When thinking of Siberia you're imagination is more likely to turn to endless tundra than techno clubs, the Russian region, which covers 10 percent of the Earth's surface more attuned to the Trans-Siberian Railway than the electronic offspring of Trans-Europe Express. Yet the latest edition to DJ Kicks' ever-excellent mix series, put together by Nina Kraviz (who originally hails from the Siberian city of Irkutsk), shines with a deep knowledge of Detroit techno, Chicago house and beyond.
From Armando to Baby Ford, Terrence Dixon to Breaker 1 2, it's a selection shining with deeply ingrained knowledge of some of electronic music's most distinguished operators – including the recently re-surfacing Aphex Twin, represented under his Polygon Window moniker.
Inheriting a love of music from her father, it was in Moscow, training to be a Dentist, that Kraviz began her music career in earnest; writing for a magazine called Ptuch, DJing funk and disco and putting on parties, with the likes of Detroit's Underground Resistance. But it was attending the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne in 2006 that helped her forge the links that would lead to recording first for Underground Quality and then Matt Edward's Rekids label, for whom she released her eponymous debut album in 2012.
Also featured on the DJ Kick album is numerous exclusives from her soon to be launched label трип, which is Russian for 'trip.' Promising a sound as unpredictable and exciting as her own DJ sets, we joined Nina for a recap of her journey so far...
Coming from the city of Irkutsk in Siberia, what was it like to grow up, musically speaking, in a post-communist regime? We mean the process to get new music from Europe or the US, the acquisition of new technology etc.
“I was born in quite a special place. It wasn't easy to find new music, especially electronic music. But somehow people always got what they wanted, one way or another. My father is a record collector and I remember him telling me that in Soviet Times to get a vinyl could sometimes cost half of the monthly salary.”
From a career as a dentist to playing at the best events, venues and clubs in the world, how was your takeoff to Europe and overseas? When and why do you decide to swap white coat for vinyl and hardware?
“I was living a double life when I was a teenager studying medicine. I got myself a weekly radio show dedicated to electronic music on a local Irkutsk radio. Talking about it now is actually making me smile!
“At times it wasn't so easy… For many years, every day, I would go to the university and then to the hospital for the veterans of war before working on my radio show and music at night. And my working day started at eight in the morning. For many years I just wasn’t sleeping much at all.
“Funny that I quit a dentist job to fully commit myself to another job that actually gives me even less time to sleep! I guess it's my destiny...
“But those years were very prolific: I became a DJ and a record collector, an event promoter, a journalist, a singer in the band and then finally a music producer. All those jobs and phases gave me so much experience. I met interesting, bright and edgy people that would influence my life, and later creative path, a lot. It was pretty much a wild life in the evening and night, but very much organized in the morning when I would come back to the hospital.
“It was always a bit of a struggle, but I think my medical background gave me a lot of discipline and motivation to stay strong, no matter what. One morning, two months before I was supposed to finish my post diploma education and get a degree, I woke up in the morning from my alarm clock and realized that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Since that morning I have never returned to that place. They still don't know where I am...”
How have your musical roots influenced your musical personality and your sound progression?
“Even though my initial musical roots are from what my father would play to me - mostly rock and pop music, plus some Weather Report like jazz - my electronic music journey started in Chicago house, especially the acid side of it, and Detroit techno, as well as '90s music in general. Throughout the years of my musical exploring I've been influenced a lot by other musical genres as well.
“I was into funk and rare disco, and played them in cafes and really small clubs in the beginning. Italian '60s/ '70s soundtrack music. There was a short ambient and IDM phase, and later I got into dark electro and Italo-disco, via the Cybernetic Broadcasting System online radio established by I-F. I owe half of my musical education to this radio station.
“But as well as that, I was just always sensitive to the sounds and people around me, and luckily enough I was meeting really inspiring people like Juan Atkins, Gerald McDonald [from Dopplereffekt and Drexciya] and Sherard Ingram [DJ Stingray], or I-F or Alden Tyrell, for example, just to name a few. All those encounters had a massive effect on me musically and personally.”
You made your initial steps in the Red Bull Music Academy. How was that experience? What have you learned most from working in such great studios and with so much talent around?
“I was a participant at the Red Bull Music Academy 2006 Melbourne edition. It was unforgettable and it changed my life. That is where I first really believed in myself as an artist. I learned a lot of things technically and simply got a personal experience by meeting all those incredible people that gave me such a great push forward. It’s where I also met Matt Edwards, who signed me to Rekids, and Greg Wilson, who signed my first ever released vinyl record.”
How does it feel to be chosen by the esteemed series DJ-Kicks? What was your first reaction?
“I was very happy to do it! Very excited about it! Wow!”
Artists such as Steve Stoll, Breaker 1 2, Parrish Smith, Terrence Dixon, DJ Bone, Armando and Fred P feature on the album. What have you seen in those artists/ tracks to include them in the mix? What did you look for? Will it include exclusive tracks?
“Yes, a lot of the music from my mix will be released on my own label трип, and it features my own unreleased music and a few classics that were standouts for me, they fit the trippy underwater flow of it. So it's pretty exclusive, yes.
“The mix in some way, more or less shows one big part of my musical background, especially a techno and IDM one. Armando was the very first and the most influential artist for me - I heard his ‘Downfall’ track on the radio and that’s how it started. Here, I decided to take this track [Armando's 'Pleasure Dome'] because of that acappella he uses from my favorite Blade Runner movie.
“In general, throughout the whole mix you will hear a lot of different voices speaking, talking, whispering and claiming some truths of their own. It helped to create that dreamy hypnotic and very murky vibe.
“Knowing how hard it is to license tracks sometimes, I am very happy that we were able to license even very rare tracks by Aphex Twin, under his Polygon Window moniker, a favorite techno track of my friend Dor, by classic Warp act Plaid, one of my favorite acid tracks by Prototype 909, that I found during one of my record digging sessions, and an unreleased track by Fred P, who is my connection to the Underground Quality family to which we both belong. And of course new music from some lesser known but very talented artists like Russian Nikita Zabelin, for example, or Parrish Smith from Holland.
“I am also very happy that I found a place for a very special space Italo sounding 'Persec' track [by Freak Electrique] that was originally released on I-F 's Viewlexx label. He gave me that record many years ago when he was in Moscow. And now, after so many years of me being hooked on his radio station Cybernetic Broadcasting System, which is now called Intergalactic FM, I can finally pay homage and include that particular record that I kept for so many years until the right moment came along. Same goes with New York techno genius Steve Stoll and Icelandic artist Exos.
“Their music was extremely influential for my techno upbringing. Cobalt and Exos's record were like that Freak Electrique record, one of the first and special in my record collection back in the days. I'm so happy to include them in the mix. I'm super honored to not only include one of my favorite techno records by Steve Stoll, under his Cobalt moniker, on DJ Kicks, but also to re-release it on my own трип label. Same goes with Exos. And talking about Icelandic techno, I also recently signed a young artist from Reykjavik. His name is Bjarki and his music is hot.”
While selecting the tracks and mixing it, are you more meticulous and detailed than working on your own productions?
“Well, to be honest, it was a struggle at times because I think the format of a DJ mix that is released on a CD is kind of unnatural in general. Because ideally the mix has to be performed live in front of a crowd. That way it would absorb the most energy and rawness from the moment. But with the concept I selected, it wasn't quite possible.
“So I recorded it partly live. And I was playing it again and again to create the right flow. And also, like with most of my music, it was extremely hard to mix because most of the tracks are either out of sync or recorded live, where BPM jumps three to four steps forward, and stuff like this. But in general it was really fun to do.”
How would you best describe the album?
“It is a very dreamy techno hypnosis, at times acidic, at times trancey, with a subtle very underwater flow feeling.”
IN THE STUDIO
Maybe unconsciously, if your name comes out in a conversation, many of us automatically relate your name with Rekids. Is Rekids the best synonym to describe Nina Kraviz? Is Rekids the perfect shelter for Nina Kraviz’s sound?
“Surely yes, because many my most successful releases were out on Rekids, but I feel like Jus-Ed’s label Underground Quality is also my home.”
Dance Mania also resembles your sound. I suppose the label was one of your biggest influences in the past, like with 'Ghetto Kraviz,' for example.
“Yes, I've been a Dance Mania follower for many years and this label was one of the biggest influences on me musically. Its rawness and simplicity in delivering a musical idea, you are right; 'Ghetto Kraviz' was my kind of answer to that concept. I recorded that track in just 20 minutes- 100 percent the Dance Mania way of doing it.
“I am very proud of my big collection of Dance Mania records. I was very honored to have gone to Chicago to personally meet Ray Barney and Parris Mitchell, check what's up and go to that legendary warehouse with Dance Mania back stock. I was the happiest girl in the entire world. Dance Mania is the shit.”
Can you tell us about your creative process in the studio? What are your main inspiration sources? Any specific pattern or processes?
“I cannot predict and control my creativity, that’s the whole magic about it, the muse comes and goes unexpectedly, but I kind of noticed that when I am going through some deep personal shit I am at my best. In that sort of state of mind my imagination goes so far that I feel like if I don't put all this into some song or a track I will just explode. It's very intense.”
In your productions and live sets, you also play with your voice as a tool. How do you feel in front of the microphone? I would even venture to say it is one of your best tools to catch the audience’s attention…
“I never really think what instrument to use. For me it's like this: I start some idea and then – bam - I wanna sing! 'Give me that mic coz I have something to tell you right now,' it's like that. It’s very much dependent on a situation and a moment. In fact, with me production-wise it's only about that, delivering the right emotion at the right moment! That's my connection to space and that's the only place where I feel 100 percent free and happy. I close my eyes and the whole space is there for me to surf in between reverbs and delays of my own voice.”
In my opinion, one of your key strengths is your artistic selection and the balance between the contemporary and classic tunes and rhythms. Which would you say is your biggest key strength as an artist?
“Well, I spend a lot of time searching for the right music and when I listen to a record the only criterion for me is just how I feel about it. Not about genre, or beat, not a date of release or a position in some crazy charts, just this very honest feeling. Does it belong to my world or not? And sometimes I listen to the record and it sounds amazing, but I know that this isn't for me because it doesn't trigger anything in me.
“It doesn't link to my inner self and to what I have to say to the world. So I think my strength is in this clear vision in what is mine and what is not, and with this clear vision I can surf any musical landscapes and eras I want, from hardest '90s techno and obscure electro to the most sensual house music and contemporary trippy acid. I want my sound to know no age. With this I can tell stories and express my inner self at it's best, because musically I am free and if I feel like I wanna drop some crazy shit in the middle of my set I will do that.
“My only duty here is to do it in a way that other people also enjoy, because at the end of the day I am there for them. Sometimes it works and people think, “what was that?” and can't really find a concrete description for what they just heard, which for me is always the best compliment, and sometimes it doesn't work. But when it works I feel the deepest artistic satisfaction, like I am able to deliver the most 'underground' - let's call it this - musical idea successfully to an even bigger crowd than where it would normally work. Because I really feel it, and it belongs to the whole concept, I manage to find the right balance in between entertainment and education.”
What about your new label трип? We understand your first release comes in September? Any news?
“Yes, it does. I have signed so much music that I can already say how it will look. Actually, most of my DJ Kicks is the music that is going to be released on my label or my own unreleased stuff. I would like to focus more on the label rather than on the standard one artist for tracks and EPs. I dream that people trust my label and that they are open-minded enough to follow me on the journey.
“I would like to combine music that will fit a certain trip. For example, the very first трип release is around an octopus that has come to one place, eaten everybody and didn't even have time to think about it.”
Of the DJs I’ve seen, you are one of the best ones to connect with the audience. You really seem to enjoy your set. How do you get to create that special atmosphere, that special connection with the audience?
“Thank you. Well, this is something that naturally happens to me when I really enjoy blending music. A good party is where some strong sense of energy opens up deep inside of me and starts to flourish and I just need to find the right channel to share it with people. I think it only happens when you really are open enough and since I only play records that I like, and that trigger some emotion in me, it normally happens this way if I am really honest and ready to share.
“Actually, I find this experience of a DJ performance pretty magical. Sometimes I seriously feel that I am connected to space when I play and I am channeling some energy, like there is no more boss in the room, everything and everyone is a part of ONE, and this is the strongest thing about DJing for me. To achieve that magical state of flow that connects everything.”
Besides the mix for DI Kicks, any upcoming references, mixes or works we should know about?
“I would like to put out all the music that I signed on my трип record label, including my unreleased stuff, as well as focus on some of my unfinished projects and collaborations with Luke Hess and some younger artists.
“Also, I kind of feel that creatively and emotionally I am ready to record a new album. I would like to shoot a few videos and I would like to go to Iceland. Yes, I would like to go to Iceland and record an album in some cave or maybe get stuck there for weeks being blown away by the ascetic of the nature. Plus, I am thinking of assembling my own modular synthesizer. I am very inspired at the moment.”
words: Diago Fernandez & Joe Roberts