Strahil Velchev -- better known as KiNK on international dancefloors -- took no shortcuts during his two-decade trajectory as a producer. Nor was he given any major breaks. It was pure passion and perspiration that got him where he is today.
Raised in Bulgaria when the country was still culturally and economically cut off behind the Iron Curtain, Velchev had to scavenge for meager morsels of Western music at local record shops, or hope the local radio DJ would drop something novel. But his thrilling first tastes of electronica were enough to whet his appetite and set him on a lifelong course to learn everything he could about those sounds and how to make them.
Fast-forward to 2013 and KiNK is one of the most celebrated artists and performers in underground electronic dance music. A producer's producer whose mastery of old-school electronic production techniques but also the early adoption of new technologies, make for a sound that is equally classic and future-thinking.
Ahead of KiNK's first-ever Miami appearance -- in fact, his North American debut altogether -- Crossfade caught up with the man himself to chat about his musical roots, his new album and what to expect when brings his one-of-a-kind live show to Shoot the Freak's launch party at Trade Miami Beach tonight.
Crossfade: Tell us about your first exposure to electronic music while growing up in Bulgaria. How did you first get drawn to that sound?
KiNK: I've always been into music. I was into disco when I was a little kid. My parents were giving me pocket money for breakfast in school, and I used it to buy vinyl. That was in the communist times, in the late '80s. The records were extremely cheap, but there was almost nothing in the stores. Later on, in 1992, I heard a track on the radio which blew my mind. The radio DJ said that it's techno and it opened a new page in my life.
I had very little access to electronic music in the early and mid '90s. In the beginning there were just three or four electronic dance music compilations per year, and the music inside was a bit of everything, from F.U.S.E. (Richie Hawtin) through Joey Beltram, The Prodigy, Orbital and KLF, to The Orb and Future Sound Of London. The format was cassette. I used to record music from the radio as well.
In the beginning I didn't know of other people that were into electronic music -- there were no clubs where you could listen to it, all was very mysterious and exciting for me! In the mid '90s, the dance music scene in Bulgaria exploded, but I still didn't have access to much music, and I believe that made me so curious and passionate about it. In the late '90s the scene was pretty good, Bulgaria was a good place to play. But I have to say, in the last 10 years, the electronic music lost a bit of its appeal in my country. I believe it's a moment of slowing down before the next peak.
In the past, you've mentioned how you're not a classically trained musician, but rather started out as a DJ and then got into production later. Yet today, you are a renowned gear head that favors old-school analog production, and you boast a seasoned musician's talent for composition. How did you first get into production and how did you develop your musical chops? Why do you challenge yourself to use analog gear in an age of digital software production?
Well, the DJing and music production, in a more traditional way, happened at the same time -- sometime in 1999. But before that, I'd been experimenting with one turntable and a cassette deck. I had some idea of beatmatching, I had good experience as a music listener, and zero experience as a producer -- so both things started together. Somehow, I think the DJing came first. I used to play piano when I was a kid, but it was a long time ago -- I was taking lessons for about two to three years, but I was not working hard enough, so I didn't became good at it. However, I guess this experience helped me to be more musical and to be quick with my hands when I manipulate sound.
I wanted to play with sounds since I discovered electronic music, and many years later, when the digital technology allowed me to do it with very little investment, I just started doing it. I became addicted immediately. I used every free moment to make music. That's how I developed my skills, but that's how I also developed tinnitus and I missed university graduation.
I always dreamed of synthesizers, but I couldn't afford them for many years. I learned to produce on a computer, and that's great, because it made me more open to the new technology. However, I find working with obscure analog boxes very inspiring. It can be a challenge, and the challenge is my favorite aspect of making new music. Right now, I'm really into new developments -- instruments based on something old and forgotten, but made for the future. I think that concept relates to my music as well.
Aside from your work as KiNK you'v also also produced jingles and music for Bulgarian pop artists. What can you tell us about these "extracurricular" musical projects? Does working in pop inform what you do as KiNK in any way?
I was doing radio jingles and was involved with some pop music productions in Bulgaria. It was my tryout to have something like a job. I earned very little money out of it, but still I loved it, because it made me feel I'm doing music professionally. At that time, I didn't have much gigs and there were no KiNK releases. I loved the work process. I had big constraints and it was a challenge to make something sonically interesting in music directions that I don't like. Although I still don't like commercial music, I find this experience very useful for my work as KiNK, especially when I'm dealing with vocals or people who have little idea about more unconventional music.
Word is that you're currently working on completing your debut long player. What can we expect?
Yes, I finished the project recently. I have little work on the mix-downs, and the next step is to find the right home for it. The record sounds more experimental than my other released works. I'm exploring some territories which were always attracting me, like microtonality, live improvisation and achieving a distinct sound with very basic tools. I found inspiration in the early electro-acoustic music by artists like Herbert Eimert, Oscar Sala, Morton Subotnick and Delia Derbyshire -- I find their music and the unusual approach to production very interesting. I made few dancefloor tracks, which sound closer to techno -- the rest of the material is slower, but still sounds solid and distinct, with accent on novel tonality. I think I found a good balance between more traditional song structures and complete madness.
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We are very excited for your Miami debut performance at Shoot the Freak tonight. What can we expect? How does your studio material translate live?
I am very excited as well! I want to make a good first impression! At the moment, my live set is inspired by two types of performers: DJs, who are mixing in a very raw, fast and dynamic manner, and musicians, who are recording and looping their music in real-time. I'm trying to steal elements from both kinds of acts. I also like to put old and new technology together -- like a laptop, loaded with Max/MSP patches, controlled by the newest digital gadgets on the market, and also a standard turntable with vinyl.
I represent my studio material by doing live editing and looping, and remixing my existing tracks. But often, it's getting boring to play the same melodies every gig, so I write new music on the fly as well, often with the help of the audience. One thing that became a routine is to ask a random person from the crowd to write an acid bass line with one of my gadgets. I like to bring high energy on stage and to take risks. The result is an intense and futuristic twist on the music I like: classic techno and house, jazz, disco and electronica.