The Shortlist: KiNK

For this latest edition of The Shortlist, we speak to Bulgarian techno producer KiNK, who's phantasmagoric DJ sets saw him win Resident Advisor's favourite live electronic artist of 2016.

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For this latest edition of The Shortlist, we speak to Bulgarian techno producer KiNK, whose phantasmagoric DJ sets saw him win Resident Advisor’s favourite live electronic artist of 2016.



The theme of my playlist is ‘rave stabs’.

A stab is usually a chord that adds dramatic punctuation to a composition. The stabs in dance music are very consistent, sampled sounds, often processed to become a new sound, unrecognisable from its origin. I love that approach, I use it a lot in my music and most recently in my Slow remix of Fatboy Slim’s Weapon Of Choice (feat. Bootsy Collins). That’s why I selected these tracks!

While much of the world observed Jeff Bezos being launched into the outer limits of the Earth’s atmosphere in a phallus-shaped rocket with both admiration and amusement, Strahil Velchev looked on with envious fascination. Better known as KiNK, it’s always been a dream of the Sofia-born artist to make the same celestial journey. “When I was a little kid all of my drawings were of spaceships!” he laughs. “But now we live in the future; we have everything we ever dreamed of. I hope I get the chance to go myself, one day.”

For anyone familiar with KiNK’s career, this will come as no real revelation. Famed for his whiz-bang live performances, Velchev’s energetic sets and mastery of technology — old and new — are renowned. This fixation with gadgets has seen him crowned one of world’s best live acts, and it all began back in the early ‘90s, when, as Bulgaria emerged from the weight of living beneath an oppressive communist cloud, he heard techno music on the radio for the first time.

“When electronic music first came through in Bulgaria the country had just become a democracy so we were hungry for western culture,” he explains. “But I think one of the reasons we were so open to those abstract sounds was because it was forbidden back then.” Fuelled by rebellious spirit and a curiosity for the obscure new music he was hearing on the airwaves, his obsession with technology and music took root, and before long he was making his own tunes using a combination of modular software synths and a newly freed sense of imagination.

Velchev concedes that his debut work probably wasn’t his best technically, but those early days of producing were essential for establishing the parameters that he still works within today. “I got into house and techno when I was 13 or 14 years old and you tend to stick to what you know,” he says. “But let’s be honest, these scenes have existed for 40 years now and back in the day it was the most revolutionary, freeing music out there but now it’s become the most dogmatic because there are so many rules about how to make it. And I’m from the older generation so I have a tendency to follow those rules.”

It was only during the pandemic that he found himself challenging these preconceptions. “There’s a gym in front of the building where I live and the kids stand in front of there with a speaker listening to a lot of hip hop and trap,” he smiles. “So I’ve been listening to a lot of Bulgarian trap! For me, it’s like entering into a new world because I eat and breathe techno, it’s my religion.” Nevertheless, spurred on by the innovations of the next generation, he’s found himself reassessing his own working practices.

“One of my fears is how big is my own window of creativity?” he explains. “I can be a bit nostalgic about the past and yes, sometimes my first reaction when I hear new music is this isn’t proper house or techno, but then I think this is dance music made from a different angle and that’s why I loved that music back when I first heard it — it didn’t sound like anything else on the radio. Now I’ve been exposed to other sounds and I’ve found it really inspiring — I’m nicely surprised that I’m still able to have ears for something different.”

He applied a similar approach to one of his main lockdown projects, breathing fresh life into Fatboy Slim’s ‘Weapon of Choice’ to mark the track’s 20th anniversary. “When it first came out, I was a wannabe, not even a proper artist, so to work on this remix was such a compliment,” he says with a grin.

“There’s an amazing vocal and a signature bassline so those are the two elements I focused on.” But despite a reputation for using a vast collection of equipment on each track, his new role as a father encouraged him to keep this particular production simple. “I’m known for learning how to use a machine inside out and finding its sweet spot, but because of my family duties I pretty much did those remixes in my kitchen with just laptop and headphones,” he laughs. “So that’s a message to young producers out there — all you need is a spark and a computer. I discovered I can be anywhere in the world and still be creative and that was a liberation.”

Indeed, if the pandemic has reinforced anything for Velchev it’s that artistic output is no longer limited by geographical or even ideological borders in the same way it was when he was growing up. “I don’t think boundaries matter anymore,” he considers. “The revolution can happen anywhere.”

And as a live performer, that’s an opportunity to grab with gusto, especially when taken alongside advancements in technology, which continue to propel music experiences forward into the unknown. “In terms of tools of expression, the future is bright,” he states. “Thirty years ago, I’d need a truck full of equipment and hundreds of cables to perform and create music on stage in the way I do, but now all I need is my computer.”

He’ll be testing this theory at Brixton venue Phonox on 29 August, when he’s confirmed for an all-day-long set, a prospect he welcomes with excitement and trepidation after 18 months away from gigs.

“I’ve lost some of my muscle memory but I’m looking forward to it because I’m able to deliver better with longer slots, there’s more room for exploring.” As in the club as in life, more time means he’s allowed the freedom to feel into the natural rhythms of the night, with all its intrinsic ups and downs. “It’s about telling a story and bringing some surprises. You cannot be up all the time — you need to let people relax and then bring them back to break some sweat!”

And therein lies the conundrum at the heart of technological advancement. Yes, it has the capacity to expand our horizons, but can it ever replace the uniquely human ability to interpret and respond to the extraordinary dynamics of a moment in time?

“If we dig a bit deeper into synthesis, a lot of sounds in techno, Italo house, and all electronically produced music is made with machines, which already display a certain logic: you press a button, there is an event and the machine reacts,” Velchev muses. “So that technology is already here and I’m happy that it’s advancing faster than ever. But human input will always be needed,” he adds. “So I’m not worried about that.” And in the end, what will be the catalyst that launches us further, beyond the stratosphere? “The only thing we have to fight is our own imaginations,” he concludes. “You cannot stop progress.”

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