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Fresh Kicks 161: iona

London-born DJ iona serves up an hour of percussive heat, out-there bangers and club cuts for the Fresh Kicks series, and chats to Amy Fielding about finding her post-pandemic balance, Dance Tunnel, and teaching a new music course at City Lit

Back in 2016, like so many other clubs that have dissapeared from the London nightlife map over the years, Dalston’s much-loved Dance Tunnel closed its doors for the final time, citing licensing issues with Hackney Council. Launched by the creators of Dalston Superstore and Voodoo Ray’s just four years before, Dance Tunnel became a beating heart (albeit a small one) for house, techno and anything in between, and it's where London-born DJ iona fell in love with the club.

Despite going on to play sets at festivals like Field Maneuvers, and at clubs like Berghain’s Panorama Bar, The Cause in London and Edinburgh’s La Cheetah, iona still credits Dance Tunnel with giving her some of her biggest moments. “I’ve never had such a big nerves-to-reward payoff like the closing party in 2016,” iona says, remembering her early days at the club. “I had an interest in club sounds before, but it definitely deepened working there. I credit working on the door at Dance Tunnel, and Field Maneuvers — where I worked as an artist liaison — as opportunities that really shoved me down the dance music rabbit hole. I was exposed to so much new music through incredible programming in friendly, fun settings.”

We’re catching up with iona in Ibiza. She’s on holiday, working hard to find the post-pandemic balance after a rocky 18 months. Like everyone, she says, there’s been a lot of ups and downs and personal upheaval. “It will all work out though,” she assures us, “I’m just going with the flow and saying yes to everything I can after a period of no activity. That approach has worked well for allowing exciting opportunities into my life, but things have gotten on top of me, so finding that balance is a priority.”

Although iona is best known for vibrant, high-energy club sets now, her early musical education was varied and eclectic. She attended the Hackney Centre for Young Musicians, learning singing and percussion, and growing up, her dad would play and make instruments like bamboo flutes, guitar, violin and thumb piano, as well as experimenting with electronic music on early computers. She recalls listening to early tapes and CDs of Cher, The Kinks, Underworld and Hot Chocolate, before discovering R&B, hip hop and dancehall. “I remember having the MOBO 2000 CD on repeat in Year 7 on the first school trip to Wales,” she remembers. “It was all killer to be honest: Destiny’s Child ‘Jumpin’ Jumpin’’, DMX ‘Party Up’, Samantha Mumba ‘Gotta Tell You’. Those were some of my favourites.”

After finding her place and sound in Dance Tunnel, iona went on to DJ at Dalston Superstore, one of London’s much-loved LGBTQ+ venues — “I recently closed out the 12th birthday party, which felt like a nice full circle” — and has since gone on to share line-ups with artists like D.Tiffany, Elena Colombi, Dusky, Honey Dijon, Skatebård and Peach. Versatility is one of iona’s most obvious skills as a selector, as comfortable playing breaks and house as she is leftfield and happy hardcore records. iona digs on Bandcamp and loses hours to Soundcloud, seeking out unknown producers and free downloads, and more often than not, uncovers sounds in her own Music library. “I literally go shopping in my own iTunes library,” she says, “there are a lot of forgotten gems in there!”.

The future for iona is looking as bright and positive as her energy. Earlier this month, iona began teaching a music course at the City Lit for adults with learning disabilities. Joining City Lit collaborators and institutions like The National Gallery, Books Beyond Words and Royal Academy of Music, iona is hoping to expand on the network in an electronic-focused direction.  “I’m hoping to get some collaborations going by inviting producers from the mainstream scene to do guest sessions,” she explains. “I think there's definitely a gap to be filled by creating a bridge between the two communities, and I think the resulting music could add something really different and interesting to dance music.”

For now though, iona has recorded an hour of percussive club heat, out-there bangers and club workouts for the Fresh Kicks series, featuring tracks from DJ Breathing Exercise, LCY, Rnbws and Sully: “I feel like it’s in my classic style - mid tempo, upbeat and bouncy with some comedy elements. It’s made up of a lot of tunes I’ve been playing out since clubs reopened so I think it’ll go down as having good memories attached for me!”. Check it out below.

LCY 'Garden of E10'
Sloan 'Oslo Lager Sports'
Moi Rene 'Miss Honey (Kolya X Remixxx)'
John Tejada & Arian Leviste '12 Bit Rhythm Trax Pt. 3'
DJ Spoko 'Bula ma ft. Pru-dance'
Razzler Man 'What!'
Billie Eilish 'Not My Responsiblilty (Sarah Farina Remix)'
Rnbws 'Levitation'
DJ Breathing Exercise 'Who You Think You Fronting On?'
Nathan Pinder 'Stutter'
F.E.M 'Finally'
Pépé Elle 'Sink'
DJ MELL G & Destroy 'Funky Papi'
Sterlo 'Suckapunch'
DJ Mantis 'Running Up The Hill'
Sully '5ives'
BBC SPORT 'I just get not noot'