he writes songs about her insecurities as if no one will listen to them – but goes on stage with Tocotronic. Ilgen-Nur’s slacker-indie-pop is actually a clear statement. We met her on a stroll around St. Pauli.
Hamburg’s this way: people come (in their heart of hearts) because of the Beatles, hope for cultured small talk with Udo Lindenberg and Fatih Akin – and then all they do in the end is watch Gzuz from 187 Strassenbande cat-calling. “Well, I’m always out on the Reeperbahn, but I never know why, really,” says Ilgen-Nur Borali between Clochard and Boutique Bizarre. A stroll around Sankt Pauli, Hamburg’s gigantic 1950s open-air museum, Ritze, Handschuh, Salvation Army: a decal of what people used to think of as riotous enjoyment back in the analogue era, possibly still see as that in places where that era hasn’t quite ended yet. The cartoon version of dissoluteness. Glints of it appear everywhere through the grey austerity, the closed window shutters are painted with lop-sided, slightly garish pictures. It’s still too early in the day for gay cinema or metal dives. The “Paradise of Sex”, on the other hand, is open 24 hours a day: “Welcome”, it flashes to the Reeperbahn. “Fight sexism, not sex work”, says Ilgen-Nur. “Smile for a change!” a young punk calls to her.
“Fight sexism, not sex work”
“And I like wearing all black / Because it makes me feel more mysterious / And I think looking at my mom is like / Looking in the mirror and I kind of like it”, are lyrics from Ilgen-Nur’s “Cool”, her minor hit that the Hamburg songwriter made into an indie sensation last year: A slacker-LoFi hymn, tongue-in-cheekier than the law really allows in this neck-of-the-woods, super-personal and super-universal in one, as only the best pop can be. “I dashed that song off in five minutes! So many people can identify with it today, but by now I only identify with some of it myself. It’s totally such a teenage song – and then Jan from Tocotronic comes along and tells you how much of himself he sees in it”. And even if Ilgen-Nur says that not so very much has changed in these two years – maybe apart from this little thing with Tocotronic, with whom she toured this spring – the song was written in a transition phase. When the first songs for her debut EP “No Emotions” were written, she still lived at the other end of Germany. She grew up in a suburb of Stuttgart, then moved to the Black Forest as a student, couldn’t stand it there for long, finally landed up in Hamburg: “More luck than judgement”.
“And I like wearing all black / Because it makes me feel more mysterious / And I think looking at my mom is like / Looking in the mirror and I kind of like it”
Whereas in Stuttgart she only produced for herself as a songwriter and couldn’t really get into its flourishing indie community, it all happened pretty fast in Hamburg: through a friend, she got to know Paul Pötsch, the vocalist from the Hamburg band Trümmer, and through him, in turn, the scene around Euphorie, a seventh heaven for any musician. “It’s not really that many people,” says Ilgen-Nur, and they help each other out – she originally shared the rehearsal room with Trümmer, Paul himself sits at the drums in her band. And the Stuttgart scene is on board retroactively as well – but only by a detour through Berlin, where Ilgen met Max Rieger of Die Nerven, who ultimately produced her EP.
A lot of such guy’s names are dropped in the conversation – not unusual for the German indie scene, where a queer-aware female songwriter with a Turkish family background, who is friends with Hengameh Yaghoobifarah, Missy magazine editor and the terror of respectable white Germans, isn’t the norm as yet. “It’s very white-male dominated and that’s not cool. But on the other hand, these people are all my friends and I know they’re behaving honourably and making space for me. I’m not being tokenized”. Right now, Hamburg is seeing the rise of more and more of such spaces, in which post-white-German pop culture can happen: Ilgen-Nur names the anarcho-queer R&B collective One Mother and the “not all-white” band Monaco.
That makes her part of a trend that extends far beyond Hamburg, with indierock fanning out all over the world to become more feminine, queerer, more of colour, with female musicians like Mitski or Vagabon. “That’s a genuine scene in the USA right now, and I can identify totally with the music, because it’s written from a perspective that I often don’t hear with male bands. You feel connected, you share something”. Even without making songs about everyday racism or politicising her unwillingness to smile on photos, Ilgen-Nur opens up new opportunities this way. “I recently got a message from a girl from Turkey who asked permission to play my song on her school radio station. I get three thousand times more of a buzz from that than when some dude comes up to me after the concert and says: ‘Wow!’. I want people to see me, because I didn’t have role models like that”.
“I like riding my bike / But I don’t do it a lot these days,”
“I like riding my bike / But I don’t do it a lot these days,” she sings in “Cool”. When we say goodbye on the Reeperbahn, she – consistently – gets on a scooter, back to the trendy Schanze district. Ilgen-Nur seems unlikely either to follow a strict business plan to stardom or write fiery hymns as an attack on the all-pervading shittiness. Her normal-cool slackerism is, after all, the best basis for a career and the clearest statement all in one.