Balkan Beatologist Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs Release "Demoni"

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Soul Sampler: Balkan Mixmaster Kottarashky and The Rain Dogs are Alive and Funky on Demoni

“I don't like DJ sets,” exclaims Nicola Gruev, a.k.a. Kottarashky, the Balkan beatologist who made a name for himself with pared-down, eclectic tracks built from folksy samples of everything from Bulgarian traditional singing to overblown flute and whirling clarinet.

Now, joined by a live crew of old friends and stellar Sofia musicians, The Rain Dogs, Gruev and company bring a new, crackling energy to Kottarashky’s ethno-mashups and rough-edged romps on Demoni (Asphalt Tango; release: June 12, 2012).

It’s as if a gritty house band at a tiny blues bar somewhere in Chicago suddenly became possessed by wild sonic spirits from the Bulgarian mountainside. It’s as if Tom Waits (the inspiration for the band’s curious name) or the Black Keys decided to jam with a village wedding band and a bright voiced chorus of East European grandmas. “Working with other musicians is sometimes hard but also joyful,” Gruev reflects. “I did a lot of things for a first time, like recording and mixing live instruments in a studio. But my music became richer with the guys’ ideas and feelings. So it was a natural process, a step in the first direction.” {full story below)

“I'm from a different generation from many other electronic DJs, and I have a different musical background,” explains Bulgaria-born Gruev. An architect by training and trade, Kottarashky found himself assembling sonic bits and pieces to create electronic tracks that felt like soundscapes, like nighttime rambles through Sofia, on his wildly successful album, OpaHey!.

But the purely electronic approach was never completely satisfying. Gruev began talking to longtime friend (and fellow architect), guitarist and keyboardist Hristos Hadziganchev, who had played in a few alt-rock bands.

The two started playing together, gradually recruiting clarinetist Aleksandar Dobrev after catching him live several times. Dobrev brought along bassist Yordan Geshakov, a widely respected bassist on the Sofia scene. After Atanas Popov joined on drums, The Rain Dogs dove into taking Kottarashky’s sound live, with a soul-inflected, gritty dynamism.

A live band felt like a natural progression for Gruev: “I like to hear live vibrations in the music,” he explains, “which was always the inspiration for my samples.”

Though no stranger to grabbing the right sound from a recording, Kottarashky gathers many of his samples himself, traveling around Bulgaria to grab the intricate yet raw voices of elder singers (the bittersweet vocal curlicues on “Slavyanka Blues”), or shimmering flute melodies (“Begemot”). They still form the backbone of many of Kottarashky and The Rain Dog’s tracks.

Yet the resulting sound feels organic, with vintage overtones and hip grooves, falling somewhere between the Mediterranean electro-mania of Balkan Beat Box and the downhome roots of the Deep South or East Bloc. “Demoni” sways between jazzy tango feel and a drum-and-bass vibe, with mysterious mumbling voices and quirky accordion flourishes (—and a delightfully gleeful video by animator Theodore Ushev). “Put a Blessing On” features the gorgeous, soulful voice of wildly creative Franco-Kiwi singer Tui Mamaki, who fell in love with Bulgaria while working on the album with The Rain Dogs. “Pancho Says” leaps between Romani delights, rumbling guitar, and an almost Afrobeat rhythm.

That, like the transition to a live band, feels utterly natural to musically omnivorous Gruev. “Everything inspires me. There is no style constraints, “he reflects. “What we trying to do is modern music: a bit romantic, a bit melancholic, powerful and rhythmic.”

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