Back in the late 18th century, a "mechanical Turk" took Europe and the Americas by storm. Ostensibly a chess-playing automaton, the device skillfully battled and defeated many human opponents, dazzling viewers along the way. Only years later was it revealed to be an elaborate hoax, with a human chess master, not an early computer, hiding inside all along. When it came time to decide on a name that would cheekily connect their Turkish roots with their Silicon Valley audience, the tech-loving musicians (three of whom also work as computer engineers) forming a Mountain View-based rock-pop band decided that Mechanical Turk was the perfect choice.
Kaan Tariman (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Can Yucel (lead guitar, backing vocals, flute), Sedat Parlaticibilek (bass) and Sonat Karakas (drums), with manager Arsal Asal, have been playing together since 2015 (their Facebook page's description boasts: "Not your fake chess-machine. We put the Turk in our rock machine.") They'll perform an acoustic concert at Mountain View's Red Rock Coffee on Saturday, Aug. 26.
"Sonat and I knew each other back from Istanbul; we actually played a couple of times together. When I moved to the Bay Area 3 years ago, I sent him a message just to say 'hi,' and after a few messages, the conversation changed its course to form a band," Yucel said.
"To be honest, we were all longing to be back on stage, so that message just triggered a series of events," Karakas agreed. "Kaan was also a well-known pop-rock singer so we figured he would be a great addition. Then, finally, Can called a former bass player he also knew from Istanbul, that lived in LA at that time."
After a few months of rehearsal, the band played its first show, in San Francisco, and the result was encouraging, to say the least.
"We knew we were on the right path," Tariman said, "when our first gig was sold out."
Their shows have drawn hundreds of fans: quite impressive for being fairly new on the local-music scene. The band identifies its genre as "Turkish pop-rock" and "Turkish fusion," playing a bouncy, harmonized mix of songs from their native Turkey, original songs in Turkish, and mash-ups incorporating well-known riffs from Western rock music. Their Turkish influences include Mazhar-Fuat-Ozkan, Mor ve Otesi, Duman and Athena, while some of their English-language favorites are Queen, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Rush.
"Nowadays the band is obsessed with Snarky Puppy live recordings," Karakas added.
"Kirmizi" (which means "red" in Turkish), is a song that front-person Tariman wrote more than 15 years ago. Though it's an older tune, it's a recent addition to Mechanical Turk's setlist after a successful jam at rehearsal.
"Every song has its own story, and some start off with a phrase and others might start with a guitar lick," he said. He's excited to play the song at the Red Rock show, in its stripped-down, acoustic-guitar and brush-drums arrangement.
They've toured around California, including stops in Los Angeles and San Diego, and are eager to expand their reach.
"The band gets along great, and it's always a delight to meet our fans in a new space or play at a space that we are familiar with," Parlaticibilek said.
Their next goal is to film a few high-quality music videos and they are currently working on building a new website. Then, if all continues to go well, eventually they'll make a full-length record. "If we keep playing and recording, it will be an inevitable path, which I think we all look forward to," Karakas said.
The local Turkish population, Tariman said, is small compared to those on the East Coast, but enthusiastic and encouraging. Fans don't have to speak Turkish to dig the sound, however.
"We've also been getting feedback from many people saying that they love the energy of the band even when they don't understand the lyrics," he said. "So, honestly, we've been witnessing our fan base grow and grow everyday, expanding beyond the Turkish community, which is amazing."
What: Mechanical Turk
Where: Red Rock Coffee, 201 Castro St., Mountain View
When: Saturday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m.