The capital of Bulgaria and home to some 1.2 million people, Sofia is also the birthplace of the Amek Collective. Formed in 2008, Amek Collective run a drone-obsessed, but multi-genre friendly, label and club night that we here at MusicMap were made aware of through rising Bulgarian producer Evitceles.
Amek Collective’s magpie approach to music curation is apparent on their blog, where recent posts include a SoundCloud stream of dream pop artist Maxim Mokdad alongside FEBRA’s unforgiving industrial boom.
We spoke to Amek Collective’s Angel Simitchiev (AKA ambient/sound design producer Mytrip) over email to discuss the ethos of ‘being DIY’ and the beauty of music decomposing…
MusicMap: In ten words or less, how would you describe where you live?
Angel Simitchiev (Amek Collective): An OK place that everybody complains about but not trying to make better.
Close enough. You’re a self-styled DIY collective. What does ‘DIY’ mean to you and is this tag important to the Amek project?
Keeping it DIY means all responsibilities, hardships and eventual success are on us. No institutions, no corporate entities sponsoring us, just our efforts and the support of a thankfully growing local and foreign open-minded audience. It’s important because if we weren’t inspired by other collectives and publishers who were strictly DIY we’d have never believed you can be in charge of your own life. We hope not only to survive but to inspire others. To have somebody to pass the torch to of sorts.
Who founded Amek Collective, and who is involved in it now?
Amek was founded by Martin Lukanov (mostly known for his harsh noise work under the name gokkun). It all started in May 2008. Back then he would often invite me to also play the gigs he was putting [on] with my main solo project Mytrip and eventually I started helping out with promotion and before I knew it we’d be plotting future stuff together. Now almost 10 years later Amek is run mostly by me as Martin has been living and travelling all around Asia for the past 3/4 years. Sometimes he’ll come back for a visit, we’d book him to play, discuss future releases and shows and then he’d disappear somewhere for months. I still consider it a combined effort though as the goals are the same as they were from the very start of Amek.
You’ve been booking a wide range of amazing international talent for shows in Bulgaria. How easy is it to book international performers/DJs and who have been your highlights thus far?
To bring an artist to Bulgaria has become way easier than it was 10 years ago. Now Sofia is pretty well connected with cheap flights to almost everywhere in Europe. The toughest part is still getting local people to show up at a gig. As we said, we don’t work with the state, we don’t get any funding so anything we could afford to invest in future shows or releases is generated from our audience. That might seem a bit limiting but it actually makes you work hard for each gig and each release. It urges you to dig deeper and discover more and more artists worth showing.
I was recently negotiating with a very huge name I wouldn’t mention and when his agent heard how much we can offer him she just quit emailing us without even saying goodbye. Thinking about it now I’m glad this fell through, because that’s not the connections we’re looking for. And honestly for the fee we were expected to pay we can book not one, but at least 10 not less interesting gigs of not so famous acts.
As to the highlights, each and every gig has been special, but will always remember the first Amek Collective gig with C-Drik Fermont, seeing One Man Nation before the Tara Transitory era, the menacing basement black metal of UHL and noise demigods Sten Ove Toft and Dave Phillips. Also seeing 130 people at a Nadja gig in Sofia made us realize we’ve built something here.
Tell us about your local scene, what are the sounds and styles producers and musicians are playing around with most?
To be honest, we do have music from all genres and I guess that’s a bit of problematic, because with many artists you can hardly see what is their main thing, what they’re trying to say with their music. I mean jumping from IDM to drum’n’bass and then switching to techno makes sense if you follow what’s trendy, but there should be more to it right?
What I don’t like is that the audience is very segmented and house kids wouldn’t give too much damn about a techno gig in an underground abandoned factory, techno kids not always would be up for checking out an ambient gig. So I guess this makes producer[s] switch styles and try to satisfy somebody else and not their own needs.
I can’t really sum up what everybody is up to, because we’re not really interested in all the music that’s happening, but I’d say that there’s a growing interest in more experimental sound and I’m convinced that this would help local artist[s] reach foreign audience[s]. You can’t challenge your listeners while you’re stuck in a comfort zone.
Who are the key local acts we should be listening to right now? A selection of 5-10 tracks plus some info on each artist would be great.
Best news right now comes from Evitceles and his Opal Tapes debut. We’re so proud with Etien, two years ago we booked his first gig and we knew he’d soon be where he belongs. We have quite a few things planned together for next year.
Cyberian is another artist we love. He’s also the person behind the WTF is Swag tape label. His music is generally atmospheric but carrying influences ranging from as far as trap and hip hop.
Goro started from menacing breakcore and now he’s making music you can hardly put in any genre boundaries. Recently released a dope EP on Nostro Hood System that will make the stiffest bottoms shake. He’s living in Berlin right now, but I still consider him a home boy.
Ivan Shopov is probably the most hardest working musician I’ve met. His collab tracks with Valance Drakes reinvented my idea of beat-based electronic music and I’m sure they’ll do the same for everybody who really listens to them. Huge things coming from Ivan & Valance in 2018. Amek will also be a part of sharing a bit of their work to the world.
Mytrip is a project I’ve been doing for over 10 years now, I’ve toured almost all around Europe and kind of made me who I am. My last LP is the best-selling Amek release so far and it did help us grow Amek Collective.
Everybody’s making techno right now, but thankfully acts like RoboKnob are trying to go beyond the norms. The duo recently put out an EP via Berlin-based label Macro. That track’s a total favorite. Nerd alert: all recorded live and on hardware gear.
Then we have krallar and his track ‘Withdrawal’. He’s putting out a tape soon on the oldest Bulgarian netlabel Mahorka, who have so many important recordings of both local and foreign artists. Definitely a major inspiration.
Musically, your blog covers a wide variety of music, from stripped-back gothic rock to more leftfield electronica. Is there a philosophy which binds these artists together?
We’re mainly focused on booking and releasing noise, ambient, drone and generally experimental music. We care about music that conveys an honest message and creates its own atmosphere. Looking back at our catalog, now very close to release number 20, it is indeed very varied but that’s definitely something we want to keep. The same goes for the shows.
A huge aspect of how we decide who to work with comes from the fact we have to be somehow connected with these people. We’ve had many requests or demo submissions. Some people have gone as far as claiming to be really loving what we do, to be following our label for years. And honestly I’m not really buying this, because Amek is a micro operation where we can pretty much name each and every person who’s bought a record or came to a gig. So how the hell we’re your favorite label if you haven’t got a single tape we put out? I’d often tell these people that they don’t need us, they need to release their works on their own. It’s a process that would teach them a lot, same way it’s teaching us a lot.
Amek Collective is an effort to build a community of artists. It’s made for ourselves in the first place. It’s how we have our backs and challenge each other in creative terms. The desire to show our output to the world only comes afterwards.
Casette is a favourite format of yours. Why do you choose to release on reel?
We grew up with tapes and Bulgaria has one of Europe’s best tape factories (big ups the Brutallica team). When we don’t have the cash to go pro on a release we can dub it and print it at home. It’s still better than recording CDRs (like we did on amek001 and totally regret it now). Tape has its own character that’s making the music more colourful and… real. It even degrades beautifully. It’s not before I put my music on tape or on wax that I actually do realize it actually exists. Not that we’ll never put out a CD, but we truly hope the CDR era is now gone for good. That’s why we never really cared too much about the digital files. We do have our whole catalog on Spotify and its likes, artists keep their BandCamp profits for themselves, but some stuff we have (like gokkun’s ‘Love Hits ’09’) will never go in the cloud. We love spending time with actual releases, we love artworks on paper, we love real items.
You’ve been operating since 2008. How has running a DIY venture changed in that time and what keeps you motivated? Plus, any plans to celebrate the ten year anniversary in 2018?
What mostly keeps us excited is our constant urge to create. Then comes the sense that the scene is actually growing. There are more and more interesting artists and some of them don’t really know how to handle their work. When we feel it’s important to help them put it out there we do it. People change and they might never be on the same page ever again. We love documenting music which we feel is important. Even if other people don’t see it right away, we are convinced when time passes and they look back some will appreciate we were there.
As to the anniversary, yes there will be a pretty big celebration that is yet to be announced. Everything is arranged, but all we’re going to say for now is that there’ll be a huge batch of new releases and the chance to experience the main artists in our roster live and in the most appropriate venue in Sofia.
Which venues/record stores/general music tourist things in your city would you recommend people check out?
Ok, that’s a tough one. Record stores in Sofia are mostly vintage. Still I’d recommend checking out Dukyan Meloman as they’re the veterans in the city. I’d recommend tourists to just go out there and feel Sofia by walking around the parks, the city center and just hitting random spots.
Gigs I’m usually interested in are happening in Mixtape 5. Their programme is varying, so you can see anything from hardcore punk to techno there. Other favorite spots are Studio 1 of the Bulgarian National Radio, Fabrika Avtonomia, which is an activist hub, where we’re often bookings noise gigs, also Czech Center has seen a lot of our guests’ work and I’d like to see more spots in abandoned factory spaces like Fabrika 126, Orpheus Studio and Underground Gallery.
Talking about galleries, definitely check Hip-Hip Library. They have a great selection of art books, zines and a lot of sold out Amek Collective releases as well haha. Bare Hands Society is another cool place run by a great friend and musician. It’s a clothing brand with their own screen printing atelier and a storefront we do hang out a lot around.
…and when in Sofia, what should they eat (and drink!)?
Definitely try out Bulgarian food, it’s awesome. Vegans definitely hit Kring or Sun Moon. I also regularly eat at Di Valli, they’re the kindest people ever and cook Italian magic.
Words: Nicholas Burman