Interview with Bulgarian producer Kottarashky


For those, who dislike to read on the screen, just print the feature about Kottarashky from here
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The Balkan hype is surfing already for years and bringing this music on a never-ending wave to us. There are various facets of the Balkan and Gypsy related sound: Of course SHANTEL who has surfed on the top of the wave with his stunt kite in the hands that keeps the form of the catchy, chart conforming beat; The tough calculating hardcore Fanfaro Bands have surfed in the king discipline that can be called TUBA RIDING and last but not least floaters like BALKAN BEAT BOX or DUNKELBUNT who have surfed in the breakers by favoring broken beats and ragga-rhymes. I can continue this infinite list of the turns of the Balkan sound.

I think that nobody can say who provoked this wave!? Did it come with Bregovic and Kusturica in the 90s; maybe it had been ROOTSMAN who injected others; perhaps GYPSY KINGS and 3 Mustaphas 3 made it in the 80s already; which effect had DJANGO REINHARD or was there all the time a fever in our blood, injected by the strolling ZIEHEUERS means Sinti and Roma bands from SPAIN to RUSSIA. Maybe it is only SHANTEL who want to know this and especially to see his own name in the first line.

However, BERLIN label ASPHALT TANGO that discovered FANFARO CIOCARLIA in the 90s shows us that it is still possible to find something innovative in the Balkan music. It is KOTTARASHKY who surprise us with joyful and absolutely creative mixture Club music in Balkan scenery. His album is so much full with joy of playing and melancholy. His stories and journeys bring us to OUTBACK and out of time areas of BULGARIA.

Kottarashky aka Nikola Gruev comes from Sofia/ BULGARIA. It is unbelievable that he is living just three blocks away from my home. He uses a collection of sounds taken from authentic field recordings. This is quite similar to one of his protagonists AMON TOBIN, it is just that he takes his sounds from the Bulgarian countryside. Maybe one can compare his arrangements with sampling nerds like MR.SCRUFF or DJ SHADOW, with the only one difference that he waives one-note beat patterns and killer bass. Nevertheless, he makes party breakers with tracks like CHETIRI. I find the most unbelievable that NIKOLA with his main profession as architect produces his music in a back office totally disconnected from any popular scenes.

This comes along with a general thing that I recognized in today BULGARIA – here the creativity moves in the private sphere. Mainstream presses everything. It is my impression that a Kraken of neo feudals that are tapped on their position or who are just horny for money, maneuver out the country and press every critics by cornering the market of media. A very good example is what was happened recently with Sofia studio of RFI which was the only quasi independent audio voice here but sold to a media group of high church people. These are strange words for an opening of an interview with the Bulgarian musician Kottarashky, but they come just to show the situation in which people and musicians like him live and work in the Balkan reality, who have no other chance than to search their private way.

  • Nikola on the record release party in Sofia, picture by Natalia Atanasova
    ?_ Nikola, BERLIN Label ASPHALT TANGO will release your Album ‘OPA HEY!’ in November 2009. Without any amendments one can say, that your debut will be one of the most exiting and freshest releases of the year. How it was coming to this? Did you find ASPHALT TANGO or was it ASPHALT TANGO that found you?
    /_ ASPHALT TANGO found me. Just one day about a year ago they wrote me a message on Myspace. I already heard about HENRY ERNST (one of the founders of ASPHALT TANGO) and the story how he found FANFARO CIOCARLIA during one of his journeys in ROMANIA. So, these were exciting news, when I got their message. I really do not know how they heard about me. After this we have had a long conversation.

    ?_ Since when you are making music? In which time you have done the tracks for your album?
    /_ I’m making music for approximately fifteen years but never professional. At the beginning I played guitar even cooking pots, frying pan and other such “instruments” in a band together with my friends. We played our own compositions. I do not remember what we played, but it was something like rock music. This was strange band, everybody played everything. Unfortunately, the quality of our recordings was awful. Later on I continued alone and started to learn different computer programs. So, I started to work with computer eight years ago. At the beginning I made some kind of melodic and electro-acoustic trip hop.

    ?_ You present in your songs on ‘OPA HEY!’ a really organic but abstract fusion in instrumentals of 4 minutes so they keep even the duration of normal pop songs. But in this form you make arrangements of joyful played instruments like clarinets, violins and never listened rhythms and you succeed to fascinate us with picturesque atmospheres, nostalgic journeys to lost places and untold small stories. They are sophisticated arrangements of electronic and acoustic music. How did you come to this fusion of music?
    /_ Yes, exactly this very mix I find very interesting. The electronic music in its pure form is a little bit boring for me. I mean Techno, Drum and Bass, Breakbeats and House with a few exceptions, of course. But I compose my music on the computer. Maybe I’m trying to translate something that is eternal into a contemporary language.

    ?_ Where did you find the instruments that you use on ‘OPA HEY!’?
    /_ Most of the instruments I recorded alone on journeys through different regions of Bulgaria. So, I work mainly with field recordings. I started to make field recordings two years ago. The starting point was my wish to use Balkan elements in the music which I make. I bought a professional dictaphone and started to search authentic sound from Bulgarian country side. The dictaphone is always with me, so I can record when I find something interesting. Of course, there are also parts and instruments on the album that I played alone or some friends played for me. I use samples from other records in the album, too. An example is the track CHETIRI. That is one of my favorites on the album! I used samples from FANFARO CIOC?RLIA and JONY ILIEV BAND when I made CHETIRI in October 2007.

  • Kottarashky live in Sofia, picture by Natalia Atanasova
  • ?_ How do you make your recordings normally? Do you please the musicians on the streets to play something for you or simply you put your microphone in the scenes where musicians play in public?
    /_ I do both. It depends on the occasion.

    ?_ Obviously you made a lot of the recordings with Gypsy musicians. I see Gypsy musicians quite often in the public sphere in Bulgaria, playing on the streets on different occasions of everyday life. My last personal experience was a clarinet player playing after the birth of my daughter in front of the hospital. Normally they are quite happy, when you are interested in their music. But of course they earn their living with it. Was it hard for you to motivate especially Gypsies to play?
    /_ No, I cannot say that it was complicated. Many of the recordings are made during weddings and christenings, where musicians had been paid already. For others just a treat was enough. But I have to say that generally I alter the recordings before I make my compositions. When somebody use a computer, it is not necessary to be a brilliant musician. One good example is LONG SONG that I made in January 2008. It is a composition based on sounds that I recorded at a gypsy wedding which I came across by chance in the RHODOPE MOUNTAINS. There are many Gypsies and people in the villages who won’t call themselves musicians. They play for fun. Everybody plays. This I found the most interesting on my journeys. I do not need really good musicians; I do not need IVO PAPASSOV. It is also true that I do not listen to this what I recorded. Of course, they play a kind of Schlager music at the weddings too, like you said. But in this case it is not important for me what they play. I take what I need, like sequences and alter them.
    listen to Long Song from Kottarashky

  • map sketch of fieldrecordings of Nikola 2008
  • ?_ Which is your favorite place for field recordings? With other words, where the major parts of the samples for OPA HEY! are done?
    /_ My favorite places are the RHODOPE MOUNTAINS in SOUTH BULGARIA next to the Turkish and Greek border. I like them as a whole. Secondly, I like VARVARA, a village on the seaside, where most of the people are gypsies. VARVARA is in the south part of BLACK SEA coast that is called STRANDZHA MOUNTAINS. It is close to the Turkish border, too. I love these places and spend a lot of time there during the summer. Often in the evenings the local people seat together, play and sing for fun. There the time is going slow and one can feel the place with its traditions. Once I recorded really impressing rhythm sessions in VARVARA, it was just an improvisation in the center of the village.

    ?_ But you are going in the MAHALLAS / Gypsy quarters of the towns to record.
    /_ Where here in SOFIA? No!

    ?_ Yes, in SOFIA and in other towns, too? Why not?
    /_ I think it is dangerous! (Chary smile) Ok, VARVARA is like a big MAHALLA. But especially the Gypsies there are very nice and open.

    ?_ I ask this because I was surprised that you succeed to make life recordings with Roma musicians. I do not want to feature here stereotypes or to mystify something. But I suggest that it is every time unpredictable to go in the private area with the Gypsies. It can be nice, but it can turn out even in an aggressive situation, too.
    /_ No! Of course, you can find different type of Gypsies. They are not different by religion, but they are different tribes like the American natives. Some of them are really dangerous. Some of them are really nice; even they invite you to live with them.

  • Romany children in Rhodope mountains, picture by Natalia Atanasova
  • ?_ You named TOM WAITS, AMON TOBIN, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, JOHN COLTRANE, JAMES BROWN, and JEFFERSON AIRPLANE as your music influences on your Myspace page – all of them extraordinary names and extreme musicians in their spheres? At first glance one will not make a connection with these people, listening your tracks. I relate your music more to MR.SCRUFF or RAINER TRÜBI TRIO! Maybe because you are not a singer or instrumentalist, but you represent the digital producer of current time! Nevertheless, did you use or adopt directly ideas from these musicians in your compositions and arrangements?
    /_ Definitely I draw ideas from the music I listen to. I’m trying to mix the various styles that I like with my methods, but in the same time to create something different. I could say that my album was influenced by TOM WAITS and the “early” AMON TOBIN. TOM WAITS is great composer who impresses me with his original mixes of different strange sounds, rhythms and styles. In the case of Tobin I find interesting the way how he creates real life music using field recordings and sampling.

    ?_ I found that you adopted various styles in your tracks especially that you use really effective but untypical rhythms and grooves. You do not simply put a house beat or drum´n´bass, trip hop beat like others do. The same I found that the grooves are not in first line Balkan rhythms, but they remember sometimes on jazz of the 50s and 60s, sometimes you can feel Latin or African roots. Additionally you are working a lot with breaks or you used samples as rhythm elements. How you come on the ideas for these rhythms? Are you producing your music for the dance floor?
    /_ The rhythm is the basic of things. I arrange the track alone. The computer gives unlimited resources in this direction, of course. So, I cannot say how I come to them but I think most of them have Balkan sounding. I use both computer beats and recorded life sounds, which I change and cut till I get the sound I would like to have for the current track. There is no recipe. Everything is one process like life rehearsal. Sometimes I have recorded rhythm sessions like I told you. And maybe I start with the idea of a Balkan rhythm but at the end it turned out in something different. I produce my music in some point for the dance floor, too. In this case I have to focus on the power of the electronic beat.

    ?_ Your main profession is architect! In which field of architecture you are working? What you are doing currently?
    /_ I have graduated four years ago. I do mostly interior design. I’ve taken part in the designing of some buildings, too. But I focus mainly on the space as well as furniture. Currently I’m finishing the interior of one of the leading theaters in SOFIA, Its name is Malak gradski theater “ZAD KANALA” (Small city theater ‘BEHIND THE CHANNEL”). In the architecture I am admirer of Rationalism and partly of Minimalism. In the mentioned theater I tried to create a modern vision, keeping the feeling of the tradition which is typical for this institution.

    ?_ There is a boom in building in BULGARIA in the last years. What you think about the planning developments in the country and especially in SOFIA?
    /_ I think that this practice is absolute tragedy. I think that it turned out a difficult process to build for the taste of the people with money in a post communist country like BULGARIA. I do not like the SOZ style like the period after 1989. But now appear some examples that show that it is still possible to make something in the right direction. Some young architects have already made a good name and established themselves as an important factor in our contemporary architecture. In this sense they open the way for other architects with modern thinking. One can see their buildings mainly in the specialized magazines, because they are mostly smaller projects.

  • Collage of redesigned theater in Sofia, see up entrance in original and new style, pictures by kiesl
  • ?_ Which place in BULGARIA you like the most? And vice versa: Is there a sad place in the country where you say: Oh, my God!?
    /_ Almost all towns and villages provoke this exclamation. But still there are areas were the nature is preserved. Especially the RHODOPE MOUNTAINS are great. I like the villages that keep the traditional architecture like KOVATCHEVIZA or DOLYAN. There are so many places in this country where I feel more alive than anywhere else. That’s because I’m a nostalgic person maybe.

    ?_ Back to the music: What are the reactions in BULGARIA on your music?
    /_ They are good. I didn’t expect that, but my music turned out to be easy to access to different types of people. The number of my fans at the social networks like Facebook or Myspace is growing even if they are mainly Bulgarians. The album drew the attention of the media in some magazines or at RFI radio program. Next to this especially friends of mine know about the album and recommend it to others or there are reactions on private parties.

    ?_ You have a lot of great musicians and a rich tradition in music in BULGARIA. You have only with IVO PAPASOV, THEODOSII SPASSOV and STOYAN YANKOULOV three great names that are popular for their fusions of Bulgarian Folklore with Jazz and Funk. Spassov and Yankoulov are quite open for experiments with club music, too. Next to this you have with COOH, BULGARO, TRANSFORMATION and VATAFF PROJECT protagonists of electronic music that worked with ethno-elements. How you are linked to these Bulgarian scenes? Is there a scene for your music?
    /_ I do not have any relation to them. I think that they do not know me, too. And I cannot say that I am influenced by them. I respect their work, but I am not their biggest fan. Maybe I like another type of music than this kind of jazz. There is a stage for everything more or less. As a whole the music environment in BULGARIA is not very open. And it is difficult to produce quality things. More of the successful projects here count rather on the showbusiness than the quality music.

    ?_ How it is coming to this, that you use Balkan music in your compositions.
    /_ It was by chance maybe, so just one day in 2007 I decided to work with some Balkan stuff. I found out that my feeling for our traditional music makes my sound more unusual. It was getting more interesting to produce with the musical influences like TOM WAITS or AMON TOBIN and to combine this with Balkan music and samples of traditional music. So, I started with different things and one day I tried with a clarinet from some field recordings and as result I made ‘OPA HEY!’ track. It was an experiment that totally changed my style in July 2007. It encouraged me a lot that one of my favorite bands the Macedonian band FOLTIN heard it on a private party in Sofia and they told me that I definitely have to release it. And I decided to continue in this way.

  • Minaret Rhodopian village MUGLA and impressive stone building in Kovatcheviza, pictures by kiesl and Natalia Atanasova
  • ?_ Balkan music and crossover of gypsy and club music was a big thing in the last years in Western Europe. What do you realized from these developments? Did it influence your activities?
    /_ I didn’t know that this music was so popular in the West. I came upon this afterwards. I listen to SHANTEL of course, but he is not my favorite. I like others like LUMINESCENT ORCHESTRII. They are from NEW YORK. Americans, who play even Bulgarian songs and try to sing in Bulgarian. BALKAN BEAT BOX has really interesting tunes, too. So, sometimes the feeling of musicians who do not know our music very well is interesting. But I think the better things come from the people who live on the Balkans. I like the Macedonian band FOLTIN very much; TARAF DE HAÏDOUKS and some stuff from GORAN BREGOVIC had a bigger influence on me.

    ?_ Are you working on a live version of KOTTARASHKY?
    /_ Yes. Up till now I never performed KOTTARASHKY live, but I try to make a band like 5 people including percussions, accordion and clarinet. But the things are not figured out yet.

    ?_ What you will do, when people ask to make remixes of your tracks? And from other side: When you will be asked for mixes?
    /_ I would be open in both cases. The sense of music of each artist is different and valuable. There is always a chance to create a great track by having some different input. I like especially the mixes of DJ DOLORES. But I am not sure that my tracks are good for remixes, because they are mixes already, they are not live music. But ok, sometimes I make mixes from my own tracks. I put new beats and things like this for these eventual live performances.

    ?_ Generally asked: With which musician you would like to collaborate? Which result you expect from such collaboration?
    /_ I haven’t thought about any collaboration with other musicians till this moment. Maybe some day I will do so.

  • Kottarashky live in Sofia, picture by Natalia Atanasova
  • ?_ You are the second Bulgarian after JONI ILIEV with a release on ASPHALT TANGO. Do you know him?
    /_ I came upon his album by chance. I would not say that he is quite popular in BULGARIA. Most of my friends have not heard about him. I just heard that he is playing live with this GYPSY KINGS AND QUEENS project of FANFARO CIOC?RLIA. But I never saw him live playing here.

    ?_ Can we expect in the future further releases of you? Are you planning new projects?
    /_ For sure. It’s impossible to get bored with the music.

    ?_ What means KOTTARASHKY?
    /_ It is just a Bulgarian family name which comes from tomcat. In German Kater, aber nicht Katze. I just heard this family name and decided to use it.

    Your all time top 5 records:

    At first thought several great albums come to my mind:
    some of the great BOB MARLEY’S albums,
    the live recording of JIMI HENDRIX WITH THE BAND OF GYPSIES,
    DR JOHN’S GRIS GRIS album,
    and so on…

    Further links

    Kottarashky with his sound at myspace

    Eastenders about Kottarashky at Fumkhaus Europa

    Label page Asphalt Tango

    11 thoughts on “Interview with Bulgarian producer Kottarashky

    1. was heißt denn nun live in sofia, wie die bildunterschrift sich ausdrückt?
      gits es jetzt ne liveumsetzung der albums und wann kommt das ganze auf tour?

    2. Alles ist unter einer dicken Eisschicht erstarrt (-: – Wann ist denn deine neue Homepage fertig tops? Hab mir die links schon mal angeschaut…

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