The evolution and influence of beat making, and its array of related subgenres, continues to reach gargantuan heights. As a concept, hip-hop-leaning instrumental music has captured the imaginations of home producers and studio moguls alike, its infectious waves reverberating around an international music consciousness, uniting internet subcultures, scenes and chart-toppers under one sonic hivemind.
While successes of this soundcraft typically pertain to individual efforts, amateur and professional, our attention now turns to a burgeoning scene hailing from Bulgaria. With a population below the seven million mark, the Balkan nation sports a surprisingly diverse range of creative multi-instrumentalists, producers and engineers, many honing their expertise upon a common wavelength. International label and music media platform Stereofox have been an important catalyst for collaboration in this scene, providing many artists the foundation and resources to come together and be heard.
Continuing this trend, the label has released the bold, expansive compilation project Bulgarian Beat Wave Vol. 1. The project, initiated by Stereofox, “was created in the breath-taking village of Apriltsi, located in the vicinity of the highest part of Stara Planina mountain, where the artists and part of [the] Stereofox team spent four days recording, filming and building the foundations of a strong community.”
A project that places a marked importance on its process, location and togetherness, each individual contribution on record displays a distinct character and skill set, which in turn combine to unleash a vast, colourful soundworld. Featuring eleven artists and producers who vary in appearances from track to track, the input across the board ranges from instrumental, to technical, to creatively masterful. – The compilation kicks off with the aptly named tone-setter ‘Crossover’ in which young producers ymprl and Kamen set a gloriously mellow precedent, while Low Heat and TromBobby provide the old school groove and faded horns respectively, altogether culminating in a refreshingly laid-back and hazy summer soundscape.
Continuing along the beaten track, inclusions across the board possess thematic links which vary depending on the personnel. Songs like ‘Can’t Get Enough’ set the bar for the project’s classic hip-hop sensibilities, featuring the piano prowess of Boyan who masters a serene harmonic movement in his solo effort ‘Take Our Time’, guitar work from Peyotoff contributing to similarly wonky tracks like ‘Dee Jay’ and ‘Blazin’’, and expansive production from SMYAH, ymprl and Low Heat.
Perhaps most captivating are the deeper, downtempo moments on the record: tracks including ‘Necessities’ (SMYAH feat. TromBobby) which sounds like trip-hop for the Mojave Desert, the off-kilter turntable blues of ‘Drowsy’ (Kamen feat Dj DELightful), the interstellar in-the-pocket bass work from EVDN. on ‘Carefree’, and the brassy electroacoustic interplay of TromBobby’s solo effort ‘Prince of the Qluk’ – a particularly satisfying addition.
Blending an impressive array of influences and styles, from jazz and blues, to funk and soul, to chillwave and electronica, Bulgarian Beat Wave Vol. 1 succeeds in creating both a sonic and an artistic community. The project is a refreshing insight into a scene that fully believes in the merit of its craftsmen, and a deserved showcase of all these artists have to offer individually, collaboratively, and by all means internationally. With the potential to broaden its scope moving forward, Vol. 2 will most certainly be one to look out for.
Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown
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