A Conversation With Nina Las Vegas: “I’m not going to shut up until it changes.”

I really enjoy interviews in general, but sometimes I get to interview people I really admire, and that’s what makes it all worth it. Earlier this week I have the absolutely privilege of chatting with leading lady Nina Las Vegas ahead of her NLV Presents tour which kicked off in Melbourne on Friday, August 21. Packing more than a few punches with Djemba DjembaMonki and Mssingno all on board, she has once again pulled a killer lineup to bring to our shores with her seal of approval.

Having been at the helm of Australian dance music for a really long time, Nina has seen it all. She has got herself to a stage where she can say what she wants, and people not only listen to her, but they really hear it and understand. Whether she’s championing women in music, showcasing homegrown talent, pushing live music, being one of the best selectors and DJs going or even making her own music; it’s safe to say whatever she’s doing, she’s going to kill it.

Tickets are scarce for her tour but if you can get your hands on the remaining few, thank us later. It must not be easy to be Nina, but – as someone who is a direct product of her influence by just doing what I love for the love of it – I can speak for more than a few people when I say I’m glad she is who she is.

Hey Nina, how’s it going! Where are you?

I’m in Alice Springs right now. I was doing a Northern Territory run of shows but I’ve also been doing music workshops. Today I was in a community called Santa Theresa, which is about an hour from Alice. I’ve just got home and I’m covered in dust!

Tell me about these workshops – is it just a one day thing?

It’s one day, but I’m going back with Heaps Decent in December. It was a meet up to say hi to everyone. I work with the girls because in the Territory, Aboriginal communities have different rules for males and females like if you’re a girl in a band or you make music, you have to perform with your family members who are men. So that’s why it’s really important they get workshops with women. I did a bunch of work with Music NT this week, which is why I came up. I did a show in Darwin and a show in Alice Springs and then two days of workshops.

That’s so awesome! I find in smaller communities and towns, the appreciation is so much more because they don’t get it as much. Did you find that? 

Well it was different. In Alice, the workshops were with the Desert Divas, so these are the girls that have a connection with music like they’ve performed already or they write music or they DJ. They’re young women in the community that use Music NT as a resource. Whereas the girls in Santa Theresa are school girls so they’re shy, and there’s a lot of shame and it takes a while to get stuff out. But we did some cool beats, and it was definitely fun! Basically, there are some amazing people that work out in those communities. These are Aboriginal communities so, you know, everyone lives in a small community and they love bush bands and reggae. It’s really cool!

That is so cool!

Yeah, well it’s kind of like the stuff I did before I worked at triple J, so I really wanted to get back into it.

Well I imagine it would have been slightly different to the US tour that you’ve also just wrapped us as well – how was that for you? 

Oh my god, it was crazy! I haven’t stopped. I got back from LA last Tuesday, went back to work for three days then flew to Darwin on Friday. Then I go home for two days, then go to Melbourne to start the tour! America was amazing. It’s really cool because it’s like I’m starting fresh there and people know me and they’re getting to know a bit more, but it’s just so exciting because I’m playing to kids who have never seen me play before and it feels like I’m beginning again. it feels really cool. The shows got bigger and bigger too. I was there for five weeks and by the end of the tour it was HARDfest so it was huge.

They’re so much more active over there. American audiences are really active on social media so you can play a show and the next day you get 20-30 people tweeting you or tagging you on Instagram saying how much fun they had, whereas in Australia – we’re online but we’re not as active. You might come up to me after a show and be like, “Yeah that was sick!” But in America, they take a photo, they’re like “What’s your Soundcloud? What’s your Instagram? What’s everything?” My social media grew by thousands in like four weeks.

Twitter especially is such a thing over there! It just isn’t really a thing here. Like it is but it isn’t?

Nah, not at all. Not at all. But it was super cool. The shows were amazing. Here in Australia, people know me for triple J, but also pushing the Flume and the What So Not stuff, so when I play outside the NLV Presents, when I play a regional show here I kind of have to play the triple J stuff. not that I have to, but it’s just what people know. But in America, it’s really weird because I’ve got this reputation over there of someone who plays weird club music, so I get to play the weirdest stuff! It’s so cool!

A lot more freedom in your sets over there, then?

It’s just different. I’m playing a bit less in Australia now, so when I play people know what I’m going to do. My Mix Up show gets me to put different stuff in, so I can play weird Japanese tracks in the sets now. I couldn’t do that on House Party, but now people are starting to see that different side. In America, that’s all they know. They know me as that girl that Skrillex likes that plays weird songs. In Australia, I’m part of the whole dance scene, I’m not just in the alternative one.

It’s interesting because the US just continues to love Australia! We’re huge over there!

Yeah, but the other thing is it puts it into perspective over there. I was there when Peking Duk and Carmada and all the boys were – we all played the same festival. It’s just it’s a size thing. We’re a smaller community; we might think we’re big but we’re actually not. Smaller things happen because you can see it happen because there’s less of us. In America, it’s easy for them now with the internet to see who pops off because it’s quicker. Whereas, there are HEAPS of people in America, they’re looking at a million of them but we don’t hear about them. I can go to a club show in LA and not know anyone who’s playing, but in LA everyone knows who they are. So LA is a little bit like Australia, if that makes sense. Does that make sense? It’s a perception thing. They’re loving us hard, because we’re easy to spot. We stand out. The scene is still so big. We can think like, “Oh, Peking Duk are killing it!” Yeah, they are – but we’re all working really hard to get to that stage too. Everyone’s putting in the hours.

Well that’s what pays off in the end!

Yeah! And Australians are hard workers. I think there’s a mentality with Americans as well, because it’s in the blood of Americans to want to be a star. They started pop stars first, so a lot of musicians know it’s possible where here we’re fresh to it. We’re like, “Oh, cool! That happened! We can do it!” It’s a nice energy.

We’re also optimistic as well.

That’s what Americans love about us too, we don’t over think it – we just do it.

Now, obviously the NLV Presents tour kicks off this week, and once again you have brought a KILLER lineup!

Oh, you like it?!

Dude, anything with Djemba Djemba on it is good by me. 

I know, I think it’s going to be really wild.

How do you choose your acts? What do you consider when you’re putting all this together? 

Well my first consideration is, because a lot of festivals don’t do it, I look at women. I say, “Okay, which girls do I want to have out?” Initially it was going to be something where I focus more on women. Last year we had the three girls, myself included, and the two guys. This year it’s two girls, two guys, and that’s my first priority. It’s like, “Actually, do you know what? I’m female, I’m in EDM, I want to promote more women!” Monki was the first person I selected. I love what she does. She plays really cool grime stuff, she plays really cool house stuff. She is just on fire right now. I wanted her out here. Then I think about it being international, so I try to shake up the different scenes. Djemba was someone that I just started hanging with in March and like obviously all the stuff he did with Alison Wonderland and some others, he wanted to come back. It was a timing thing, it just worked out like that. Same with Mssingno, who I love and has a bit of a cooler, unknown quality, but the people who see him will love him. His tracks are dark and moody and bassy. He got the best track on Fact Mag in 2013, like he’s just starting. You’ll see him, you might not know anything about him but I know for a fact in three years time he’ll be the Cashmere Cat. He’ll be the RL Grime.

Sounds unreal! How important is it for you to be able to use your platform to showcase these artists in such a way? 

That’s why I do it! I’m so lucky to have that platform and I guess festivals and things have to get the acts that sell because of tickets and stuff. But that’s not who I am. I put everyone on first. I put Flume on first, I put What So Not on first. The best thing about this stuff is if something crazy happens with these guys, I’m going to feel great that a whole bunch of people in Australia got to see them early. You know when RL Grime first came out, no one went to the Sydney show. Now look. That kind of stuff happens. It’s not that you need to know about it, but I travel and I get to see cool people all the time. A lot of people don’t get to see all these different people, so if I can bring different sounds – not just the trap/EDM vibe that is so much in the club right now, still – then I’m down.

Well, I’m going to get a bit fangirly here now but that’s one of the things that I really admire about you so much. You use your reach for so much good and you really help people. Especially women in music, and I know you get asked a lot about this but it’s something that really rings true for me personally. You make it okay to do stuff like this!

I know that I’ve worked hard, so I know that what I say can ring true and I know that I can get on a platform because I’ve worked my gut off and I’m allowed to. You can’t just come to the scene and be like, “I’m a girl, I do everything the best!” I get that. But now that I’m into several years of triple J and touring and everything, and I back what I say – I’m not going to shut up until it changes. That’s the thing. It really hasn’t changed. There is more stuff happening like HARD and Holy Ship are booking more people, but Listen Out has ONE woman on the lineup. I’m not going to not say anything about that! It’s their job to actually book more women.

The women are there, they just need to be booked.

100%! I could book 10 right now, and they’re booking international lineups. I’m not saying Listen Out are the only ones but there are some really cool chicks doing cool shit right now and it just needs to be supported a bit more. By everyone – by listeners, by everyone. Look at Alison Wonderland. She’s got the most hype about her in the world right now. She’s selling more tickets than any dude in the country and that stuff needs to be recognised and championed and copied in a way. I want to see more Alison Wonderlands! I’m all about more is more. There should be more girls making trap songs. It’s really important.

I think also, Australian listeners trust you now. You’ve been around for long enough that people trust what you say and follow that a bit more. Do you see it like that?

I dunno. I think ultimately, unfortunately we’re in an age where money and stuff is important, and we have to sell tickets and stuff like that. I think there is change happening though. I definitely do. But it’s just hard to constantly be that person who has to say it – but I’m not going to stop. Every now and then I’m like, “Ah, you know how I feel…” But it’s like, I’m up for being a spokesperson, but I want more people to do it as well.

The more people that speak about it, the more commonplace it will become and that’s when the big change will happen!

That’s exactly right!

Do you ever feel any pressure?

Sometimes I get a little disappointed if I do feel like I sound like a broken record. Sometimes I’m like “Why is it me saying this again?!” But I don’t think it’s pressure. I think pressure is a funny word. I feel like sometimes if I stopped talking about stuff and if I stopped putting on shows and stoppe working on triple J, I do think it would kind of be like, “Oh… Well what do we do now?” So I feel a bit of pressure to continue. Every now and then, everyone gets tired though! I would love a fucking holiday! I would love to spend a month writing an EP, you know? People don’t realise how hard I work at triple J, like I have a day job. I have to do admin and boring stuff, and that’s part of the job. Being a DJ is cool but you have to do a lot of music work. Writing music is the most fun I have and I wish I did it earlier. That’s the only time that I’m like, “Why can’t I just not work on all this other stuff and just sit in the studio?!”

I just spent a week in the studio in LA, and it was probably the best week I’ve had all year. It was just writing music and it’s such a nice feeling to know that I can do that stuff.

When you were in the studio, did you enjoy it so much because it was that kind of uninterrupted creative outlet?

Oh my god, yes! Triple J have been so good and they know obviously I want to do a million things, so I got a week to write. I had written heaps already whilst I’ve been travelling for the last couple of months, and so I was able to sit in the studio with Swick for 10-12 hours a day. It was just writing, and we were enjoying it! That’s the most fun you can have.

I feel like I have to tell you that your latest songs with Swick on the Cool Sports EP, I don’t think there has been a day go past since they came out that I haven’t listened to one of those songs…

Oh my god! I think what’s going to happen with those songs, because we wrote them so long ago and this was us working together and me getting the confidence to do stuff on my own – this new stuff is going to give those songs a new life. That’s where I feel pressure, when I put out music because it’s a new part of my career. Once I put my next EP out and they go back to those songs, they’re going to get a second life. I let them sit, I didn’t go on about them. You have to promote songs so hard. Look at Dillon Francis on Instagram, and every day he’s writing about his new songs.

And on Snapchat!

Yeah, exactly! I didn’t do that with those songs because I can do better. They’re out and they’re cool, but the new ones are so wild.

That makes me so excited! Can we expect to hear any of that on this tour? 

Maybe, they’re not quite mixed yet but maybe some of the club ones… They’re really cool, I’m really excited about them. I think the plan is to have one out for our summer, then an EP next year, but this time I’m gonna do it real.

Do you still feel nerves before a release? Do they increase or decrease the more confident you become? 

I think nerves are good. I used to get really down when people would say I didn’t do it. You can read any interview with any female producer, it’s always going to happen. People are just convinced you don’t work on the tracks, and I think that would get me down. Now I’m like, “Fuck it! I know I do!” Anyone who sits in a studio with me and hears my demos and sees me on the program knows I do! I just ran two workshops and made five beats in a day. I’ve moved past that anxiousness of what people think, because you just have to. It’s a perception that has to change, but it won’t immediately. But the more you do, that’s just life. I’ve lost those nerves. I did a session with Golden Features before I went overseas, I like his bass sounds and I wanted to know how he works. We sat in the room, I brought my idea and showed him a billion things. Then afterwards, he was telling me about how one of the interns asked if I could do anything, and Golden Features was like, “Yeah man, she schooled me!” I was just like, “Thank you!!!” At least the boys in the scene know what’s up. It’s going to take 7000 hours to be as good as Swick or anyone, but I’m on it. I’m getting there.

NLV Presents International Edition dates are below, click here for tickets.