Nina Kraviz Dishes On ???? Label And Plans For Detroit's Movement Festival

Nina Kraviz
Obi Blanche

Nina Kraviz

Russian DJ/producer Nina Kraviz likes her electronic music organized around a narrative, so every release on her ???? label -- the word means “trip” -- comes with a theme.

When I Was 14, which arrived May 20, uses a quote attributed to Mark Twain as its source material: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Speaking with Billboard, Kraviz dissects the quote in a few quick strokes: “The idea is that sometimes people criticize something because they don’t have a clue what they’re speaking [about].”

Kraviz enjoyed a few days of respite in New York City earlier this week before swinging through Los Angeles and Denver on her way to a headlining slot at the Movement Festival in Detroit. Despite jetlag and heat -- it was the warmest day of the year in the city so far -- she chatted happily on the sidewalk outside the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, while taking occasional sips from an Americano and chomping on a brownie.

When I Was 14 is the sixth release on ????, and Kraviz suggests that all the records she puts out share broad characteristics.

“I don’t like clean finished music that has no character,” she declares. “I really like personality. You can interact with a robotic system that’s always going to give you the same parameters. Or you can interact with something gorgeous like a human being.” Later she adds, “There should be something f---ed up. Just a little bit. That’s what makes it unique and interesting.”

Like the label's other releases, When I Was 14 contains work from multiple artists. But Kraviz resists the term “compilation” – it implies a willy-nilly selection process, when in fact all her selections are designed to work in close harmony. Several of the ideas that animate each release came to her in dreams, starting with the killer octopus that lent its name to the very first record on the label. What about the title of ????002, De Niro Is Concerned? Kraviz imagined the famous actor “waking up in a cold sweat, thinking how boring his life was. He didn’t make any bad movies.”

???? records are supposed to be multi-purpose. Because of the unifying theme, “you can listen to the album at home” in the same way you would absorb a full-length from any other genre. “But if you’re at home with only this record, two turntables, a bunch of friends, drinks, and no TV working, you can make it a party,” the DJ adds. “All the tracks are compiled in a way that you can mix in between them.”

One song that came out on ???? definitively aided the latter activity: “I Wanna Go Bang” by Bjarki. “It was played by everyone,” Kraviz says with pride. “Even Skrillex played it. It was funny that such a small label like we are made this crossover hit.”

Despite the success of the single, it didn’t initially suit her specifications for ????. “When I heard it for the first time, it didn’t really fit the ‘concept album’ idea,” Kraviz remembers. “It was too much for me – too effective. But after some time I realized it’s magic.” In the end, she released it as a 12”, the only one on the label to date. (Bjarki, an artist from Iceland, is a frequent presence on ????, and the label plans to release 41 tracks from his archive spread across three LPs in the next few months.)

For Kraviz, steering a label has only one downside. “I really like playing vinyl records,” she notes. “Now I’m becoming this digital DJ – I have so much music from the label that isn’t released yet, [so] I play a lot from USBs.” But as she returns to Detroit’s famous Movement Festival, she’s reverting to her preferred mode. “I selected a lot of very special B-sides,” she says. “Interesting acid records.” She headlines the Acid Stage on the final day of the event, slated to fill a two hour slot following Acid innovator DJ Pierre and Boys Noize, who also just released a new album.

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Her appreciation for the Detroit sound is audible: she speaks admiringly of the “sci-fi, cosmonaut, intergalactic sounds” and spends a while humming the melody from unknown records by Underground Resistance and Juan Atkins in an attempt to identify the tracks. (Eventually she determines they are “Final Frontier” and Model 500’s “No UFOs,” respectively.) “There’s always a little bit of Detroit in everything I do,” she notes. Detroiters Terrence Dixon and K-Hand have both released music through ????.

Though she’s played Movement before, the festival still has its challenges. “It’s a very difficult stage,” Kraviz says. “It has a lot of difficult acoustics; it’s difficult to hear something, to mix.” But this seems to fit well with her aesthetic philosophy and the ethos of ????. “Sometimes things don’t go the way you want,” she says. “But f--- it, that’s the beauty. I want to be responsible for my own imperfections.”


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