I. JORDAN: Forever Changes

I. JORDAN finally knows who they are. A confident, exciting and thoughtful producer whose music reflects such an identity. After a string of acclaimed EPs, this proud Trans artist is ready to unleash their debut album next year – an album that will encapsulate the liberation they now feel. “It’s gonna be Trans as fuck,” they enthusiastically state…

“This is... really not me.” 

I. JORDAN is laughing. The DJ and Ninja Tune producer is sitting in a café in Stoke Newington, north London, and, from a china teapot, they are pouring amber-coloured Earl Grey tea into dainty white cups and saucers. They’re jokily acknowledging how this particular set-up might feel in stark juxtaposition to their working class and Northern roots – which, they are quick to point out, incidentally mirror the origins of much of the UK’s best dance music.

A few years ago, Doncaster-born Jordan started releasing music under their birth name. In 2019, they released their first solo EP, ‘DNT STP MY LV’, the same year they came out as gender fluid, or non-binary – during this time, their star began rising, and they quickly became heralded as a need-to-know name with their sparkling, kinetic production and heavy, fun, eclectic DJ sets, both of which pull from a vast and deep breadth of musical knowledge. But, of course, this was all around the time the world went into the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

It meant that a lot of Jordan’s acclaim came during a time when we could not actually go outside: 2020’s ‘For You’ EP was a breakthrough moment, and yet its audience was not listening in the intended club, but rather connecting with it on a different level, at home. For its creator, this all meant further time for introspection, coming closer to a better understanding of their gender identity – albeit, without the opportunity to be out and dancing among the Trans and Queer community during that time. Lockdown also meant they were able to reflect on what the scene needed to do in order to be more inclusive and safer. 

And so, the past year feels like it must be a strange proposition for the now-32-year-old – emerging from lockdowns as someone who is now respected and revered across the dance music world, finally able to play in clubs again to those enraptured listeners; finally able to be out in the world as a version of themselves they feel comfortable with; but also, finally actually having the capacity to make good on their self-described “theorising” on safety issues in music spaces.

“All this stuff was happening, but I couldn’t do anything to put it into action,” they recount of the lockdowns. “People were connecting with my music, which was absolutely incredible… but now I’ve been on the road for a good year… and initially I was so grateful to be back in the clubs and just so fucking happy to be doing what I love and finally living the dream that I had been theorising might happen while I was in lockdown – but I was scared of it falling through, because it felt like too big a dream. So I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, I guess – I was like: ‘If I get misgendered on the road, it’s fine’, and it’s only really in the past two months that I’ve been like: ‘Actually, I’m fucking sick of this and I’m gonna do something about it.’ Sorry, is this a tangent?”

This is often how they talk – in long, enthusiastic, thoughtful answers that veer into self-conscious apologies. But, fundamentally, while Jordan is certainly conscientious, they are anything but apologetic as a person; it’s reflected in the boldness of their work, both as an artist, and also as someone pushing for better inclusivity and representation across the music industry.

Today, they are exuding a confident, content energy, dressed in a crisp white adidas T-shirt, adorned in delicate silver piercings and a thick silver chain loose around their neck; their aura feels bright like their newly blue-green hair. “I wanted to bring some more colour into my life,” they smile, though later they will explain that the colour feels most representative of how they see their gender.

Earlier this year, Jordan announced they would now be using the artist name I. JORDAN – and in their personal life, they are now simply known as Jordan: a name which is ambiguous in terms of its gender identity; the artist’s preferred space to occupy. “It felt like coming out all over again,” they say of the decision. “While I don’t agree with it, we operate under this compulsory binary system, and with that you get compulsory binary names. You don’t get men called India. And since I started asking my friends to call me Jordan and experimenting with that, people don’t know my gender – and I fucking love it!” For serious matters, they use the name Jordan Jordan currently; otherwise, they often get their post addressed to ‘Jordan Hee-hee’: “As in, I’m giggling at myself.”

So when they laugh while pouring out our tea, I. JORDAN is perhaps tacitly showcasing a degree of self-awareness: this is an artist who in some ways is constantly in flux, sure, darting off in various directions – conversationally, musically, personally – and revelling in the fact that nothing is fixed. But also – right now, at least – it feels like I. JORDAN is an artist who knows exactly who they are.

“At the time I didn’t realise what I was doing was the first of its kind in that area, now I look back and I’m like: ‘Oh, it makes sense that no one wanted to help me’ and ‘It makes sense that there were all these gatekeepers around me.’ I just thought they were being dicks at the time. Which… they were, but it was also part of a bigger picture.”

Up in Doncaster, Jordan was raised by their single mother. As a kid, they had a difficult time fitting in at school and in the area – they were bullied at school and have spoken before about the lack of Queer spaces in the town. And so, like many others who have felt adrift, adolescent Jordan found a home in music. 

“Dance music is a big thing in the North, you just hear it everywhere,” they say, “I’ve always been around happy hardcore, hard house, donk, trance, bassline – and bassline especially, that originated around 20 miles south from where I used to live. I think a lot of those sounds have their roots in working class culture.” They pause and laugh: “All good music does, doesn’t it?”

On top of the more general local exposure to UK dance sounds, to be a teenage music nerd in the late-2000s was, of course, to be on MySpace. Jordan found the social media site to be indispensable: “Thank God for MySpace, because I don’t know if I would have found music in that way otherwise!” 

Among the many other genres that sky-rocketed from the platform, screamo and emo were perhaps central to the MySpace era – and while Jordan doesn’t feel any particular affinity with Doncaster as a place, they are fondly enthusiastic when it comes to remembering the gigs from that scene that took place there. Local venues like the Leopard and the Doncaster Dome played host to early shows from bands like Bring Me The Horizon (“It must have been one of their first shows, and my friend got into a fight with the guitarist”), Funeral for a Friend, Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance.

“I’m sure there is a Venn diagram between people who liked that kind of music and people who like drum’n’bass and heavier styles,” they say now. They had started playing guitar, but soon, just before they headed to university in Hull to study philosophy, the MySpace wormhole had drawn them to the intense electronics of Australia’s Pendulum. 

“On MySpace when you could add music to your profile? For me, that revolutionised how you found music. I found Pendulum, and then I found Black Sun Empire, then London Elektricity, which was how I found Hospital Records.” 

Jordan was immediately hooked and, during the university’s Freshers’ Fair, they came across a group of guys with some decks, playing drum’n’bass. Though Jordan “had no idea what DJing was” back then, they were excited to find people into the same music as they were, and quickly realised that Hull was a big drum’n’bass city. And so it was that they joined Crystal Clear, the university’s DJ society – and at that time, they were the only non-male member, honing their craft and putting on drum’n’bass parties in the city. Soon, Jordan would become the society’s first non-male president. 

Their time in Crystal Clear feels emblematic of the dance music industry more generally, and Jordan’s place within it. They recall how very few of the males in the society were willing to help Jordan, and so they were largely self-taught – the exception being Finn McCorry, with whom Jordan became close friends, who taught them how to use CDJs (in turn, Jordan taught them how to DJ on vinyl – they laugh that they are “too lazy” to play records now, though note that they have a lot of respect for the likes of Eris Drew, Angel D’lite and Octo Octa, who all DJ on vinyl). They recount a story where, on their first night playing on CDJs, someone else in the society commented on Jordan not being very good on the CDJs. 

“That was the context I came from, these people watching and judging me with that attitude – the drum’n’bass scene in Hull is quite chin-strokey and full of gatekeepers.”

Still, from Jordan’s presidency onwards, they say there have been markedly more non-males involved in the society. Even in just taking up that space, Jordan opened up things for the next generation. “At a lot of the gigs that I do now, there are kids that come from Crystal Clear, that are like ten years younger, who say that they know I used to be part of it,” they say. “At the time I didn’t realise what I was doing was the first of its kind in that area, now I look back and I’m like: ‘Oh, it makes sense that no one wanted to help me’ and ‘It makes sense that there were all these gatekeepers around me.’ I just thought they were being dicks at the time. Which… they were, but it was also part of a bigger picture.”

Their friendship with McCorry proved formative beyond the DJing skill share. It was McCorry who encouraged Jordan to start producing music, around the time they had moved to London in 2014. “I didn’t really know that I could make music,” Jordan says, “Because I did a degree in philosophy, I didn’t really have the time to invest into learning about frequencies and keys and musical theory and shit, and so it felt like something that was inaccessible to me. And then I went straight from uni to full-time work, plus I was DJing, I had a radio show – so I didn’t really have the time. It wasn’t until Finn was like: ‘Just open it up, have fun with it and see what happens.’” 

Jordan – who seemingly always has multiple things on the go – had also started co-running an ambient record label and party by then: New Atlantis, with South London producer Al Wootton. “And I just thought: ‘I can’t not put out some of my music on here.’ It was just a really easy way. Having that direction and a deadline, almost, pushed me to open it up and play with it. But then I realised I didn’t really want to be making ambient.” As if to counter all their concerns and the issues they were coming up against in both DJing and producing, Jordan’s mission statement in their music is accessibility (“I’m not, like, serious and technical”) and making it fun.

2014 was also the year that Jordan first met Tom Lea of now-prolific independent record label, Local Action – again, via McCorry, who was already a key artist on the then relatively new label. Local Action has been home to releases from artists across the electronic music spectrum: they’ve put out records from the likes of Jersey Club’s finest UNiiQU3, Huddersfield bassline pioneer DJ Q and the more eclectic end of R&B futurist Dawn Richard’s output. Reflecting on his relationship with Jordan, Lea explains over email: “We became mates… and after realising what a good DJ they were that naturally progressed to booking them on shows and doing radio together, so they already felt like label family before they ever sent us any music. When they first started making music, we would naturally have conversations about it and they would sometimes work on it at our old studio in New Cross - again, just mate stuff, really! – but when it reached the point where that music was crystallising into an actual record, I think it was the obvious call for both Jordan and I to release it together. I don’t even think there was much of a: ‘Do you wanna do this on Local Action?’ conversation – it was just the natural, obvious home for it.”

In spite of the early acclaim for their music and DJing, though, it was only in January of this year that Jordan quit their day job working as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at King’s College, London to focus full-time on the music. “I’ve got my partner, and they could maybe financially support me if something happened,” they say. “But like, I don’t have parents who can support me financially. I support my mum financially, she lives in a one-bed council flat in Doncaster – I don’t have a house to fall back on if things go bad. And I think that’s why it took me so long to take the plunge.”

Their background explains their relentless work ethic – Jordan admits they have been feeling pretty burnt out lately (“The only weekends I’ve taken off this year are if I’ve been ill and had to cancel”). Along with their team, they know now that they need to be more intentional about what they’re saying yes to moving forward and spend more time resting and playing Pokémon on their Nintendo Switch, or else engaging in hobbies like looking at possum accounts on Twitter or going birdwatching (they laugh telling explaining how sometimes fans will DM them with requests to help identify birds, which must make a pleasant change from calls for track IDs). But obviously it is difficult to get out of the scarcity mindset in an industry that often tries to make marginalised people feel grateful to be there. 

“They’ve worked their ass off to get where they are,” says Lea, “I’ve seen first-hand the amount of hours they put into getting each release as good as it possibly can be, and they go through that same process every time. They don’t take shortcuts with their art, they think very seriously about what they want to put into the world and the example they want to set within it.” 

Nearly a decade since they first met, Lea now works as Jordan’s manager. But still, Jordan views Local Action as more integral than simply being a facilitator of work: as when they were a kid in Doncaster, in adulthood music has helped them find their people. “The collective community element is the best part of a label,” they say. “A lot of people will message me on Instagram asking who they could send their demos to – but I don’t really think about what their sound is, I’m more just like: who do you align yourself with in terms of community? And who do you want to grow with? For me, that’s the best approach to music releases – there are lots of not very personable, transactional elements to putting out music, but it’s something I’ve been very lucky with, with Local Action. Family has always been a part of it.” 

"I wanna be working with as many Trans people as possible. Every element: not just the artists, but sound engineers, the people making the artwork. For me, finding my identity and finding my community within that identity has been so ground-breaking for me, and that’s so integral to my music now – I can’t separate the two.”

Over the summer of 2022, Jordan and I cross paths a couple of times, bumping into each other among groups of mutual friends at events rooted in Queer joy and liberation: basking in the sun in Soho Square during Trans Pride and then, a few weeks later, dancing through the day and night at Body Movements festival out in Hackney Wick.

Dance music has always been rooted in Queer culture. House music, particularly, was pioneered by Black and Queer, often working class artists – and the scene provided a space for people who were typically marginalised to be free to be themselves. But, over the decades, it has become the case that the gatekeepers across the industry are largely not of these backgrounds anymore; and, very often, for both artist and attendee, the dancefloor does not always feel a safe space. But Jordan is working to change this. Working with fellow game-changing DJ, producer and friend, SHERELLE, the pair are planning on putting on some Queer parties next year, alongside their collaborative release on fabric’s new Originals label.

“I think the Queer parties I’m going to now are influencing me massively,” Jordan says as we reflect on these events, “I’m thinking about those parties I want to put on in the future – and my Transness is gonna be integral. The priority of people going to that party will be Trans and Queer. And maybe the music I’m making, the DJing, the events I’m running – I wanna be working with as many Trans people as possible. Every element: not just the artists, but sound engineers, the people making the artwork. For me, finding my identity and finding my community within that identity has been so ground-breaking for me, and that’s so integral to my music now – I can’t separate the two.”

It’s telling of where they’re at that, next year, amidst touring, their main priority is writing their debut album, and they say: “The intention with the album is that it’s gonna be Trans as fuck!”

Of course, it is not as easy to be so open in their identity as they might make it seem. Discussion turns to the artwork for ‘For You’, which depicts Jordan staring at themselves in the mirror of the bathrooms at London Queer clubbing staple, Dalston Superstore. It appears emblematic of a space where you can freely explore yourself – but for Jordan, even just a couple years after the release, it already feels out of sync with who they are.

“I love that cover – every time I go to Superstore I look in the mirror and I’m like: ‘Whey!’” they laugh. “But I kind of need to disconnect from that cover, too. I had only just come out as non-binary when that came out, and I’ve been on a big gender journey since then. I need to see that artwork as a place in my history, and honour that – but also I can’t look at myself.” 

Since then, their artwork has often had them less recognisable in the shot, so that it’s easier for them to look back on. They are mindful, too, of the structural things at play when it comes to feeling comfortable in your identity. They have long been an advocate of inclusion riders (contracts that stipulate a minimum level of people from marginalised backgrounds also being involved in a given show or festival), and the importance of representative line-ups, but they’re aware, too, of the limits of these things without actual structural and societal change. Throughout our conversation, Jordan mentions countless instances of being misgendered, and the general lack of consideration for Trans people in the industry, as with the discomfort of many venues only having gendered toilets – and how they often have to internalise these things before playing a show. They say they’ve started taking note of every time they’re misgendered and plan on sharing it on social media, so that people start to see the gravity and frequency of it. 

With their background of working within diversity and inclusion at King’s, they have a good understanding of the bureaucracy and frameworks needed to confront these issues – but even still, is it not a little frustrating that the burden of calling things out and trying to make things more inclusive so often befalls the person being marginalised?

“I feel like, I am here, and hopefully I’m not going away for a good while, and I just want to be able to [make] the change I want to see in the scene,” they say, slowly. “And actually, I’ve got a really great team of people behind me – they are mostly cis, but they’re extremely good allies, and I want to utilise that and be setting a precedent.”

In speaking up, Jordan has also helped other people come to terms with their own gender identity. Jex Wang, a DJ and writer who works as part of the Eastern Margins collective, explains: “They provide a lot of representation that is still lacking in the music scene, and they use their platform to speak about these issues which not many artists do – which I understand, because you can get a lot of backlash, whereas Jordan is just fiercely themselves. [It] definitely inspires a lot of other Queer and Trans people to be themselves and go and be free.”

DJ and producer Yewande Adeniran, who performs under the name Ifeoluwa, says their friendship with Jordan has been an essential part of their own journey. They were inspired by how Jordan was, “just being themselves in an unfiltered way,” they say. “So much of the way we consume people online is a very sanitised version of themselves, especially when it comes to being gender diverse and non-conforming, but seeing them exist as purely who they are, is really inspiring. If it wasn’t for the friends around me, especially Jordan, I probably would have never come out.”

"Donk is Queer because it’s fun, it’s colourful! It sounds vibrant to me. Big hardcore tracks, big synths too. I like deep melodic stuff, but I also like donk – it makes people laugh, it brings people’s spirits up, which I think is what we need right now."

Colour runs central to I. JORDAN’s work. Bending and shifting through a variety of sonic touchstones, their songs always gleam brightly over thumping, throbbing drums and bass that imbues a dense heat. “I organise my Ableton files through colour, so…” they point to their turquoise hair. “All my drums are this colour. The drums are the main focus point for how I create music, and this is my favourite colour.” They turn their head to show off the little braided rat’s tail that sits on the back of their head, also dyed that same blue-green. “I consider this colour my gender, this tail is my gender. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s the colour that I just connect with.”

They explain that every release that they’ve done has had a certain colour tied to it, and so the artwork often reflects that (recent single ‘Hey Baby’ was yellow, for example, while forthcoming tracks ‘Give it to Me’ and ‘Reclaimed’ are both purple). “Often the frequency spectrum is what informs the colours,” they explain. “Low ends are deeper colours, high ends are cooler colours.”

They talk about their creative process more generally – how elements that don’t quite fit in one song might birth another. For Jordan, their music encapsulates where they’re at during that moment in time, lending it something cathartic and freeing, like those club spaces. “I think that’s why I love [Queer techno party] Unfold,” they reflect. “Because in a scene that isn’t very Queer or diverse, there is a reclaiming happening of certain sounds – that’s why the new track is called ‘Reclaimed’.” Inevitably, we start talking about donk again. “It has its roots in working class and Northern culture – which is not very Queer or very diverse. But I want to make sure that I’ve got a donk track on my album, because it’s connected to my roots, I used to listen to it growing up – but also, it’s Queer now!” They start laughing. “For me, donk is Queer because it’s fun, it’s colourful! It sounds vibrant to me. Big hardcore tracks, big synths too. I like deep melodic stuff, but I also like donk – it makes people laugh, it brings people’s spirits up, which I think is what we need right now. For me, as a Northerner, I like to think I never take myself too seriously, and I want that to come across in my music.” 

Right now, it feels like that bold sense of fun and joy is at the core of I. JORDAN’s work, and that comes alongside a new-found self-actualisation and growing confidence in being unapologetically themselves. “I think it’s all part of the journey of understanding myself, and using music to help me understand that. I think I make so many different genres, it kind of makes sense that it’s tied to my gender? I can’t just stick to one thing! I’m inspired by so many different things and I wanna make sure my music reflects that; and that kind of reflects my identity.” 

They smile as they finish up their tea, their hair blazing bright in the sunlight. “My Transness is about ‘transience’ – I accept in myself that I’ll be forever changing.” 

This article first appeared in issue 2 of Disco Pogo. Buy the I. JORDAN cover of issue 2 here.

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