“I actually never expected to be DJing in America,” says Nina Las Vegas. The Australian DJ/producer/label owner, whose last name is Agzarian, got her start on radio, where a co-worker gave her the nickname to the tune of “Viva Las Vegas.” While Tiesto once advised Agzarian that she should be playing the American party city from which her DJ moniker is derived, she has yet to make her Vegas debut. Still, her star is rising in the States: Earlier this year, she played Holy Ship! and Coachella. Her three-date stint in the U.S. this week will include Agzarian’s first headlining gig in Los Angeles.
Agzarian emerged from the same Sydney dance scene that spawned festival regular Anna Lunoe; the two both got their start at the same community radio station. Agzarian spent 11 years working in radio, eventually becoming a popular host on Australian station Triple J. Then last October, she left her slot to focus on making music, touring and running her label, NLV Recordings.
On radio, Agzarian had a reputation for showcasing the hottest artists in dance music. (Her final Triple J show featured sets from RL Grime, Anna Lunoe, Flume and more.) In her original work, her taste is similarly on point. Her debut EP, EZY or Never, is about as eclectic as you can get for a four-song release. Where a track like “EZY” might sound like the perfect puzzle piece for a tropical, pool party mix, “Contagious” (featuring Snappy Jit) is a slice of synth-punk that’s as good for the car as it is for the dance floor.
Agzarian was on a pre-tour vacation in Italy when she hopped on a call with Playboy.com. She’s immediately chatty and open to talking about much more than music, delving into Australian politics and the Sydney club laws that helped push her onto the tour circuit. She’s less keen on talking about sexism in the DJ world: “The conversation is such a weird one because if you really look hard, there is so much going on that is so proactive with females in the game,” she says. “It’s just that, unfortunately, no one talks about it as much as they talk about the problems.” She goes on to speak quite extensively about Australian politics and how touring has changed her outlook on the world.
It seems like you play around with beats and styles. What influences you when you’re making music?
In terms of what I make, I draw influences from stuff that I still like today because I know it’s a moment in time, but I reckon that you want to make stuff that you can play for years and years and not kind of regret it, if that makes sense.
I still find sound design super cool. I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with Swick and he’s really thinking about sounds and drums and it’s so eye-opening, just really pushing noises to make them things, often our snares are snippets of my voice that have been so overdriven or delayed and reworked into audio and then put through another filter and then bounced out again—and then it’s just for a snare. It’s that attention to detail in production that I like in my songs. I like that I have sounds that no one has.
Do you make music specifically for people to dance in a DJ club/festival setting or also for people to pump up in the car or hang out at home?
I think because my experience with music is both, I can listen to a club song in the car but I can also listen to a car song in the club. I think the rule is that you just have to like it every time you hear it and you get these gut feelings that they’re likable.
This past year, have you been doing more traveling for gigs or were you already traveling a lot?
I was traveling a lot. In Australia, with the lockout legislation happening—I don’t know if you’ve read about it. We have this thing called the lockout laws, which means that the clubs shut at 1:30. They shut at 3, actually, but you can’t get in past 1:30. The rule has really affected the scene; people are doing more events now and there are less clubs because clubs aren’t surviving. So many things have shut down in the past year. So when you go, people aren’t going out anymore because they’re told to leave or they can’t have a shot after 12. It’s become a really conservative city really fast and it’s basically because of these lockout laws.
As a traveling, working DJ, I can’t just play three gigs; I can’t just play Sidney five or six times a year anymore. I have to do it once or twice because it’s not the same environment as when I started, but I’ve played America three times already and am going back again and I am traveling a lot more. That’s another reason why I moved on from radio, so that I could be a bit more flexible.
Does touring change the way you view the world?
Definitely. Weirdly, I was in Europe when the Paris attacks happened. I had played festivals the day after in Belgium when there was a terror strike, like it was a powerful warning telling people not to go out into groups of people and I was literally playing a festival in Belgium that day. It just sucks because you travel around and you experience it all and you realize that all this stuff is so horrible but so rare, and then people’s lives have to go on.
While I was in Europe, everyone was canceling their tours and I was already there. I had already played Paris. This was in November. I didn’t have to cancel my show, but I saw so many people cancel their shows and thinking like, that’s so crappy because that means that the people wanting terror won. They just canceled fun events out of fear. So yeah, that was pretty surreal and definitely life-changing. It also made me feel very lucky that I’m from this sort of privileged country and I can do what I want for a living.
It’s that same thing when you travel and you go to different towns and different regions and you can be in El Paso or Dallas and be surrounded by a bunch of kids that know you from the other side of the world. That’s really cool. So, you have to give them your everything. That’s how I deal with it.
You’ve tweeted about your dad’s political posters. Did you grow up in a family where there was a lot of art and politics?
Yeah, definitely. I’m pretty sure that I got my voice and my strength from my parents. My mom worked in a juvenile justice center. She constantly calls out bullshit and my dad’s the same. He’s literally in his 60s doing street art about a government he wants people to rethink.
Our election has been getting out of control too.
Oh my God, it’s so scary. I was in London for the Brexit vote. That was pretty weird too. I think that the key is that if people are voting for stuff that makes no sense to your eyes, you have to kind of understand why. I think that’s the difference. Instead of not having any understanding for someone who could possibly vote differently to you, I think everyone needs to go, “Why? What is making them unhappy?” And then reaching an agreement.
So much is focused on yes or no or the algorithm that the Internet projects. If you’re a left voter, you’re only going to see things that are left. If you’re into horror movies and trap, you’re only going to see horror movies and trap in your feed. It’s all that kind of algorithm stuff. So, I think just having greater understanding is what everyone does and I think that’s in every part of work.
It’s kind of like living in an echo chamber and you only hear what you want to hear. I know. It’s crazy.Having a record label, you kind of have to be okay with not hitting everyone’s mark because you’re just doing stuff for you and your scene and being okay with that.
Ultimately, you have to learn that not everyone is going to agree with you or like what you do.
If you like every moment of your set or every moment of traveling or, that’s why you have to do it. Some things will be hard, but other things, ultimately, you have to live your life and if you can live with it and you can enjoy it, there will be moments when it’s really cool and moments when it’s really shit, but as long as when you turn back and move on to the next thing, you enjoy the whole ride, then that’s the plus.