Bulgarian producer Strahil Velchev seems determined to explore the boundaries of electronica and is not afraid of experimenting with different sounds and hardware. Any KiNK production is sure to demand your attention, making his sound one of Europe’s most unique and promising ones. Add an amazing live performance to that, where he surrounds himself with truly an arsenal of studio gear, and the forthcoming “Under Destruction” EP (out May 5th on Macro M38) and you get why we were keen on finally shooting some questions his way. Oh yeah, and in case you forgot: he’s here this weekend for DGTL Festival.
What I would first like to know is whether you hire personnel to carry your gigantic setup around when you’re on the road? Because it looks like it’s pretty damn heavy..
Carrying is fine, but I would love to share the responsibility with someone else to install my gear on stage, so I can focus only on my performance. The system I use is not as simple and stable as two CD players and a mixer and when there is a problem, I obviously can`t think about the music. When I become a superstar, I would love to clone myself, so another KiNK would take care for the technical issues haha!
So where did your passion for analog gear exactly start? And how have you managed to gather such an immense collection?
I always liked the technology, analog and digital, every instrument inspires me to play music in a certain way. However, till 2-3 years ago I couldn’t buy much machines, for financial reasons. Now I work a lot and I deserve to treat myself with some special devices. I have very few classic synths, I’m more interested in new developments or old gear that is not so popular. I always liked the modular synthesisers, as the computer software I use for production since 1999 is modular too. I bought few little semi-modular synths in the beginning and a year ago I slowly started building a Eurorack based modular instrument. What is interesting about the Eurorack system at the moment is that besides the analog heart, some manufacturers produce modules, inspired by computer software, and I like that combination a lot.
The collection is growing slowly, but I’m not a collector (although there are some pieces of gear I would still like very much). I’ve learnt how to incorporate software and hardware and right now I make full use of all my instruments in the studio.
What piece of rare gear are you still looking for?
I would like to get a Pearl Syncussion, a little percussive instrument, that produces really crazy metallic sounds. I quite like the idea to own a Buchla 200e System 7, a great instrument for experimentation. But I don’t think I’m ready to spend over 30.000 euro for a box that makes mostly unpredictable noises. I’ve also been curious about the Kyma by Symbolic Sound, a combination of hardware and software, a very strong sound design platform. Unfortunately it’s rare as well, used mostly in the film industry and I don’t really know anyone who owns it.
When working on new stuff in the studio, do you start out with certain predetermined combinations that you know you like or might work, or do you just improvise?
Yes and no. I don’t use any templates and I always start from zero. Now that I use more and more hardware, my workflow is changing every day. However, I know what kind of sounds I like, I start to build something familiar and through the making process I discover new things by making mistakes. I can’t repeat exactly the same settings. Ever.
In live sets you’re always active and experimenting with a lot of different sounds and effects, and it most certainly looks like an intense job when you’re behind the decks. What’s your stance on technical innovations that make playing live or DJing more accessible?
Yes, I like it that way, one of my DJ idols is Jeff Mills, I`m amazed by his style of performance, everything he does looks beautiful, but it’s never posing, because every movement has a function. Speaking of innovations – I was ignoring Ableton Live for many years, but this software can be a very powerful tool if you are creative with it. The addition of Max4Live few years ago made Ableton more customisable and now a laptop can be a more live instrument than a keyboard or a guitar. Now I’m curious to try its latest competitor software: Bitwig.
Something else which affected the way I play is an affordable and compact “grid” type controller called the Monome. What I use currently is the Novation Launchpad mini, very compact and reliable grid type controller which allows me to look at other things than just my computer screen. I play around with wireless midi controllers, which allow me to show the audience what i do, without being afraid that some cable will be disconnected. I`m quite excited about 3d motion and gesture control platforms, but i believe I will have to test the technology for long, before i bring it on stage. However, sometimes I like to have a less accessible approach, like incorporating vinyl into live sets and music instruments in DJ sets, syncing by ear, I can make mistakes and it all becomes more interesting for everybody, including me.
What influences did your home country Bulgaria have on the music you now make?
The fact that there was no local electronic sound when I grew up, and the electronic music that would eventually become popular here, like Trance and Progressive House, made me curious about the different scenes around the world, like in Chicago, Detroit, New York, London, Berlin and Amsterdam. Missing specific influences at home made me a more diverse artist. I also have to mention a few names, like this little record store, “Diukian Meloman”. I found it in 1995, at that time they had a deal with labels like Warp and Ninja Tune, and it opened my eyes. All the records there were different than the straight forward techno I was listening around that time. Also, they were so kind to let me listen to a lot of music in the shop and to lend me some CDs as I didnt had enough money to buy music regulary.
Some of my good club experiences was going to massive parties, organised by Metropolis, still one of the main promoters of electronic music in Bulgaria now. I also loved to listen to a local underground house DJ, known as Valentine. I heard the so-called deep house in his sets for the first time, during the mid 90s. And last but not least I wanna give a shout-out to my DJ crew in Sofia, called Porno BPM, we have a solid DJ experience together, being residents in different venues in Sofia for many years. During this period I was being trained for the international scene.
Is there someone that taught you your studio skills when you were younger?
Yes, my friend Konstantin Petrov, one of the four guys at Porno BPM. We met in 1997 in a record store, we became close friends through music and in 1998 he introduced me a software platform, called Jeskola Buzz, its still my main weapon in the studio.
At that time i didn’t own a computer, so I was spending a lot of time at Konstantin`s place, I didn’t know how to handle music software, nor did I know how to work with a computer.. So his help was very important! We still meet and talk very often, and we are discussing a future project together. I can’t reveal it yet, but I’m very excited about it.
We’ve heard that you unfortunately suffer from tinnitus (a constant ringing sound caused by noise-induced hearing loss). What precautions do you take to keep it from worsening?
I use a custom made earplugs, but I don’t know if the protection is enough, I play quite often and sometimes when the monitoring is not good, I play without protection. Im worried about my ears, but my passion for music is also very strong so to stay away from the music is of course not an option. So far the problem hasn’t increased dramatically and I hope for the best. Besides using hearing protection when I can, I also avoid using earbuds.
Do you worry about our current generation of club goers and the dangers of over-exposure to loud music?
Yes I am worried about the people from my generation and the younger club goers as well. There should be a stronger control for the loudness in the clubs. In the ideal situation, if the crowd doesn’t talk that loud during the performances, the music sounds good even on lower levels. Some of my colleagues shared with me such experiences in Japan and they said it’s pretty nice.
You’ve self-released a making-of video of the EP ‘Under Destruction’. What drove you to do this and are we going to see more of these kinds of videos?
Well, a couple of years ago a friend of mine gave me a present, a rare east German drum machine from the 80s. I was looking for explanation videos on YouTube, but I couldn’t find any and i decided to do one, which ended up being just a live performance with my newly acquired piece of equipment. It got a great response and I decided to make amateur videos once in a while, when I’m having fun with my machines. During 2013 I was very busy with travelling and I didn’t record as much videos as I wanted, but I want to start doing regular sessions again now, as I have so much more to show. According the album presentation video, I thought it’s good to show what i used for the project, because its born out of live sessions with the setup you see on the video. I planning to hire someone to shoot it and edit it for me, but sometimes in Bulgaria the deadlines can be an abstract term, you experienced that with me. So i shot and edited it on my own, its not perfect, as the music in the album as well, its spontaneous and little bit unpolished. I think its important for the listeners to have a little idea about the used setup and the location, where the album was recorded.
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You are one of the much-anticipated acts at DGTL Festival this weekend. What will you be cooking up for the Amsterdam crowd? Are there any surprises or new tunes that we could be hearing in your live set?
I have a couple of new remixes to show like the ones I did for Tiga, Daniel Avery, Dj Zinc, an unreleased one for Rachel Row, as well as a few of the more danceable tracks from the album. I will probably play some of my older tracks which people can recognise, but all completely improvised live.
At whose set can we find you dancing at DGTL Festival when you’re not playing yourself?
Absolutely everybody on my stage on Sunday, but especially Floating Points, as I haven’t saw him playing so far. I`m a massive fan of Gerd as well. I also recommend those who haven’t seen D-Ribeiro to check him out on the Phono stage, one of the few newcomers that impressed me a lot. We played a few times together and I can tell he is amazing.
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Since the night is still young when DGTL ends at 11 o’clock at night, what are you going to be up to in Amsterdam if you have some energy left?
If i have time before the gig – Ill buy some records at Rush Hour, but its a great news that the festival ends up so early, its my third gig that weekend after Zukunft / Zurich and Panorama Bar in Berlin, so I will probably go straight to bed.
Many people in the house scene have hailed your collaboration with Neville Watson. Could you tell us a bit more on the start and the course of your collaboration?
It’s definitely a special event in my career. Our record for Rush Hour`s sub label Our House Is Your Rush in 2008 was very successful. But more important was the start of a great friendship and we learnt a lot of things from each other. Before working with Neville I was concentrating too much on the technical side of the music, instead of the melody and the groove, which is way more important. This collaboration helped me out to become a better artist. Also it’s a great example of using the modern technology, although the track sounds like it has been made in 1988. I met Neville on the then popular website Myspace, we created the record by exchanging files through the internet without even talking on the phone. The first time I heard Neville`s voice was probbably 3 years after we made the track together. We were discovered by Rush Hour through the social network as well. Now after so much time working together in a modern way, we want to try it old school, together in one studio.
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You’ve been playing all over the world for some time now. What’s your favorite place to play, when considering the different crowds and locations?
I’ve been lucky with mostly good gigs in the last two years. It might sound boring, but my favourite places to play are located in Western Europe and North America. In countries and cities where people are more or less familiar with the type of music I represent.
I quite often play in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. I always feel great at clubs as Fabric and Corsica Studios in London, Panorama Bar and Watergate in Berlin, Studo 80 and Trouw in Amsterdam, Smart Bar in Chicago. Sometimes I’m nicely surprised when I play in territories which I didn’t consider as very strong for me, like Asia and Australia. Last year I had unforgettable moments at club Kyo in Singapore and a little venue in Adelaide / Australia, a place called Sugar. The list can be endless. My point is that actually the crowd in different continents can be the same group of like minded people, united by the music and that’s amazing.
What Bulgarian dish should everybody try at least once?
Shopska Salata and Rakia. The first thing is a very simple salad with tomato, cucumber, white cheese and some spice. The second thing is very strong alcoholic drink with a fruity taste. The combination is just perfect.
Could you explain what it is exactly that makes the analog sound so appealing to you?
Some things just sound better in the analog domain and some in digital. The analog filters sound better and I prefer to control synths with control voltage, which is analog, I also get inspiration from the look of the machines. But if we talk about beats – I prefer to use the computer. I don’t like the modern hardware drum machines and the old digital samplers are not easy to deal with. Analog is more fun and digital is more flexible, so I need both.
What has been the most beautiful word/sign of gratitude that a fan/visitor of your show has ever given you?
One guy in Rotterdam told me that he proposed a marriage to his girlfriend, inspired by a track I did with my girlfriend, Rachel Row.
Phono Stage: Finnebassen | Adana Twins | Hector Couto b2b Cuartero | Waifs & Strays | Prunk | D-ribeiro |