Nina Kraviz backlash: no techno or something more sinister?

There has been extensive coverage of a facebook post written by Nina Kraviz this month, in which she defends her track choice during a closing DJ set in Melbourne. Playing to a crowd of 4,000 at the Smalltown open-air event alongside Bjarki and Marcel Dettman, Nina faced harsh criticism for the lack of “techno” in her set, with some going as far as asking for a refund.

The post and the backlash raises issues which are close to our heart at MOTZ: the art of techno and the influence of females in the industry. Most of the criticism launched at Nina was whether or not she delivered a true “techno” set, and according to some present at the event she offered “none.” Nina hit back, stating, “in fact all I played was pretty much techno at least in my own definition but much of a broader spectrum.”To placate any doubters, Nina prefixes this statement with an in-depth self-analysis of her set (always the sign of a good DJ), detailing the tracks she played, the mood of the crowd and descriptions of the picturesque views which verge on poetic. 

“…with the bay view in front of me, the sunset and strong cold wind blowing in my face took me into some other dimension.”

I am not going to subject you to a long-winded, academic debate hypothesising the definition of “techno”, because quite frankly in this instance it is a form of snobbery and a tool for repression that undermines all that is good about music. Nina herself admits that the set was slightly left-field and didn’t necessarily conform with the repetitive, fast-paced and monotonous 4×4 beat associated with techno. 

“Quite possibly they wanted 3 hours of long steady beat narrative and I offered something that didn’t match their expectations.”

Her set included many unreleased tracks such as Bjarki’s “Fresh Jive”, “I Want To Be a Stewardess” by Mira aka ISHOME or Shadowax, as well as older tracks such as a “Blood On My Hands” remix by Ricardo Villalobos and a favourite of mine (and Nina’s) DJ Slugo’s “Wouldn’t You Like To Be a Hoe”.

There is such a thing as artistic license, yet this seems to have bypassed the hawkish techno-nerds in attendance, more concerned with rigid classification than submitting themselves to the music. This type of censure is reductive and harmful as it undermines the artistry of DJs, demotes their skill to that of an entertainer and acts as a form of censorship. It is a mistake to think of sets as inanimate, pre-packaged objects where you get exactly what it says on the tin. Most DJs view their sets as an organic process, influenced by the setting, the crowd and the atmosphere. Nina’s post alludes to this when she talks feeling enough at ease to be unfiltered in her musical experimentation.

“This time I felt comfortable and a bit lose and only on these sort of occasions I feel confident enough to play 100% Acidiferous-“tank” at its original speed without a fear of being misunderstood.”

Let us also be cogniscent of the setting when delivering judgment. The location was a sunny beach in Australia during an afternoon-into-evening open-air event, not a dingy basement or the industrial halls of Berghain. Additionally, Nina was playing the closing set which always allows for more freedom and subjectivity in track selection.

The perturbing thought that protrudes amongst all the negativity is whether or not a man would have received the same treatment. Criticism, sure, but would a male DJ in the same position face such unyielding judgment that fans would go as far as to demand a refund? Take Ricardo Villalobos for example. Famous for his experimental sets, Ricardo is applauded for playing whatever he wants to hear rather than conforming to crowd expectations, earning the grandiose title of “the first true genius 21st century techno has ever produced” (according to Pitchfork magazine at least).

Last summer a video of Villalobos made the rounds on the internet which showed him with his back turned to the audience, mixing drinks, and flouncing around the DJ booth during his set at Cocoon in the Park. Villalobos was butchered by the media for his unprofessionalism, yet all in all his reputation remained unscathed. No one asked for a refund and it was chalked off as a one-time flop. No hate on Villalobos (everyone has a bad day), but as an exercise in comparison it is outrageous that both events elicited a similar level of vitriol despite the standard of both performances being worlds apart.

Nina’s acute self-awareness of her set’s trajectory is a testament to her dedication and professionalism, yet this wasn’t enough to placate angry fans. God knows what kind of outburst she would have received had she performed a set similar to Villalobos. Women are woefully under-represented in the ‘old boys club’ that is the underground music industry. In order to gain a foothold in the industry they are forced to work ten times harder, and are subjected to intense scrutiny that pressurises them to emulate their male counterparts. Due to women’s increased capacity for empathy, females DJs often break convention as their ability to connect with the crowds pushes them to play more obscure, off-the-wall tracks. Yet rather than celebrate Nina in all her glorious femininity, fans have chosen to keep her track-selection in check and stifle her spontaneity. 

Nina’s response was not a mere case of sour grapes nor is it the case that DJs should be immune from criticism, but to demand a refund is an extreme, unprecedented response and it is unlikely that a male DJ would face such condemnation. Had the critique been related to bad technique, sloppy transitions or an incoherent flow, asking for a refund may have been more understandable, but to mount such an aggressive response because a DJ did not comply with a rigid art form undermines the whole concept of artistry and artistic freedom. It would be absurd to go to an art gallery and criticise the artist for their failure to conform, yet that is exactly what has happened. Surely when we choose to see a particular techno DJ perform we anticipate a delivery which propounds their version of techno rather than a commercial or industry driven definition. However Nina’s “fans” have shown little interest in Nina herself but rather a blinding devotion to techno.

This obsession with pigeonholing DJs stunts them as artists and damages the industry by pushing DJs towards playing crowd-pleasing sets rather than allowing them the creative space to unleash their self-expression. If you don’t like it, fine, but to denounce a professional artist because their set is not strictly “techno” borders on insulting. Fair play to Nina, she managed to keep her cool throughout the post, lest a more strongly worded response resulting in her being labelled “emotional”, “narky” or “bitchy”. She did manage a sly dig by reminding fans of her considerate expertise and knowledge, saying: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but it definitely takes some time, experience and knowledge to form one.”

Personally having listed to her track-listing I wish I was there to witness Nina perform with her guard down, but given the response it is unlikely a performance like that will happen again.

The world of “techno” is worse for it.

Nina Kraviz backlash: no techno or something more sinister?

Eleanor Brooks

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