Label of the Week: NLV Records
Every now and then a label like Nina Las Vegas‘ NLV Records pops up and does something more than just act as a space for curation. Since the label’s inception in 2015, club music in Australia has had something that it hasn’t really had before – a face, and subsequently, the opportunity for a solid community to be fostered.
Club music has become a sort of colloquial umbrella term for sounds that fall outside of the typical ‘house, techno, disco’ categories. Encompassing various elements of genres like Jersey club, pop, hyper-pop, nightcore, dancehall and more, it’s ultimately an amalgamation of various pastiches that have a certain sort of uptempo, rubbery aesthetic to it. When you break it down that way, there’s little bits of those sounds at every turn when listening to the label’s back catalogue, but there’s not one particular ‘sound’ – and that’s the beauty of the label’s curation.
The first five acts announced on the roster back in 2015 were label favs Swick, Air Max ’97, Lewis Cancut, Strict Face and the NLV Records boss herself. The releases kicked off with five tracks over five weeks, in the NLV Records Sampler.
Lewis Cancut was up first with ‘Systems’, bringing glitchy, analogous melodies over the top of dense kicks, staccatoed hi-hats and those bouncy keys that have remained integral to Cancut‘s sound. Delivering huge ‘BIPP’ a la SOPHIE vibes, the label from the get go came out all guns blazing.
Air Max ’97 crafted tiered layers of sound designed to both juxtapose and complement one another on ‘Passage’. The filtered down industrial percussion ticks along while a low growl undulates slowly beneath the string stabs, creating one hell of a club track.
Nina Las Vegas brought workout experts Snappy Jit on board for her contribution to the sampler, ‘Contagious’. Bringing together the energy & pitched up vocals Snappy Jit have become known for with her own penchant for unrelenting, fluid sounds, it was the perfect way to introduce us to both her vision for the label and her own production.
On ‘R6 Wheel [Dub]’, Swick opted for machine-driven, piston-heavy percussion, and the closer ‘Rouge Park’ from Strict Face drew on stoned, wonky keys, atop crispy, hip-hop influenced percussion.
With sounds spanning analogous glitch, light industrial, gym-bounce, piston percussion and wavy hip-hop, there’s so much on offer here, but there’s a commonality in each producer’s approach which ultimately defined the label’s path.
A span of singles then followed from both Nina Las Vegas and Swick, readying us for each producer’s respective releases.
But first, Lewis CanCut shared ‘Say Ok’ with TIGARAH, a certified PC Music-esque bop. Recorded at Red Bull Music Academy Studios in Tokyo where he also met up with TIGARAH, the sugary-sweet tropical bop saw her vocals perfectly compliment the light-hearted, bounciness instilled in the future-esque instrumental.
Swick‘s Stamina EP came in May, 2016 and amongst the electronic and hip-hop landscapes at the time, it came as something entirely left of centre.
Teaming up with California’s Eden xo for the opener, ‘Sideline’ brought that feeling when you first crack a fresh can of cold fizzy drink. The echo of the drawn-out pads served as that moment right before you hear the crack of the can opening while the clean, high-pitched key that came in with the vocals evoked the feeling of taking the first sip, the cool fizz touching your lips.
Track two kicked off some of the stellar hip-hop moments the label has since had over the years. Teaming up with Spank Rock (now known as Naeem) for the first of a few collaborations, Swick opted for deep acid on ‘Ticketz’, using machine-like percussion to add intensity. Spank Rock being from Baltimore, arguably one of the world’s ‘club music capitals’, knew exactly what to bring to a track like that.
Norwegian bop-star Henrik The Artist came on board for another apt collaboration on track three, ‘Energy’, bringing his knack for tropical club music. ‘Gardens’ saw Swick go at it alone, opting for a heavy kick under harsh digital tones and finishing it all off with a driving vocal sample.
‘All The Way’ with Sydney’s Marcus Whale went down the emotional pop road, Whale bringing intensity atop Swick‘s trance-like instrumental.
In retrospect, this EP does so much in indicating the creative trajectory of an artist like Swick. In a career where he’s done so much – producing for pop artists, hip-hop artists and himself – he’s remained meticulously consistent throughout, his work always having an underlying charm to it that can only really be identified as his own.
A couple of months after Stamina, Nina Las Vegas shared her long-awaited first solo EP with the world, Ezy Or Never for the label’s second long form body of work.
The EP saw NLV come into her own and really push the boundaries surrounding not only Australian electronic music, but electronic music around the world too. Taking us on a five-track journey, she kicked it off with a Swick collaboration in ‘Substitute’. On the summer-ready anthem, NLV lent her own vocals to the track, her and Swick working in tandem on the instrumental.
Track two ‘Ezy’ drew inspiration from hardstyle with warped vocal samples replacing the kick until the drop. In a time just before MC Fioti‘s ‘Bum Bum Tam Tam’, ‘Ezy’ harnessed club sounds that were seldom explored and emerged something that in the context of Australian club music, felt entirely seminal.
‘Contagious’ with Snappy Jit features halfway through the record, while ‘Now Or Never’ with CZ and Swick, NLV Records‘ first ever official release, offered up punchy kicks, nightcore vibes and served up the actual debut of NLV‘s voice featuring in her tracks.
‘Right Home’ tucked us in but didn’t let us close our eyes just yet. Taking on a more atmospheric approach in the buildup, it eventuated into a haunting eeriness that can only be compared to the Lavender Town soundtrack in the Pokémon games.
Serving up bouts of pop, harder styles, thumping club and a slight hip-hop influence, Ezy Or Never quickly defined NLV as an expert curator and producer, and remains a defining release for the label.
Strict Face then brought Atlantan rapper K-Major on board for ‘Murderer’, a sultry RnB jam. Known previously for his grime instrumentals on Mr Mitch‘s Gobstopper Records, Strict Face‘s history with creating sounds for traditionally ‘vocal’ genres was put into practice on this one, and the resulting track felt like he’d been producing for vocalists forever.
July 2016 saw another addition to the NLV Records family in Norwegian producer, Hi Tom. ‘Tablet’ was his first contribution to the label, and saw the game changing producer bring something entirely new to the group of already so individualised producers.
The future-bass producer brought staggered drums, ethereal pads, carefully autotuned vocals and even a sample of a car door locking to the table, adding a new element of sonic exploration to the label’s catalogue.
A few months later in September, Air Max ’97 returned with the label’s most unconventional release to date, ‘Face Up’. Throwing every concept of quantisation you’ve ever learned out the window, the exploration of timing and syncopation on that one was meticulously impeccable.
He changed the mood through varying the severity of the pads booming slowly underneath the frantic percussion, something that felt necessary in order for a track like that to thrive. The layering on the track was absolutely insane; you could spend hours listening through it trying to fault it, but the maths doesn’t lie. Air Max ’97 has always been a pioneer of sound, opting for sounds and ideas that are entirely unconventional, but this release in particular was a giant step for electronic body music.
Shortly after the release of his Stamina EP, Swick swiftly shared ‘Offside’, an unrelenting vocal-driven hit that never falters, not even to breathe. We’re led into the track with quiet ambience, the vocal line slowly being brought up until the ambience settled and the menagerie of club sounds hitting like a tonne of bricks.
As a standalone track, it’s excellent. At the time of release, it unknowingly served as a first taste of Swick‘s long-awaited debut mixtape to come over a year on.
Lewis Cancut contributed the next long form release in his Indoor Rainforest EP. Coming to us only a month after Air Max ’97‘s return, the label had been hard at work basically since its inception to pump out quality, lasting electronic music.
Spanning six tracks, Indoor Rainforest began with ‘Indoor Rainforest’, a menagerie of distal glitches spinning around one another to create an aquatic oasis. ‘Body Querty’ took a similar approach, but instead, used chopped, skewed and pitched vocals to create the melody, later being replaced by a rubbery synth.
Japanese pop artist TIGARAH returned for track three, ‘Dream Like’. Her autotuned vocals danced between singing in Japanese and English, and in the drop, were manipulated to provide the top line. A Vocaloid software bank in Hatsune Miku featured on track three. For context, she uses Yamaha‘s Vocaloid 2, Vocaloid 3, and Vocaloid 4 singing synthesising technologies and you can hear the digital intelligence lending her created voice throughout the future-bass-like track.
Ugandan artist Tshila hopped on for track four, ‘Like Water’, lending her powerful vocals to the track. Broaching on baille territory in the drop, this one’s all packaged up and ready for the club. ‘Plastic Garden’ rounded out the EP perfectly, bringing zen Japanese flute-influenced vibes to this short but sweet esoteric cut.
This release showed the importance of balance on a label that’s in the interest of club music. By creating tracks that are dancefloor ready, but also tying them in with tracks that draw from elements of club but may not necessarily be for the club, is an important insight into the potential of the sound.
Swick and Spank Rock returned for another collaboration in the genre-bending ‘Polo Love’. Serving downtempo, emotional melodies atop Swick‘s instantly recognisable percussive style, the track took all sorts of twists and turns, never letting you settle in to any one mood.
NLV gave us a taste of what she’d been working on in May, 2017 with ‘Deserts’. After flexing her vocals on us on her Ezy Or Never EP out of necessity, she delivered self-assurance and power on this one. She used the lyrics to explore her connection with her Egyptian culture and heritage through her parents.
The track saw NLV perfect the balance between pop anthem and party bop, giving us a new side to her as not only a producer, but songwriter too.
Right in the middle of 2017 in early June, NLV Records announced a new signee in Jersey club queen UNIIQU3. The pair had known each other for a while, with UNIIQU3 first coming to Australia through NLV‘s NLV Presents series she ran for a bit, bringing international club acts to Australia to play a bunch of shows. Since then, the pair had been in contact sharing sounds and stories, and from there, UNIIQU3 shared her first track on the label.
Teaming up with fellow Jersey artist Yungkiidd, they dropped a certified ‘stoplight stunner’ in ‘Trunk’. Showing why she’s the undisputed queen of Jersey club, she paired a chopped and skewed breakbeat with one hell of a kick to create a dancefloor anthem that almost two years on, is still being rinsed on dancefloors everywhere.
Lewis Cancut dropped ‘Plastic Games’ later in the month, the first since his Indoor Rainforest EP. Bringing idiosyncratic melodies together atop a varied palette of pastiche, rubbery sounds, Cancut‘s oddball approach to bringing this one to life felt defining for him as a producer.
There’s a minimalism to the soundscape that comes through the use of staccato stabs rather than drawn out pads and long phrases.
Never letting a moment pass by, July saw NLV put out ‘Freeze’, a track created in part to fill the spaces in her DJ sets. Following ‘Deserts’, which was entirely emotionally driven, ‘Freeze’ came as a refreshing club stomper continuing to sound nothing like anything being made.
A month later, Swick shared his biggest collaboration yet in ‘Slopes’. Teaming up with Adelaide pocket rocket Tkay Maidza and purveyor of all things grime, Capo Lee, ‘Slopes’ was arguably the biggest track Swick had put out into the world to date.
Giving each artist on the track their own space to thrive in a variety of ways – Tkay blasting through the pre-chorus, Capo slamming bars in the verse – was an important feature of both the track and also in Swick‘s journey as a producer. ‘Slopes’ showed he can write with and for other artists, but he can also make it slap when he wants to.
Hi Tom brought the romantic sounds of LuvOcean on board for ‘365’, one that came a little earlier in September, 2017.
From the onset, we, the listener, were serenaded through both the instrumental and the vocal. There’s something really intimate about this track. Maybe it’s the unconventionally downtempo nature of the track, or the way the vocals had been slightly programmed, but it’s a beautiful addition to the NLV Records catalogue.
Strict Face brought his long awaited first long-player to the label in late September, bringing five-tracks of Stricty goodness exploring sounds all across the sonic spectrum.
‘Silk Swathes’ bathed us in delicate textures, using mood as the premise for the build, something that remained consistent throughout the EP. Strict Face and London-based producer Tarquin come together on ‘Afterparty’, nabbing London rapper and vocalist Yayoyanoh for this dancehall favourite.
Sophiegrophy out of Melbourne lent her vocals for arguably the fattest track on the record, ‘Cobra Charm’. Strict Face brought the heat here, lending a tinge of grime influence to the production, and solidifying ‘Cobra Charm’ as a straight up banger.
‘Mirage Motif’ took a sharp left turn, offering up a different perspective on the EP. Sitting back and taking in the richness and density of the hip-hop influenced sound is the best way to hear this one as there’s so many layers to it. And closing out the record, a dub version of ‘Cobra Charm’ for those wanting to experience the production in its purest form.
A few months later, NLV Records announced a new signee in Sydney singer and songwriter, Kota Banks. She’d been long overdue for a chance to create and thrive without the outside influences of the wider music industry taking hold, so her place on the NLV Records roster came as an apt fit, and also something entirely unchartered for the label.
She debuted the project with her single ‘Holiday’, produced by Swick, at the start of November. The track came with a clip to accompany it too, solidifying Banks‘ headstrong approach to the project.
Her teaming up with Swick has proved to be momentous for both artists – forcing Swick outside of his comfort zone to produce pop music and Banks‘ out of hers, working with a producer as individualised and stylised as Swick.
Delivering the perfect summer anthem, ‘Holiday’ came as a refreshing dip against the pop being explored in Australia at the time. With Banks’ confident vocals booming atop Swick‘s tropical-themed instrumental, the single and the signing of Banks added an entirely new dimension to NLV Records‘ roster, and more importantly, demonstrating NLV‘s expert A&R talents.
Behind the scenes, Banks was kicking off her writing career too, co-penning Australia’s track for 2017’s Junior Eurovision, and also writing for the likes of 2017’s The Voice winner Judah Kelly, Singapore’s pop sensation Tabitha Nauser, Jai Waetford and SUPERCRUEL. Becoming part of the label was central in Banks pushing her songwriting further than she’d already taken it.
With NLV Records on a strong course to deliver not only forward thinking club music, but a menagerie of other sounds, including pop, Lewis Cancut‘s collaboration with Melbourne’s Jordan Variant couldn’t have come at a better time.
With Variant‘s highly distinctive deep vocals on show, his pairing with Cancut‘s unconventional pop sounds came as one of the most underrated collaborations of 2017. The post-human pop song used all of the best sounds Cancut‘s explored before – rubbery synths, elastic percussion and bubbly SFX, but in an entirely different context.
Kicking off 2018 for the label was Kota Banks‘ follow up single, ‘Zoom’. Working again with Swick, marimbas were aplenty on this one, amping it all up with some tonal arpeggiation in the chorus. In a similar vein to ‘Holiday’, Banks‘ vocals and the production work with one another to deliver a genre-bending, envelope-pushing piece of music that went beyond traditional pop.
Swick continued the label’s run of tracks kicking off the year with ‘Hydration’, and the announcement of his debut mixtape, Court Composer due for later in the year. NLV lent her vocals for the pristine, saccharine dream. Forward thinking club sounds were on show here, and marked Swick‘s return to club music in a period where he was producing heaps for other artists outside of his usual scope.
The track was completed when the pair were in London at Red Bull Studios. Using NLV‘s vocals in an instrumental way, Swick masterfully cut sounds in and out to create a rollercoaster of textures and moods. There’s not a dull moment on this track, and also showed how their artist dynamic always finds a way to allow each artist to bring the best out of one another.
Kota Banks returned in June with her single ‘Fiorentina’, highlighting her love for her Italian heritage. Teaming up with usual suspect Swick and grime artist Capo Lee, this one saw Banks leaning more into RnB territory, allowing for her vocals to shine.
It started out totally tongue-in-cheek, Banks‘ crafting a track about playing FIFA, but later allowing it to develop into something more than that. Swick delivered punchy beats, stuttered synths and soft keys to tie this one altogether.
Most importantly, Banks also released a version of the track where she sung the lyrics in Italian, widening her scope as an artist and seeing her join the likes of Yaeji in injecting their native tongue in with their predominantly Western-influenced work. It was an important step in allowing for the representation of non-Western identities in music to be widely accessed, hopefully leading to something that will become more prominent in mainstream music.
NLV herself was up next, giving us the first taste of her forthcoming EP and showcasing a new side to her as both a musician and songwriter.
‘Lucky Girl’ oddly paired the words Nina Las Vegas and downtempo in the same sentence, opting for an anthemic, balladic track instead of her usual four to the floor bangers we’d come to expect from her.
The slower tempo allowed for her sound to be truly dissected and appreciated, and when looked at it for what it is, it’s all complexities to the highest degree. Each production choice from the beginning felt like it was supposed to be there. From the whoosh of the pre-drop to the calm pads swimming throughout, ‘Lucky Girl’ showcased an entirely new dimension to NLV in a rare moment of open reflection.
Teaming up with Swick to help perfect the production, his contribution saw the addition of light drums, adding to the texture of the soundscape immensely.
The clip, compiled by Ego, featured a bunch of home videos of NLV in various musical contexts; recitals, musical theatre, homemade film clips, basically the works. The clip showed part of the musical journey she’s been on since birth, and allowed the viewer to reflect on her creative career up until the release of ‘Lucky Girl’ in an entirely new context.
July 2018 was a big one for the team at NLV Records. Kota Banks shared her PRIZE mixtape, entirely produced by Swick, and simultaneously, kicked off a conversation surrounding the mixtape format and the freedom it brings to artists, especially those who create music fitting inside that club label.
In terms of format, looking critically at the mixtape vs. the album makes a whole lot of sense for the NLV Records team. The word ‘album’ comes with the premise that the body of work they’re presenting is connected to one idea, or one experience and also the pressure of making it sonically cohesive, which can be difficult when you’ve got 100 songs but only ten sound great together. The mixtape alleviates a lot of that, with no expectation for the sounds to be cohesive and the pressure of releasing an ‘album’ ultimately being lifted.
PRIZE was the best way for Banks to wholly introduce her project to the world. Spanning ten tracks drawing influence from pop, RnB, hip-hop and more, the closest sonic comparison you could even make to the mixtape would be the sounds of future-pop artists like Charli XCX. And not to mention the feminist stance a lot of these tracks take. Banks is a strong woman and she used the mixtape to celebrate this.
Opener ‘Prize’ celebrated the worth of herself and women around her, proudly singing ‘Men out here do not deserve these women’. ‘Child’ saw her reflecting on a relationship turned sour, her booming vocals telling the story.
‘I’m It’ was a pristine millennial anthem encouraging you to be your biggest fan. Self-love was being practiced, with lyrics like ‘I love myself and that’s not cocky’/’Ah, that’s self help, the world should copy’. Previous single ‘Fiorentina’ made an appearance here, followed by potentially the fattest track on the record’ Toy’, driven by Swick‘s booming trap-esque production.
‘Insomnia’ and ‘U Changed’ took the quieter route production wise, allowing for Banks‘ songwriting and harmonies to shine through. ‘New Friends’ outlined the feeling you get after meeting new people with a strong hip-hop flow in her vocals. ‘Backstage’ was the most Swick out of all of them, his staggered beats driving Banks‘ carefully autotuned vocals forward.
And finally, a warning in ‘Dangerous’ closed it all out, leaving us feeling both whole and confident in ourselves.
Banks‘ debut mixtape did something a lot of pop music fails to do, and that was in its relatability. They’re songs for everyone, something her style of songwriting does really well in highlighting. PRIZE came as something entirely new against the Australian music landscape. The production from Swick was fresh, completely individual and was very obviously separate from anything being made, even now almost a year on.
NLV was up next, releasing her second solo EP Lucky Girl. The record saw NLV take a step away from her usual thumping, rubbery club sounds and experiment with context, seeing where her found sound could take her.
Single ‘Lucky Girl’ with Swick kicked it off, leaving us feeling whole and ready for track two. Dream team Vera Blue and Ecca Vandal featured next on ‘I Know How It Goes’, seeing NLV take her solo sounds and move them into choppy pop production, but still delivering that classic NLV flair in the drop.
Track three ‘Zigazig’ started quietly, the drums slowly building with time and finally dropping into a quiet oasis of dancehall percussion, warm synths and quietly chopped vocals. And rounding out the EP was potentially one of my fav NLV collaborations to date, ‘Thursdays’ featuring another Nina, Ninajirachi (who later would sign to NLV Records).
Another taste of Swick‘s forthcoming debut mixtape Court Composer came at us after. Teaming up with English grime MC Merky Ace, ‘1000 Shots’ saw Swick wade deeper into grime territory, putting his flair on the club-heavy genre.
Bringing forth a library of future-synth sounds and apt sound effects, the sound design on this one darted effortlessly between different samples, giving us a blend of grime, hip-hop and future bass all topped off with Swick‘s distinct hyper-real, mind-bending way of making music. Merky Ace bounced his punchy, bitey rhythms off the production for a vocoded haven.
Pumping out release after release with no sign of slowing down, the label continued to do what they do best, and that’s releasing thumping club music that exists totally in a league of its own. Jersey signee UNIIQU3 brought her debut EP, Phase 3, to the label next, delivering something historical and apt to the label.
‘Bubble Gum’ was up first, embodying self-assertion and body positivity in the form of big-room bass and driving vocal stings. ‘Do What I Want’ oozed personality through finessed bouts of bass and some expert songwriting. ‘Afterparty’ took a trancier road with slowed chords, sung vocals and a massive jungle beat that worked up to the drop. It’s one to simmer down to, but that doesn’t mean there’s no energy. And the title track ‘Phase 3’, a monstrosity of a dance track, rounded out the release, UNIIQU3‘s signature assertive vocals taking the lead on that one.
There’s a reason she’s considered the queen of Jersey club, and Phase 3 is historical proof as to why. The EP’s home on NLV Records is the perfect place for it.
In September 2018, NLV Records announced the addition of a new signee in previous NLV collaborator Ninajirachi. With 2 Nina’s and a roster boasting almost 50% women, NLV continued to prove to the world that no, electronic music doesn’t have a lack of non-men doing great things, the problem is the lack of representation across the board, which is something the label has continued to combat.
Ninajirachi debuted on the label with ‘Pathetic’, a track featuring Swedish vocalist Naah. The track also came with the announcement of Ninajirachi‘s debut EP, set to be released in early 2019.
Collaborating via the internet, the production/vocal match was absolutely perfect. With Naah‘s caramel smooth vocals and Ninajirachi‘s crystalline production, ‘Pathetic’ saw a different side to Nina‘s production. In a levelling up of sorts, the track displayed a certain determination and sense of confidence throughout. With years of experience both growing up with electronic music and working hard at it, ‘Pathetic’ really felt like a culmination of all of that.
In amongst all of the buzz with a new signee and a bunch of stellar releases on the horizon, Swick emerged in early September with another taste of his debut mixtape, following ‘Hydration’ with NLV. Teaming up with Kota Banks, the pair crafted a track for the Libra’s of the world.
‘Decisions’ took the best of Banks‘ songwriting skills and paired them with Swick‘s developed ear for crafting electro-pop bangers. Where his producing for Banks focuses more on crafting left of centre pop music, this track flips the formula on its head and used Banks‘ vocals for something a little more on the electronic side.
While you were likely still taking in the goodness of both Ninajirachi and Swick and Kota Banks‘ new music, Hi Tom gave us his first full length on the label in the form of his debut EP, u.
Spanning five tracks exploring all corners of the club spectrum, the release saw Hi Tom push his production scope to the limits and craft evocatively cinematic club music. Focusing on the tension between soft simplicity and explosive emotivity, he aptly brought frequent collaborator Luvocean back on board to vocalise what he’s captured instrumentally.
Sweeping soundscapes with the omission of percussion guided us gently into the release with ‘RAMP UP’, a track that darted from soft, harmonic ambience to lightly thunderous found sounds. ‘Vi’ with Luvocean treaded lightly into trap, while the vocoded vocals glided effortlessly over a floating arpeggio.
‘Fine’ brought sonic synthesis through the juxtaposition of glass-like melodies and punchy percussion. This was the most EBM track on the record, darting quickly between a stoned ambience and definitive, machine-like drums.
‘Off’ explored the potential of Hi Tom‘s more grandiose production feats. Taking a more stripped back route, Luvocean‘s vocals drifted hazily atop the tempered beat, delivering an infectiously memorable chorus and showcasing just how great these two are when they work together.
Rounding out the release was ‘Melting’, an ambitious melting pot of scattered percussion, silently explored vocal phrases and a glitchy menagerie of varying sonic moods. It was an apt way to round it all out, showcasing why Hi Tom is ahead of the curve.
A month on, Swick dropped his long-awaited debut mixtape in Court Composer. Featuring a stellar compilation of previous singles and new works yet to be explored, this release had the weight of a magnum opus. With an incredibly diverse list of collaborators featured on the mixtape, every inch of Swick‘s creative potential was explored here.
His Spank Rock collaboration in ‘Polo Love’ kicked off the mixtape, backed up by ‘Slopes’ with Tkay Maidza and Capo Lee and followed by ‘Hydration’ with NLV.
‘1000 Shots’ with Merky Ace saw him wade further into grime territory, whilst ‘Decisions’ with Kota Banks tore us back into pop.
A rare solo track from him in ‘Everywhere’ brought miminal, euphoric chords with inklings of global club sounds creeping in. Teetering tenuously between two moods, the track never settled into one feeling, leading strongly into the next track, ‘Mfana’. Teaming up with South African photographer-come-vocalist Kamohelo and production team Savage Skulls for this global club frenzy, the result beautifully paid homage to the history of club music.
‘Bum Bum Riddim’ is simply fun. Crafting a menagerie of percussive rhythms with the help of a vocal Korg VST, this one’s guaranteed to make you want to move. Capo Lee returned on ‘Send Me The Money’, the first track the pair recorded IRL with ‘Slopes’ coming together through the internet. ‘M1 Stinger’ closed out the mixtape, an intense club instrumental that wavers between minimalism and full-bodied soundscapes.
For the label’s 33rd official release (and a collaborative one with similarly-visioned UK label Local Action), Strict Face delivered his own fully-realised release on his debut mixtape, New Racer. The nine tracks on the record represented varying facets of his sonic exploration. With no features on the mixtape, that in itself was a bold move from an artist who collaborates as frequently as he does.
From the opening moments of the mixtape, we’re plunged into unexpected territory. ‘Lethargic’ opened a confidently drumless slow jam. Nothing but warbling guitars played in and out of one another on this one, leaving us more curious than ever as to what we were about to experience. That is until the Euro-trance-like synths of ‘Crisis Combo’ came careering in, breaking up the minimalism and chucking us straight into confident maximalism.
‘Viper Striking’ showcased Strict Face‘s knack for polyrhythms and crafting sounds that are characteristically off-kilter. With booming bass and a suspenseful melody, the drums were the focus here. ‘Panther Pierced’ flipped that notion on its head, the melody becoming the centrepiece and eventuating into potentially his hardest track yet.
‘Dial Fantasy’ dialled it down, putting the focus on the interplay between the metallic chords and the Moog bassline during the drop. Single ‘Cherryhugs’ slowed it right down, accented by a downtempo, arpeggiated harpsichord and a sultry, scattered flute melody.
Single ‘Gold Citro’ came as the bearer of change for Strict Face, him citing it as ‘the track that kind of kickstarted the whole mixtape for me’. With squeaky synths, punchy percussion and a knack for layering sounds in an unintrusive way, this felt like a defining moment for the release, combining polyrhythm, complex melodies and unifying sound choices.
‘Kiss Me Later’ began to simmer the mixtape down, a phone vibration inviting us to swim with the watery chords, soft piano line and the pitter patter of the trap percussion. ‘Starwipe’ took us home. Clocking in at 78BPM, the track saw us come full circle with a beautifully somber guitar, dense, minimal percussion and some crafty synthwork akin to the sun setting beautifully over the calming waves.
New Racer as an NLV Records release came as a warm embrace, showcasing the emotional maximalism club music can have.
And as we edge closer to present time, Ninajirachi‘s long-awaited debut EP in Lapland was hot in our laps in February of this year. We sat down with her around the time of the release to flesh it out and see where her head was at during the making of it, which also put the spotlight on why a label like NLV Records is so important. The feature illuminated Ninajirachi‘s background in music production, kicking off when she was around 8 years old. Six years later at age 14, she was gifted a copy of the music production software FL Studio (fondly referred to as Fruity Loops) and the rest is history.
Her Lapland EP is not only an accurate representation of her potential, but also a celebration of her years of experimenting and growing creatively.
The title track eased us into the EP, serving up soft ambience and a distant voice that maybe means something to her. Saccharine synths fell softly like snow, settling beautifully before a vocoded vocal sample and crisp percussion intervened, inviting us into track two, ‘Human’. Teaming up with frequent collaborator Freya Staer, the release saw the pair level up in all aspects of the term, Staer‘s songwriting humanising the computer-generative nature of Ninajrachi‘s meticulous production style.
‘Gardenia’ parts I and II both featured Sydney producer Oh Boy, an artist who occupies similar sonic territory to Ninajirachi. The coming together of the pair resulted in a two-part odyssey journeying atop enigmatically bouncy terrain before settling into rubbery sounds, strong polyrhythmic percussion and a dominant flute melody.
‘Pathetic’ with Naah settled a soft pop moment, while one of her first tracks ever, ‘Glass’ with Sydney producer Sequel, took it up a notch before leaving us with closer, ‘Voss’. Worried that it may be too ‘EDM’ for her to release, NLV encouraged her to put this on the record, and the rest is history. Closing on potentially the most epic moment of the release, her meticulous way of producing came to a boiling point here, the closing moments of the song settling into a similar soft ambience that we’re led in with.
There are a few things that can attest to the success of a label. I think the most important thing is vision and clarity, which is something NLV Records has had right from their Sampler back in 2015, and has continued to deliver in the years since the label’s launch. Diversity is another, and whilst electronic music continues to (very) slowly diversify, it’s labels like NLV Records that show how it’s done and continue to be bastions of change.
By providing a platform for like-minded artists to grow, thrive and work together, a community is fostered. In a period where club music has never really had a massive space to amalgamate – particularly in comparison to places that do like the UK and US – NLV Records is creating that space and in turn, putting Australian club music on the world stage.
Words by CAITLIN MEDCALF