From House Party to Pitch: Nina Las Vegas on her illustrious career in the music industry

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From House Party to Pitch: Nina Las Vegas on her illustrious career in the music industry

Nina Las Vegas
Photo by by Tayla Martin Photography
words By Jasmine Penman

We sat down with music veteran Nina Las Vegas to chat about her long career in the music industry, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and her upcoming set at Pitch Music & Arts.

Nina Las Vegas, born Nina Agzarian, is one of our music industry’s great ambassadors. Having worked in the industry for almost two decades now, she’s become something of a constant in the Australian music landscape. These days, Agzarian wears multiple hats; she’s a label head, she’s a producer, she’s a manager, and she’s a DJ. She makes it all look easy; and it’s because she genuinely loves what she does. 

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“At the end of the day, I just play music and help people put out music,” Agzarian says to me from her home in Melbourne. “It’s pretty privileged.”

As a teenager growing up in the 2010s, I remember tuning into House Party on triple j almost every Saturday night. It was the show that Agzarian hosted for five years, during which time she became a household name among starry-eyed teenagers like myself and music lovers everywhere. 

By the time Agzarian left triple j in 2015 to launch her own label, NLV Records, she had been working at the station for 11 years. Her departure marked the end of an era, but it was the move that Agzarian needed to make in order to branch out and start a new, exciting chapter in her life. Since then, Agzarian has achieved a great deal: she’s toured internationally, she’s come out with several solo releases of her own, and she’s built a successful record label that’s earned a reputation as one of our country’s best for original and forward-thinking music.

Right now, life for Agzarian is somewhat hectic. She travels back and forth between Sydney (where her business is based) and Melbourne (where she is based) almost every week. When I meet her on a Tuesday morning in late February, she’s got a million things coming up: she’s getting ready to play at Pitch Music & Arts and she’s also preparing for a big trip to the United States. “I’m actually going to America the next day,” she tells me with excitement. “I’m playing the first day [at Pitch] but I’m trying to move my flights so I can stay. I’ve never been!”

Although she’s already played at some of the world’s biggest festivals, including Coachella, her excitement to play at Pitch is palpable. For Agzarian, making music and sharing it with others is a joy–one that never gets old. “I’m excited to play at Pitch because I get to play the music I want to play,” she explains. “And I think people’s perception of what I play has changed. I have a club label now so I can play club stuff, not what I used to play in my 20s.”

“Pitch audiences go to the festival without knowing what the lineup is because they know what the environment is going to be like,” Agzarian continues. “They know that they’re going to be safe and that they’re going to be with their mates. They know that they can dance and make new friends. When you have a festival that’s open-minded, that’s when it’s the best.”

When you’ve been in the music industry for as long as Agzarian has, change is inevitable. She can play anywhere she wants nowadays, including large festivals like Pitch; but Agzarian reminds me that her career as a DJ started out in Sydney’s club scene in the 2000s. “I feel so lucky to have started DJing when I did because I just got to play every night of the week,” she reminisces. “It wasn’t a festival era, it was a club era.” 

Spending the early years of her career working as a presenter at triple j and playing in nightclubs allowed Agzarian to develop a wide appreciation for all kinds of musical styles and genres. “When you work in radio, you have to be open to play for everybody,” she says. “If someone at the time requested a song I didn’t personally connect with or from a genre I didn’t care much for, you can’t say no because it’s important to them. Don’t be a snob. Just play the music–it’s a joy!” 

Agzarian’s unpretentious attitude to music is a breath of fresh air. “I’ve never had a problem with being open-minded”, she says. “I think it comes down to working as a broadcaster for so long and growing up in a country town where there are no cliques.”

Originally from Wagga Wagga, Agzarian grew up pursuing a wide range of interests. When you live in a country town, Agzarian explains, you can’t lock yourself down to one core interest; music, sport, art, and theatre all go hand-in-hand. I wonder if growing up with diverse interests has, in some kind of roundabout way, helped Agzarian become the great producer and curator that she is today. After all, she has earned a reputation in the industry as someone who has a unique ability to make the most eclectic and weird combinations work. “I don’t think I work cross-genre as much anymore,” she says, after some consideration. “I’m just not a snob.”

Throughout our conversation, Agzarian shows me the same warmth I remember her having all those years ago on triple j. Having spent years advocating for greater diversity in the industry, she has always been the type of person who makes space for others. “I’ve always said that there are heaps of female and non-binary DJs out there, they’re just not making enough music,” Agzarian says. “Now we’re starting to see more music being made by different people from different places–and that’s huge.”

“In my era, I was always advocating for women to the front; but now it’s become so much more than that,” she continues. “I still think we need a better balance; but we need a balance of everything, not just gender.”

Hard work, kindness, and positivity are values that Agzarian has stood by throughout her entire career. And it’s worked to her advantage; people want to work with her because they know they can count on her. “I still have really nice relationships with the people I used to work with at the radio station because I just used to not be a dickhead,” she laughs. “You don’t have to offer much to be nice to people.”

As it turns out, being nice to people goes a long way in the industry. Agzarian recalls the first time she did a radio show with Four Tet. “This would’ve been ten years ago,” she begins. “The thing is, Four Tet won’t do radio unless he trusts you. I was introduced to him through someone else and we hung out, and then he did my radio show! It was the only radio he did [on that trip] and Pitchfork ended up writing about it.”

“It’s the same with Diplo. He’d just tell people, ‘Do Nina’s show!’,” she continues. It’s a friendship that goes way back. Since 2007, Agzarian has worked with Diplo (Wesley Pentz) and Andrew Levins to build Heaps Decent, a non-profit organisation that empowers young people to express their creativity through music and multimedia. 

“Diplo stayed at my parents’ house when we were doing workshops [for Heaps Decent],” Agzarian shares, before explaining that her family home was always open to anyone passing through. “My parents once ran into him at the airport when he was touring. He texted me a picture of him with my parents at the airport and I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so embarrassing that they went up to him to ask for a photo.’ But it turned out that he was the one who went up to them,” she laughs.

For Agzarian, the next few months are packed to the brim. First, there’s Pitch, and then there’s her trip to the States. She’s been working on a new EP that’s due for release soon, and she’s also been busy preparing for a number of new artist releases at her label. “Yeah, it’s mostly new music and travelling,” she says, as we begin to wrap up our time together. “I’m also going to Europe in the summer.”

When you’re as passionate as Agzarian is, it’s easy to keep the momentum going. You can see how much she loves the industry and the people in it just by listening to the way she talks. Next year, it’ll be 20 years since Agzarian first walked into triple j as an intern, which is a remarkable milestone. Two decades in any industry is an accomplishment, but in the music industry, it is a triumph.

“Let’s champion women who are veterans in the game, not just the men,” she smiles. “Just because I’m in my 30s doesn’t mean I’m not still capable of the same shit.”

Catch her perform at Pitch Music and Arts next weekend, March 10 – 14. Find out more info by heading here.