The Russian DJ delivers the first ‘DJ-Kicks’ mix of 2015 with a set that’s more radio than dancefloor
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder: one person’s Brad Pitt is another person’s smelly armpit. But even allowing for a modicum of subjective adjustment, Russian DJ Nina Kraviz is a phenomenally beautiful woman. For this – the crime of being attractive – she cops a considerable amount of flak. Some of it she brings on herself. After all, even though you can’t blame her for taking the Hugo Boss shilling, being the face of a perfume giant isn’t perhaps the best way to silence those who say you trade on your looks.
Whatever you think about that, there’s no denying that Kraviz is a very visual DJ. To watch her in action is to see a performer in love with the sensuality of the form. A master of the well-placed bass-swap, her style has a crisp, modular feel that she accentuates with conductor-like hand movements, little sashays, and a dancing style best described as a kind of tech-house vogue. This being the case, you might think that a mix album isn’t the best forum for the Kraviz magic – and you’d be right. It’s a problem with which her instalment of !K7’s esteemed ‘DJ-Kicks’ series struggles and doesn’t quite overcome.
As a mix, it represents a departure from her usual sound, which is heavy on the tech-house, sexy but raw. The accompanying PR guff has Kraviz explaining that the idea was to create “a mysterious sonic journey, inspired by the times I used to listen to late-night radio”, and it does indeed have a woozy, after-hours vibe. The fact that she’s picked a track from Goldie’s much-unloved second album ‘Saturnz Return’ (‘Truth’, with vocals from David Bowie) speaks volumes about the idiosyncrasy of a set-list that moves from breaks to deep, somnolent techno to spacey IDM. Here you’ll find Polygon Window nestled next to Adam Beyer and Plaid beside DJ Bone. Steve Stoll, Baby Ford and Porn Sword Tobacco all feature, as well as a clutch of productions from Kraviz’s newly launched own label, трип (pronounced Trip).
From such disparate parts, she conjures a beautifully sequenced album that eschews builds and peaks in favour of an overall feeling akin to an opiated haze. Based purely on the sound she creates, it’s terrific. Where it falls down, however, is the mixing itself. Shorn of the visuals, and with a self-imposed brief to create a more atmospheric set, Kraviz flounders. Too many of the transitions consist of one tune simply fading into another, as though having chosen such great tracks she’s not sure what to do with them. There nothing wrong, as such, but it’s hardly a great advertisement for the art of the DJ. Agoria’s ‘Balance 016’, M.A.N.D.Y.’s ‘Renaissance: The Mix Collection’ and James Holden’s ‘DJ-Kicks’ – to pick three mix albums at random – all deal much more deftly with material that’s just as diverse as this.
Still, if the idea is to evoke that late-night radio show feel, then the occasional outbreak of rudimentary mixing fulfils the remit, and as an exercise in conjuring a sensation, this set is entirely consistent with the Kraviz values: a love of music, a sensual experience. Beauty is as beauty does.