For those well-versed in the house scene, Nala is a familiar face. She set up shop on Beatport in 2019 and has frequented the circuit enough to become recognizable as a DJ. But those outside the pocket will express skepticism. What is it that makes house music unique anyway? Certainly, the constraints are well visible. 120 bpm – kick and hats and snares in all directions. I hope you have a catchy topline because the rhythm is non-negotiable. Moreover, the scene is saturated enough as it is.
Nala made a name for herself in the shark tank (Los Angeles) and her sets online corroborate this extravagantly. The Dirtybird TV Party for example is an excellent showcase. It’s melodic tech house that remains consistent between the changes. But that set was two years ago – what’s she up to now?
Well, she’s playing an upcoming show with Bonobo this year, which begs an important follow-up question. Did Nala get Bonobo into house music? Surely not, but the timing is too convenient. We needed confirmation, however, and Lightning in a Bottle was opportune. We caught some time with Nala on Friday to check up on what’s she doing, what she’s going to do, and how she did the things she’s already done.
Audrin Baghaie: What’s up?
Nala: Oh, man. A lot of things are up these days. But a lot of things are also down, and I think the importance is finding the balance.
AB: Oh that’s huge. I was just wondering how your day was going.
N: No I had to take it existential for a moment. This is my fourth interview of the day so I’m getting creative.
AB: I love it. Thank you for saving that for me. How was your set?
N: My set yesterday was very chill. It was good vibes, a lot of happy people. I was having a good time. It wasn’t anything substantially insane, like mind-blowing. But I think in that way it was kind of nice.
AB: Compared to EDC?
N: EDC was extensively aggressive. It was a lot of energy, yeah, but it was good.
AB: In terms of gigs you’ve played, of that energy, of that crowd, where would you rate it? Is it overrated or is it what you wanted?
N: I think every DJ deserves the opportunity to DJ at EDC because it is a substantially cool and massive event. The more you DJ, the more you realize that everything just blends into each other. So it wasn’t something that was like, “Oh my God.” But it was also really cool in general.
AB: I remember I found out about you in 2019 through a co-worker, and since then you’ve absolutely hit a pocket of momentum that you’ve been jamming in. What would you attribute that momentum to?
N: In 2019, I had this very individualistic mentality when it comes to writing, where I’m just kind of, “I’m just doing my own thing.” I mind my own business. But I realized that if I don’t start working with other artists I’m probably not going to get very far. I started writing music for labels and that’s when I started working with Claude Von Stroke. And he started mentoring me, I can attribute a lot of my success up until this point to him plucking me out of the local DJ community and going, “Okay, I’m going to give you the platform, and you better rock it or you’ll fall to the wayside.” And I said, “Okay, challenge accepted.”
AB: So this is rocking it.
N: I literally said, “Let’s rock it.”
AB: That’s beautiful. So you’re based in LA, and relevant to its seedy, dark house scene…
N: There is a massive underground scene in LA that is some of the best music, and some of the best people that I’ve ever met in that have been grinding and really creating a very cool cultural moment for quite some time. I definitely was part of that industry for a long time. And those people are my OG supporters and OG friends that anytime I see them, I love them. And I think having that root as a dance music artist is very important. I don’t think you can just… I mean, you could, technically. If you write the biggest electronic song in the world, you could just pop up out of nowhere. But if you really want to do it the organic way and you didn’t write the biggest song in the world right off the bat, you just build yourself within these communities and that’s how you develop your core.
AB: In the same stem of that local cultivation of house music, where do you think LA stands against Chicago, the UK? I’m sure you’re proud to rep.
N: LA underground, the warehouse party scene is more in line with Europe than it would be Chicago. They are definitely heavily influenced by bass music breaks, electro. Just really underground music. That’s all you’ll find. You will not find main stage behavior in the underground over there.
AB: Scaling a bit out, you’re touring with Bonobo. How, why, where, when?
N: I’m only playing one show with him! I am friends with his friends. Throughout the industry, you just start to find your crew. Especially within Los Angeles, I found myself in the crew of Amtrac, and TEED, and Durante, DJ Seinfeld. And I think it’s a mutual understanding of that indie-adjacent electronic music that’s got us all wrapped up together. But also, I just fucking love them. They’re fucking cool people that I get along with. We jive together. So that’s how things like that happen. Through them, I met Simon. And I don’t know, he just gave me a chance. And I’m really excited because he’s definitely one of the first artists… In 2019, he was one of the first artists that I was like, “I make music to make music to sound like him.” And I want to get earthy and weird. And so, to be recognized by him at this point is really nice. I’m very grateful for it. So yeah.
AB: It’s cool because Bonobo is lately going into house. He’s been tripping into that field.
N: Yes, he is going way more into the house and techno world as a DJ. And I think, in general, a lot of artists are doing that. Because it is financially, first of all, incredibly unreasonable to tour as a live act right now. You will lose so much money. So as a result, you’ll be forced into spaces that require you to DJ. And if your biggest songs are not DJ-able… DJ-able. If that’s a word, then you’re screwing yourself. So I think a lot of live acts that hit that electronic indie-adjacent space are moving into the DJ space to actually make money so they could pay their rent.
AB: I don’t know how much of an effect you had on him personally into moving into house music, but I thank you for your service.
N: No, I had no effect on him moving into house music. I think this is just me making a comment on the general industry as a whole and based on what I’ve seen from artists who did tour live last year and lost substantial amounts of money and are struggling. So I just think that that is what’s happening at the moment.
AB: What is the future for Nala?
N: I am going to continue to incorporate rock and dance music. That is my true passion. I just am tired of…
AB: Gestures broadly?
N: Gestures broadly. No offense to the people DJing. But to me, I love rock music. I love indie dance. And I’m just missing it. I miss the era of Fatboy Slim.
AB: So naturally, there will be a shift towards maybe more instrumentation.
N: I mean, yeah, if the economy chills out. But at this moment, I’m going to DJ and I’m going to scream lyrics, and that’s the best thing I could do for myself.
AB: Last thing.. Is your actual name Nala, by the way?
N: No my name is not actually Nala. My name is Stefania. I am Italian. And when I was in Italy, my best friend’s dog was named Nala, and that’s what I took it from it. She was a pit bull, a little spicy girl. So yeah, that’s where I took it from.
AB: So in terms of Lion King…
N: Her dog’s name is a Lion King reference. My reference is a dog.
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