Live At The Top: KiNK interview
Bulgarian live maestro KiNK opens up about forthcoming albums, his love of a good sampler, and his plans for 2017
With his unique, intensely energetic live performances, KiNK, aka Strahil Velchev, has almost single-handedly put Bulgaria on the electronic music map. Yet when it comes to navigating his way through the tiny town of Mayrhofen in Austria, where The Skinny meets him just a few hours before his live set at this year’s Snowbombing festival, KiNK is not having quite as much luck.
“I’m not very good at directions,” Velchev explains from his hotel lounge in Mayrhofen. “They told me just walk ten minutes and you will arrive at the hotel… I managed to go all the way to Innsbruck (which is almost an hour's drive from Mayrhofen), almost,” he laughs.
Directions may not be his strong point, but Velchev has much bigger talents to hand. A continual stream of EPs released on the likes of Rush Hour, Pets Recordings, Ovum and more has provided the backbone for his bombastic live shows, and since the 2014 release of his widely-acclaimed debut LP Under Destruction, KiNK has toured virtually non-stop. So this year, he explains, has understandably been about stopping to carve out more time in the studio.
“I took three months and stopped playing [in] January,” Velchev discloses. “My plan was a long vacation and doing two albums – one for me, and one with my partner (the Bulgarian singer-songwriter Rachel Row). In reality, I have seven-and-a-half tracks finished. My friends say they’re very good!” he laughs.
Interestingly, taking time out from touring has not only enabled Velchev to work on new music, but it has also allowed him to hone the skills that make him such a dynamic performer in the booth.
“It was difficult because through the years while I was touring, I have been buying all the gear and I haven’t got chance to learn how to use it. Now it was [time] to learn how to use all these musical instruments and try to make music again. I’m happy with the result, but it was an intense time, it wasn’t exactly a vacation.”
Under Destruction was reportedly the result of a series of live jam sessions in his hometown of Sofia, and showcased Velchev’s experimental sensibilities. Of his first full-length record, he tells us: “My last album was probably the most personal thing I did, on a very special German label called Macro. And yes, I’m really proud of the result, but the tracks were a bit too, uh, different from the music I make, and I ended up spending one year of my life doing music which I did not play in my sets,” he admits.
In contrast, when it comes to working on the new album, “I have to like it, but I also have to give something to the people who buy and play my music,” he explains. “So it’s going to be a bit of a combination of both. There are going to be extreme tracks but also nice melodies and nice beats… for normal people, I guess!” he laughs.
When asked if there is a concept that has underpinned the recording of his new material, Velchev muses: “This time, the concept is that I’m doing the tracks in a very short amount of time. I think that’s also giving it some sort of identity, because you use certain instruments and you capture a certain amount of ideas. I think that’s the concept – not having any sort of concept, just doing music inspired by things in a certain part of [your] life”
In order to make the most of the break in his touring schedule, Velchev also reveals that he spent the month of January completely offline during the production process. “I gained a lot of time. I didn’t realize how much time I was using just by checking my Facebook page seventy-five times a day or more,” he laughs. Though of his hugely popular Facebook presence, he does concede, “it’s an important page. Actually, my career happened because of social media. My first record had been recorded for MySpace – my first big record was produced just through exchanging files through MySpace messages.
"I owe a lot to the internet and social media, but once in a while you have to take a step back and be with yourself and listen to yourself and be creative – not just checking funny videos.”
A quick glance at the aforementioned Facebook page reveals the extent of Velchev’s love affair with hardware. It’s a diverse arsenal of equipment and despite having amassed the collection in a relatively short period of time, he admits he finds mastering new devices easy. “I’m pretty fast,” he tells us. “To put the story short, I live in Bulgaria, which is a pretty poor country, so most of the time in my life I was not able to buy gear.
"Now in the last couple of years since I travel a lot and work, I’ve bought a lot of things quite fast! So I’ve learned quite fast how to develop the ability.”
When it comes to his current tools of the trade, Velchev has “a lot of new stuff, and a lot of old stuff. [The] new stuff is from a company in The Netherlands called OWOW, he reveals. “They do devices that detect [when] your body moves. It’s something that I’m using for my live show, but something that is also good for the studio.”
In regards to the old stuff, Velchev says “I believe the sound of the drums, even if we speak about pop music or rock music or country music or whatever, I think the drums define the sound and the character.
“I was really struggling to find a sound on the drums for this project,” he continues, “and my friend Gerd Janson from Running Back [loaned] me this very old rare sampler, an E-mu SP-1200 – people say it’s the best thing you can have on your drums [and] I can confirm it.”
It’s this extensive technical knowledge – coupled with a warm, thoughtful and engaging personality, and the exuberant way he interacts with crowds at his shows – that make KiNK’s performances so widely revered. Yet he remains ever-humble regarding the subject of his status as Resident Advisor’s top live act for the second year running.
“I know I’m not the best,” he states, “because some of my favourite live acts are not even on any charts, but I really appreciate those charts and I’m really happy that I’m [placed] so high. It just makes it easier for me to get bookings and it makes it easier for the crowd to accept my music. Now, with the approval of the media, people think ‘Ah! That must be good’. It’s important – I don’t think I’m the best, for sure, but it makes my work much easier.”
Velchev’s gratitude for the industry accolades is clear, but as we wind up our conversation it’s a project closer to his heart that has him most excited for the coming months.
“I’m really looking forward to Into The Valley in, if I’m not wrong, Estonia. It’s a new location, and they invite artists to play together,” he enthuses. “They have me and my partner Rachel – who is beautiful, but also a beautiful singer – and I’m really excited about that because we can showcase a different side to our work.”
KiNK is a master of the tools of the trade, but it seems that what most sets him above his peers is his ability to always maintain a human connection.
KiNK plays Nightvision's Terminal V, Easter Sunday Festival, Edinburgh, 16 Apr.