Nina Kraviz likes intelligent people. And house. She makes music that she's passionate about, she plays it because she loves it madly, and with her it's all about communicating very deep feelings to an audience that truly appreciates that passion. We had a word with her at Sónar.
In spite of not having had one minute of shuteye (she finished Sónar By Night on the main stage the night before), Nina Kraviz is very alert and receptive. With her feline forms and reflexive way of talking, from up close she doesn't fool anyone: here's a woman who takes music very seriously and who doesn’t feel like she has to prove anything to anybody (you know, the old story of the pretty woman in a male world like electronic music). As she herself says, she has no other goal than to express her emotions in everything she does, whether that be DJing or producing music. This is also reflected on her first full-length, “Nina Kraviz”, a straightforward house exercise on which she expresses her way of understanding life and art. After all, she's just a girl from Siberia who fell in love with electronic music and who wants to put in her two cents.
Let's start at the beginning. How did you get into electronic music?
When I was little, I was always surrounded by music. My parents were very cultured, musically. I was a bit of a lazy student, so when I got home I used to put on records instead of doing my homework: rock, pop, jazz, a bit of everything. At some point I started to go beyond my dad's record collection, because I was listening to the radio at night, especially a show on a Moscow radio station, called Garage. It used to keep me up until very late at night, because I lived in Irkutsk, in South-Eastern Siberia, and because of the time difference, it was three in the morning when the show started. One of those nights I heard a song that left me flabbergasted. Later I found out it was a track by Armando. From that moment on I got completely into electronic music.
"I like to talk with people who know their stuff; I try to surround myself with smart people, avoiding the idiots"
And you got obsessed...
All my friends were always going on about boys, partying, drinking, and I was sitting at home in front of the computer (I had just discovered the internet) reading DJ biographies, looking for information. After some time I started to be very well informed, I knew the stories of many DJs by heart, especially of those from Chicago and Detroit.
So you're a bit of a freak.
Yes, I'm a freak. Especially when it comes to music.
At what point did you decide you wanted to be a DJ and produce your own tracks?
I started DJing when I met a boy who was very much involved with music, we started dating, and he really knew a lot. I like cultured people, you know? I detest stupid idiots. I like to talk with people who know their stuff; I try to surround myself with smart people, avoiding the idiots. So I moved in with this guy and he introduced me to a lot of underground music; disco, funk, different kinds of electronic music.
And then you became a DJ.
Yes. He was a DJ, so I said “I'm going to give it a shot”. I started playing disco and Italian soundtrack music in bars, pubs and art galleries. But at the same time I kept collecting Chicago and Detroit records, and listening to Intergalactic FM, an incredible online radio station. I-F is a fucking freak.
Yes, the music he plays is amazing.
He's the kind of person I meant earlier, you know? I-F is one of the most knowledgeable people I know. In fact, much of my musical education comes from that radio station, because they have the great habit of telling you the song they're playing, even showing the sleeves. I was listening to it all the time, I still do, actually. It's something I would advise everyone who wants to know more about electronic music to do. I discovered tons of music through them. But, returning to your question, it was a slow process. Step by step. It wasn't like I got up one morning and said “hey, I'm a DJ”.
"I'm not a professional musician, see. So my voice is the only instrument I feel completely comfortable with, and which I have total control over"
And how did you start producing your own music?
It was when I left the band I was in, because basically they thought I couldn't do much, that I was just a singer. They didn't really pay me much mind, and basically they said “look, do your own thing if you want, but don't try to step on our territory.” It made me quite mad, and I left the band. I was very upset. I had just come back from the Red Bull Music Academy, and I knew a bit about Ableton, so I got a sound card, a keyboard and a microphone and started to make music on my own, just for myself, just to try things out. I noticed that I came up with a couple of melodies and thought “wow, I'm good at this”. So for two or three months I was just making music, I literally spent all day producing, I couldn't stop. I posted my tracks to MySpace, under a fake name, so that nobody knew it was me and I could see how people would react.
Your first release was on Underground Quality. How did you get in touch with Jus-Ed?
That's a nice story that actually has something to do with Barcelona. Soon after I started producing, I met Anton Zap, who had already released stuff on Underground Quality, and he got me in touch with them. I wrote to Jus-Ed introducing myself, and I showed him a couple of my tracks, but he never gave me an answer. A few months later, I came to Barcelona, for Sónar 2008. I had just arrived to the city and I remember I didn't like my hotel at all. I went down to the lobby and there was Jus-Ed, and he came up to me and said “Hey how are you? I love what you're doing, I'd like to release your tracks, let's stay in touch”. I was flabbergasted, I couldn't believe it. I had only been making music for five months.
Let's talk about your first album. What was your initial idea for the record? I get the impression it follows the same path as the EPs, but more introspective, even melancholic.
It's a very personal record, about the feelings of a woman towards a man. It's about a particular person: me. It wasn't something I planned, like “I've got two really good tracks, I'm going to build an album around them”. I was just making tracks, and suddenly, almost without realising, I had an album. It's about me, about the person I was at the time.
It's dark and tense. Was that how you felt at the time?
Yes, I used to feel like that all the time, but I'm trying to change that, because sometimes I feel a bit naked. But yes, in a way I always end up translating what I feel in the music I make or play out. Now, with this crazy agenda, I haven't produced anything in six months, and I'm a bit anxious, so I want to take a break and dedicate more time to making music again.
The vocals have always been very important in your music (your first release was even called “Voices”). On the album, they once again play an important part. What do vocals add to your music, do you think?
That's easy. I'm not a professional musician, see. I know how to play the keyboards a little bit, but that's it. So my voice is the only instrument I feel completely comfortable with, and which I have total control over. I know the sound that comes out is exactly what I want it to be. It comes naturally, I don't think about it too much.
"To me, perfection is to put on a record I love and mix it with another record I love"
I suppose that idea also goes for the way you record the songs.
Yes. Definitely. Several songs on the album were recorded in one first go. “For Ben”, for instance, and “Fire”, the recording took as much time as the song lasts. And most of the vocals are first takes as well. I like first impressions.
Maybe that's why your music sounds straightforward, like much of the old school house does, when polishing the sound wasn't as important as maintaining the initial energy.
I know what you're saying, but it's hard to tell, really, because, as I said, nothing I do is premeditated. I basically do what I can to try and express myself. There really is no plan behind it. I think that's a good thing, but it's obvious that I'll have to step forward at some point, and learn something new, get a new machine, a new synth. Because you can't always depend on spontaneity. You have to learn, and teach yourself. I told you at the start, education is very important to me.
And regarding your DJ sets, what's your vision? You always defended passion over the perfection offered by technology.
I like perfection when it's the result of your confidence in what you're doing. That depends on each person. To me, perfection is to put on a record I love and mix it with another record I love. I can't tell you what's most important about being a DJ, but that's the most important part to me. That's what makes me enjoy myself, and what makes me enjoy watching what others are doing. I can enjoy super technological sets, by DJs who have knowledge and skills I haven't got, who use laptops and synchronise music with lights, for example, but I prefer the physical formats, whichever they are. I think there's a difference when you play physical formats. Vinyl is ideal, not because it sounds better, but because of what they look like, and the energy you transmit when you're communicating through vinyl. It's a beautiful thing.