Ninajirachi: “Magic is around all of us all the time, if we’re open to it”

Natural meets digital on Nina Wilson’s debut mixtape ‘Second Nature’, where boundary-breaking electronic pop is the vehicle for a reverent, cerebral spirituality

To talk to Ninajirachi is to go down the rabbit hole. The 23-year-old Sydney producer is more than eager to chat with NME about her debut mixtape ‘Second Nature’, but she’s equally enthused to discuss nanobots being sent to the ocean floor to consume microplastics.

“I thought, that’s crazy,” marvels Nina Wilson. “They’re just recreating sea cucumbers or bottom feeders that clean the rubbish that’s organically there. It’s a kind of second version of this system that’s already existed since the dawn of time.

“I feel the same way about music software and electronic music,” she adds. “We have been able to make music since the dawn of humanity, but now, it’s literally so limitless because you can make any sound.”

Ninajirachi
Credit: Billy Zammit for NME

‘Second Nature’ is testament to this, twisting disparate genres and influences – bushland samples, EDM and IDM, her idol Porter Robinson, YouTube documentaries about ancient Chinese forests, unfolding heartbreak, hyperpop – into ever-unpredictable but never unstable forms.

Between hard-hitting club tracks (‘Petroleum’, ‘XX3’), glistening pop with choruses that shatter with the sudden violence of falling stalactites (‘Crush Me’) and a distorted space-transmission interlude (‘Soma’), ‘Second Nature’ cracks convention and offers earworms ready to dominate both hyper-niche but powerful playlists and mainstream radio.

While the project is a definitive arrival for Ninajirachi, its creator is modest. “It’s all of these little loose ends that I had that didn’t fit,” she says. “Some of these songs are three or four years old – the oldest is either ‘Petroleum’ or ‘X33’ from 2019 – and a lot of them just didn’t fit on other releases, but I liked them all in their own funny little way.

“I just take the album format really seriously. All of my favourite albums have really interesting stories and lore, cohesion that I don’t think this project has – to the calibre I would like it to have to call it an album.”

Ninajirachi
Credit: Billy Zammit for NME

‘Second Nature’ may not be an album, but there’s still plenty to talk about. Over a week of Zoom conversations, voice memos and DMs that span continents as Wilson travels home from the US, we’ve been trying to pin down what the concept of “Nature 2.0” means to Ninajirachi. The ocean nanobots are fascinating, but it turns out it’s not that deep: Wilson just liked the pun, the idea of deep-rooted instinct meeting evolution.

“I had finished all of the music and I still didn’t know what to call this thing,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘fuck, what is this?’ But ‘Second Nature’ is nice, because a lot of my music is inspired by this idea of ‘Nature 2.0’ – of recreating parts and sounds, things that nature does already but inside a computer.”

The melding of natural and digital becomes a speculative sci-fi scene on the cover of ‘Second Nature’. Created by digital artist WJX (aka Wang Jingxin), the artwork centres but camouflages Wilson. Save for her long straight red hair, she’s inseparable from her surrounds, perching on a gigantic, glistening metallic tree where moss, wood and metal coils meld together to reach far beyond the skies: a seamless melding of synthetic and organic worlds to create something new.

Ninajirachi on the cover of NME Australia #36
Ninajirachi on the cover of NME Australia #36

“Someone else noticed that all my cover art has some element of nature on the front,” says Wilson. “And this one has a giant tree, the biggest thing I’ve had on the cover. It wasn’t intentional, but it’s all naturally tied together, without me thinking about it too much.”

Having grown up on NSW’s Central Coast, Wilson has always been inspired by the Australian soundscape. They’re quite hidden, but keen ears will pick up bird calls, cicadas and the hum of the bush sampled across the mixtape. “Where my family lives, you wake up and hear bellbirds and kookaburras – that’s just what I grew up listening to all the time. And I spent a lot of time at the beach,” says Wilson. “Generally, the music I’ve always found interesting is quite texturally novel, and nature is so unpredictable. Without getting into the nerdy synthesis stuff, you genuinely cannot get these frequencies in pure synthesised sounds. You have to implement the randomness of nature.”

If nature was one constant throughout Wilson’s childhood, the other was the internet. As a teen, she used Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube to go deeper into electronic music beyond triple j’s poster boys and the Central Coast’s love of surf rock. “I heard dubstep as a 12-year-old, and I was like, ‘Well that’s not a piano or a guitar, what is that?’” she recalls. “Even though the internet’s crazy sometimes, I love having been an internet baby. I just would not be doing any of this without it.”

“Even though the internet’s crazy sometimes, I love having been an internet baby. I just would not be doing any of this without it”

In 2014, Wilson had a week of work experience at Sydney community station FBi Radio, which at the time had its own dedicated electronic station, FBi Click. SOPHIE’s ‘Hard’ had just been released and was on high rotation. “It changed my life.” She began to venture into the city to attend any events around the scene.

“It’s only a two-hour train to Sydney,” Wilson says, “so I would see any kind of music industry panel – ‘how to get your songs on Spotify’, ‘how to play’, anything put on by APRA or triple j Unearthed – and I would go down. I’d try and meet people and would give them little USBs with my beats on them, then I’d get the train home at 9PM and go to school the next day.”

In 2016 and 2017, Wilson was a finalist in triple j’s Unearthed High competition, and her first official single in 2017, ‘Pure Luck’, became the broadcaster’s second most played track of the year. That twinkling, glitchy lullaby showed Wilson’s knack for restraint and understated emotional resonance. As she became of age, her music grew, simply put, more fun, exemplified by the 2019 double release of the wet and wild tracks ‘Water Gun’ and ‘Stingray’. Filled with dog barks, fake whistles and monumental drops, they established Wilson’s ability to balance irreverence and unpredictability without falling into obnoxious irony. Three EPs followed: ‘Lapland’, ‘Blumiere’ and ‘True North’.

Ninajirachi
Credit: Billy Zammit for NME

That last project was a collaboration with labelmate Kota Banks, whose boisterous, down-to-clown voice was a perfect match for Wilson’s bouncy production. But Kota – real name Jess Porfiri – credits Wilson’s warmth for the all-in braggadocio on trap track ‘Slytherin’ and the superstar shine of ‘Secretive!’.

“She’s so unique, this really generous, warm, kind-hearted fairy princess,” Porfiri gushes. “She brings out the best in everyone that she has a relationship with… And the craziest thing about her is she’s so humble. I don’t think she even realises [her power] yet.”

Fellow producer Laces, who co-wrote ‘Petroleum’, concurs. “Nina is probably one of the only producers that I’ve met in the Australian scene that I think truly has the ‘it factor’,” he says. “She’s just so switched on. It’s crazy. Plus, she has the ability to do the artist’s job – the networking and the business side of things, the traveling and blah blah. She just has the whole package, it’s actually fucked up.”

Wilson has been signed since 2018 to NLV Records, the label founded by Nina Agzarian, aka producer and DJ Nina Las Vegas. Wilson had been a day-one, spending her formative years playing around with the sample pack the label released in 2015, the year it was founded. Fast forward seven years and Wilson is one of NLV Records’ brightest prospects – so bright that Agzarian understands if she has to make the leap from the independent label.

“In an electronic landscape, a young female producer [with her career] is rare. That’s not being jaded, that’s fact,” says Agzarian. “And [now] is when she deserves to cross over to the mainstream. I’m so proud of our five-year journey together and I don’t want it to end, but I’m also one of her biggest supporters. If Ninajirachi outgrows NLV Records, I’m OK with that… If that means evolving our working relationship somehow so Nina can be the next Dua Lipa, Fred Again.. or Flume, I’m down.”

Ninajirachi
Credit: Billy Zammit for NME

The world Ninajirachi has created on ‘Second Nature’ is thoroughly immersive and deeply emotional. Shortly after the mixtape’s release earlier this month, Wilson unveiled an accompanying virtual world designed with visual artist Ego. In it, players run through a dreamlike version of Australian bushland, which grows in response to the music’s peaks and valleys. Fans can also upload videos of plants, trees and structures to have them 3D-rendered into the world. It’s a prototype of Wilson’s long-held dream to release a fully fledged gaming experience alongside a record.

“Game soundtracks have massively influenced my music,” she says. “If you hear the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon soundtrack – especially generation IV [the 2007-2009 DS and Wii releases] – you’ll think, ‘that’s Ninajirachi music’. I think it’s because you can’t passively play a video game – it requires your full active attention. You can’t do anything else while you play it. So if you play them for hours and hours and hours, the music that you hear becomes very familiar and kind of penetrative as well.”

As with all of Ninajirachi’s music, all the lyrics on ‘Second Nature’ were either written or co-written by Wilson. The mixtape is thematically cohesive, its toplines capturing a jumble of trepidation and excitement – a fear of losing something precious. In gentle pop ballad ‘Things I Never Nu’, Wilson sings sweetly about discovering new depths of a person and the lengths you’d go to for them: “Blue like an angel, beautiful, lethal / Think I could do something evil for you”.

“A lot of my music is inspired by this idea of ‘Nature 2.0’ – of recreating parts and sounds, things that nature does already but inside a computer”

The single ‘One Long Firework In The Sky’, is a glitched-out spiritual sequel to B.o.B’s ‘Airplanes’ with Hayley Williams, as featured artist Montaigne pleads for the tiniest gesture to stay in an obviously dead relationship. But excitement returns with ‘Petroleum’, a bouncy, metallic track about holding onto the high of clubbing or a new relationship, depending on how you see it (“And if I can’t find a way to stand/then no one else can have it”).

And then there’s ‘Start Small’, where Wilson reminds herself to stay grounded. Her favourite song on the mixtape, it builds from gentle twinkling reminiscent of ‘Pure Luck’ into a SOPHIE-adjacent assembly line of robotic whizzes – an intense, noisy take on the idiom ‘from little things, big things grow’. Wilson credits the song with rejuvenating her love of music after the mid-2021 COVID lockdowns, inspiring her to retool older tracks and reshape the mixtape into what we hear now.

“I hated music last year – I was so off it,” she admits. “I’d lost so many shows. I had no motivation, especially making dance music. I didn’t even want to work on this mixtape. And then in December, I played five shows supporting Mallrat, I went to Melbourne, and I had the best time of my life.”

Ninjirachi
Credit: Billy Zammit for NME

Wilson says playing Coalesce, a hyperpop-leaning club night by label Good Manners, and being around so many producers – specifically the Loner Online crew (of which Laces is a member) – shifted things.

“All this fun I had allowed me to make something that I liked once again. I came back, sat on my floor and made ‘Start Small’ in a couple of hours. I didn’t even think, it was so magical. You probably hear artists talk about this, but I truly feel like in those moments I’m just the vessel. That’s not my idea, I’m just the means by which it manifests – as kind of woo woo as that sounds.”

The idea of a higher power comes up repeatedly while talking to Wilson, whether it be in the awe with which she describes the world’s largest natural sinkhole, from which instrumental ‘Tiankeng’ takes its name, or in these moments of trusting her instincts. On Twitter, Wilson occasionally references and thanks God, and on ‘Things I Never Nu’, she promises that “God never gave us more or less than we can handle”.

“I’d say I’m a deeply spiritual person,” she says. “I have really deep faith in the universe – to me, the universe is God and as long as I do my bit, it’s gonna take care of me. I just think that that magic is around all of us all the time, if we’re open to it – and I’ve just felt so many of those experiences happen in my music and in my life that I just can’t not believe.”

This is where Wilson’s idea of ‘Nature 2.0’ gets slightly more esoteric than how it’s used by, say, Blockchain enthusiasts. “It boils down to this great reverence and awe for nature and the universe,” she says. “That sounds like some hippie magic stuff, but it’s just that science and maths and geometry are so bewildering and perfect that they are magical to me.

“And the things I find wonderful about software are the same things I find wonderful about nature – they are both infinitely mathematically complex and impossible to fully harness or understand. But they are both so magical that we never stop trying.”

Ninajirachi’s ‘Second Nature’ is out now on NLV Records. See her live at upcoming festivals Spilt Milk, Beyond The Valley and Wildlands

CREDITS

Styling by Kurt Johnson
Hair and makeup by Gavin Anesbury

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