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For those who’d rather stay home if the alternative is literally becoming part of the show, it sounds like the stuff that wallflower nightmares are made of.
Bulgaria’s Ivo Dimchev acknowledges the rules for his Selfie Concerts can, at first, seem a little intimidating, especially for those more comfortable hanging out in the background than being the centre of attention. The shows have the singer sitting down with a keyboard and an arsenal of songs. But he only gets performing when someone from the audience approaches with a cell phone and takes a selfie with him.
From there, if at any point the selfies stop, so does the singing. The beauty of the construct, Dimchev suggests, includes the dismantling of the walls that separate a performer from the fans.
“You can have enough distance that you can stand back and enjoy the show as an audience—to see it all happen,” he offers, speaking to the Straight from the back of a taxi in New York. “But the audience also has to be part of it to keep me going. For some people it takes more time, for some people it takes less. It’s funny because the audience also changes the enthusiasm of the performance—each person standing around me with their face, their energy, body language, and their attitudes transforms the very meaning of the songs, which for me is very important.”
Think about a track you love, he suggests. Whether it’s the Rolling Stones going human-jukebox with “Satisfaction” or Kendrick Lamar stomping through “King Kunta”, the way the songs are usually delivered live by performers, and processed by audiences, is always more or less the same. An artist plays a hit that in all likelihood doesn’t radically differ from the famous recorded version and the crowd gets exactly what it came for, which is to say exactly what’s expected when they buy a ticket.
“We are used to songs with one message in pop culture,” Dimchev offers. “The songs are something fixed—a finished product. I rarely go to concerts because I find them one of the most boring forms of art because of their predictability and the static relationship between artist and audience. I’ve seen artists who’ve really tried to engage people and interact with them, but it’s almost always kind of forced—artificial.”
Dimchev has an arsenal of songs that please those who’ve already discovered him through his constant performing in Europe and the all-reaching tentacles of the Internet. If one’s worth is measured in views, consider that 2021’s “Banitsa” currently sits at over 1.1 million clicks on YouTube, with Dimchev and hip-hop artist 100 KIla delivering a boundary-smashing mashup ode to Bulgaria’s favourite philo pastry.
Sounding like a cross between Orville Peck and Roy Orbison, “Sucker” from last year has the openly queer, fantastically tattooed Bulgarian extolling the endless pleasures of, well, sucking cock, in a style that might be described as retro-lounge chic.
Dimchev has been hailed as a true original by Simon Cowell on X-Factor, and drawn comparisons to gender-bending talents ranging from Freddie Mercury and Annie Lennox to Anohni (formerly of Antony and the Johnsons). In other words, his fans across the world would be happy to see him sit down with his keyboard and simply sing for an hour. Which doesn’t interest him in the slightest. Empowering others while making a legitimate connection, on the other hand, excites him.
“You empower them, and maybe you rediculate them, but it’s all good,” he says thoughtfully. “They go through a multiple of emotions. Feeling strong, maybe feeling stupid, feeling that they are violating me, and feeling exposed because they’ve been made vulnerable. These are precious things to experience during a concert—things that you normally don’t feel when you go to a show.”
Indeed—assuming your life goals don’t include being picked out of the crowd and hauled up onstage by Taylor Swift at Rogers Arena—the last thing most of us want at a show is having the spotlight turned on us while everyone watches. Which is kind of funny considering that we’ve all made ourselves the centre of attention in pursuit of a perfect selfie, whether it’s annoying our fellow music fans in the pit or standing on the lip of the Grand Canyon.
Quite correctly, Dimchev notes that he’s taking a practice no one (with the possible exception of your least-favourite influencer) considers art, and then turning it into something beautifully artfistic.
“At first it kind of looks pathetic, because the gesture is pathetic,” the multimedia artist says of the selfies he’s seen at his shows. “It’s a very low artistic gesture—low in the values of people. You actually can’t go lower than that in art.
“So I like the idea of elevating and glorifying it,” Dimchev continues. “Making it something that can organize people and choreograph them. At the end it becomes a very humanitarian act, because the only way that they keep me singing is because that’s the condition of the concert. I stop singing if I don’t get at least five people, so people sometimes have to go against their own will to keep me going.”
Google past performances at places like the Mumok museum in Vienna, and you’ll see audience members go from tentative at first to all-in. And, yes, Dimchev says, that includes the wallflowers, which is his way of saying that Vancouver audiences have no reason to be afraid of his Selfie Concert—as long as they come armed with a cellphone.
“I will try to be as kind as possible so that the audience feels safe around me,” he says with a laugh. “At least in the beginning.”
Ivo Dimchev’s Selfie Concert takes place February 2 to 3 at Left of Main as part of the PuSh Festival.