KiNK: Broadcasting from the concrete towers of Bulgaria
The announcement that Bulgarian producer KiNK AKA Strahil Velchev had a debut long player on the horizon was greeted with its fair share of excitement; an unfailingly distinct producer who mixes his rich, warm house sounds with the darker shades of techno. He’d originally intended the album to reflect his profile as a dancefloor producer. In the end though, Under Destruction became a much more experimental, difficult and somewhat cerebral exploration of the post-Soviet era dancefloor culture from which he’d emerged, than even Velchev might have expected.
Cities like London, Detroit and Berlin all have their own history and mythology that informed the development of their electronic music culture; early illegal parties in abandoned warehouses, the re-appropriation of desolate spaces and transforming them into havens of subculture, and the empty spaces representing freedom and liberation as opposed to urban decay. Similarly, Velchev’s hometown of Sofia, the capital and largest city of Bulgaria, has its own little-told story.
If electronic music is an artform defined by technology, then Bulgaria has its own very particular roots. The narrative begins with the visit of Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov to Japan in the late 70s, where he was amazed by the country’s technological advancements. Driven to act immediately upon returning home, he established Bulgaria as a key developer of the computer industry across Eastern Europe, under the COMECON trade network that had been established between the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies back in 1949.
This led to the extraordinary situation where the modest socialist country was supplying at its peak 40 percent of the computers in the Eastern Bloc, the industry employing 300,000 workers and generating the equivalent of US$13.3 billion a year. The eventual demise of the USSR and Eastern Bloc socialism left behind an army of highly-skilled engineers and IT scientists, as well as a generation of children with access to the ‘Pravetz 82’, the first computer produced on a mass scale under the socialist industry; essentially a hacked and reproduced Apple II system.
With the economic turmoil and uncertainty that accompanied the fall of the Iron Curtain, dialup internet was the means through which Bulgarian youngsters were now able to connect with the outside world, inevitably connecting eventually with the dance culture that was on the rise throughout the world in the 90s, and reproducing the music in the same way their engineer parents ‘backwards engineered’ the Apple II systems they were recreating. Early Detroit techno and UK jungle were filtered through a South East mentality and given its own gritty spin.
This was the environment in that KiNK grew up in, and Under Destruction itself was produced in the concrete blocks of Sofia’s Zone B5; with Velchev steering away from the ‘functional dancefloor’ album he originally intended to make, which would have reflected his impressive success as a house and techno producer a little more closely. He knew he had a concept on his hands that was a little more cerebral, and he ended up partnering with Stefan Goldmann from the Berlin-based Macro Recordings to help him tell his story.
Goldmann paints the album’s picture in a fascinating essay A Sofia Story; detailing how Bulgaria’s post-socialist techno scene remained during the 90s, “pre-Easyjet and visa-free travel”, as a lifestyle that was imported via crackly MP3 recordings from the “distant utopia East of the border”; with a scene that developed even more on the on the “fringes of access” than the industrial ruins of Berlin.
“Not in the centers of dance music with their record shops… equipment stores full of blinking lights and expensive toys for boys. Vinyl was prohibitively expensive, simply beyond reach. Techno’s real digital natives are not based in Detroit, Berlin or London, but in Varna, Kiev, Bukarest, Skopje, Novosibirsk…”
KiNK talked with Data Transmission so we could find out little bit more about the concept behind Under Destruction, before its eventual release on May 5th.
At what point did the concept for Under Destruction begin to form in your head?
The original idea came a couple of years ago to make an album. I was planning to do something more functional for a bigger dance label, but I had no real ideas. I was making music, but it was nothing spectacular. And suddenly, at that point I had already a couple of interesting hardware boxes. I was playing around with these little music machines, I was just jamming and I had these recording sessions, and I thought wow, I have a very specific sound in the identity of using only these couple of boxes that I had. So I did a lot of jams with the hardware that I had at the time, and I decided actually, this can be the source material for the album. And then the idea changed. First of all it was just the music, and this album is the result of many hours of just live recording with a couple of sythesizers, and then when I started to edit and select recordings of all these hours. I finalised a lot of tracks out of it, and then started to think about I could present it, how to name it. So first was the music, and later concept of how to present it.
And there were things I didn’t even think of when I was creating the music. The environment in which I recorded the album, it was so important, but I didn’t realise that while I was making it. I live in a specific neighbourhood in Sofia, and the surroundings everywhere around me you see these big blocks, which are very mechanical, very futuristic in a way.
As you grow older, you begin to realise the influence of surroundings on your music.
It’s a story of my town, it’s a story of my neighbourhood, it’s a story of a political situation I’ve grown up in. When I was a kid, before my teenage years it was still a communist country, and when I found electronic music it was just after the change from communism to democracy. So it definitely affected my way of living, and of course my way of making music.
And as I mentioned the limitations of the technology I was using; it’s a cliché, but it’s totally true that limitations can be creative, and can inspire you to think in a specific direction, to solve specific problems that you never meet when you have enough tools for expression. Most of the music I had made before then was in a computer, and you know that nowadays the computers are so powerful. Modern software offers such flexible platforms; there are basically no limitations and you can do absolutely everything. And of course this is nice, but sometimes this can be distracting and confusing. When you have all the possibilities in the world, how do you focus on one? When you have limited tools, you just have to find solutions to help you be more creative. This is amazing. With this new approach I was discovering new horizons.