The festival's biggest female headliner brings no-nonsense techno to Hylands Park
It’s over thirty years since Cream launched at Nation in Liverpool. So the opening of the Nation tent on Saturday celebrates a symbiotic relationship that lasted until the final sendoff in 2015 – the venue then demolished in a familiar tale of regeneration. Together they ushered in the superclub era, which Cream’s logo came to define as much as spiky, gelled hair and fluffy boots. It propelled DJs into pop stars and tonight’s headliner bridges both this and an underground techno spirit that ran alongside it.
Siberian-born Nina Kraviz is a controversial figure. When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, she was dropped from various festivals for what were perceived as pro-Putin views – her online denial too opaque for many. As Creamfields’ biggest female headliner though, even if you take umbrage with the artist, there’s much to respect about the art. She’s a DJ pushing harder techno and electro, a producer who has appeared on labels such as Rekids and Underground Quality, a label boss whose трип imprint pushes singular talents and a vocalist now venturing into electro-pop on her newest Nina Kraviz Music venture.
Scheduled against Calvin Harris, tonight’s a hard sell. An industrial backdrop spins behind her as she takes to the stage and there’s no compromise as she launches into fast, cyclical, stripped-down techno. It’s still only evening, but under the dome of Nation facing a slinking, smoking figure backlit by warping, coruscating visuals, this is the closest Creamfields has felt to 5am – including the thinned out but committed crowd.
Ramping the intensity up, R&B-inflected techno leads into $LEAZY’s ‘Leave You In My Dust’, which is packed full of defiant, shoulder-wiggling attitude. Alex Wilcox’s ‘Response’ then goes full paint-stripper, pounding drums driving rough bursts of acid. Dancing on spongy, sandy floor strewn with the day’s debris, the atmosphere shifts from listed park to day two of a Berlin squat party. There’s no big final tune come the end, just a peace sign, a blown kiss and the house lights coming up like it’s morning, not 11pm.
In contrast to the sing-along anthems elsewhere, it’s a sound the 90s embraced as ‘faceless techno bollocks’, a term loaded with its then inherent masculinity. But with nearly two million Instagrams followers, there’s nothing faceless about Nina. There have been female techno stars before, like Miss Djax and Mistress Barbara. But few have had Nina’s reach. And love her or hate her, it’s a visibility that’s helped change the face of techno.