Label of the Month: NLV Records

Nina Agzarian, the visionary behind Nina Las Vegas and her eponymous eight-year-old label, NLV Records, expounds on its ethos and the growing pains of a platform that’s setting new standards for what’s possible for women in music in real-time.

16 min
NLV records
Dec 4, 2023
·
By
Rachel Narozniak

“It’s never been harder to be a musician,” Nina Agzarian muses from her perch in Swick’s Melbourne office. She rests her right knuckle on her temple languidly, almost absentmindedly, flashing a silver stack of rings in the process.

The reasons won’t surprise anyone familiar with the music business. Among them, the profusion of damn good music being made, the increased costs of touring, and audiences’ fluctuating tastes. Of course, there’s also the evergreen question of how to stand out in Australia. The smaller physical size of Australia’s dance/electronic market compared to that of the United States or United Kingdom, for instance, translates to lower pure new music Friday numbers and placements.

In Agzarian’s admission echoes another truth: it’s not much easier to lead a label or, in her case, to do both simultaneously. This continuously evolving balancing act is the subject of our call, which comes on the heels of a week jam-packed with events and travel for the 2023 Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards. Rest is in order for Agzarian, better known by her stage name, Nina Las Vegas, but like the trip to the sauna that she’ll take later this evening to unwind (“I’m pretty wound up,” she concedes), it’ll have to wait. NLV Records label mate and platinum producer Swick, whose credits include flashpoints like Jennifer Lopez and Diplo, has returned to Australia after a six-month stint at work in London. There’s music to be heard.

“As a producer, you always want an extra set of ears. So now, I’m back,” Agzarian says with a wry smile. “I’ve been summoned to the studio.”

To show up, however hectic her schedule, is quintessentially Agzarian. The 38-year-old DJ/producer, who cut her teeth in broadcast radio during a decade-long span at triple j, pre-NLV, is, quite literally, inextricable from her eponymous label.

“I don’t turn off, which is a big problem,” she admits. “My label is called NLV Records. I fund it myself; I work on it myself. I’m not just hiring a team to do this.”

Check out Nina Las Vegas’ ‘Label of the Month’ Chart on Beatport.
NLV Beatport 6

Drive, evidently, is in the double helix of Agzarian’s DNA. And even if toggling between “on” and “off” states was as simple as the flip of a switch, doing so just isn’t in the nature of NLV Records, which has her fingerprints all over it by design. Here, Agzarian enlists a modest amount of help from a surprisingly small team comprising NLV’s distributor, The Orchard, public relations affiliates, and the occasional contractor. In the eight years that have followed the label’s foundation in December of 2015, Agzarian has carved its niche through careful oversight and intention. This sounds like a kaleidoscopic continuum of hyperpop, house, club, amapiano, and dancehall, among other styles and subgenres. For her 19 artists, it looks like dogged support—a degree of advocacy that’s not an industry standard, but rather an NLV standard.

When Ninajirachi’s single with Ravenna Golden, “1×1,” dropped earlier this April, it didn’t get the level of placement that her releases typically enjoy. Yet as interest in the track hummed, sparking Shazams, Agzarian did what she’s done before and will inevitably do again: she readied her case. “I just took little snapshots, and I went back [to the platforms] and I said, ‘I think this is something we should celebrate. And excuse my passion, I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I just really understand that it’s never been harder to be on top of everything. And that worked.”

An esteemed tastemaker and trailblazer both within and well beyond the Australian music landscape, Agzarian doesn’t just understand her power—she unabashedly stands in it. “1×1” is but one example.

“I have personal relationships with people in the industry, at platforms, at stores, at radio stations, to be like, ‘I can put my money where my mouth is.’ I believe in [NLV’s] records. I pitch them, and then if they don’t go as far as I think they could, I have no problem pushing back and being like, ‘I think you missed this.’” She pauses, then asks, “If you don’t support us, how are women going to run labels and be executives and work in A&R if we can’t survive when we do it on our own?”

NLV Beatport 2

In many ways, NLV Records is embodying the change that Agzarian wishes to see in the dance/electronic space and, more broadly, in Australia’s music ecosystem. Women notably account for nearly half of NLV’s 21 signees, including Agzarian herself. UNIIQU3, a New Jersey native who has championed the buzzy sounds of Jersey Club since she debuted on the label in 2017; Kota Banks, who operates at the intersection of dance and pop; and Anna Lunoe, notable for shattering one glass ceiling after another for women in dance/electronic music, are among them. Fellow label mates include 1300, Magugu, Hi Tom, Air Max ’97, and Geoblu, to name a few.

Simply put, NLV Records is largely ahead of the dance/electronic space, where decades-old inequities pertaining to race and gender persist. This reality confers a need for a certain level of patience, albeit compulsory. While Agzarian understands this, needless to say, it doesn’t make the circumstances any less challenging, or exasperating. “I want to inspire other women to do this. We [the industry] still don’t have enough female executives. We still don’t have female headliners,” she urges.

The conviction with which Agzarian speaks is almost palpable. So is the perplexity that comes with an absence of female paragons of enduring longevity and success in the dance/electronic space. “To be honest, a career is hard in dance music. I don’t necessarily think there’s a model I can look at and go, ‘Oh, that’s amazing.’ I can look at Peggy Gou right now and say she’s smashing it, but I don’t know what her next ten years look like because I haven’t seen anyone like her keep going,” Agzarian explains. “Like who do we look up? Can you name one female? Maybe Nina Kraviz. I don’t know a female that has a label named after themselves that has been around for more than 20 years.”

Still, if no example exists, then Agzarian will set it. Though NLV Records is a well-oiled machine with a distinctive sound that commands influence, she is adamant that there is work to be done. She wants an NLV Records Beatport No. 1 and a closer, more tightly-knit sense of community to surround the label. A broader appreciation for what NLV Records is doing, from its freewheeling, danceable outputs to its paradigm-changing efforts, would also be nice. But Agzarian won’t beg.

“I want that recognition when it’s celebrated by everyone, not from forcing people to celebrate it,” she tells Beatportal.

NLV Beatport 1

This ethos extends to her sentiments about her own artist project. Agzarian laments that Nina Las Vegas “isn’t given the same opportunities as other people” in the space. She suspects that this is because she is widely attributed to a triple j sound, though Australia’s club, festival, and promoter culture, which remains “pretty uninspired by powerful women almost 40 [years old],” doesn’t help.

“I don’t get booked as much. It’s just how it is, and I think I have to put that aside. Australian promoters aren’t ready for women to be legends yet,” she observes. But this tone of resignation quickly turns to one of resolve: “I had a really good chat with my agent yesterday because I was just not feeling great about this [dynamic], and then I thought about it and was like, ‘no, let’s just wait till they’re wrong.”

In the meantime, as Agzarian and NLV Records lead by example, in an invitation for the rest of the industry to follow suit, the wins will make the noise. Unsurprisingly, there are many, and they are as vast and diverse as NLV’s roster. These include international radio play for productions like Anna Lunoe’s 2022 club-minded ear worm, “Double Dip,” and tours that bridge international markets, like Ninajirachi’s 2023 North American run. In early 2024, the fellow Australian producer will remain on the road in support of her latest EP, 4×4, with stops planned in additional U.S. cities and Canada.

Samples of NLV releases have also vaulted its sounds to different audiences and genres, like Doechii’s “Booty Drop,” which takes Jersey Club cues from UNIIQU3’s 2018 single, “Bubble Gum.” This reach ballooned when Doechii performed part of “Booty Drop” at the BET Awards earlier this summer.

In 2021, NLV’s presence was notably heard in Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro advertising campaign, thanks to a synch of Laces’ 2021 single, “The Ridge,” which featured on in-store billboards and social media. And, more recently, Four Tet’s integration of Chris Lorenzo’s take on Anna Lunoe’s “Back Seat” into his sets took Lorenzo’s remix on a circuitous but high-profile spree through the dance/electronic circuit.

“Four Tet emailed me for an instrumental of the remix and then had a massive summer with Fred again.. and Skrillex, and just watching the Shazams of the remix…he was playing that [song] every set for six months,” Agzarian recalls. “It does make a difference when you get this support. It’s wild.”

NLV Beatport 4

Of course, NLV’s accomplishments need not rise to the level of Apple synch or Four Tet co-sign to have impact. A tag of the label’s handle in a social post showing a DJ/producer playing one of its productions overseas matters just as much, says Agzarian.

Throughout our interview, it’s clear that Agzarian’s tenacity is matched by her candor. The latter drives the culture of trust and open communication at NLV Records, where Agzarian is both a reliable mentor and a friend to the artists that she’s hand-selected to be a part of her eclectic coterie. At NLV, what begins as a business relationship evolves into a multidimensional partnership built on equal energy exchange.

“[We] talk through expectations and are proud of wins and recover from losses and just keep going while being really realistic about everything,” she says. “It’s hard, but we do it together.”

Unlike in some corners of the dance/electronic industry, the artist is always at the center of these conversations. While Agzarian gently advises on the best strategy to achieve the given goal, her focus is rooted in furthering her artists’ careers in a way that allows space for their organic growth and creative nourishment. When one of her signees approached her earlier this year, “almost fearful” to express his interest in standing up an ambient project, Agzarian’s response was succinct and decisive: “Oh my god, I’d love to do that.”

“I’m like, let’s try it, let’s do something exciting and different,” she exclaims. “And if we do everything with precision and consideration and class, I’m good.”

NLV Beatport 5

In 2024, NLV Records’ roster will grow by one act. By virtue of running the label almost single-handedly, there are only so many artists that Agzarian can sign. (With a laugh, she quips that she “would physically die” if she added any more, at least for right now).

As Agzarian looks ahead to this launch, she is steadily winding down the year of music with NLV’s final releases. Remixes of Anna Lunoe’s “Deep Blue Sea,” courtesy of Motez and NOTION, and a remix EP from Ninajirachi, parceling takes from SONIKKU, Himera, and Wave Racer are to come. New music from Agzarian herself, à la Nina Las Vegas, will follow next year, affording her the opportunity to lean into her own artistry in a way that she hasn’t in quite some time. Agzarian’s last original production under the project was October 2020’s “Busy,” released, naturally, via NLV Records.

But first, Agzarian will celebrate NLV Records’ eighth birthday in step with her thirty-ninth. It’s uncanny that both milestones fall in December, and this commonality seems only to further blur the lines between Agzarian and NLV Records, suggesting that true delineation isn’t possible. Yet when an artist commits such heart to a creative venture, is it ever?

“I just feel really proud of it,” Agzarian says. A hint of wonder sparkles in her tone. “Even the longevity of eight years…eight years now. That’s a long time.”

Rachel Narozniak is a music journalist based out of the New York/New Jersey area. Find her on X.

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