Okan Aydın, the owner of KONTRA PLAK, opened his record store in the summer of 2012. While KONTRA PLAK is a newcomer to the Istanbul music scene, Okan is not. Once a marketing manager for Volkswagen, Okan worked as a DJ, a radio program producer and a record label director for years before he started his own venue in Galatasaray (mid-point between Taksim and Tünel), a few steps away from the famed Istiklal Street.
SoUL: KONTRA PLAK is a relatively new venue. Can you tell us about yourself first? And what was your career like before opening a music store?
Okan: Born and raised in Istanbul, I studied business administration in college. After graduation in mid-90s I joined the corporate world and worked for sixteen years in three corporations in mainly three different industries: lighting, automotive and lastly music. As I was progressing in my career I also found myself getting more and more involved with music first as a hobbyist; namely as a DJ, music critic and writer and a radio programmer at Dinamo FM. Then I became an executive with Pozitif Müzik and worked there for three years where I split my time among a few responsibilities: leading the Doublemoon record label, project managing Radio Babylon and working as the publishing editor of the Babylon Magazine.
SoUL: You own a relatively new record store. What made you chose the record business and Galatasaray as its location?
Okan: After I left Pozitif I needed to decide what I wanted to do. Polishing my CV and pursuing another conventional career opportunity was not something I wanted to continue doing. So, I had to answer the question “What can I do?” Actually, the answer was pretty straightforward: I had been spending most of my time and money on music; this was the business that really excited me. So I decided that whatever I was going to do would be related to music. Of course, owning a music store is a dream for so many music fans as it was for me. I started thinking about how I could realize this dream and KONTRA PLAK was born out of this process.
Throughout this process we decided what attributes we wanted to have in our location. And Galatasaray, or Beyoğlu, meets most every parameter that was critical such as the foot traffic, local/foreign visitors, easy access, unique attractions around the location (French Street, The Museum of Innocence) etc. We looked at all these before we made our final decision to commit.
SoUL: What type of a place did you envision KONTRA PLAK to be? What did the process of designing a record shop look like?
Okan: Two things were quite important to us. We didn’t want KONTRA PLAK to be just another record store. We wanted to be different; not just for the sake of being different but to create additional value and offerings for everyone involved. We also focused more on what should be done vs. what can be done. KONTRA PLAK is not an end point; it’s an evolving place that will continue to be shaped with the support from people and organizations in the music industry. We like to create a center that puts music and music lovers in the first place. That’s why it was important for us to design an open space with a good sound system where folks can get a glass of coffee, go on the Internet and chill or enjoy a good conversation.
SoUL: Let’s talk about the music you sell? What type of music and artists do you have in your collection?
Okan: At KONTRA PLAK our target is to have a collection that constantly expands and evolves but touches on every genre. In other words, we don’t want to be known with a few types or genres of music. What this approach will achieve for us is that we will also be open to new things and learn about new types of music. Our principle is to unearth high quality music independent of its genre. Currently, we have a wide reaching portfolio of rock, electronic, and classical music covering various periods and reaching all the way into alternative and experimental bands. We are constantly expanding and deepening our portfolio to cover more jazz, film music, and even 80s folk singers. We also have separate sections on select and distinct record labels and artists.
SoUL: And who is your customer. Do you think you cater to a certain profile?
Okan: Given that we have been open for a few months now, it’s hard to define a clear profile yet. But I can tell you that most of our customers are music lovers and are probably a few steps ahead of an average music listener.
SoUL: Think of a few local musicians that foreign visitors should discover… Which names come to your mind?
Okan: Cem Karaca, Barış Manço ve Erkin Koray are three names that must be on the top of any list. Beyond that; Fikret Kızılok, BaBa ZuLa and Mercan Dede are musicians that folks should check out. Other bands I’d add would be Replikas, Proudpilot, Portecho as well as any of our jazz musicians who have an album.
SoUL: Which restaurants, bars and clubs would you recommend along the Taksim-Tünel stretch?
Okan: Morro in Tünel, and Dai Pera in Galatasaray are two of my favorite restaurants. Kiki is a favorite bar of mine that’s always top of mind. And as far as clubs go, I’d recommend Babylon, which I was part of, and Salon by IKSV.
SoUL: Which shops do you like on the Taksim-Tünel stretch?
Okan: Definitely Robinson Bookstore in Tünel, Simurg for used books and Ara Café.
SoUL: And lastly what is the one thing that every visitor to Istanbul should do before they leave?
Okan: No one should leave town without having fed simit (Turkish bagel) to sea gulls while crossing over to the other continent.