With a few high-profile mix appearances and releases on Rekids, Underground Quality and Naif, Moscow's Nina Kraviz has become one of the most hotly-tipped names of 2009. But when RA's Ryan Keeling called up Russia to talk records, he found that there's much more to the story than DJing.
Theo Parrish and Nina Kraviz in the RBMA hot seat.
According to Kraviz, Zap's Real House Music... release for UQ at the beginning of 2008 served as the light that initially drew her towards the imprint, having made the realisation that her compatriot was on the same musical wavelength. Thusly, on completing "Voices" during a furious two-hour recording session around the early stages of that year, Kraviz—a self-confessed MySpace addict—contacted Jus-Ed through the site, although as she explains, his feedback wasn't initially so forthcoming. "I sent him some music but he never replied," she says. "Then maybe one or two months later I was at Sonar last year and received a message from him saying that he was completely blown away...and that he wanted to sign it. Maybe Anton pointed him in my direction, I don't know..."
Nine months after reaching an agreement with Ed for the release of the track, "Voices" hit record stores, boasting remixes from each of the imprint's key protagonists. Coincidentally, Levon Vincent—who contributed an interpretation—had already imparted a marked impression on her: "I had been performing for a while in cities and always use the mic while performing, and Levon did a track on Ovum," she recalls. "The record [2006 B-side "Air Raid"] was not a hit and nobody played it really, but this was a really nice track for me because it sounded fantastic and so sincere and rough. So I thought 'OK, why don't I put lyrics on it?' I was performing with this record for like two years putting lyrics upon the record. Not singing or rapping but like roughly talking."
On the subject of vocals, Kraviz is quick to distance herself from being thought of as a singer, despite her initial "break" fronting the Moscow-based band MySpaceRocket. The group formed around 2006— the same year in which Kraviz won a spot at the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne. After sitting in on a two-hour lecture from UK DJ Greg Wilson, Kraviz handed him the band's "Amok" single which the legend—suitably impressed by the track's potential—went on to release through his short-lived B77 label. Kraviz parted ways with the band last year due to the classic "differences in musical opinion," but the Academy proved itself to be fruitful in more ways than one. An explanation over missing his lecture led Kraviz into conversation with Rekids boss Matt Edwards, who is now, after keeping in loose contact with her for the last few years, on the cusp of releasing Kraviz's latest solo effort Pain In the Ass—a brooding pair of twilight house jams that should likely signal a substantial leap towards wider recognition.
Kraviz's infatuation with the kick drum can be traced back to her childhood growing up in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. Like so many before her, radio provided the lead into uncovered coves of music. In fact, she is able to pinpoint the exact moment that the 808 first met her ears from across the airwaves: "I remember sitting in my room and I was never getting to bed early, so that's when I realised that on one major radio station there was a show that for two hours focussed on [US] garage; around 1996 I guess. I recorded this radio show on tape from 3 AM until 5 AM, so I was always close to the point where I was already asleep. I remember once I woke up and I listened to very strange music that I had never heard before: Very interesting, but so charming and attractive. It was [late Chicago house pioneer] Armando."
Around the turn of the millennium Kraviz relocated to Moscow in order to study dentistry. With regards to listening habits, the earlier stages of the decade were spent obsessing over '60s and '70s French and Italian movie soundtracks, which mutated into a fascination with the latter period's underground disco scene. Although it was around this time she began gigging at the more modest end of the city's bars and clubs, Kraviz feels that her hankering to perform stemmed from a record collector's desire to share, rather than any deep-seated aspirations to make it as a DJ. "I consider myself not a DJ, but more of a record collector—like a music fan," she confirms. "I am not like a 'DJ' DJ. I don't wake up and run to the turntables."
wrong if a DJ doesn't dance."
Despite this, Kraviz now plays regularly across many of Moscow's foremost venues, including Propaganda, the club which she affectionately describes as "a Russian Fabric." Her weekly Voices party has been in operation for around a year, and has succeeded in attracting international guests such as Theo Parrish, Cassy, Shed and Marcel Dettmann to the capital. The party also provided the backdrop for her first face-to-face meeting with Ed: "Anton [Zap] invited Jus-Ed to play at his party and that's how we met: he came to my party with Anton on Friday. It was funny because I was playing and I didn't know that he was already in the club and he was there just hiding and watching me." Similarly, Kraviz was only properly introduced to the rest of the UQ stable at the label's showcase night for Berlin venue Tape back in September of this year, a party which she looks back on with a palpable sense of pride.
As we pick apart the night, talk turns to the intricacies of mixing, on which it transpires Kraviz has numerous acute points she is keen to put across. "I like it when you feel the person is behind the turntables," she says. "Not Traktor or any other program... I hate tight mixes. I mean seriously I'm telling you that. That's why I stopped going out to [see] the contemporary, European nice DJs because even though I like the music, it's super tight. It feels like they are trying to solve a mathematical theory. They are so into it they forget about the crowd. I will always be battling for the right to believe in a different kind of mixing," she continues. "I think music is first, the mixing is second... I pray that in years I am not losing the sense for it, because it's so easy to lose it."
Anyone who has caught her gigs or live recordings recently will likely attest that she is true to her mantra. This "no bullshit" way of doing things reinforces itself as I ask her to summate what she looks to impart upon a dance floor while behind the decks. "I want sincere music. I want music that delivers a sense of nerve. It could be funny or it could be serious. It must awaken a person in me. I need emotion in music... It could be also possible that I play a really bad set—like really, really bad and not successful—just because I am not into it because I didn't get the vibe, or didn't get the crowd or I am too fast or too slow." One thing you should also unquestionably expect at a Nina Kraviz gig is dancing. "I believe that if a DJ that doesn't dance, I have to think if I like him. There should be something wrong if they don't. Sometimes I listen to the perfect DJ where the guy does his job, he mixes and plays the right tracks and is cool and underground... but there is something wrong if the person doesn't move."
Although she is reluctant to discuss plans for the future ("I'm not really into telling that because God is always joking with you when you tell him what you are up to"), her small but distinct body of work portends much potential for the coming years. The four proffered cuts that made up her second UQ release, First Time EP, saw her weigh in on the 2009 model of deep-set, chord driven grooves, while "Hotter Than July" rode an itchy and incessant rhythm on a split 12-inch with Efdemin for the inaugural offering on his Naif imprint.
Aside from the omnipresent ghosts of Chicago's heyday, and the more contemporary noises emanating from Detroit, the strongest resonance upon Kraviz seems to have been the rudimentary thump of the 808, which she holds in an almost mythical regard. "The real genius will always create a piece of art using minimal tools and instruments. The real genius also works perfectly even if he just has one tool. For example, even if you watched Herbie Hancock playing keyboards without an orchestra—just his keyboards and hands—he is [a] genius. I think with this 808 thing it's the same: it's a symphony with a drum machine... For now it has this sexual effect on me. I get excited when I hear a clap. For me, there are two basic things in music: A kick and a clap... If I hear the clap is not right, I'm like 'I'm not here, I'm leaving.'"
"I think music is like having a wife," she tells me in closing, attempting to summarize the past two hours, "if you stop wanting her, I think it's better to say 'Honey, I don't like you any more—why don't we just find a solution?' What I'm saying is, everything should be done with... not passion maybe, but you have to feel what you do, and if you don't feel what you do, you have to find a way to get it back."