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Nina Kraviz
Fabric 91 Ben Cardew , November 25th, 2016 19:06

Dip your head into the age-old and increasingly wearing debate about vinyl versus MP3 and before long you will hear someone harping on about the “warmth” of vinyl, a kind of catch-all term that no one seems willing to define but most people agree is definitely a good thing. Leaving aside the annoying vagueness of “warmth” as a compliment, it is an argument that suggests that all and everything above 20°C is superior in musical terms, while coldness is to be avoided at all costs. And yet, as producers as diverse as Wiley or Biosphere have shown over the years, an icy wedge of coldness can go a long way in modern music.

Russian DJ and producer Nina Kraviz expertly harnesses the power of subzero electronics on Fabric 91, the first mix CD to be released by the London club since news of its reopening was announced in November. This is a mix that exudes frosted air up your nostrils and the tingling numbness of frozen ears, music that is made for wandering outside on a bracingly cold day or raving in an unheated warehouse when you should be doing a January detox.

That Kraviz was born in Siberia, coupled with the abundance of Russian producers on this mix, means that such a description could come across as a cliché. But whereas Kraviz’ earlier work - tracks like ‘Ghetto Kraviz' or ‘Pain In The Ass’ - had a steamy, Dance Mania-inspired dance-floor intensity, Fabric 91 sports an undeniable glacial charm, the product of icy synth melodies, granite-hard bass drums that thump like monoliths on the moon, distorted, whispering voices and the eerie metallic noise of bells scraping and clocks chiming, all wrapped up in sparse production layers that allow individual sounds to breath and delight. That the mix features tracks such as ‘First Snow In Harlem’ (by Frak) and ‘Iceberg’ (by Tim Taylor, Dan Zamani, Freddie Fresh and DJ Slip) suggests that the cold was at least somewhere on Kraviz’ mind when putting the track listing together.

Fabric 91 is, above all, a wonderfully atmospheric mix, one that flits between ambience (on tracks like ‘Tak’ by little-known Russian producer Species of Fishes), acid (Kraviz’ frostily psychedelic ‘Pochuvstvui’), IDM (The Detroit Escalator Co.’s moody ‘Fate (As A Chasm)’ or AFX’s brilliant SoundCloud escapee ‘Fork Rave’), straight-up techno (DJ Slip’s turbo-charged 1996 banger ‘Jill’s Meth’) and even proto-trance (the Air Liquide remix of Drax LTD II’s ‘Amphetamine’). The result is a kind of cold psychedelic intent that leans closer to the unsettling noise experiments of early Pink Floyd than the bells-and-whistles celebration of psychedelic trance.

The album is also supremely well put together. AFX aside, few obvious names feature; instead Kraviz pulls together tracks from sometimes overlooked producers like Woody McBride, Bedouin Ascent, Pete Namlook, Air Liquide and Thomas P Heckmann (most of whom did their best-known work in the mid 90s), which she pairs with unreleased material from her трип label, including songs by Bjarki, Nikita Zabelin, PTU, Biogen and Orange Juice Man in a way that suggests a global musical continuity stretching over the decades (in fact the mix features no current releases at all).

And while Fabric 91 may whisk you through 41 tracks in just 77 minutes, the album never comes across as overloaded, thanks to Kraviz’ DJ nous. She may use clever transitions at times to alter the emotional heft of tracks - as on her own ‘Pochuvstvui’, whose last two minutes play out to the burbling acid and old-school chords of Mike Henk’s ‘Dox-003 Untitled B1’, lifting the original track’s clinically sparseness - but Kraviz knows when to let tracks breath, so that you can, for example, enjoy the delightfully unsettling chord contortions of Nikita Zabelin’s ‘Confusion’ free from aural distraction.

In the days of unlimited DJ mixes on SoundCloud, commercial mix releases - even from a series as respected as Fabric - have their work cut out to inspire anything more than a weary shrug among the record-buying hordes. Frankly, not many do so. But Fabric 91 deserves to linger in the public consciousness: it feels like a statement, a carefully curated bridge between past and present that evokes atmosphere and emotion. Whether you’ll reach for it when summer comes is another matter. But right now, as November extends its chilly reaches, Fabric 91 sounds just about perfect.

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