Some say that you can’t measure the power and emotion of live music performance, but Strahil Velchev, AKA techno maverick KiNK, has been given accolades for his way of doing things regardless. Regularly landing in the top five of Resident Advisor’s celebrated Top 40 Live Acts poll during recent years, 2015 saw KiNK awarded with the number one slot. As the reigning king of the live hardware club jam, he appeals to a wide spectrum of tastes within the dance music underground, but it’s been a long road for Velechev. Having started out in Bulgaria and initially feeling isolated from wider techno culture, he’s since forged a path that’s both challenged and fuelled his creative output. In this excerpt from an interview with Shawn Reynaldo for RBMA Radio’s First Floor, KiNK details his Cyrillic side project, his love for Jeff Mills and how his acclaimed live sets have informed his production methods.
Listen to First Floor on RBMA Radio here every Thursday at 1PM EDT.
You’ve been putting out music for more than a decade now and when you look at [your discography], you’ve never stuck to one label. You’ve had releases on Rush Hour, Ovum, Running Back, Macro, Clone Royal Oak, Dirtybird – and lots of other labels. What makes you jump around from one label to another?
Well I’ve never been very practical with my career. Starting as an underground electronic music artist based in Bulgaria, I didn’t have much of a choice. I had to use any possible channels. In the early times I was not able to join a crew that I really liked, [and] then it just happened that I continued releasing music on different labels. Afterwards, I felt very comfortable with not being part of the “sound of now.” I continued to work with different people – people who I connect with personally. I used to think that being so random with the record labels was a mistake, but now I think it works very well to my advantage: being able to have different colors musically, but also being able to play different parties.
Apart from the work that you do as KiNK, you have another project under the name Cyrillic. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Like many of us, I’m a really big fan of Jeff Mills. The Cyrillic project is very influenced by him and his way of playing with records and the drum machine. I thought, “I want to take it even deeper.” Instead of playing tracks and layering beats from the drum machine, I thought, “Let’s play very basic loops.” It’s a project still under development – it’s still very fresh – even though I’ve been doing it for two years. I still come up with new things. It’s more of a fun project for me where there is still more room to upgrade.
Do you think that you’ll ever put out any releases under the Cyrillic name?
The plan was not to do so, but I would like to do it because now I have more than 100 loops and each loop is a potential track. I think it would be a shame to have all of this potentially great material and not release it. The Cyrillic project started like a joke. I was at a dinner in The Netherlands, talking to some random people, and once I explained the concept to them I had a couple of very big bookings. I don’t play that much as Cyrillic, but all of the gigs I play are big festival gigs or in clubs like Berghain. People already listen to the tracks, which still don’t exist, so I think that I owe the people something. At some point yes, I will release music.
Well until those tracks surface, there’s plenty of KiNK material. I wanted to talk about your debut album Under Destruction, which came out back in 2014. I think a lot of people were surprised that it wasn’t really club music. Was that by design?
Yeah. I got very deep into the sound of Warp records in the mid-’90s and when I got deeper into music production in the early 2000s, that was the sound I was going after. I love Aphex Twin and Autechre because, for me, that music sounded impossible. I couldn’t figure out how these people made these complicated beats and atonal melodies. For quite a while, I was not only listening to that kind of music – I was also producing it, but it just didn’t happen with me. I didn’t manage to release that kind of music on a big label so I didn’t become an experimental artist [like those on Warp]. It happened that I became more recognized as a house and techno artist. This [experimental] sound is also a very big part of me. It was a surprise for the listeners, but not a surprise for my friends and for me. It was just another part of me I wanted to show.
Do you have any desire to make another album at some point? And if you do, do you think it would be experimental again or do you think it would be more dancefloor-oriented?
I’ll make a new album, for sure. I haven’t started working on it and I still don’t have a good plan for it, but I think it’s time to do it again. Maybe I’ll reveal a big secret now: I want to take a big break, for a couple of months, so that I can focus on [writing an album]. I want to renew the live show a bit, too. I want to make new Cyrillic material and I would like to produce at least one album.
When people talk about you as an artist, the discussion often focuses on your live show. Last year, you were named the Top Live Electronic Artist on Resident Advisor, for example. How does your live set affect your process once you get into the studio, when it comes to making music?
That’s a very good question. Before I was playing live, the process of making music for me was very static – very boring, I would say. I would plan my music sometimes out of the studio, then go to the studio and program the music: drawing envelopes with the mouse, coding with numbers and letters, but not really playing. Even though I’m one of the “leading live acts” at the moment, I never really wanted to play live. I have to say big thanks to my ex-agent, who inspired me to think about playing live in the beginning. He convinced me to do it.
With time, I found that I could be very, very creative compared to traditional DJing, and now I really love it. Playing live changed my ways of producing music because being on stage, so many times, means that I have amazing, lucky accidents. At some point, I thought, “Wow, I create so many interesting melodies on the fly. It would be great if I started recording them.” Now, when I am in the studio, it’s more of playing live than writing or programming music. It’s more hands on and it’s more fun, which I think is very important.
Does that mean that your writing process is largely improvisational? I’m imagining a lot of jam sessions in your studio, where you hit record and see what happens.
Yes, [the sessions are] more and more like that, which is totally the opposite of like it used to be before. I wouldn’t say that the studio process is 100% live, but a lot of the hooks and other main elements of the tracks are recorded live. For example, with my track “Chorus,” the day I recorded it, I received a new guitar pedal effect. It’s called the TC Electronic Stereo Chorus Flanger. It’s a chorus pedal. I had tried it and thought, “I need a very plastic-sounding digital synthesizer and to see if this pedal is going to make it sound more analog.” I put a very simple pattern with a very basic plug-in, ran it through the pedal and I love the results. I thought, “Wow, that’s a great melody. That’s a great bassline or whatever it is. Let’s just keep recording.” That’s how the track came on. It was just a test of a guitar pedal.