Last month Resident Advisor, nowadays the essential online portal through which the various aspects and avenues of global dance culture can be explored, sparked something of a rumpus in DJ circles with their short film about Siberian DJ / producer Nina Kraviz, the first in their new Between The Beats series.
Following Nina throughout a run of gigs in Bulgaria, Belgium and Germany, and soundtracked by her own music, the piece provides a snapshot of life on the road for the touring DJ, with, in addition to the actual club appearances, its constant round of airports and hotels. It’s really well shot and edited, and the camera absolutely adores Nina, who, to state the glaringly obvious, is blessed with stunning natural beauty – and it’s this that lays at the very crux of the controversy.
Female DJ’s have always found themselves sexualised in a way that the men have never had to endure. This has warped people’s perceptions of many a DJ who just happened to be female. The fact that they’re described as a ‘female DJ’ in the first place muddies the waters, for the sex / physicality of the person has no bearing on their ability to do the job. Back when I started out, in the days when British DJ’s still used the microphone, there was a body of thought that said the lower male voice was the ‘more authentic’, and the higher female voice ‘just didn’t sound right’. This is something that went back to radio, which was dominated by male presenters. As a result, female DJ’s were largely regarded as a gimmick, a ‘dolly bird’ for the blokes to ogle over (at the extreme of this mentality you even had the ‘topless DJ’), and to be taken seriously, as someone who might actually know how to present music, was almost an impossibility.
Even now, the sexist fallout is apparent, women still afforded but a nominal role. Just look at any Top DJ lists and you’ll only find a token presence where the fairer sex is concerned. Sadly it’s often more about what she looks like than what she plays, and it must still be so difficult to break out of that stereotype and make it on your own terms if you’re born to have breasts rather than balls.
So when, in an otherwise thoughtful, somewhat pensive piece, with Nina musing on questions of illusion and loneliness, she allowed herself to be interviewed in a manner that many people would say played right into this stereotype, firstly bikini clad on a beach, but most contentiously, submerged in a bubble bath, she really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
It certainly got people talking – the forum at Resident Advisor illustrating the split in opinion that ensued, some of the comments quite condemning, others supportive. There’s rarely a middle ground, although one post (by borstal-scum) summed up these polar extremes; “Can’t decide if this is a sensitive portraiture of the alternately euphoric and melancholic lifestyle of a very good DJ and sensitive individual, or a crass, borderline sexist bit of promotion with some pretentious emoting and camera direction to give the illusion of gravitas? A bit of both, perhaps”.
Elsewhere, warehamtn took Nina to task, quoting her own words back at her; “‘to be a woman, in this profession, is really not easy sometimes’ – (she) said pushing foam around lying naked in a bath… what’s Russian for irony Nina?”, whilst wnb20 questioned the motives of Resident Advisor in making the film in the first place; “the opening beach scene and hed kandi esq slow-mo shots of her back. Really necessary? It’s basically saying she might be a good DJ, but we really like her because she’s hot”. Regarding it as little more than trite titillation, chriswoodward remarked; “if Nuts magazine did DJ documentaries” and concluded that; “she should have just gone the whole hog and done it topless”.
On the other side of the debate Rory weighed in with: “In terms of the bathroom/beach shots, I think Nina has always seemed to embrace her sexuality as part of her personality. If she’s comfortable with that I don’t see that it was anyway degrading or that it detracts from her skills as a DJ and producer”. This was a point endorsed by ForeverDelayed; “The amount of beta males in here would be laughable if it wasn’t so painfully endemic in the dance music scene. Nina is a great producer/DJ and also a gorgeous woman, who seems to have no problem embracing her sexuality, so why should you?” Over on YouTube fooze212 1 offered an insightful analysis: “I see these scenes as a type of commentary of the images and narrative that is surrounding Nina. I think she understands the myths and imagery that is being created around her as a person, and in fact this documentary debates those very illusions. I think this documentary is way smarter than just ‘showing some candy’. It recreates the myths and then debates them while still maintaining the illusion and sucking the viewer into it.”
View the whole Resident Advisor thread here:
From the moment she steps behind a set of decks, Nina’s looks are always going to garner the attention of a great many people (and not just male, for she has that androgynous quality that attracts a more universal eye), so, in the furtherance of her career, how she deals with this is always going to be an issue. The main thing is that she deals with it on her own terms – that if there’s any manipulating to be done it’s by her, and not to her. She needs to be the mistress of her own myth, for this whole scrutiny is only going to get bigger and bigger, and the bigger it gets the more under the microscope she becomes. Nina is destined for DJ superstardom, if she really wants it – to put it in marketing terms, she’s the complete package.
I should tell you, at this point, that I’ve followed Nina’s emergence with particular interest. Back in 2007 I issued her first single, when she was still a member of the Moscow-based dance act MySpaceRocket, on my short-lived B77 label (the only other B77 release being Sugardaddy’s ‘Hypnotise’, before the distribution company, Goya, unfortunately went belly up).
I’d met Nina in October 2006 when she was one of the participants who’d landed a place on the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne. She’d attended my lecture (which you can see here: http://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/lectures/greg-wilson–credit-to-the-edit), and immediately afterwards came over to talk to me. We spoke about New York Disco / Dance culture of the 70’s and early 80’s, and it was clear that this was someone who wasn’t just interested in making a career for herself as a DJ, but also immersing herself in the history surrounding it. She told me she’d originally moved to Moscow to study dentistry, but her heart was set on making the grade as a DJ and producer, specialising in House and Techno.
She played me a track she’d recorded with MySpaceRocket called ‘Amok’, and its brooding atmospherics, topped off by her sultry spoken word delivery, really caught my attention. This wasn’t the usual dance fare, but something refreshingly different that ticked all the boxes for inclusion on the new label I had in mind, which I’d wanted to span the dance spectrum, rather than confine itself to a narrow area. With Nina keen to collaborate, I suggested a 12” with the original version on one side and my own, which I put together from the stems, on the other. To tie-in with this piece I’ve just uploaded my version of ‘Amok’ onto SoundCloud:
Further to this, whilst at home working on the track with the TV on, but turned down, I made the serendipitous discovery that the original of ‘Amok’ fitted hand in glove with the visuals from Norman McLaren’s groundbreaking ‘Pas De Deux’, an animation enhanced ballet from 1968, which had won numerous awards at the time, and picked up an Oscar nomination in the process. Combining these 2 elements as an audio / visual mash-up under the title of ‘Pas D’Amok’, a limited data disc, which also included both versions issued on the 12”, was put together for promotional purposes. Even though there was just over a minute’s difference in length between ‘Pas De Deux’ and ‘Amok’, there was a natural visual resolution as the audio concluded. You can watch it here:
Having left MySpaceRocket, Nina went solo, finding the perfect fit with the independent UK based label Rekids, which had been formed by Matt Edwards (aka Radio Slave) and James Masters. Matt had also delivered a lecture of his own at the Melbourne Red Bull Academy. Nina’s Rekids debut in 2009 was ‘Pain In The Ass’, which was coupled on 12” with the x-rated ‘I’m Gonna Get You’, serving to crystalize her image as the femme fatale of the electronic dance world. She’s also issued material on a variety of other labels, and her first album, the self-titled ‘Nina Kraviz’, was released on Rekids last year.
In 2011 I was contacted by a European management company who handle some high-profile DJ’s. They were interested in adding Nina to their roster and emailed me asking for my thoughts, given that I’d previously worked with her. I replied as follows: “I think she could be huge. On a personal level, I just didn’t have the time to get really involved, although I completely understood her potential and had I been looking to manage someone she’d have been the perfect candidate. She’s smart, she knows her music and, quite obviously, she’s a marketing dream. I saw a YouTube clip of one of her tracks recently, which had a significant number of views (in the tens of thousands rather than the thousands) – it seemed to me that she’s really beginning to hit her stride, and I’d totally recommend that you sign her up, if that’s what you have in mind. The other person, apart from Nina, that made a big impression on me at the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne was Aloe Blacc, and just look how things have panned out for him”.
Since that time her stock has risen considerably, and she’s begun to acquire friends and supporters in high places, blogging for Hugo Boss (for whom she is now the face of their Deep Red fragrance campaign), whilst receiving the ‘Johnny Depp’ seal of approval when one of her tracks, ‘Taxi Talk’ was in a Beatport chart attributed to him last year. Nina is in great demand as a DJ, booked up for months in advance playing at clubs and events worldwide – between now and June she’s appearing in Germany, Japan, Australia, France, Ibiza, the UK and the US. Her online Boiler Room appearances have been watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Here’s the most recent, from Berlin last February:
The Resident Advisor short will only enhance her status, the controversy surrounding it feeding into the growing Kraviz mythology, both personally orchestrated and organic, which now accompanies her career. She’s been dealt the exotic role of Siberian temptress, and, even though she might not have asked for it, how she plays it from here is crucial to her ambitions. She knows this better than anyone, which is why I’m confident she’ll find the right balance between the illusion and the reality. With all that’s happened in the past year, since her album was released, and with her fan base ever-growing at a rate of knots, the ante has been significantly upped in recent months.
Nina’s femininity is both her passport to fame and fortune and the stick with which she’ll be beaten. It’s clear from the Resident Advisor comments that she polarises opinion, but this is generally the case when anybody that’s a little bit different comes along and refuses to play by the established rules, resisting the pigeonholing that someone with a weaker will might yield to. I trust she’ll box clever, as she generally has so far – her desire to be regarded first and foremost as a DJ and producer to be reckoned with helping her avoid the pitfalls that she’ll continually encounter. There’s a price to be paid for desire – some can be cursed to be just too good looking. This she must both endure and explore.
Some will never give her credit, to them she’ll always be up behind the decks on false pretences, not because she’s a skilled DJ, but because she’s a pretty face. Others will tell her ‘if you say you want to be taken seriously don’t feed into the stereotypes’. They’ll wonder why she could have been so gullible as to let the big bad Resident Advisor talk her into bikini and bath. They’d no doubt like to wrap a worldly wise arm around her and keep her safe from harm, safe from herself, but I think it’s a serious misjudgement to assume that she’s some poor little lamb lost in the woods who doesn’t know what she’s doing, all naïve and ripe for exploitation.
Nina’s making her own statement, and regardless of whether or not you might agree with her, or even like the music she records and plays, she’s saying something – she’s causing a reaction and sparking debate. I find it refreshing that she often doesn’t do what people expect her to – in an ever more conformist world it’s reassuring to see anyone out there with maverick tendencies. I’m not saying that she doesn’t or won’t make errors of judgement, mistakes are a part of the journey, but remember, this is no wilting flower we’re talking about here, she’s big enough and ugly enough to take care of herself.
Lead Image by Valentin Chalandon: https://www.facebook.com/ValentinChalandonPhotographie
Black & White image by by Sebastien Cuvelier: www.sebweb.org
Nina Kraviz Resident Advisor Page:
*(added on 10.04.13) reflections on a whirlwind 48 hours in which the story went viral throughout the club community and beyond: http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2013/04/nina-kraviz-bubblebathgate/