“Looking back at my twenties,” NLV Records boss Nina Las Vegas says, “I was so spoiled with musical adventure and like-minded female friends.”
But surveying an electronic music landscape still largely dominated by male artists and execs, Las Vegas, born Nina Agzarian, realized her experience — starting a DJ/party crew with friends Anna Lunoe and Bad Ezzy and traveling across their native Australia together playing music and building their network of musicians, promoters and producers — was a dance industry anomaly.
Agzarian knew her career had been buoyed by the fact that she’d been able to build it alongside her closest friends — people who gave her confidence, encouraged her ideas and created the ultimate safe space, all while having an absurdly good time together. (Bolstering the number of female artists and producers amidst the famously gender imbalanced electronic music scene is one that’s been addressed in many ways, including the creation of all-female production classes and creative spaces.)
In Agzarian’s experience, working alongside likeminded women had fostered creative freedom. She wanted other female artists to have the same experience.
Enter singer/songwriter Kota Banks and producer Ninajirachi. Agzarian had been working with both Australian artists since 2017 via NLV Records and saw promise in putting them together in the studio. “It sounds a little maternal,” Agzarian says, “but in this day and age, thanks to the Internet, actual IRL connection to friends that do what you do and like what you like is harder to find, so linking them seemed essential.”
This essential pairing also proved prescient, with Banks (born Jessica Mimi Porfiri) and Ninajirachi (born Nina Wilson) together producing their seven-song True North EP. Self-released last month, the project fuses the Porfifi’s pop sensibilities and the shimmering, futuristic productions that have made Wilson a rising star in scene. Both artists say that working with another woman was a game-changer.
“Women working with women is unstoppable,” Agzarian says. “We love to see it.”
Calling from Australia, Porfiri and Wilson here discuss their new EP and the “different energy” of making music alongside another woman.
Jess, you’ve made music with a lot of male artists. Did working with another woman feel different from collaborations you’ve done with men?
Jess: Definitely. That’s why it was my goal to work with a female producer, because working with men, not that it’s not great, but there’s definitely a different energy. Working with Nina, I just felt understood and empowered. Especially because this EP was written, recorded, mixed and engineered by us. We edited all the videos. It was very much two young women doing it all.
We’ve had loads of DMs from young female songwriters saying that they’ve been inspired by this project and they’re going to start to producing. I haven’t really seen two young women ever do something like this in the Australian music industry.
What exactly was different about the energy you two had together, versus what you feel when working with a guy?
Jess: I haven’t felt as understood. You get to the session, and you’re on your period and you’re like, “Can we not do this session today because I’m on my period,” and there’s an understanding. We have so much to talk about with the stuff that’s going on in our lives, so for me it was a huge deal to work with another female in such close capacity.
Nina: What you said about the period thing is so true. I think what’s so special about this is me and Jess became best friends while we worked on this. It’s not like we were just turning up to work and trying to sit down and get a song done. We’d hang out and get brekkie and talk about our boy problems for hours, and then we’d go to the studio and write about what we were talking about.
It sounds like it didn’t really feel like work.
Nina: If we turned up and said, “Hey I’m not feeling it today because this is going on,” there was such an understanding. We’d talk about what was going on. The friendship aspect of it made it really special as well, especially when it got to the nitty gritty parts of the project like the mixing, the parts that weren’t necessarily so fun and creative. We were in it together, and if we weren’t having good days, we could talk about it. There’s an instant closeness that comes with working with a woman, especially when you’re working with a woman over a long period of time.
Jess: Even down to just feeling safe in the studio, recently there’s been a lot of stuff in the Australian music industry about male producers making women feel uncomfortable in the studio and taking advantage of these young female artists. Knowing I could walk up, and there was a creative relationship I was having where I didn’t have to feel unsafe and we were both on the same page, that dynamic is really special.
Does feeling entirely safe in the studio affect the music itself?
Nina: Totally. Some of our music we haven’t put out is so silly, and we can do that because we feel safe with each other. Don’t get me wrong, we go into the studio and make songs we’re proud of, but some of the lyrical content is so silly, or the production ideas are so wild. We feel safe to do that because there’s no judgment in the room. We can go crazy and see what happens with it.
Jess: Also the fact that the sexual tension is removed from the situation, at least for us as two straight women, just makes it so that you can focus on the work and the friendship and enjoying each other’s creative ideas and company. There’s no weird agendas or anything else going on that would compromise the work or creativity.
Nina: Now that I’ve worked with more female topliners, a lot of the time they’ll say, “Oh my god, it’s so refreshing and cool to work with a female producer.” They tell me the type of stories Jess had told me as well, about guys making them feel unsafe or weird or creating strange sexual tension that makes them feel like they can’t write about certain things in front of them.
The lyrics of “Nice Girls Finish Last” stick out. What are you reflecting in lines like “ain’t no sweet thing underneath this veneer.”
Jess: For me that’s kind of the quintessential female empowerment song. “Nice Girls Finish Last” was interesting, because Nina and I were in the studio listening to lots of Ariana Grande that day. Her song “Needy,” we really thought it was beautiful and were trying to channel that type of energy. I don’t how how we did such a 180, but we ended up writing “Nice Girls Finish Last” that day, which is the complete opposite energy.
We’d been writing music all week and were super proud of ourselves for taking on this huge project and writing all this music and doing everything ourselves, so I think that came out in the music. It’s just a song about being a bad b–ch. I’m definitely softer in real life, so all of my bad b–ch energy and savage energy is channeled into the music. So “Nice Girls Finish Last” is how I would be if I were 100 percent bad b–ch.
Nina: That song is special to me, because it was the first of the really poppy songs we finished, and it made me feel “Wow, I feel like I can produce pop music after completing this song.”
Jess: It really worked. It was natural and it felt right, and it just happened to be two women doing it all.