Sound Effect – Bengi Unsal

DJ, arts facilitator and electronic music connoisseur Bengi Unsal is Senior Programmer of Contemporary Music at the Southbank Centre, London. She relocated from Istanbul to take up the post two years ago, becoming heavily involved in MIA’s Meltdown Festival in 2017 before overseeing the centre’s wider gigs programme.

This year, she’s been working with Robert Smith of The Cure to deliver the 2018 edition of Meltdown, which hosted more than 50 acts including Mogwai, Manic Street Preachers, My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails and Placebo this June.

Her latest invention is the Concrete Lates strand, which takes place monthly at the newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer to showcase the best names in experimental electronic music. Shiva Feshareki, E.M.M.A, Coby Sey, Vessels and Giant Swan have so far featured.

The first record I ever bought was…

I have a feeling it was Arena by Duran Duran. My cousin was a fan and that’s how I heard of it. We didn’t have many record shops in Istanbul back then, so I asked my father to buy the record for me. It was on cassette, of course. Play, turn, rewind, Wild Boys. Rewind again. Great album. Save a Prayer is still one of my favourite tracks.

The first song I developed an obsession for was…

Obsession by Army of Lovers. Just kidding. I am not exactly sure when my obsession for songs began – I think it began with an obsession for the artists. I remember listening to the True Blue album by Madonna a lot or George Michael’s Faith, but as I said, music wasn’t easily accessible in Istanbul until music videos and radio stations came.

My favourite cover version is…

Either George Michael’s Killer (Papa Was a Rolling Stone) or Brother Can You Spare a Dime, again by George Michael. Both are amazing. Actually, the parent record, Songs from the Last Century, is the best covers album ever. He was really established at the time and I love the fact he didn’t shy away from it.

The song that should’ve been a hit but never made it is…

Pray for a Star by Felix da Housecat. Amazing song. That bassline, those strings… the perfect combination of dance beats and melancholy.

The last great record I listened to was…

I have two candidates: Nils Frahm’s All Melody and Rest by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Both are amazing from start to finish.

The song I wish I’d written is…

Honestly, I’ve never wanted to write a song. I wanted to play the drums for about 20 years and started learning recently, but I’m not interested in creating music. I’ve always felt happy listening to songs and perhaps most happy selecting them, be it as a DJ or a programmer.

The song that makes me cry is…

The answer changes with the time and mood – I have been crying to songs for 30 years now! When I think carefully, I remember crying to Sébastien Tellier’s La Ritournelle, Gnarls Barkley’s She Knows, and I once cried out of happiness listening to Born Slippy by Underworld live.

The song that I know all the words to is…

There are a couple of them. I probably know all the lyrics to Kylie Minogue’s first albums. I might confess to knowing a couple of Take That songs too… I also know a lot of Blur songs by heart, like Parklife. I am generally quite good at nineties stuff actually.

My all-time favourite film soundtrack is…

There are so many! I used to work at Polygram/Universal and soundtracks were a thing back then. Hard to choose but I will go with Baz Luhrmann. I am a fan. His soundtracks compliment the films. Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge are both great soundtracks. Though there is also Sofia Coppola, who is another master of the soundtrack.

Hear some of Bengi’s selection:

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