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Ninajirachi invites us into her vision of 'Lapland'

15 February 2019 | 11:23 am | Caitlin Medcalf

I remember the very first time I met Central Coast based artist Nina Wilson AKA NINAJIRACHI. I was hosting a show on FBi RadioPretty Broad, which was a weekly show spotlighting female and gender non-conforming artists  in electronic music. Nina was one of the first guests I had on the show, and it happened to be her first radio interview too.

It was early 2017, and she'd just put out her debut single 'Pure Luck' with her friend Freya Staer, which at the time of writing this, now sits at over 4.5 million streams on Spotify and over 4.7 million views on YouTube. We talked about what it was like balancing high school with her music career and discovering the music of Madeon and Porter Robinson.

Whilst looking back on this archived bit of radio, in an interesting twist of fate, I noticed that this interview took place exactly two years ago to the day. February 15, 2017. And on February 15, 2019, Nina's shared her first long form body of work with the world, an EP titled Lapland.

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Nina and I met up a couple of days ago to chat about her music career and her feelings surrounding the EP's imminent release. I feel lucky to have witnessed Nina's career grow over a number of years, so chatting with her about the release and her career seemed fitting.

At just 19 years of age, her debut EP has this glossy sheen about it that you'd expect to only come through with years of experience under her belt, but that's just it - she's already been producing for the better part of ten years.

"When I was around 8 or 9, I started producing. I loved The Veronicas and I had all of their CD’s. I’d go into their lyric booklets and look at the verse, chorus, stuff like that. I’d do that over Garageband loops and I’d make out a structure," she explained. "I started taking it further in year 7 because that’s when I started finding my own taste, music that wasn’t either my parents music or what was on the radio. That’s when I found Porter Robinson and Madeon and all of those artists that I loved. I think I just got really excited by it because I couldn’t tell what the instruments were and I wanted to figure out how to do that myself."

And it was then on Nina's 14th birthday that she was gifted a copy of FL Studio. Watching YouTube tutorials to get around the confusing nature of the interface aided in her transition from simple studio tools to something entirely professional. "I'd rip acapellas off YouTube and make remixes. I didn’t know anything about the music business whatsoever, I was like 13. I didn’t care."

At this point, she began putting her tracks up on Soundcloud. Not to show off, but to be able to share what she'd created more easily with her friends. She also used it as a way of being able to send her music to artists that she liked, Tweeting her songs out in the hopes of getting some feedback. When asked if there were any particular replies that stood out to her, she said there were three major ones that still stick with her from around 2014. "One time, Alison Wonderland said “sounding sick”. I tweeted her like ten times [laughs]. Another time, Peking Duk said it sounded good. And Anna Lunoe sent me a long message on Soundcloud. She was like “keep making music, this is so good” I have a screenshot of it somewhere, but she was so nice."

It was then in early 2016 that she put up her first track on triple j Unearthed. It was a collaboration with her friend Ben Hawthorne AKA Sequel which in 2019, now sits remastered as track six on the EP, 'Glass'. The single's release saw her become a finalist in Unearthed High for that year, kicking everything off for her.

Up until this point, she'd only ever worked on music by herself, learning and connecting with others through the internet as the Central Coast is so far separated from Sydney. Of her ability to connect with others online, she said "I'm really grateful for that internet community because I didn’t have people in real life. Even now, I only know a couple of people on the coast who make music and barely any who are interested in the same music as me."

At the time she met and began to create music with Sequel, she was only 15 so coming down to Sydney alone and regularly wasn't really an option. When asked whether she thought her age and location was limiting to her as a creative she said "I didn’t even know what that music was. As I got older and I started playing shows, I realised "Oh, this is what it’s about. This is where I need to be"."

And as she continued to hone her craft, she'd continue sharing her sounds with friends, even finding opportunities to play out her songs at parties. "Before ['Pure Luck'], I had this future-bass track that I had on Soundcloud before I was releasing music. This was in like year 10 or 11, and I played it at a house party and told everyone I made it and they were like “Woah!” [laughs]".

But her most memorable time playing her music out to a crowd was the first time she played 'Pure Luck'. She was DJing her year 12 school disco in 2017, describing it as "a bit of a meme, it was Star Wars themed." It was then at the very end of her set that she played ‘Pure Luck,’ and everyone sung along to it. "That was probably the first time I played my music out where people sung along, which was so nice."

2018 was a huge year of firsts for her. It was the first time she'd go into the year not having to be back at school as she graduated the year previously, and she described what she felt those first few months out of school, saying "I was so much more fit and eating better and happier than I was in year 12. You know when you’ve got heaps of necklaces tangled in a ball of metal and you’re pulling them all apart? I think that’s what last year was. Untangling stuff." 

It was also the first time she headed out on tour, traveling around the country with both Mallrat and Crooked Colours, as well as setting out on her own tour. She began her relationship with Nina Las Vegas and the team at NLV Records, and for the first time ever, she completed a long form body of work.

Nina's welcoming into the NLV Records seemed to be fate. Club music has a small but strong community here in Australia, and when the announcement came, I couldn't think of a better label to be putting out Nina's music. When asked about how the relationship came to be, she cites a time when her and NLV were doing sessions for their collaborative track 'Thursdays', which featured on NLV's Lucky Girl EP.  She said that "during one of those sessions about a year ago, I mentioned that I had an EP. And she wanted me to play it, so I showed it to her. She asked me what my plans were and I said “I don’t know, we're still kind of looking around” and she was like well cool, I can sign it if you want." 

And since the news of her signing to the label, there's been massive involvement in Nina's career from some of the other artists on the NLV Records roster too. Lewis Cancut mixed Lapland, while Nina supported Kota Banks on the Sydney leg of her east coast tour.

NLV has been integral in not only giving Nina a platform to share her music, but she's also been instrumental in helping her with curation and selection too. "Nina as A&R is so perfect because I just know that she will be honest and will tell me which tracks really are the best," she says. "I’ve just been sending her tracks and she’s been saying “I like this one”, “Danny - Swick - likes this one”. It’s so good to get feedback like that when you’re working on a project from someone whose taste you trust."

As someone who grew up geographically disconnected from those communities she longed for, she says it's been an energising experience for her being surrounded by like-minded creatives that believe in her vision. And it's out of these relationships, that Lapland as it is today was born.

I heard this quote about Nina's music once that still resonates with me - 'dance music made in an ice cave'. I can't think of a better way to describe the sound embodied in the EP, but it's crystallising, spacious and filled with this beautifully organised digital snow; a sonic ice cave.

The EP opens with the title track: a quiet, ambient number that slowly eventuates into a cascade of glitchy percussion and carefully placed polyrhythms. She says this one sat on the back burners for a little while, but it was when she was working on track two, 'Human', that she noticed that both tracks were the same tempo, so she transposed them and turned it into an introduction to 'Human'.

When asked if she tends to create in short bursts, or sitting down for a long period of time, she describes a feeling she had after realising the direction for 'Lapland', saying that "Something just came out of me. It just turned into this track. When something like that happens - it’s always felt like this - it’s like this phantom body and I’m just a vessel for it making my music. That sounds so cosmic woo woo, but when things come together so fast like that, I have to kind of step back and be like ‘woah I just made that in a day’. It really feels like something else is making it and I’m just the hands."

Track two, 'Human' brings back collaborator Freya Staer for her appearance on the EP. This was written in May, 2017 and actually began as a track Nina was producing for Freya. "I sort of went a bit crazy and I was just mucking around and I’d made this version that I really liked. I was going to ask her if she would mind me using the chords so that I could keep that drop and make my own version. And then I went a bit further and asked if she wanted to feature on the track." The two have been friends since they were kids, and have musically been working together for a long time, so Freya was happy for her to take the track for the EP.

Her single with Will Bradshaw AKA Oh Boy, features as track four, 'Gardenia Pt. II' on the EP, with a newly added intro, 'Gardenia Pt. I' as track three. The collaboration began as demos Will had, the track coming together in two or three sessions. 'Gardenia Pt. I' came about through Nina playing around and accidentally making an alternative version to the single that worked well as an intro.

'Pathetic' featuring Naah was the only collaboration on the EP to not happen in person, the two artists exchanging stems and ideas online. Track five is 'Glass' with Sequel, her Unearthed High track mentioned earlier. When asked about the new version of it, she said "it sounds so vintage to my ears, but hopefully other people can’t tell it’s a bit older."

Collaboration is obviously an integral part of Nina's identity as an artist. What she likes about collaborating is that it forces her to compromise. She explained, "With my own projects, I get really involved and I want everything my way. I just want to have my hands on everything. When I’m collaborating with someone, I have to step back and it can be nice to do that and just let go of the control and take ideas from someone else." For Nina, collaboration is about more than just creating. "I don’t generally enjoy collaborating unless it’s like a really crazy mutual exchange. For example with Will, Freya and Ben, I really had an exchange with them where I got a lot out of them and they got a lot out of me. We just had really productive sessions and a shared vision so it was really easy, but I don’t like collaborating that much unless it’s like that."

The EP has also given Nina the opportunity to put out songs that may not necessarily stand on their own as singles. Tracks one and seven - 'Lapland' and 'Voss' - seem to compliment each other, acting as bookends to the release. Choosing to end the EP on a solo track of hers feels like a huge full stop, and rounds out the EP in a wholistic, full-circle way.

She mentioned to me that track seven was originally going to be a previous single she'd released, her flip of Satellite Mode's 'Warm Fire Lightning', but felt like that choice would have been a bit for the sake of it. She then thought to use 'Thursdays' - her collaboration with NLV, but that ended up featuring on NLV's EP.

Wanting to keep the EP as seven tracks, as she felt it was a nice number, she had another phantom moment: "One day, that kind of thing happened where I pumped out this track in a day and that was ‘Voss’. I thought that this was so cool but maybe it’s too EDM for me to release. So I sort of left it on my computer. And then I started showing it to people and I showed it to NLV and she was like ‘You should put this on the EP’."

And 'Voss' was to be the final track, rounding out this icy journey through Nina's first long form body of work.

I asked how the experience was, having the opportunity to put together something more cohesive than a few singles here and there. She remarked "I really enjoyed doing a body of work. I’ve been intending to do an EP for so long. I thought I’d do one in 2016, I thought I’d do one in year 12 and then I thought I’d have this out last year, so it’s finally coming out." And commenting on the feeling of having the opportunity to make something longer, she said "I tried to make a lot of the tracks move into each other a little bit, and I enjoy doing that so much."

Upon first listen of Lapland all the way through, what becomes most apparent is the cohesiveness of the EP. It's not linear in the sense that the shape of the record moves up and down, taking you through ambient troughs all the way up to euphoric peaks. The EP starts at 105BPM, and slowly works its way up to 140BPM at the finish, ramping up the speed and intensity with each track.

With the EP out today and years of work behind her, from here on in, it's up. This marks a huge point in Nina's career, and although this moment is over ten years in the works, its the first time that the world is seeing something fully formed and truly realised from her. I asked what's next for her, and where she'd like to see herself heading. Without hesitation, she said she'd love to go overseas, quickly adding "I’d love to play shows, but if that’s not realistic even just to meet people and expand my worldview and write and stuff. I just want to do it all."

Before we parted ways, I asked about the origins of the EP's title. "About a year ago I did one of those ancestry DNA tests, because I’m white so I wanted to know where I’m from. So we did this spit test, and it was really surprising," she explains.

"Mum had barely any Dutch genes in her despite being Dutch, and my Dad’s side was all British and Scandinavian. Because I have such a high percentage of Scandinavian DNA, I was like cool, I’m going to go there. I started planning this hypothetical itinerary, and making a list of all of the places I want to go to. Lapland is the northern most region of Finland. It was around the time I was making all of these tracks. It was a working title at first, but it kind of stayed that for so long that I thought oh cool, that’s it."

Sitting at home writing this, I've just Googled Lapland and happened across the images page. Pure white snow, tiny villages and the Aurora Borealis dominate the search, becoming more picturesque as I scroll down. The beautifully melodic closing bars of 'Voss' chime quietly over a drone of quiet keys as I look down the page, and as the melody fades quietly into this blanket of sonic snow, the image of Lapland syncs humbly with Nina's vision.

Photo by Tiffany Williams