One of the scene’s most in demand figures, KiNK‘s ability to reshape sound has made him a singular entity in its highly competitive environment.
Frequently in the “favorite live act” conversation, KiNK’s musical output and performance prowess spans the spectrum of what is possible in the underground electronic music industry. Continuing to operate from his home base of Sofia, Bulgaria, KiNK’s decade+ in the limelight, and 2+ decades in the scene, has seen him reach the pinnacle of renown through releases on the likes of Rush Hour, Running Back, Pets Recordings, Bedrock Records, Freerange, Clone, DGTL, and more, while his hardware focused, energetic and interactive life performances are the stuff of industry legend.
This weekend, KiNK joins the sustainability focused Paradise City Festival in Belgium, where he will take to the stage alongside the likes of DJ Koze and Laurent Garnier. Anticipating the event, we managed to catch up with the man himself in an extremely rare interview what is current in the world of KiNK. From his Techno side project Kirilic to a very special upcoming Boiler Room performance, the impact of Sofia on his musical approach to his thoughts on sustainable events, KiNK goes in depth.
“Everything is a tool that can be used to be creative”
It’s been quite some time trying to set up this interview as I am sure you are very busy with projects and travels. To start off, how do you maintain a grounded approach during the intense rigors of responsibility associated with your work?
I don’t have a very good system at the moment. What I see in my colleagues are two types of extreme approaches. One type of artist uses chemicals in order to give them the power to keep going, and the other kind lives an extremely clean life, which is amazing but they also don’t stay inside the club too much. This is something that is difficult for me because I like to dance. The main reason I do what I do is, not only to play music but I like to be in the venue, I like to meet people. For me, both these approaches don’t work and I can’t find a way to gain more energy without questioning myself. I hope I will figure it out soon.
What keeps me going is the energy I get from people in the club. Besides that, I have a very balanced life. I don’t party too much and will only have a couple of drinks in the club after I finish. Otherwise, I don’t eat that great as a lot of the time I can only eat what I find in airports and I don’t do too much sport on the road. There is room to improve but I also like the nightlife.
In periods like this, when you do have a few free days, how do you spend that time?
When I have enough free time, which means more than four days, I’ll try and escape with my wife and go somewhere out of the city. I always have work though. Even if I am not on the road I have studio work so I know that there is always something waiting for me. Also, I love to be in the studio but sometimes my body doesn’t. In order for me to fully rest I have to completely disconnect from the studio as it is an addiction.
Are there places that you have that are “go to” in Bulgaria when you travel to get away?
My wife and I have discovered we have this passion of traveling and finding new places. Luckily, in Bulgaria, it is full of special places and the country isn’t too big so with just a few hours drive we are discovering new, interesting things. We also have very versatile nature and seasons. In the winter, we have snow and, in the summer, we can go to the mountains or the Black Sea. If we don’t have much time we usually go to Bansko, which is about a two hour car ride away. People normally go there in the winter to ski but we like to go in the summer as well. It is high in the mountains and not extremely hot so its very nice.
How does the experience being raised and living in Sofia affect your work?
Sofia has the biggest influence on my music and what I do creatively. I live in a block who’s architecture was still influenced by Russian communism. This style of building reminds me of the German Bauhaus approach where function was beauty. All the buildings were very minimalistic and industrial looking. This is where I grew up. The area was not ugly, but minimal. Even now, when I look out my window, I see this yard outside that is supposed to look friendly and inviting, and it still looks industrial…futuristic even, with strange shapes. It looks like a area where space ships depart from. This kind of environment definitely shaped me as an artist.
Bulgaria going through different financial difficulties made me unable to do what I wanted exactly in the way I wanted. I could’t afford any gear and didn’t have much information about the type of art I was interested in. It was all very limited. That had a very positive influence on me because I realized everything can be an instrument. Everything is a tool that can be used to be creative. This is really, really a big part of my work process.
You have a background in visual art also. Has your approach to visual art transferred over to your music approach?
Absolutely! What I learned in school I find very useful for what I do with sound now. Dealing with visual art is very similar to dealing with audio. You deal with darker and brighter shades, cold and warm colors, and its all about finding the right balance. In sound, you deal with high and low pitch and levels. It’s all about developing good aesthetics so you can balance those extremes.
The most valuable lesson I still apply in music is from when I was learning to draw the human body. I was always spending too much attention to the detail and I wouldn’t make a nice composition. My teacher would always tell me the approach is wrong and I should start with the big shapes and then go into the detail instead of the other way around. I would draw this amazing nose and then totally displaced eyes, mouth and facial structure. This was a problem I had when I started to make music. I would pay attention to the sounds and design the perfect kick drum or bassline but then everything was wrong in terms of musical structure. There would be this amazing sound design but not a well thought out total idea. Even though everyone can develop a technique, some people, like me, develop a good technique slower than others. The thing that makes the difference between an artist and a technician is the idea. I applied this approach to my music where I try to have a strong idea for the recording and then focus on the total project, not on one detail.
Do you see yourself picking up visual art again?
I would love to. That was a period in my life where music eventually took over, which is now a very long period. I got into electronic music at the end of 1991, so it has been quite some time. Even though I am now all in for music, I find every artform interesting. One day, when I have time, I would like to come back to it.
You have recently been more interactive with crowds during your performances. Last summer there was a bit of a viral moment when you had an audience member play along at Oasis Festival, for example. Firstly, when you first invited this audience member, how did you decide on this? Do you see your live performance evolving in an even more interactive way with the crowd?
I got the idea of including people more and translating what I do to the crowd a couple of years ago. I was actually in Amsterdam where Marc Romboy was playing and he was controlling a computer with Faderbox. Marc is a tall guy and can easily be seen on stage by the entire crowd. What he did was, he picked up this controller and started to modify the sound in front of everyone. I loved it! I was able to see how the sounds were changing. I didn’t know much about DJing with computers as, when I used to DJ, I was using records and CDs. Before this, DJing with computers was a mystery…and not necessarily an interesting mystery. Finally, I was able to understand that he was really modifying sound in a very interesting way…he wasn’t faking it. At that point, I knew I wanted to show people exactly what I was doing. I have been criticised that this is an easy way to attract attention but I think it is something important and positive to give to the fans. As a consumer, I am aware of my own curiosity and desire to be involved in the process. If I can draw attention to the music and also teach a little about it, I find that to be a positive thing.
I remember a time when I was a dancer and club goer, I would always be close to the DJ booth full of curiosity. My dream would be to get up there and play that gear but I wasn’t allowed because I was not part of the performance. I would imagine that a lot of fans now feel the same. I want to be able to allow them to fulfil their dreams so I definitely I want to expand on this interactivity. I am working on it and have a good idea on how. Once I am done with the projects I am working on now, I hope to allow some time to develop this.
You mention the current projects you are working on, but what are a few things you are particularly excited about moving through the rest of 2018?
Absolutely, there are many things! I started this side project Kirilic…it used to be Cyrillic but I had to rename it with a “K” due to a naming conflict. It is a Techno project. As I mentioned before, my motto is that everything is an instrument so I wanted to create a live set by only using DJ equipment. With this project, which is very minimal and stripped down, I will release a record from it, which will come in a week or so on Len Faki’s Figure. This project has been evolving for some four years but now it will finally “exist” with a vinyl recording. This release is going to be my real introduction of the project to the world.
Another thing occupying my time in the past weeks has been preparing a Boiler Room set in Valencia. It is a collaboration with Ballantines. What is special about it is the collaboration with a local artist, Big Menu, three classically trained, Jazz musicians who do Hip Hop. I thought this was quite close to my sense of aesthetics as I love Jazz, Funk, and the type of Hip Hop they do. It’s danceable music but not House or Techno so it is a challenge to make music together. We had some recording sessions over the last months and have had some great times and challenges. Everything has ended up in a very good way and we will perform the project on 26 July in Valencia. Now, we are finalizing the lineup for the Boiler Room set.
Finally, I wanted to ask you a question on the topic of sustainability, especially given we are speaking around your upcoming Paradise City Festival appearance. That is an event known for its environmental consciousness, as well as events like DGTL where you also frequently appear. Is this a topic you think about and find importance in? There is an undeniable shift now, where events are incorporating this aspect into their core philosophy. How do you view this?
I am interested in this topic. Not only on issues of sustainability but also by being very proud of being a part of the movement that is Dance Music. Since the beginning, this movement’s philosophy has been to bring people together and stand for progress, whether through equal rights or, now, environmental sustainability. Generally, I am very happy that these topics are raised in our movement and I have a high interest in preserving nature and the environment. There is something to say about the reliance our industry has on flights and the extent of them, which isn’t the best for the environment, but I am aware of this and confident that soon there will be an alternative mode of transport in line with a positive ecological impact.