Hearing in Colour – An Interview with Ivaylo

Ivaylo Kolev is once again sitting across the table from me at Bare Jazz, in Oslo’s city centre. It’s the second meeting we’ve had here in as many months and although I’ve come to know the DJ very well since moving to the same city, there’s always some new story from the Bulgarian’s rich experience that crops up in our conversations. This one comes from his time back in the country of his birth, still under the thumb of a communist regime. He remembers calling a friend in London from a pay phone with a burrowed coin from his mother. “There was no time to say hello,” only to relay a list of records he wanted from the British city, records that were considered illegal in Bulgaria at the time and needed to be smuggled in to the country. It’s a scene that’s hard to imagine in modern day Bulgaria where seaside towns like Varna have adopted dance music in all its forms, catering to the Russian tourists that frequent the many beach bars dotted along the coastline. I can Imagine Ivaylo in this role as a DJ, playing his blend of deep House and minimal Techno, wearing the Fedora I often see him wearing at his Saturday residencies at Jæger’s Te Dans.

Ivaylo is nothing but eclectic, but it was in the House of the nineties that he found his true voice as an artist. “Back then something happened with the machines. A wave of organic sounds came from the states” and with that Ivaylo fell into the sounds of House with a deeper persuasion. Finding an affinity with the underground culture associated with the music, Ivaylo played everything from those Baltic beach bars to London squats, in the presence of thousands of people to small intimate crowds. His 20 odd years of clubbing experience as a DJ has encouraged a diversity in Ivaylo, and he very rarely has much time for “people who only play one sound.“ He loves nothing more than “those old guys who are able to adapt” and highlights Prins Thomas as an example. “Thomas can go anywhere with his sets.” It’s something I discern in Ivaylo’s own sets, which can often go from early deep house to Disco to the minimal clicks and pops of deep-tech tracks. He makes it all his own preferring to play personal edits of the tracks, stamping Ivaylo’s signature on every piece of music he selects in the spirit of the “musical journey” Ivaylo likes to take the listener on. “It’s all about the love” for the DJ. The love of party; the love of the music; and the love of bringing people together. It’s what Ivaylo means when he talks about deep music. “When we talk about deepness, I’m the real deep soldier, because we talk about state of mind.” It’s this attitude Ivaylo carries through to his Oslo-based label Bogota records.

Bogota is the manifestation of Ivaylo’s experience captured in the recorded format. The label has its roots in Ivaylo’s career and features many of the friends he’s collected along his 20 years. “It’s always been about the community. This is the biggest love. This is what keeps me going.” When a track comes together on Bogota records it’s very rarely a singular pursuit of the title artist, with people like Slammer and Tom Gilleron all lending a hand from production to mastering. Ivaylo will often send the track to his “brothers and sisters around the world” before putting anything out there. Names like Johnny Fiasco and Jay Tripwire regularly pops up when Ivaylo talks about the people that hold some sway with the label, incredible artists that intuitively know how to create visceral dance music with an emphasis on mood and feeling.

Stream two tracks from the upcoming release…


Although the label is based in Oslo, Ivaylo’s home for the last 17 years, it’s based on a very international community, with artists from the States, the UK, Spain and of course Norway finding a home on Bogota records. A couple of weeks before our second meeting, I’m watching Ivaylo set up Jæger’s back yard for his first Bogota Showcase. Many artists have arrived from all over Europe. Slammer (Ivaylo’s regular production partner) has come from Denmark and he’s hoping he can tweak out the 150Hz from the sound system to bring more warmth to his set. Tom Gilleron from London is on his fourth or fifth beer, while Ivaylo is setting up the dance floor to look like a Columbian jungle. There are some Columbian women on the patio. They’re here because the name of the South American city drew them to the night, but already their bodies are pulsating to the beat of Slammer’s progressive set. Ivaylo is always aware of the tools he provides the DJ, tools that should “touch the soul” of the listener in any context, and in the Bogota showcase he’d shown that it can go from minimal house with languishing legato strings and keys to music that rips the bottom end out of a sound system as Tom Gilleron proved later in his live set. It’s all there on the 6 releases that have made their way out of Oslo through the label. The label’s first EP, Themes, came via Ivaylo and in it outlined the idea of the label through two very different tracks. Pelican is an energetic house track that features some interesting left field elements, while Renata’s innocent vocal on Innerself offers a human comfort amongst the deep chords and the stringy arrangements. Renata is one of the younger artists on Bogota. “I met Renate when she was seventeen years old and recording an album at time. She is an amazing guitarist. I thought her voice was amazing, and I asked her if she wanted to try house music.” Not knowing the genre that well, Ivaylo had to give Renata a taste of the music. “I had to sneak her into the club, because she was under age. She told me she didn’t really understand the reaction of the people, but loved the flow of the music.” Ivaylo would record a song like Breathe easy and just let Renata loose in the booth alone, while he and production partner Slammer, would go out for a coffee. When they return after an hour or so a finished product is usually waiting for them.

There is a very intuitive element to Ivaylo’s working methods, which comes across as that very organic and natural sound from the nineties the DJ was educated in. Ivaylo likes to “find sounds and combine them in a bigger way” bringing the smaller details together for music that paints a larger picture in colour. “I would love to see the world like Nicholas Tesla. He saw colours in the sky, lig everywhere; I would love to have this sense when I hear things.” Ivaylo’s descriptions of music transcend the physical aspects of chords and time signatures and takes on the metaphysical aspects of emotion and a state of mind as he describes the sound of his productions and his DJ sets. “When I play a set, I see the music, for me it’s a picture. If I go deeper than that I see colours. This is the way the music moves.” Ivaylo applies this philosophy to House music in deep chords to a 4/4 beat and dance progressions in the spirit of the party. At the end of 2014 the most conclusive proof of this ideal came across in the mini album Future Past. Built on the very same foundation of the success of his previous releases, Future Past showed a more up-beat Ivaylo, venturing into elements of Disco in the structured House arrangements. It’s in those tracks we find Bogota’s next release too in the form of a remix package featuring the likes of Johnny Fiasco and Demarkus Lewis. The six songs are re-interpreted in each individual artist’s unique voice, with that Bogota feel at their core, running through each track on the release. It’s just the latest stop on that eternal journey Ivaylo is on through music. He’s given the music back to the dance floor in these remixes, entrusting his creations to old friends, who all embody the spirit of Bogota records.

Ivaylo sends me the tracks from the next release after we say our goodbyes at Bare Jazz, but unlike most interviews, which stop when I depart, this one is far from over. I know I’ll see Ivaylo over the weekend at Jæger where he fulfils his role as a resident DJ and I’m sure there’ll be some new story he’d share that will add another layer to the diverse personality of the DJ. Like his music there’s a lot more depth to the artist, and we’d have to dig a lot deeper than words to get to the heart of it. We’ll have to rely on the music to fill in the negative spaces between the words for now, or at least until that time comes, when we are able to hear in colour.

*Ivaylo will be playing at the next 55.