If you’ve come to read about DJ sets because you’re sick of reading about Russia: Sorry.
But if we’re going to talk about dance music in 2017, Russia’s as unavoidable a topic as it is elsewhere. Maybe that’s no coincidence: With Putin having sold it to shady interests, Russia seems to have exactly the type of underworld infrastructure in which modern DJ-party culture, backed by big sponsorship money, might thrive.
Just this week, Electronic Beats ran a guide to “10 Musicians Leading Russia’s Techno Renaissance,” a list chosen by the raw, psychedelic techno duo PTU. They record for the aptly named трип (Trip), which Resident Advisor placed second on its 2016 best labels list. Trip is run by one of the most popular DJs in the world, Nina Kraviz.
Kraviz is one of techno’s sharpest selectors, and when she gives it her full attention, almost no one is better at building and milking and bursting dance-floor tension over an extended frame. Her May 12, 2005 set at Tokyo’s Dommune, one of my favorites that year, is two impeccable hours, the first a slow burn that builds and builds and builds, the second more full of peaks but no less meticulous in its construction.
Kraviz’s groove tends to be tough and weird (no complaint there) but she kicks off her 90-minute Live @ Galaxiid, Printworks, London (March 25, 2017) with something rather more diaphanous, not to mention classic. Opening with the “Dumb Child of Q Remix” of the Future Sound of London’s “Papua New Guinea” is more proof of how finely tuned Kraviz’s DJ brain is: A 1991 track built on shuffling breakbeats taken from Meat Beat Manifesto and ethereal vocals ganked from Dead Can Dance, it’s a statement of historical roots as deliberate as a rock band recently adding a Chuck Berry number. (Tamara Palmer’s history of “Papua New Guinea” also went up this week.) And the oft-lovely first half hour of the set flows neatly from it.
Kraviz’s best sets tend to be the live ones. Like a lot of DJs, she can pack a lot of tracks together—on last year’s Fabric 91, she crammed 41 tracks in under 80 minutes, and her Resident Advisor Podcast fit 32 into 61. But on sets like 2005 Tokyo Dommune or this Printworks one, Kraviz lets the tracks stretch out more, while keeping the transitions plenty dramatic.
For example, around the Printworks set’s 27-minute mark, we get a sudden bloom of sci-fi movie strings and a voice of authority from the 1975 dystopian cheapie Death Race 2000: “My children, whom I love so dearly, it has been my duty in the long and difficult years since the world crash of ’79 to serve you as best I could.” It sets up the harder, fiercer hour to come, full of banging 909 kicks and snarling acid galore, as surely as the FSOL classic did at the mix’s top. Either way, you’re in good hands.
Each week, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set -- often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily -- and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.