If there is any place in the world where the overuse of “swag” has lead to something productive it must be Bulgaria. Marked by its history of 500 years under the Ottoman rule, followed by a fair share of Communism, the country is now an absurd amalgam of past, present and future.
Art and culture are peculiar things to explore here. Our own breed of turbofolk, known as chalga, has monopolized local music industry in pretty much the same octopus-like way as corruption - the state, but underneath its thick blanket you can find young people digging all sorts of unpopular music to form what’s actually a quite diverse sonic landscape.
WTF is SWAG started in the late summer of 2011, naturally as a joke alluding to the popular slang. It united several friends who loved making music and saying “SWAG”. Couple of months later, they delivered their first baby – a self-released compilation. WTF is SWAG VA appeared with a bang in a limited number of 50 CDs and showcased experimental beats and electronica by 1000names, Parallel Concept, Hempsta, Dr. Shade, HiБЯiD (RIP) and Mojogoro. Almost a year later, the second installment launched at a party in club Vlaikova – the capital’s oasis for creative, forward-thinking people, good drinks and alternative club electronica - boasts twice as a big a selection of artists that spread beyond the borders of Bulgaria, with foreign highlights including Filtercutter, Polyklinik and GANG$IGN$. EAT DESSERT FIRST is a deluxe limited 100 copies cassette edition, and it practically sold out within 1 week of its release.
While all of the artists you see on board can be loosely described as beatmakers, each of them has their own peculiar twist on the genre.
Mojogoro – a multifacetted, multitalented artist, designer and music activist - is the driving force behind the WTF is SWAG project. On vol.1 he has 3 tracks under 3 aliases, ranging from squeaky sexy electro to drunken hip hop (the Energetic Slash collaboration with graffiti artist Goat), while on vol. 2 he’s already exploring the sticky realms of trendy trap. He’s also the mastermind that curated the compilation and the one responsible for picking up the artists and tracks included on each volume.
1000names have been well-known abroad for a long time as beatsmith pioneers, with their signature mellow cosmic groove. So is Balkansky – the idm/dubstep alter ego of drum&bass monster Cooh – bringing you, as his name suggests, vibes inspired by the beauty of Bulgarian nature and the Balkan Mountains.
These two are undoubtedly the most commercially successful acts on the compilations, and their presence and support have two important aspects: apart from contributing their fair share of music, they attract more local attention to what could have otherwise passed as unnoticed or an under-appreciated release. The audiences here have never too curious.
Parallel Concept is a free beatmaker and sound explorer who has been attracted by music ever since he was a child. His production possesses a perverse electro twist while soaked with a dark, cold feel of anxiety and apocalypse. He’s been collaborating with the local visual artist and filmmaker Vitto Valentinov for his debut album “Critical Mass”, which is now completed and waiting to be released. Parallel Concept is currently residing in Berlin.
Hempsta is an up-and-coming producer who’s yet to fully reveal his talent. A graffiti artist and drummer, he’s been recently experimenting with electronic music using vintage hardware. His early works display an alternative, glitchy interpretation of dubstep, but he’s also attracted by juke and phat bouncy beats – definitely a name to watch!
Dr. Shade is the evil beats alias of one of the oldest and most prominent producers here – The Bulgarian. He started DJing and making music as early as the late 90s and with many releases and remixes has established a name for himself as an underground house and electro innovator. His take on beats is marked by the same groovy, bumpy vibe that is typical for the rest of his music.
HiБЯiD was probably the most talented and inspired by Bulgarian context beatmaker. Unfortunately, he suddenly passed away this summer and never saw the release of EAT DESSERT FIRST, which features a track by his collaborative project Medea in KOCMOC. As his name suggests, his music is a mixture of analogue and digital sound, often combining samples from old Balkanton vinyl with heavy shifted beats, bass and synths plus effects and anything else you could think of. He believed that the local scene could be pushed forward only if there is a place where like-minded people can gather and share/create new ideas and music. His legacy remains with us.
So…WTF is SWAG in the end?
A dumb question with a philosophical twist…or a drunken shout in the middle of the night…or a simple joke among friends that turned out to be the most promising platform for promoting local talent we have seen in years?
No one knows what it is, but it’s provocative. It got us going.
by Snezhana Bezus from Sofia