Nina Las Vegas was having a good day. It was the Boxing Day of her reunion with her earlier project, Hoops. She was at Splendour preparing for a solo set that night. Her EP, Lucky Girl, had dropped. I caught her in a rare moment of self-reflection. The kind of self-reflection that creatives deem a luxury and bury under eternal hard-work.
In 2015, she left Triple J to pursue her label, NLV Records. Three years down the track, her roster boasts one of the most diverse and prolific rosters in the alternative club music scene: Kota Banks, UNIIQU3, Swick, Air Max ’97, Lewis Cancut, Strict Face, Hi Tom.
But what is it about Nina Las Vegas – the girl from inland New South Wales who has gone to consolidate some of Australia’s best? Her will to create a community, make great music, and champion Australian music is unprecedented.
She gives the feeling that underneath her high energy exterior is a woman not to be fucked with. Afterall, why do things by halves when you can be Nina Las Vegas.
Hello! First up, 2018 has been a massive year for you. How are you doing?
Right now, I’m constantly tired but I feel good today! My EP is out, I’m with my friends at Splendour, all my teams here it’s just really nice today. It’s one of those days where you take a moment and sit back and go ‘wow it actually does feel good and it pays off.’ I know it sounds really cliché, but you don’t often get these moments.
You played your first Boiler Room set this year – can you describe what that felt like?
Boiler Room is definitely one of those bucket list things. I’ve always been in the realms of people that have done them. It’s exactly how I like to play, clubby and fun and melodic but not quite housey and techno which is often likened to Boiler Room. It was a real honour. I went in and just had a lot of fun, which I think you can see. Obviously, it was a really intense set – it was pouring rain and everyone was banging right in my space. Being a club DJ, it felt really cool to me.
I know you were at Triple J for quite a while, how did you find the transition from radio to owning your own label?
I mean, pretty hard not going to lie. It definitely changes, even for logistical reasons. I was at a radio that has existed for 45 years. It had an established audience, there were regular time slots, specific tasks and duties to fulfil. You had a role and knew where your place was. With the label, you have to start fresh and build your own communities. Instead of being the broadcaster, now you’re asking them to play your music and buy your stuff. In saying that, I have a really supportive team. I work with a company called Unified that help fund the label as well as provide structure. Music changes all the time and you have to grow with your work. When I started, it was all about radio play, certain playlists, and DJs playing certain tracks. Now it’s all about Spotify and streams. Creative industries are watching out for what’s next and going with the flow. You have to manage expectations, remain true to yourself, believe in what you do, and become the best advocate for your work. Your label is part of your brand. The exciting thing is that you’ll work on your music all the time but the more energy you put into it, the better it will do. It’s intense, but it’s also really rewarding. We found Kota Banks and now [the label] is feeling more like a comradery and a sound. It’s where I want it to be. Obviously, I always want more, and I want it to be the biggest independent alternative club label in the world but we have room to grow and it’ll take time.
The artists you have on your label are some of the most prolific artists in the scene both nationally and internationally. How do you choose the artists you want on your label? Do you have a process?
It’s all pretty organic. I don’t really listen to demos. If I hear something I love, I’ll reach out and ask if they have any more music. Being an independent artist and doing it yourself is more common than signing with a major. Let’s be honest, you do the hard work and you’re handing your music over to someone. I try to develop relationships with people and see what they want out of it. I really admire UNIIQU3. She’s a woman of colour, who’s dominant and amazing. For me, I need her to go well and to be heard. I want to be known as a label that pushes diversity. It’s tough because we’re all friends and some of my feedback won’t be about music. A lot of it is about ‘how will I make the passion that I have for that person translatable?’ Kota’s a bit different. She came to us in a writing session and I built a relationship with her from that. She bridges a huge gap in Australian music. There’s great pop and great dance music but there isn’t a balance of both in one project. With her, I pointed out some things I’ve seen in the industry. Rather than working with 50 different people, let’s develop her sound with one person. You have to believe in what you do the most and then your team should follow. Whether that be your manager, agent or label.
I understand that. Trying to inspire a team is really difficult.
It’s so easy to make dance music now. What’s hard is developing a community and a sound. When people go on NLV they know what they’re going to get. It’s going to be a quality track and artist and someone different. It’s going to be someone who is not okay with doing what everyone wants. You can make money and paint by numbers. It’s all algorithms. But it doesn’t last forever to do it that way.
Congratulations on your EP today, Lucky Girl!
It’s bonkers, isn’t it! I only shared one song and haven’t really been teasing it. I feel like people have been like ‘Woah!’ I made Vera and Ecca sound warped. I don’t think they’ve ever been on songs like that.
Individually Vera Blue and Ecca Vandel have very different sounds but you somehow made them cohesive.
You have to thank Swick for that. He was on that track with me and helped me mix it. The version I had was a lot thicker with lots of sounds happening. He stripped it back and made it pop. Vera and I have become good friends – she’s so lovely and positive and deserves everything she gets. It’s hard to find truly wonderful women like that. Likewise, Ecca’s on a roll right now. I’ve always admired her. She’s been touring in the UK for so long that I had to beg her over the phone to be on Lucky Girl. I’m so glad that we did that because now we have this truly fire anthem together.
It’s a strong EP too. As I was listening to it, I was like ‘Ok, sure… this is good!’ Then I got to Thursdays and I was blown away. That flute is nuts.
I’m owning it as a song. I know it’s crazy, but I love it as a little dirty club song. [Ninajirachi] is a little genius! She is thirteen years younger than me and we had a session. At the end of the day, I was like ‘Oh my god. You’re going to be a star.’ She’s been working out her sound. It’s actually funny because when I’ve been with these women, they’ve been working alongside me. Vera is actually learning Ableton right now. I keep telling them, ‘You guys have to have more power in your writing sessions.’ That’s the thing with Nina, she’s great because she’s confident in what she likes. I wanted a fast song and she loves fast tracks, but she doesn’t make them. I was like ‘Let’s stick with this beat.’ I explained that it sounds like all these old songs that I was inspired by. I feel like we all learnt from each other and it was a really nice experience. I’m so glad it’s the last track on the record.
How was your reunion with Hoops at Splendour?
It was so amazing. It’s a really powerful set playing with those guys. Anna actually wasn’t there which is sad, but she played in spirit. It was just me and Ezzy playing fucking bangers from Bloghouse and Sean Paul, and then we had Miss Blanks and Madame X. It was a blast.
Do you have any good luck charms?
I have the same necklace that I’ve worn for years. I wear my Grandmother’s cross, I wear my boyfriend’s Italian chilli and a pendant that I got from my Aunt in Egypt. If you see promo shots with me, it’s in every photo.
This year you’ve played your first Boiler Room set, reunited with Hoops, released an EP, and continued to grow your label among other things. Tell me, what’s next for Nina Las Vegas?
I’m going to be doing a lot more European stuff. Next phase is overseas and more records. I want Kota to blow up, I want Swick to blow up. We’ve got stuff from all the guys coming out: mixtapes, Club EPs. I’m just making sure I don’t slow down.
Nina Las Vegas’ EP Lucky Girl is out now via NLV Records. Buy/ stream here.