We get deep with Australian music industry figurehead Nina Las Vegas

Nina Las Vegas
Credit: NLV Records

From growing up in Wagga Wagga to DJing in some of the biggest cities worldwide, Nina Las Vegas has had one hell of a career so far.

You probably heard the voice of Nina Las Vegas every Saturday while she hosted House Party on triple j between 2009 and 2014, and watched Sydney’s 2015 New Year’s fireworks, backed by a playlist that she curated.

But this weekend you can see her in the flesh, because Red Bull are putting on a free music festival in Melbourne/Naarm featuring some of the best musicians Victoria has to offer. Between Friday and Sunday, you can catch performances from RVG, Elsy Wameyo, Floodlights, Nina Las Vegas, and more at The Hoi Polloi in Kensington.

So to gear up for the huge weekend the Naarm-based DJ has in store, we chatted to Nina about TikTok haters, espresso martinis, and the untapped potential for crossovers between music and sport in Australia.

Nina Las Vegas
Photo by John Liwag

HAPPY: Hey Nina, has your morning been alright?

NINA LAS VEGAS: My morning? Yeah, we’re just having late nights. This artist I work with, Gold Fang, is in town.  We bring him down but they start late and work late. And I’m not really in the session. I’m just the label boss, so I’m just making sure everyone’s fed. But then I woke up early and I’ve been doing my work this morning. I’m playing for the Socceroos tomorrow, so I’ve just been trying to prep, which is honestly really, really cool. But they want *laughs* a glorified wedding set, just full party… Eye of the Tiger, you know, like Luude’s Down Under remix.

HAPPY: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about the Socceroos gig. Are you a big football fan? 

NLV:  Look, yes, it’s in my blood. People know in music and I don’t really share it, but when I was in high school, I played football for the state and like country state and stuff like that. When you grow up in rural Australia, you kind of do everything. You do sport, music, art, tennis, swimming… I did football and I’ve played heaps and gave up around year 11 and 12 when I got into musicals and being in bands. And then in the last five years since leaving triple j and working in what I want to do, you kind of have to think about partnerships and me and my partner, we love soccer. It’s gossip. Like, it’s so fun. People don’t get that. And look, I can’t tell you everything about EPL or like the starting line up on Thursday, and that’s what the Socceroos like about me and that’s what the Matildas like about me, because I’m not trying to be a commentator or a presenter, they know that. 

I think we need to intertwine music and sport better in Australia, especially when, you know, sport gets preference over music. Let’s be real. Even yesterday I spoke to one of the starting eleven, Redders, (Andrew Redmayne) and he was commenting on it and I’m like, ‘yeah, well we have to work together.’ So ever since Australia got the World Cup; I’ve worked with Nike football, I worked with the Matildas, this is my first time working with the Socceroos. But yeah, I just want to dive in, and I think it’s a buzz. Like we’re going to have a World Cup next year, you know, it’s crazy. I think that’s why it does my head a bit, we should do more. So tomorrow, it’s the first time that I’m doing this for [the Socceroos], but I have to play fan requests. It’s really funny. I don’t know if you’re across the football, but the Socceroos have got a lot of injuries and COVID cases.

HAPPY: Yeah Jackson Irvine’s out. I’m devo about that.

NLV: Yeah, he’s our Héctor Bellerín right? Like, he’s our cool guy. I was stalking his Instagram the other day because when I did an interview with Redders, the keeper, we just chatted about music and everything and then they told me that Jackson Irvine has a Simpsons tattoo, and the Simpsons creators found out about it. That’s the shit I like. That’s the fun stuff. And apparently… how’s this? So, Awer (Mabil), he’s usually the designated DJ in the team. So someone will set up, and they’ll have a playlist and they’ll have gee-up songs and everything. And then yeah, yesterday they told me that they’re very diplomatic, everyone gets to choose a song from a different genre. They had a full meeting about what was playing, not for me, but just for themselves. I find all that stuff so interesting. So yeah, I hope it’s the start of something cool because I think I just want; A. more females in the game, and B. I think our Socceroos and our Matildas are two really diverse teams, and I think they just represent ‘new’ Australia in many ways like, especially the Matildas. There’s First Nations players, you know, there’s queer players, it’s pretty exciting and I like how much we get around them. 

HAPPY: It’s so good to see, hey. You’re also playing a free festival with Red Bull down in Melbourne on the weekend, right?

NLV: They couldn’t be two, more different gigs *laughs*. So one, I’m going to be playing Darryl Braithwaite pretty much, but then the Red Bull one is cool because I’m playing a little harder now these days and well, basically, I have a club label and I put out club music but I think promoters are a bit stuck thinking that I just play that kind of like Flume EDM. Not that that’s wrong, that’s not what I’m saying… it’s just what I did ten years ago. And it sucks, because we allow men to change all the time, but women have to work that little bit harder. And I have worked so hard, like so hard. And that’s kind of why I’m in Melbourne as well, just because I needed to get out of that preconceived notion.

Credit: WireImage

I was travelling until COVID, I wasn’t here, and so coming back has been cool because I’ve been able to reshape myself in a way. I don’t know if that’s how you see it, but like, I think I think people are kind of seeing how much I’m working on the label and supporting different acts. So yeah, that’s why I like playing these parties, and I don’t know, Naarm has this energy – I think Sydney does too, I was there on the weekend and it was heaving and I was there 20 years, it’s still very much my home. I’m still a New South Wales resident, all my business is kind of there but yeah, I think it’s just nice to be in a new place and I don’t feel old here. Sounds a bit weird but Melbourne doesn’t really mind if you go out late. And I think in Sydney, it’s quite expensive so you can’t go out all the time and it’s very much… like I’m not saying Melbourne’s not a restaurant city, but there’s something on every weekend I want to go to, you know? And it feels sick. Are you in Sydney or Melbourne? 

HAPPY: I’m in Sydney. But I’m keen to spend a bit of time in Melbourne soon. 

NLV: Hey, I think everywhere in this time, ignoring the fucking random COVID risks, I think everything feels a bit buzzy right now, and exciting. Something feels good and you know. When I was more in the scene of curating events and like doing parties and playing, I used to really worry about everything, like around the lockouts. But now I don’t have to worry and it’s good. You know, everyone can do their own thing. And I think it would be kind of weird and creepy if me being like 36 or whatever, if I’m worried about the young twenties. Like, I can do what I fucking want *laughs*.

HAPPY: So you’re playing a Sunday set on the weekend right? 

NLV: Yeah, I think so. God, I haven’t even looked at what time I’m playing. All I know is that FOURA is buying me a cocktail. She’s recovering from COVID, coming out of iso and I was just checking in on her yesterday and she’s like, ‘what are you going to need’ and I was like ‘espresso martini, baby’ like straight away, and something with Red Bull obviously.

HAPPY: Omg amazing. Do you hold off on Sunday sets because everyone’s got work the next day, or do you have a no mercy policy? 

NLV: I’m pretty good at just going with the flow, hey. So I’ll practice a set and then if I need to switch it, I will. And I don’t have any ego about what is going to work. I’m not going to play a set that I’ve been practicing for a day if it feels like it’s not working. Like, what’s the point in that? But I don’t go that hard. I’m not going to go like 140(bpm) for the whole set.

HAPPY: Nice. I also want to talk about your TikTok because it’s popping off at the moment. I’ve been loving all your content. 

NLV: And how much is everyone hating me for it? *laughs* I’ll post something, and people are like ‘Who is she?’ ‘Who is she?’ ‘Why is she verified?’ You know why we’re verified. Because TikTok Australia verified all the artists. I’m addicted but I’m not doing very good TikToks *laughs*.

@ninalasvegas Melb looking hectic 🍑#closeyourrings #fypシ ♬ love game gimme more – edits

HAPPY: Nah, I love it. I love the content. Did your social media presence come naturally for you?

NLV: Look, I go with the flow. I’m not an elitist or anything about that. If someone said to me, ‘Hey, DJing’s over, we’re all to do NFTs now’, I’d be like, ‘Alright, let’s go. How do we do it well?’ Like, I don’t really care. I just want to be able to create and be in the conversation. I think because I care a little less now, and I’m lucky that I’m a bit older. So I don’t take offence to a whole bunch of Americans not knowing who I am and going like, ‘Who is she?’ – I find it so funny. I read the comments and it’s just like straightaway, ‘First’, ‘Second’. ‘Wait, why is she verified?’ ‘Why is she verified?’ ‘Why is she verified?’ And then someone going underneath ‘She’s actually a singer, you know, she’s got like 60,000 followers on Instagram.’ And all these people are like, ‘Oh, okay, what does she sing?’ And I’m just doing trends. I’m not doing anything, really. I’m just doing fun shit, it’s cool. TikTok is just bizarre, in terms of you don’t know what’s going to work. So instead of worrying about that, just do whatever the fuck you want – but you have to do it a lot. Are you making content or just watching it?

HAPPY: I just watch. I’m pretty new to it, but yeah, I just watch things and it’s funny. 

NLV: It’s very weird, but it makes me so happy how funny people are. People are geniuses. I can’t get over it and then have you seen… I mean, this is so classic millennial of me, but you know when you go on Instagram stories and they are just so boring compared to TikTok.

HAPPY: Yeah. Or it’s all the old TikToks from two months ago that have finally made their way on there.

NLV: Apparently the pick up is wild, because it’s always the zoomers that go first. We do a little bit of advertising on TikTok too and with my work, I want to work out how to share artists’ music and break artists and stuff, I get really into it. But apparently it’s just growing so fast that you kind of snooze, you lose. But I’m not forcing my artists to go on it. Like I always say ‘If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t go on it,’ but it is pretty addictive just to watch a few.

HAPPY: Yeah it’s a scarily easy time-waster. Well, thanks so much for taking the time, it was lovely to meet you, Nina.

NLV: Nice to meet you too, Lochie. Thank you, have a good one. 

Nina Las Vegas is playing at Red Bull Melbourne Unlocked this Sunday. For the full line-up and more details, head to Red Bull’s website.

Red Bull Unlocked Melbourne lineup
Image supplied

Interview by Lochie Schuster