Nina Kraviz Collects Stories with Her трип Label
Nina Kraviz can’t stay still.
First she’s sitting cross-legged, then lounging back against the wall. Next she’s up and grabbing records from a bag, then opening her laptop to play me music and showing me a clip on her phone of her playing with horses in Iceland, providing playful reenactments of the scene. When she sits back down again, she relays in hushed tones a recent shamanistic conversation with the Reyjavik-based artist Exos. It’s not that Kraviz is frantic, rather that there is so much she wants to say and do that staying stagnant even for a moment would feel counterproductive.
Such seems to be the way of the Siberian-born artist, who has a home everywhere and nowhere all at once. “I’ve always lived life as a traveller,” she says. She is all wild hand gestures, regardless of tone. “I love to travel. I think that’s part of what has kept me going in this job — the constant touring can be really hard, so it’s lucky for me that I love travelling so much.” Her record label held a party in a cave in Iceland this past summer, and Kraviz is plotting the next set of events for Montreal, New York, Miami, Tokyo, and beyond. Naturally, it would seem, her label is called Трип, pronounced Trip – as in psychedelic trip, trip around the world, and yes, even an ego trip. “Of course, this label is very egotistical because everything that you see on the label is a reflection of my taste,” she explains matter-of-factly. “There’s nothing that appears on the label that I’m not 100% sure about.”
The label’s birth was the culmination of a number of ideas. Kraviz calls it “energies coming together”. The first, she explains, was a surreal dream she had one night in 2014. “I woke up in the middle of the night and when I rolled over, I saw an octopus. And it was turning around slowly in front of me,” she says, her voice a whisper. “And then suddenly, it devoured everyone and everything in sight!” Her hands clap together like a mouth; she does a little sound for effect. Slurp. “This octopus didn’t even realise that he had turned into a monster. The dream reminded me of my days studying biology, when I was learning about the first forms of life on earth. It was all about worms and simple forms of life.” She pauses. “It gave me this strange feeling about what this animal represents, like, you can’t count on anything in this life, you know? Everything flows and changes, even when you’re sitting still. No matter what you do, you’re changing something. I’m learning slowly to accept that.”
Around the same time as Трип’s formation, Kraviz was working on her contribution to the esteemed DJKicks mix series. “The idea around the DJ-Kicks mix was to capture my influences so there was some acid, some Detroit techno, some Icelandic dub,” she muses. “I included Nuclear Red Guard, by Exos, which was one of my first records. I also included Pop Song by Steve Stoll, Freak Electrique’s Parsec, things like that.” Inspired by the artists that appeared in her mix, Kraviz’s mind began to wander again. All those energies came together in a spark, a switch flipped and – like the octopus – the idea for Трип had materialised seemingly out of nowhere, devouring everything around it.
If Kraviz’s octopus was an all-consuming creature, Трип became the same. The label took down everything around it, becoming Kraviz’s main focus for the better part of the past two years. Since debuting the label with a conceptual album entitled The Deviant Octopus (what else?) in 2014, Трип has put out 10 releases, mostly gatefolded albums along with one 12 inch — a whopping 85 tracks in total. Kraviz herself appears on most of the releases, alongside up and coming musicians like Nikita Zabelin, Deniro, and Roma Zuckerman, as well as established artists like Bjarki (who is releasing exclusively on Трип), Biogen, Aphex Twin, Fred P, Steve Stoll and Terrence Dixon. The music ranges from darker ambient pieces, to IDM and acid, to lightning fast techno and everything in between. It’s an anomaly in that way.
Трип is working entirely without deadlines, without an overarching genre, without boundaries. “Трип is not a techno label — sure, it’s a techno label in the universal understanding of it,” she states quickly, probably in response to my raised eyebrows, “but for me, techno is a period of time; a cultural genre, a feeling, an attitude. It’s the whole vibe around the music, everything electronic, technology.” The hand gestures again. “It is an era.”
Instead of regimenting, Kraviz lets her artists (and herself) record freely, asserting that there’s no set way to make a techno track. “There’s absolutely no fucking way! That’s the point about being creative. You do things when you feel like doing it. When you go to the studio, it’s a result of natural creative momentum, it has no particular reason. It’s just something that evolved in a period of time. I like music that is almost a mistake, a coincidence. You plan something and you have an outcome that’s completely different, on the wrong side of the road. This is the most beautiful thing.”
"For me techno is a period of time, a cultural genre, a feeling and an attitude”
You might think that Трип’s releases would feel unfocused given the openness and freedom Kraviz affords her artists. Just the opposite, in fact. Somehow every record has a narrative, tied together not only by the story that sparks the album’s concept but also by the clever and often dark surrealist drawings by her resident designer, Tombo, a young fan turned artist from Portugal. In a way, the label and its releases blossom just how Kraviz had imagined they would: at the meeting point of sonic and visual storytelling.
“It has direction. It has a certain sound, it’s not random,” she insists, flipping through a stack of Трип records. “Every release tells a different story. Take this one, for example.” She smacks the sleeve of Arthur and Intergalactic Whales, a two-tracker from Трип cohort Bjarki released in 2015. “This is my favorite ever release in terms of artwork, and this entire thing started with Arthur Russell.” As Kraviz tells it, Russell’s track as Dinosaur L, Go Bang, was heavy on her rotation both at home and in her DJ sets. Serendipitously, some time last year, she listened to a track from Bjarki who, unbeknownst to Kraviz’s love of the original, had sampled a Deeon track, itself containing a sample of Go Bang. Kraviz wasted no time in releasing Bjarki’s distillation, I Wanna Go Bang. The sleeve, (like every record, in fact) comes inscribed with two lines: “I wanna see all my friends at once/ I’ll do anything to get the chance to go bang.”
Concepts and stories aside, perhaps if you had to refine the meaning of Трип into one distinct sentence, it would be that one. “That’s why I became a musician in the first place,” Kraviz explains, “I was always trying to find a place where no one could reach me but at the same time, where I could feel a part of something bigger.”
If you’ve listened to Kraviz’s 2009 single Pain in the Ass, you might know a bit about her childhood spent in Irkutsk, Siberia. “At school, in the streets, if I went out it was tough. It was a very intense time. But I always had my music. I find this comfort zone at home in my room listening to the radio. And so when I eventually got involved in the music industry, I was always dreaming about some multi-cultural, international organisation where the music would start with friendship and then grow from there,” Kraviz explains. “I wanted to create a playground where artists and musicians could feel at home and comfortable enough to share their ideas, connect with other people, and let their creativity flourish.”
Since the label works without deadlines or release schedules, Kraviz essentially gathers music without the artist knowing when or how the tunes will ever come to fruition on the label. It asks for a certain amount of trust from her artists, and Kraviz says she’s been shocked by the complete confidence that her peers have placed in Трип.
Trust has become the label’s most vital ingredient, particularly as Kraviz has, as she puts it, a very specific vision. “Sometimes people will show me music that is very perfect, but there is nothing that touches me. Everything here, every track I sign is honest. I could hear the person behind the track,” she says, pulling up Philipp Gorbachev’s Ivan, Come On, Unlock The Box, a Трип release from last year, as an example. The hook, in Gorbachev’s native Russian, is infectious, while the track’s raw, rough-around-the-edges quality adds a little charm to its darker, bleaker sound. “I heard this track and I loved the post-punk sound of it. I told Philipp I just needed this track, and then I did an edit using one little loop segment. We released it as part of a concept album in November last year.”
As Трип has been able to develop organically, when I ask her what her plans are for the label’s future, she’s unsure. Of course, she has a hope — in fact, she has a few of them. She wants to do another party in Iceland. She wants to start a sub-label. She wants to repress a Pete Namlook collaboration with a Russian band called New Composers. She wants to release more music from the Icelandic artist Biogen, who, like Namlook, passed away a few years ago. She wants to continue giving a platform to young musicians from her native Russia. She wants to keep putting out music that she hasn’t been able to find anywhere else in the electronic music scene. But, as plans go? “No, I just want to relax and enjoy it. I have no expectations,” she laughs. “I’m lucky that I’ve been able to present this musical vision. I would like to continue that tradition as long as it’s coming naturally. At the moment, I’m very inspired… But when that stops, I stop.”
Bjarki’s Æ LP is available now via Трип
Nina Kraviz appears at Dekmantel São Paulo, Brazil, 4-5 February 2017