitch, or Chinawoman, is a happy new discovery for me, although I seem to be late to the party when compared to the rest of Turkey. Around since 2007, Chinawoman has, remarkably, self-produced all three of her albums to date. Her music – a bittersweet vodka cocktail of slow-core rock melodies, infused with Russian old-school glamour – has yet to take hold in Western Europe and North America but, perhaps due to the Slavic influence in her sound, she has a large and devoted fan base in Eastern Europe.
Despite turning up half an hour early, we found the Bomonti beer factory, Babylon’s stylish new venue, already humming. The show was sold out, leaving those people with more of a laissez-faire attitude standing outside with hastily-written ‘we need tickets!’ signs. If you haven’t yet been to the new Babylon, I’d highly recommend it. Although it’s located a little away from the centre of town, the extra space the location affords is definitely worth the trek. The venue itself has excellent sound, and with its huge factory windows, exposed brickwork and imposing chimneys, Bomonti Babylon makes for a very atmospheric music experience.
Chinawoman’s live performance was very tight. The 90-minute set, accompanied by a moody light show, featured songs from each album, including the deeply cynical “Vacation from Love” about the last gasps of a relationship, the upbeat crowd-pleasing “Party Girl” with mournful lyrics “I used to cry but now I don’t have the time” and, my personal favourite, the spine-tingling, enigmatic “To Be with Others” with its whimsical keyboard melody. Chinawoman’s voice, rich and distinctive like a particularly fine Vatrushka filling, has an androgynous quality akin to Annie Lennox or David Bowie, and lends her sound a unique quality. She was once compared to Leonard Cohen, and although statements like this tend to get bandied about much too easily, her songs are punctuated by witty couplets about love and alienation that reverberate alongside the music.
One of most likeable elements of the show was its personable nature. Unlike the darkly cynical world conveyed by the music, Chinawoman and her two-piece band were very warm and enthusiastic. While other groups tend to only blurt out a badly-pronounced “Teşekkürler” or “şerefe”, Chinawoman and her band went to great lengths to provide their audience with a unique experience. “Kiss in Taksim Square” which Chinawoman wrote during the Gezi park protests really hit a chord with the audience, and their encore, a song by the famous Zeki Müren, “Elbet Bir Gün Buluşacağız”, was sung entirely in Turkish.
In my opinion, this was a thoroughly good gig. Chinawoman relocated to Berlin a few years ago in order to tour the region more extensively, a move that I for one am extremely thankful for because it gave me the opportunity to see her perform live in Istanbul. Plus, now that she’s local(ish), I’m sure she’ll come back to the city soon. And when she does, I will be booking my ticket in advance.