“It was such an eye-opening, life-changing experience,” recalls Russian DJ, producer and singer Nina Kraviz, when asked about her time as a participant at the 2006 RBMA in Melbourne. As we chat with Kraviz, one of dance music’s biggest breakthrough names of the past decade, it becomes clear that her time with the RBMA proved transformative in more ways than one.
She first connected with Rekids label head Matt Edwards (alias Radio Slave) there. She also met one of her musical heroes, synth keyboardist Wally Badarou, as part of the Academy’s lecture series. Perhaps most significant of all, the RBMA family gave her the confidence to write her own music. “It only became clear to me some years later,” Kraviz explained on the line from a beach in Formentera, Spain, “but I knew as it was unfolding that I had to appreciate it, because it would never happen again.”
The most unexpected takeaway from Kraviz’s time at the RBMA is perhaps that it came frighteningly close to never happening at all – thanks to some American embassy personnel in Moscow. Upon hearing the news that she had been accepted for the 2005 Academy in Seattle, a beyond-elated Kraviz applied for a visa, and was eventually – unusually – denied. If you’re reading this, it’s because this RBMA fairy tale had a happy ending. Probably sensing just how bummed out Kraviz had been following this visa ordeal, the team invited her the following year to the Melbourne term. They even asked her to perform as part of the RBMA-curated stage at the Sónar festival – and at the beautiful MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), no less.
Fast-forward a decade, and Nina is now one of the most sought-after DJs on the global circuit (her exuberant energy tends to spill over from the DJ booth into the frenzied crowd) and an established producer and selector of jackin’ rhythms in her own right. She even launched her own label трип (rough English translation: “trip”) in 2014, and is now embarking on a very special North American tour with Bjarki, one of the two Icelandic techno troopers she signed to her imprint. Not bad for a young woman who once left a promising career as a certified dentist upon hearing the calling of Chicago house and Detroit techno.
1990s rave nostalgia
This fall, Kraviz and Bjarki (a трип-approved producer who cites Mistress Barbara among his formative influences) are adapting a series of intimate “cave raves” they’ve thrown in remote Icelandic locations over the past two years to the North American setting, throwing nine select parties in off-the-beaten-track spaces (Montreal included). And they’re tapping into their fascination with the 1990s rave scene for the occasion.
“For Bjarki and I, 1990s rave culture has always been a big inspiration,” says Kraviz. “Even though we were both pretty young when that scene was flourishing, I’ve always fantasized about how it was through reading books, and listening to all the soul, spirit and texture coming out of the house and techno tunes of that era.”
The concept, she explains, is to take parties beyond the oft-generic club spaces and run-of-the-mill festival stages where people tend to come into contact with electronic music. This explains why Mexico City patrons will be invited into a fortress, Montreal partygoers will be ushered into former Old Port warehouse Hangar 16, and Los Angeles tech-heads will be treated to a historic soirée in a former film studio. “We heard that in the early era of rave culture in L.A., people would go to film studios and pretend they were filming something in order to sidestep police. We thought it’d be great to try something out like this. Ultimately, we really wanted these venues to connect to the identity of each city.”
Since graduating from RBMA’s class of 2006, Kraviz has visited the Academy sessions multiple times, most notably in Toronto and Tokyo. And if there’s any piece of advice she could pass along to the latest crop of wide-eyed participants, it’s that they take full advantage of their time with other rhythmically inclined pupils. “The RBMA lets you figure out how much you have to say as an artist and whether you’re ready,” says Kraviz. "Also, I know at its core the RBMA is a branded thing, and that can make some people very suspicious at first, but it’s an absolutely amazing team of dedicated people who are passionate about music. I’ll just never forget it.”
Nina Kraviz and Bjarki perform at Montreal’s Hangar 16 (1 rue Quai de l’Horloge) on Saturday, October 29.
Photo credit: Paola Kudacki