Nala on Punk Rock, Mi Domina, and the Duality of her Lyrics
Oct 8, 2022
6 min read
Miami-born, LA-based DJ, Producer, and vocalist Nala emerged from the pandemic as one of Dirtybird's most powerful and poised voices. She struck a chord with an aesthetic that fuses indie rock and underground dance with an electric stage presence. Her brilliantly poetic lyrics are a breath of fresh air in a world flush with banal party tech. And her upfront delivery conjures the spirit of Blondie in the heyday of CBGB.
As she fights the sound of a lawnmower outside her LA home she tells me : "I make this joke all the time that I like when women yell and I like gentle, kind men in music. Soft, delicate, men like The Cure. And I like Blondie. I just want both worlds in dance music right now."
The indie dance meets punk rock image she cultivates has made her a standout in house music since the release of her Dirtybird debut, "Red," with Steve Darko in 2021. Her follow-up solo EP, Psychic Attack, further cemented her unique voice as one of the few in dance music that has something to say with her music. And now she's struck out on her own with Mi Domina, a record label and femme-dominated platform. Its first release sees Nala teaming up with Miami techno and electro mainstay E.R.N.E.S.T.O. for the three-track Get Familiar EP.
Being closely aligned with a venerated, respected label like Dirtybird may lead one to wonder why Nala would want to go her own way. Surprisingly she says, "it was Barclay— Claude VonStroke's idea. He thought it would be a good idea for me to have an outlet that's simply my own. And, and he's not wrong."
VonStroke and his wife Aundy were the core of Nala's team over the last year, And after working so closely with her, they recognize the fierce strength and independence foundational to her personality. Her unbridled creativity has led her to occupy a unique space in dance music that both personifies the spirit of feminism and communicates a deft understanding of how one can infuse social justice with modern dance floor heaters.
"That allows me to have the creative freedom to build out this whole space of my imagination," she says about Mi Domina. "In addition to that, I now get to work and highlight artists that I find [that are] femme, or they're non-binary, or they're just like really nice men. I get to exclude the assholes. I don't have to work with anyone I don't want to work with, and I get to really highlight guys in the industry that are actually good people, that are like super kind, but also super talented. [I get] to create this world where nice people come together."
Nala has been vocal about a scene overrun with unkind, self-important people. The lyrics for "God Complex," while open to interpretation, she explains, speak directly to this.
"When I first started writing it, I was really talking about Twitter and DJs. People that think they're so much smarter and better than everyone else. And they're making these critiques as if they're above everyone. That song is really like kind of a mockery."
All of Nala's lyrics are dual-layered, working on a macro and micro level.
It's not just the Dj community she's exposing. She's revealing the hypocrisy of an even wider net of shitty people.
"In a heavier sense, people that are putting out these abortion laws are people that have had abortions or have paid for other people's abortions. So, it's very 'above the law below your standards. We're untouched, but we're also very demanding,' right?" She says, quoting the lyrics to the song. "Like, we have everything we need already. But we're going to go ahead and be more demanding than we need to be. There's always two sides to lyrics that I write, there's the personal side. And then there's the bigger picture side."
It's a strong but expected statement for Nala and her label. Perfectly indicative of an imprint that will see femme-fronted punk bands sit alongside and collaborate with electronic producers. Bridging two worlds with more in common than most would admit and taking on a sound that she lovingly calls "grungy punk acid rave."
Starting the label comes at an opportune time for Nala, a year and change into her journey as a touring act, she's more comfortable and focused than ever. She explains that life on the road at times revealed a dark mental health aspect exacerbated by constant travel, inconsistent diet, and lack of a regular sleep schedule, leaving her to question if her choice to be a full-time DJ and producer was sustainable. She often found herself down when performing in smaller markets with smaller crowds.
However, a shift in perspective (And a chat with DJ Justin Jay) reminded her that this was meant to be fun no matter what. A new agent revealed the power of reworking her support network. And small things like later flights, noise-canceling AirPods, regular yoga and meditation, and bringing her vitamins and favorite personal care items with her on every trip have helped transform her outlook.
She's also discovered a new performance style that has made her eclectic sets even more vitalic.
"I'm really excited that I have this new style of performing. That is really working for me. And I never saw it coming. I started introducing my vocals into my live shows, where I start like yelling at people," she explains in a call back to her earlier reference to Blondie. "It just is working really well for me. The fans are noticing and booker's are noticing. So, that, to me is the most exciting part. Because it just means that I'm onto something good. And I can expand on that. And it definitely is setting me apart. So, I'm excited to see where that can take me."
As our conversation draws to a close, I comment that it seems that the theme has been growth. She agrees and mentions she just wrote a song with the same title, which is a natural segue into my final question for Nala: "what excites you about the future of dance music?"
"What excites me is the fact that there doesn't seem to be something that has caught wildfire yet. [There's] nothing that's just blown people's minds in recent memory. And I'm just excited to see what that becomes. And if I can get a foothold on it."