India Jordan’s quarantine routine goes like this: Thirty minutes of yoga in the morning, six or seven hours working remotely for King’s College London, then a bike ride, half an hour studying German, and finally, time to work on music. “When I was in Berlin a few years ago, I found a hundred Euros on the floor, so I put that towards learning German,” they explain. “I would love to live in Berlin eventually—like every other DJ.”
Living in Berlin would require gaining enough traction to make music a full-time career, something the 29-year-old self-taught DJ and producer from working-class Yorkshire, England is skeptical will really happen. Just as Jordan was starting to get more bookings around Europe earlier this year, the coronavirus canceled everything. They’re doing their best to take it in stride. “I make most of my music when I’m traveling on trains, or going through a period of time that the music helps me process,” they say. “So it’s been a bit of a change of pace making music during lockdown.”
Jordan is speaking over video chat from their modest, white-walled bedroom in East London. Beside them sits a blue bookshelf, where miniature plastic animals are lined up like they’re posing for a class photo. It’s near the end of May, two months into coronavirus quarantine in the UK. Nothing is going quite according to plan, including—somewhere far down the list—the release of For You, the collection of triumphant dance tracks Jordan unveiled a few days prior.
“I was a bit on the fence about releasing it,” they admit. “I was like, what’s the point in having this out?” Tours were on hold, clubs closing down—nobody would have a chance to hear the songs the way Jordan had hoped they’d be played, in big rooms with real subwoofers. “But I think what’s happened instead is it’s brought the narrative to the surface,” they add. “People are engaging with this emotional connection that I have with the EP, because there’s no other context to absorb it.”
The “you” in For You is Jordan themself. The EP represents overcoming emotional lows, finding security in their sexuality, and finally releasing a vinyl record with their name on it. At one point, they hold a copy up to the camera to display its dedication for me: “To India, this is for you, love India.” The six-song set hits like a wave, rushing in with the swinging filter house of opener “I’m Waiting (Just 4 U),” cresting with the delirious, mood-changing title track, spilling out through the submarine synths of “Emotional Melodical” and the jittery “Rave City.” Jordan’s sample-heavy style weaves together house, techno, hardcore, breakbeats, and neon-hued synth melodies. With “Westbourne Ave” and “Dear Nan King,” the sound becomes calmer and more spacious, hinting at their experience in ambient music, but just beneath the surface lies the insistent energy of a packed dancefloor.
As we talk, Jordan is casual, affable, and apologetic, corralling wide-ranging thoughts about creativity, work, class, gender, community. They were raised as an only child by a single mother in Doncaster, Yorkshire, an industrial city in northern England ground down by years of austerity and disinvestment. “It’s impossible to get a job there, and the jobs are just like supermarket or telephone directory work,” they say. Their own first job was in a Cadbury chocolate shop. New CDs were out of budget, so a teenaged Jordan compiled a collection of mostly emo and dance music via cassette tapes, bootleg CD-Rs, and torrented MP3s.
At the nearby University of Hull, Jordan was inspired to study philosophy after reading Karl Marx, whose analysis of class struggle spoke to the reality of life in Doncaster. A growing fascination with club music drew them to the school’s DJ society. “It was just all guys, and they were saying things like ‘CDJ’ and ‘monitor,’ and I had no idea what they were talking about,” Jordan remembers. “I guess that would have been enough for someone to say, ‘This isn’t for me,’ but I stuck with it.” Some members turned out to be more helpful than they initially seemed. By Jordan’s final year of college, they were the club’s president.
In Hull, they organized events and took on DJ gigs, building a reputation in the local scene. They moved to London in 2014 and started co-hosting the ambient listening salon New Atlantis with Allen Wootton (aka producer Deadboy). Jordan gradually expanded the project into an independent record label, which they’ve since wound down as other responsibilities grew. (The final New Atlantis salon took place March 15, just days before Britain’s coronavirus lockdown.) They also started making their own music, releasing a five-track EP, DNT STP MY LV, in 2019. One track in particular, “DN4,” earned notice in the electronic music press. Late last year, distressed to see themself misgendered in coverage, Jordan came out as nonbinary in an Instagram post.
As the growing audience for their music pushed them to talk about gender fluidity, Jordan’s day job actually made it easier. For the past couple of years, they’ve worked in the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion office of King’s College London, the university department tasked with fighting discrimination. “Being in a job that celebrated being myself was super important and played a really integral role to me coming out as nonbinary,” they say. “If it wasn’t for the job that I’d been in, I don’t know what my journey would have looked like.” Even a supportive workplace can’t make the whole slippery concept of gender any simpler; Jordan readily admits they’re still figuring out what feels most true to them. They wrote an essay on the subject for the King’s College website, but they’re still not quite sure how they’ll explain to their mother and grandmother back home in Doncaster.
In a lot of ways, For You is a personal capstone on a familiar queer narrative, one about leaving an isolated, less-than-welcoming hometown for the city, where the clubs are bigger and the lights brighter—a place where you can be more truly yourself. It’s the same story that inspired EP closer “Dear Nan King,” dedicated to the protagonist of Tipping the Velvet, a 2002 BBC adaptation set in 1890s London that Jordan watched as a tween. Eighteen-year-old Nan King leaves her coastal village for the city and discovers a place where she can love women and dress as a man if she wants; she takes to it almost immediately, learning to do things she’d never thought possible. The way the series addresses sexuality, gender presentation, and even sex work feels extraordinary for a terrestrial broadcast from almost 20 years ago. “It was the first show I’d ever seen that showed queer characters, showed gay women, and all of the different complexities that come with that,” Jordan says. “And it had a happy ending as well, which is super rare.”
Pitchfork: What was it like growing up in Doncaster?
India Jordan: It’s quite a sad place for me. I went to a school that was one of the lowest performing in the country, and it actually got closed down after I left. You know the whole idea that working-class people are more likely to be ignorant and racist and homophobic? That kind of proverbial racism was quite rife in Doncaster when I was younger. It still is. So I wanted to just leave there as soon as possible, and I haven’t really maintained that many friendships from there.
But I suppose a positive thing about Doncaster is quite a lot of UK dance is associated with working-class cities and towns; [subgenres] like hardcore, donk, bassline—they all come from places like Liverpool, Sheffield, and Wigan. So in terms of music, I had a lot of exposure from a very young age. I was into bassline and trance and donk and happy hardcore.
How did you get started making music of your own?
When we first did our compilation [2017’s New Atlantis Volume 1], that was what kicked me up the ass to actually start making music. I’d been DJing for 10 years and I had been putting off producing for about seven or eight because I just thought it was something really highly technical that I couldn’t access. And because I was working full-time, I really struggled to find the time. So I made that one ambient track that went on the compilation, and then I made another after that. Then I had a chat with Tom Lea, who runs [London record label] Local Action, and he’s my manager for music now. He said to me in a club one time, “Just make some club bangers.” I was really inspired by that. That was about two and a half years ago, when I finally got serious about making music to listen to in clubs.
Can you walk me through how you’d start writing a club track?
When I open up Ableton, sometimes I’m like, OK, I want to give a drum’n’bass track a go. Other times I’ll just be listening to random samples and hear this two-second note that sounds ace, and I’ll make a whole track out of it. If I make a loop and I put another sound on it that doesn’t quite go right, but I think it would be good on its own, I often create several projects just from one file. “WARPER,” which is a single from last year, I made at least five tracks just from that. I was trying to add a vocal to it, but I knew the vocal didn’t really work, so I created another file that says “make another track.” I’ve got lots of different file names that are called like, “make a track with these breaks,” “make a track at 1:50,” “make a new track with some synths.”
As someone who is nonbinary in the music scene and also working professionally in diversity and inclusion, what do you think those fields can learn from each other?
One thing that stems across both my day job and my music life is the importance of community. If it weren’t for my label family and my community of musicians and friends, I really wouldn’t be where I was—and likewise for my full-time job. When I first started working at King’s College, the main thing I did was support staff networks and communities, and that related back to my communist ideologies. The only way we can ever achieve something is through collective action and community. I gravitate to worlds and to professions that have that at their core.
I think the music industry has a lot to learn—every industry has a lot to learn in terms of equality, diversity, and inclusion. The world’s still run by billionaire white old men, and there’s still a lot of power stuff at play. Those that have significant power need to use their privileges to support others. Sometimes it shocks me that some DJs will get like £100,000 [about $123,000] for a set, and someone [else] will get a fiver. The unequal distribution of money in music is a bit ridiculous.
Forgive me for scrolling your social media, but I noticed you’re also really into bats.
God, I love bats. I always have these little interests. I’m really into deer too, so I have a deer tattoo, and random horses—this a gay horse. Me and my partner started a samosa blog where we’d review samosas, and then we also started an Instagram account where we were juggling. I’m also really into whales. I have this theory about whales being the most spiritually heightened animal. You know how sound therapy and sound baths are about resetting your vibrations because of the way that the Earth vibrates? Whales, and blue whales in particular because they’re so big, are essentially like the vibration of the ocean.
You sample the 2002 BBC series Tipping the Velvet on “Dear Nan King.” How did that song come about?
Watching the series when I was younger really helped my journey into understanding my own sexuality. In November last year, I eventually got ’round to reading the book it’s based on, by Sarah Waters. It was like I was experiencing it all again for the first time. I was really rooting for Nan King, and I fell a little bit in love with her, which is one of the first times that’s ever happened to me with a book.
Around that time, I wrote this tune, and it had all this uplifting energy. I got this big rush and I was so happy listening to it, and I’ve never really had that connection with my music before. It’s the only tune that I’ve made that I don’t get sick of listening to. I associated all these feelings coming from reading that book and the journey that I’ve been on, reflecting on my 12-year-old self about to experience quite a lot of homophobia and rejection, to then being 29, very confident in myself now, which is something that I’d never had. Not very confident, not overly confident, but confident I know who I am and in my place in the world.
That song for me encapsulates all those feelings that I was going through and processing at the time. I pulled from the TV adaptation after I’d written the song. It was really great that it happened to be the ending of the EP, because I sampled a section from the show that says, “There’s nothing wrong with me at all,” which is a bit of a message to my younger self.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork