“It’s a bit weird playing here, I really believe in energy, that energy stays in a place,” explains Russian DJ/producer/songwriter Nina Kraviz, eyeing her surroundings as we sat in her makeshift green room. Kraviz was surprisingly soft-spoken and calm in demeanor, especially given that she was about to play in front of four thousand people at the Into The Valley Festival, an electronic music festival held at Rummu, an abandoned Soviet prison in Northern Estonia. The thump of heavy base pulsated from the stage over half a mile away, as Kraviz ate borscht in a beige bomber jacket, tight black jeans, and sneakers.
As one of the leading electronic artists in the world, Kraviz’s touring schedule is a roller coaster ride, often landing her in a different country every single day. “Sometimes I do eight shows in five days,” she explains. “My biggest challenge now is selecting jobs and learning how to say ‘no.’ I’m blessed I have the freedom of going where I want, and playing what I want.” When I ask her where she’s based, her answer is truly nowhere. “I’m traveling most of the time, so I rarely spend any time anywhere – but it’s nothing to be sad about!” she assures me, after seeing my face twist apologetically, “I know this job is not for anyone. You have to have a special character.”
Character is something Kraviz has had from the get-go, with a particularly trying upbringing in the outskirts of Siberia. “I had a tough time growing up, getting along with my schoolmates, and so on,” she explains of her childhood. “In Soviet times, to own a vinyl record meant spending your whole salary. It was extremely expensive and unaffordable.” Luckily, her father put music above all else, and educated her on the likes of Led Zeppelin, Grace Jones, The Doors, Peter Gabriel, and her favorite, Pink Floyd. “Pink Floyd was proto electronic at the time, so I guess I always liked electronic – I just didn’t know it was called ‘electronic’ music back then.” Kraviz also remembers listening to the static noise in between radio stations, which subtly informed her musical acuity. “Every night I would tune in between the frequencies, so I would end up in listening to weird songs where the sounds would be mutated,” she explains of her first jaunt with minimal sound.
During her teenage years in the ’90s, Kraviz studied dentistry, worked at an event agency, and wrote for a local electronic music newspaper as she learned how to DJ. While she moved to Moscow and remained underground due in part to her dark, minimal sound, she also became known within the electronic music community throughout the aughts, and was even recognized by Red BuLl when they invited her to be part of their prestigious music academy program in the US. Although Kraviz could not get a VISA in time, she persisted until famed disco producer Greg Wilson released one of her tracks under his label in 2007, and five years later she released her own self-titled debut album in 2012.
While she’s released singles and a recent EP since 2012, her accomplishments and relevance within the industry, with only a single album under her belt (she hopes to begin work on her second one next year), is uniquely impressive. Her key to success is to never stop touring and connecting with the crowd. “[Performing] is about intimacy. I learned it from being a doctor; the human factor is the most important thing you form. Every performance I do is about reaching an intimacy when you feel comfortable with a crowd and in tune with the right frequency of the room, regardless of who is in front of you.”
This intimacy has landed her shows on BBC Radio1, residencies in Ibiza, gigs at Berlin’s Berghain, not to mention tens of millions of YouTube hits. Kraviz also started her own record label, трип (pronounced “Trip”), that made Resident Advisor’s top three performing labels of 2016—where many male-owned labels were the runner-ups. As for what it’s like being a female DJ in a male-dominated industry? “I never really think about it. I’ve never been playing the ‘female’ card.” I see myself just as a creative person, an artist, and that’s all you have to know.”
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