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Reflecting on a year of firsts with Nina Las Vegas

13 December 2016 | 6:20 pm | Caitlin Medcalf

You'd be hard pressed to find someone who works harder than Nina Las Vegas. If there's one thing that I learned from our chat together, it's that every project she throws herself at, no matter how big or small, she'll put 110% in. Without fail.

2016 has been a hectic year for Nina. After leaving her long-standing position with triple j's Mix Up, as well as continuing to make a name for herself for being one of Australia's most prominent selectors, she's taking a walk down a new path.

She's almost a year on from launching her label NLV Records which boasts a killer seven act roster. She released her debut EP 'EZY or Never' featuring acts like Swick, Snappy Jit and C.Z. too, which has gained love from artists, fans and DJs around the world.

Ahead of the NLV Records parties happening over the next couple of weeks, we had the chance to sit down and chat with Nina and speak about first times, empowering each other, transitioning from radio to artistry and more.

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This has been such a big year for you. A year of firsts, if anything. The first time you’ve released music under your own name, you left your first job as well, starting a label for the first time. I guess I wanted to ask, what have you learned from 2016?

NLV: Yeah, I guess pretty much it was a year of firsts. The one thing that I did find was patience, and how I had reached the end of my time at triple j and had mastered it in a way. Like I knew what to expect from a weekly radio show and how to get on a radio show and how to promote, but this year I’ve definitely been learning a bunch of new things which is exciting, like I’d hate to be in a position where I wasn’t continually learning, so yeah it has been a big year of taking big breaths and moving forward thinking about the bigger goal again and reminding myself of what my job was like at the start of my triple j career and how I definitely just pushed through all of that and everything kept growing. So yeah, the first year of NLV was been truly inspiring and great and hard and difficult, but I just feel like that it’s done - and I got word from like Chad and the guys from Future Classic - that the first year is the hardest. I started small, and I’ve kept it small, like even our parties are small because I don’t want to be greedy or think that it’s there yet. I just want to take my time with it and see it all grow organically. I’ve never been overnight at all. I’ve always been a hard worker, and slow and steady.

That leads into my next question. Was it organic moving from a radio position to a label head position?

I think not everyone wants to do it. Definitely, I think that there’s something pretty amazing about being in a position at triple j where you can listen to whatever music and see what works and what doesn’t, and I think that’s why a lot of people don’t want to do it because in radio you have to have an open mind and you don’t have to be too concerned about an artist’s journey, you can obviously care about them, but you can like one song and not like the next. There’s no commitment, that’s very broad, but in a label position, you’re committed to that person and their career and sound, and you have to trust them. And the outcome is often your passion as well, helps with that outcome. I did that with my radio show, I did that with my music, I did that with my concept. I like looking for the empty holes and I saw one in our club scene, and that was kind of more UK influenced, you know club music and worldly sounds, and that’s what NLV records is. And I think that’s cool and that was a natural progression for me, and that’s something I kind of put together because I did have the contacts and I do know a lot of artists and I do know what people like to play. I think it was very natural for me, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

For sure. I do radio as well at FBi, and I think it’s such a weird thing having to go from being objective to all of a sudden you’re subjective and you’re all about this one artist and you’re telling everyone about them because you’re so excited.

I think it’s something that takes a lot of guts too. I think the thing with radio is that radio is cool for some people, but not really cool for everyone, so it definitely doesn’t have to be the be all and end all. I knew that there’s so much else in the world going on that you don’t have to focus on one particular audience. I think that’s why that knowledge is important and why what I’m trying to do with the label is put out music for people who want to think a bit differently, who play out, who listen to Spotify. There’s a million ways for people to get music now as well. And I do think that even when I was putting together mixes and shows and stuff, I was finding it hard to feel my sets. Because I wasn’t really putting out music that I would want to play, you know? So that’s a really big part of why I did it.

You must feel like you have so much creative freedom, especially now that you’re getting into your songwriting.

Yeah! The songwriting, it’s been hard to find time. I’ve pretty much toured non-stop this year and a lot of that has been international travel which has taken a big toll. But this year, 2017, I’m definitely sitting back. I’m home for another couple of months now mostly, and I’m finishing my second EP which is pretty much just at the point where it’s ready for mixing. I’m also doing a big project that’s under wraps at the moment that will come out next year that I’m kind of focusing on. As the label’s growing, we’re realising that we don’t need to put out a release every few weeks. We can kind of hold tight and pace it and put it all out as one body of work and let it breathe for a while. You know that feeling?

Yeah, I guess this mustn’t be too new to you. I read somewhere that you have a background in audio engineering?

I did it at uni and that was how I got into radio. I was behind the scenes. I produced like the sound grabs and mixtapes and like everything on there. I was starting to want to record bands live, but that was just not really for me. Then I kind of got into the more studio side of radio production, you know like what you would hear between songs. Also my work with Logic and Ableton and I’d always been a producer, but when I was doing the radio stuff, it was a full time job. I would come home and be exhausted and wouldn’t necessarily want to spend hours on a song.

It sounds like although you’ve had some hard decisions to make over the last couple of years, you’re in a good spot now.

Yeah, I feel like we’ve really broken through, people are starting to take notice and every release is getting more and more attention. So it’s kind of like yeah, I’m around, and in five years time we’ll look around and we’ll think about the first year and we’ll be like, “Man, that was a breeze, and now I want to do more,” and people will know as fact that I have a record label, NLV records, rather than constantly discovering it. In the same way that Future Classic exists or Sweat It Out! exists, it’s a label that exists and pushes things and collectives and sounds and I think that’s going to happen organically. I’m excited for what’s going to happen over the next couple of years.

You’ve got seven acts on your roster with a couple of international acts too. How did your diverse roster come together for you?

I think they’re drawn together from my tastes. If you’ve seen something from my set, I’ve played all of those acts in it. I think that’s kind of like the mission statement I guess, that it is stuff that I like. And I think if you’ve seen me play, you’d understand why I’ve signed those acts, because it’s like busy, exciting club music. It’s bubbly, it’s kind of girly, it’s grimy at times. It’s cool loud, but it’s also great playing through headphones while walking to work. That’s how I chose those acts.

I wanted to ask a bit about your shows over in Japan with Sushi Records. How did those shows all come about?

I have a pretty cool Asian agent. She hooked me up with the Sushi Records guys, and we were supposed to put on two parties. However, when I got to Osaka, the club closed on that night. So I went, and there was a full room and I couldn’t play. I’m going back there in March. There’s a real cool underground movement happening in Japan. They call it future bass, like I wouldn’t say that I’m a future bass act, but the scene is growing and it’s really exciting times for everyone.

It’s so interesting how globally, particularly in the nightcore and PC music communities, there’s so much diversity, but at the same time the online presence is so big that it feels like one little space.

NLV: Yeah, definitely. And I definitely think that’s why I needed to kind of start the label, because I think there’s heaps of diverse stuff going on and I think that if we can brand it and put it together, then I think that’s how things grow.

I like to think that you’re a tastemaker. You curate a label, you curate your own sounds and even before now you were curating sounds on triple j. I think that artists like RL Grime have you to thank for being able to break out in Australia.

Even Sophie. I’m not saying that I found [her]*, but I definitely feel like I was one of the only people to play [her]* on national radio for a while. Now there’s a whole scene. It’s not just me, it’s just that I identify stuff and I play it. Like I don’t think I’ve ever claimed to know this stuff, I just go looking for it. One thing that I do miss about the triple j audience is being able to share stuff overseas. I still do BBC stuff and I have a show on RBMA radio once a month, so I’m still sharing stuff that I like. I just think that there’s so much stuff being shared that it’s kind of nice to change my focus a little bit and not have to feel like I’m responsible for it. I don’t feel like I have to showcase a million new acts all of the time, it’s more like, “Here’s the seven artists that I like right now,” and you can go and follow their journey.

It lets you be a little bit passive as well, so you can sit back and listen to what everyone else is doing and not have to feel the pressure. I wanted to ask about the feature NLV Records has on the site. WCW or Woman Crush Wednesday, it’s such a big thing for me because I think there’s such a whole in the industry for women in Australia. Why do you think it’s important to support other women in the industry?

I’m sick of seeing the articles that list reasons why there aren’t more or lists of people you should know, like just talk about stuff that’s happening now. I’ve got to thank Kritty/Kristy Barker who actually writes that stuff. It’s an idea we started when we started the website. The website’s cool because it has all of our sounds and our merch and everything, but I actually want NLV Records to just – until we sign a world of women which I can’t do right now because I just don’t have the money to sign anyone – I have to showcase what I know and it’s so easy to do it because there’s so many amazing women. People always say, “I always wonder if you’re going to run out of people to cover,” and I’m like, “No! Every five minutes there’s a new person starting.” The people that we feature don’t have to be DJs or producers. They don’t even have to be that like busy, they’re just people that we admire for doing stuff in their world and they just happen to be female. I’m really proud of it, we’ve done one a week since we started. It’s just so cool, like people go in and out of WCW’s, but we stuck to our guns.

I agree, I think there needs to be more spaces for it and I think it’s great that you guys are so prepared to be open about it.

Yeah and just being like, “This is what we love.”

It’s changing all the time too. There’s so many different women experimenting with so many different sounds. It’s definitely a growing scene in Australia, like women are starting to feel like they have spaces.

Yeah there’s definitely no shortage at all.

Do you have any advice to other women aspiring to work in the industry?

It doesn’t even have to be female specific, but you have to start small and you have to be persistent. Don’t be disheartened by things that don’t happen because sometimes they don’t happen because you’re not ready yet. I feel like a lot of people are constantly saying that things are overlooked for whatever reason that may look like misogyny, but I also think that it is a fucking tough game. So no matter if you’re male or female, you have to be able to take feedback and move on and learn. I think that’s the best thing, be part of the community and support others. I just want to see more women going to each other’s shows and sharing their music and doing that stuff, that’s how the real change happens. Communities happen and scenes happen because of fans. If you can be a fan as well as an artist, that’s how you know that it’s going to work. That’s why I love going to other people’s shows. I love showing up, like I went to the Flume exhibition last night and I thought “This is sick how much you guys have done,” and in return, they might come to my NLV parties. I think that’s how movements and change happen, there’s power in numbers.

And it’s the opportunity for exposure too.

Yeah, you just have to stay strong. If you tell people five things in a row to get your point across, you just have to be a strong person and confidence is a big part of that too. If you want to start, put in the hard yards and then you can scream.

I wanted to ask – how was it working with Snappy Jit? That’s a huge collab, particularly in the scene with the kind of music that you’re making.

I had a drum pattern that I’d been working on for a while and then when me and Swick were in LA, it just wasn’t sounding cool. It came to me that it was just a bit boring and it just didn’t do anything and I’d never really thought about a collab. I just emailed them, and I was like “Hey, I like your stuff”. This was about a year ago now – no, last June. So I had emailed them and was like “I’ve been playing your stuff” and they knew that I’d been playing their stuff a lot, and I was like “Would you do this?” and they said yes. Within like a day, they had sent back a whole bunch of lines, and the one that stuck out was like “She’s contagious” because they were kind of like “Wait, what’s my sound? What does a club sound like?” I wanted it to be powerful. They sent through a bunch of ones like “Ooh that booty” and I was like “I don’t want that stuff, I want stuff that’s tough, like ‘she’s so sick with it’.” I kind of chopped up the vocals, put them in the spots and then they went back and did it again. It was all over the internet. They were just such pros as well, they gave me really good files and it sounds so dumb, but like it made it a dream. It’s my favourite song to play out now, it’s probably the biggest club track that isn’t big, but for some reason it is. You go to America and ‘Contagious’ is played in so many people’s sets, and I’m like “Hey, I made one of those club song that people really want to play”. A million kicks and a simple idea, it’s a win win formula.

You mentioned before that you guys are having some label parties over the next few weeks. Are you excited?

Yeah! They’re pretty much like our way of celebrating. It’s exciting and col that we can do this. I’m stoked for them. I’m really excited that we’re doing this and I’m super keen to see everyone play together. The Melbourne and Sydney ones are going to be mad, the Brisbane one too. I’m pretty excited that we’ve got the spaces and on top of that we’re able to just share the music that we put out digitally. It sounds so simple but it’s so cool. The whole thing is so that you can hear what we do, not just hearing it all online.

It’s an experience, not just listening to music at home. What’s next for Nina Las Vegas?

I’m finishing my EP now which will be out next year. I’m doing Holy Ship and a few little things here in Summer. To be honest I just want to write really good songs, and just pace myself while looking after the label. I’ve got some pretty poppy stuff that’s in the works that sounds like stuff that you used to hear, so I’m really excited about that. I got a bit inspired by other women in the scene, so there’s a bit of a girl focus on the next EP which I’m a little bit excited about.

*Pronouns have been changed to reflect the artist's identity

NLV Records Parties


Friday, December 16


Grab tix here


Saturday, December 17

The Chippo Hotel

Grab tix here

Photo: Michelle Tran