India Jordan: in constant motion
India Jordan has stormed the electronic music world in the last couple of years with their energising productions and DJ mixes. Their 2020 breakthrough EP on Local Action, ‘For You’, was a critical smash, and their new EP for Ninja Tune, ‘Watch Out!’, is set to catapult them into the spotlight. Eoin Murray joins India on their cycle route around North-East London to talk about making music, their gender journey, and how to make the post-pandemic dance music scene better for everyone
Note 31st May 2022: the artist previously known as India Jordan's professional alias is now I. JORDAN.
India Jordan is always moving. It’s the first bright day of spring, and the Doncaster-born DJ and producer is guiding us along their regular cycle route, near their home in North-East London. Arriving straight from their DJ Mag cover shoot, Jordan is all smiles. As they speak — quickly, with frequent bursts of warm laughter — their anecdotes are embellished with memorised directions: “We’re going to cross over here”, “we’ll keep going this way”, “let’s go left”.
It’s a giddy energy that’s mirrored in their radiant dance music productions and DJ sets, which have seen them become one of the most hotly-tipped artists in the UK scene in just a couple of years. As a DJ, Jordan bounces from genre to genre, dropping vintage hardcore rave cuts, old skool garage and prog house classics, along with new, original tracks; releases from friends in their Local Action label family, Anz and Finn, feature heavily. A lack of IRL gigs during the pandemic hasn’t slowed them down either. This past year, they recorded mixes for Pete Tong’s Radio 1 Dance show, Ministry Of Sound’s live-streamed Weekender and Tomorrowland’s One World Radio, and released a festive b2b mixtape with Finn, ‘Joy II The World’, in December.
After a string of EPs that alchemised the sounds of filter house, disco, trance, bassline and drum & bass, Jordan was crowned Breakthrough Producer at DJ Mag’s Best Of British Awards. Their 2020 EP, ‘For You’, released at the height of the pandemic, was a landmark moment. Its title track, a euphoric house cut built around a tender disco vocal sample, became the soundtrack to the strangest summer in living memory, bringing much-needed elation to a year without dancefloors or communal release. The EP topped End Of Year lists across the board and garnered critical praise thanks to its thoughtful approach to personal themes of queerness, self-love and growth.
Growing up in a working class household in the North of England, raised by their single mother, Jordan never envisaged the meteoric rise their music career has had. “I’m just a fucking kid from Doncaster,” they say. “I don’t know how the hell this has happened! Like, what are the chances of this life?” Look a little closer though, and you can see the wheels turning for Jordan from a young age: setting in motion a journey through music characterised by emotional soundscapes, ecstatic rhythms and rib-rattling basslines. Now 30, they’ve been emboldened by a keen sense of intuition, the support of friends and a desire to help make the club scene a safer, more inclusive place for everyone.
Jordan’s tastes swerved around from a young age. From the trance compilations their mum bought them at car boot sales, and a heady detour through metal and emo music in their teens, to the frenetic drum & bass they learned to DJ with while studying philosophy in Hull, the common threads that ran through their record collection were energy, emotion and melody. “Even with the more ‘rocky’ side of things, it was always quite emotive,” they say. “I never listened to lyrics, really. It was always just about the melodies.”
Movement and variety are at the heart of Jordan’s forthcoming EP, ‘Watch Out!’. Set for release in May through Ninja Tune, it marks another milestone for the producer, whose tastes in electronic music were guided in part by the label’s catalogue; their obsession with Ninja Tune affiliate Bonobo prompted them to get an ankle tattoo inspired by their favourite track, ‘Sapphire’. “I’ve been pinching myself for the last six months,” Jordan says of the connection. Described as “a homage to physical and conceptual movement”, the five-track EP sprints from ecstatic hardcore euphoria through to galloping techno and bright, quick-footed house.
The propulsive title track is an ode to the familiar exclamation for all city cyclists. ‘Only Said Enough’ is a a tractor-beam of headrush breakbeats cut straight from the ’90s rave cloth, which evolved thanks to a prompt from Finn: “He said, ‘You should just make a big hardcore track with a big vocal!’” Bouncing techno cut ‘You Can’t Expect The Cars To Stop If You Haven't Pressed The Button’ is just as kinetic, built on samples of traffic lights in Dublin, captured during a pre-pandemic trip they took with their partner. “I heard the crossing lights and thought, ‘Holy shit, that’s the best sound in the world! I need to make a tune out of this!’” In the track, which Jordan road-tested at their last club gig before lockdown, their own voice can be heard muttering a quiet “fuck sake” as thunderous kicks erupt from a revved-up breakdown.
‘Feierabend’, a nimble club track carried by an irresistible chirruping melody, is named after the German word for the end of the working day, and the feeling of joy and release that comes with it. (Jordan’s been learning German throughout lockdown). Encouraged by UK artist Dance System — their ‘Let’s Go’ collaborator and mentor of sorts — the track was produced in one evening, the result of Jordan trying to make music as quickly and intuitively as possible.
The EP’s lead single, ‘And Groove’, landed in the nick of time in early March, like a sunbeam breaking through the late-winter clouds and out of our speakers. Gentle keys, guitar licks and a heartfelt vocal — “On and on, and groove” — glide across a glittering house beat. The track was produced during lockdown, but is inspired by train journeys Jordan became accustomed to making music on before the pandemic, and closes the EP on a steady, hopeful high.
‘Watch Out!’ was produced over the course of six months, and is in many ways, Jordan says, a reflection of the transitional period of self-discovery they have been on in the past year or so. In December 2019, days before making the EP’s title track, Jordan shared a post on Instagram, speaking with candour about their “gender journey” and asking to be referred to using they/them pronouns from that point on, or simply by their name. “Close friends will know this is something I’ve been trying to understand about myself for a while now,” they wrote. “But the increase in press stuff and general visibility the last few weeks has felt quite jarring to see she/her pronouns in things written about me and also how I’m perceived by others [sic]. I don’t identify as female.”
“I think people might have perceived that as me being like: ‘This is me, and I understand who I am right now’. But it wasn’t,” they say now. “I hadn’t made my mind up, but I knew this one little thing, this pronoun thing, felt more comfortable for me. It was the start of me trying to figure out what the hell was going on. So this last year and a half — and I’m still going through it, I don’t think that’ll ever stop — has been a period of me being like: ‘What the fuck is gender? What the fuck is India Jordan? Why does they/them feel more comfortable? Why does it send me into a spiral of dysphoria when I don’t have that?”
“In the last couple of months, I’ve been in a much more comfortable position to be able to talk about what gender means to me... I feel happy being in a constant state of transition, that nothing is ever still.”
Jordan uses the terms genderfluid and genderqueer, as well as non-binary, to describe their personal experience with gender. Through reading books like Trans Power: Own Your Gender by Juno Roche and the collected essays of Nonbinary: Memoirs Of Gender And Identity, and having conversations with their therapist, Jordan felt encouraged to think about what was gender-affirming for them, rather than focusing on what was not. They began to consider “what I love in my own identity that can connect to that”.
“In the last couple of months, I’ve been in a much more comfortable position to be able to talk about what gender means to me, if anything. It’s nice that it’s come around around the same time as the EP, because the making of it has spanned that entire ‘what the fuck’ processing period, and the movement concept relates to my own personal journey with it. I feel happy being in a constant state of transition, that nothing is ever still,” they continue. “It’s nice to use the term genderfluid, personally. Non-binary makes sense, and I use that as well, but genderfluid... it moves. That’s a massive part of me.”
In the early stages of this journey, Jordan felt anxious at the prospect of asking others to change the way they perceived them, but they’re more comfortable in themself now, and feel empowered to take up space and say, “‘Hey, what the fuck, the binary is a load of bullshit! It’s a social construct, as is everything else’. Rather than looking at how I didn’t fit into this mold, I’m looking at how the mold is just a mold in the first place.”
“Things are always changing,” they continue. “How we see a woman is changing and how we see a man is changing, so gender doesn’t have to be stuck to those two finite, binary points. I want the conversation to become more like: The binary isn’t the default, and we’re having conversations around that without it being something that you feel you have to consult your Stonewall glossary to understand. It feels lovely when I complete forms and gender isn’t just ‘Male’ and ‘Female’. I feel like we’re getting there.”
Lockdown has been a “double-edged sword” for Jordan’s gender journey. While it’s denied them opportunities to affirm their gender fluidity in public, the time indoors has given them the chance to reflect and “figure out what it does mean to me... so when we go out in the world again, when I go into clubs, I’m gonna feel a lot more confident in my identity and who I am.”
While keen to get back to the dancefloor once it’s safe to do so, Jordan makes it clear that, when clubs do return, the scene must address the deep flaws the past year has exposed. The pandemic and passionate Black Lives Matter movement lifted the veil on imbalances and inequalities that for too long ran rife within the clubbing landscape: a disregard for dance music’s roots in LGBTQIA+ and Black communities, and a failure to adequately represent members of those communities in its contemporary spaces.
While Jordan has found support among their peers and fellow queer artists, and opportunities to “support others and be supported in the process” through COVID-19, they emphasise the need for those with privilege — including them, as a white person with a growing platform — to use it to support and stand with marginalised communities. “We need to centre Black women, and we need to centre Black trans women, always,” they say. “When we’re rebuilding things, we need to be seeking out their opinions, centering their experiences and creating spaces that are safe for them.”
Helping to create a safer, fairer scene is something Jordan’s been able to apply skills from their day job to. Monday to Friday, Jordan works as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at King’s College, London. Their work focuses on reviewing, developing and implementing relevant policies in the university, and overseeing Diversity Matters training for staff. They’ve used their professional know-how to help their agent Carin Abudlá with a recent venture: a number of DJ agencies have banded together to create more comprehensive and coherent contracts for their artists, which focus more on diversity and representation.
Written with Jordan’s help, these contracts go beyond the inclusion of vague “diversity clauses” or quotas, which they say can do more harm than good in the face of “rogue promoters” who might do the bare minimum to uphold them, and give little to no consideration for the wellbeing of the artists they’re booking. “It’s about ensuring that there’s equal representation where possible, but also making sure that the fee needs to be the same if not more, that the spaces where we play are safe and accessible, that the staff are all trained,” they say. “Look at the marketing material — is it just one name you’re promoting? Are you bringing to light and working with local artists?
“I’m thinking about what I can control, and sometimes part of that is going to be stepping away,” they continue. “I know everyone wants gigs at the minute but, as a white person, it’s within my power to walk away from bookings if I don’t feel like it’s working. There’s thinking about what I can do as an individual, and what power and privilege I have in that regard, but what we also need to do is look at the music industry as a whole, and the power of things like DJ Mag and Resident Advisor, and the work that needs to be done behind the scenes. It should be a collective effort. I do think things have definitely been improving... but there needs to be more transparency,” they say. “The way gig bookings work: no one knows who gets paid what. I bet you a million there’s a massive disparity between gender and race in gig fees. All that shit needs to get sorted.”
As well as consulting on contracts with DJ agencies, Jordan has been helping various groups and mentorship schemes with inclusive language. “I think people’s intentions are coming from the right place,” they say. “It’s really important that we get the language right. But also, it doesn’t matter if you get the language right if you’ve got a space that doesn’t have gender neutral toilets, or isn’t accessible. Again, it’s about the spaces and the environment [as much as the language]. It’s all good and well that we spend time on the semantics,” they continue, “but if we don’t get everything else right then it’s a waste of energy. The fact that people genuinely want to make it better is great, though. I like to remain optimistic.”
“The ideal lifestyle the Tories want us to have is being lived out right now — confined to a small space, doing our job. Missing that sort of party space as a form of identity, where you feel a part of something, is massive.”
Nightclubs have historically been spaces of resistance, where people can express their identities, and forge alliances with like-minded folks in defiance of governments and social norms that would ostracise them. Jordan points to a recent article they read on Novara Media, ‘In Defence of Sex and Parties’, in which writer Sophie K Rosa outlines the history of scenes like Notting Hill Carnival, ’90s rave culture and queer nightlife during the AIDS pandemic, where people exercised their rights to protest and party simultaneously. While emphasising that now is not the time for partying, especially raving illegally in protest at lockdown measures, Jordan acknowledges the challenges that come with being denied the space in which to cut loose and affirm oneself.
“To not have that is depriving people who need that space in a world that isn’t right for them,” they say. “There’s a balance between accepting what we have to do now is right, versus the damage that it’s having. The ideal lifestyle the Tories want us to have is being lived out right now — confined to a small space, doing our job. Missing that sort of party space as a form of identity, where you feel a part of something, is massive.”
The potential for self-discovery on dark and sweaty dancefloors is at the heart of ‘For You’: an EP that Jordan dedicated to themself, in an ode to their own survival. The EP’s cover art was shot in the toilets of their favourite East London queer club, Dalston Superstore. While in Doncaster and Hull, Jordan remembers that there was virtually nowhere for queer youths to express their sexuality. As well as providing somewhere to decompress during heady nights, the privacy of toilets offered rare opportunities for them to get with other people, and show affection that was unsafe to show elsewhere.
‘For You’ ends on a note of resilience and self-compassion with ‘Dear Nan King’, a track inspired by the TV adaptation of Sarah Waters’ 1998 novel, ‘Tipping The Velvet’, which Jordan watched as a teen. The show helped Jordan understand that they were queer at a young age, and the track samples its dialogue triumphantly: “There’s nothing wrong with me at all”.
Almost a year on from the release of ‘For You’, Jordan isn’t too sore about the unusual life this dance EP has had away from the dancefloor, and is still fully buzzing to play its anthemic tracks on a massive soundsystem when it becomes safe to do so again. “I’m really happy that it’s resonated with so many people,” they say of the public reception to ‘For You’. “All my life I’ve wanted to make a record or a song that resonated with people... and I’m appreciative of the fact that people have resonated with the narrative behind it, and connected with it in an emotional way,” they continue. “That’s a dream come true.”
How has Jordan kept it together during lockdown? By moving as much as possible, of course. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Jordan has been going on long cycles and walks to clear their head. (Jordan has shared some of their favourite music to listen to while cycling in the In Transit embeds within this feature). In November, they did a 63-mile stint through Kent, and they’re keen to go further once the rules start to loosen up. When the winter settled in and cycling outdoors became too cold, they bought an indoor trainer to attach their bike to, plugging in to an on-screen world where they could mentally escape the confines of their home. “It’s next level,” they say. “I cycled up a French mountain, underwater and through the jungle!”
Jordan’s morning routine has been neatly worked out: they’ll wake up, do some yoga and meditate, then burn some incense, have a green tea while listening to the Do!! You!!! Breakfast Show on NTS Radio, and get ready for their working day. Meditation has been key for Jordan — who suffers from insomnia — throughout the pandemic. Even in their guided meditations for sleep, Jordan finds peace in thoughts of movement and travel. “I always think of the Bavarian mountains. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. I’d love to go back there again... Movement and mental health are so intrinsically linked for me,” they say. “I need to exercise as much as I do because it helps me survive.”
“I’m cautious that I don’t get stuck in my own cycle. I know, having done it for a couple of years now, that I edge towards certain sounds and techniques — and that’s fine. I just don’t want to pigeonhole myself.”
On Sundays, Jordan works on music. It’s an evolving process and something that took them a long time to commit to, after years of feeling incapable because of the snobbery and gatekeeping they felt from the dance music scene in Hull. “I struggled to give myself the time and confidence to knuckle down with Ableton. Because the drum & bass world is so technical and theoretical, I felt like I’d never ‘get it’,” they say. “Finn was one of the people who was like: ‘You can just make music, it doesn’t have to sound like you’re sending a rocket into space’.”
Jordan has been focusing on maintaining the variety and energy that has made their music to date so exciting. “I’m cautious that I don’t get stuck in my own cycle,” they say. “I know, having done it for a couple of years now, that I edge towards certain sounds and techniques — and that’s fine. I just don’t want to pigeonhole myself. Learning more, and going deeper into understanding sound, is a desire of mine."
“I get quite excited when I start new projects,” they continue. “I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s try making a drum & bass track’, or, ‘I’ve never made a jungle track before, so let’s give that a go!’ That’s exciting to me. Whether it ends up sounding like a jungle track or not, though, I’ve no idea.”
Building tracks around improvised melodies, hopping through samples and acapellas at speed — it’s a playful and curious way to do things, and their intuitive techniques seem to be working. Every new EP Jordan has released has ramped up the energy of the last. Tracks like ‘DNT STP MY LV’ and ‘I’m Waiting (Just 4 You)’ launch funky disco samples into ceiling-punching club overdrive, while ‘WARPER’ and ‘Bulbasaur Shuffle’ gleefully set the bass channels straight to PHAT. There’s a tonne of atmosphere too, on tracks like ‘Westbourne Ave’ and ‘Emotional Melodical’, which pull gently from the depths of drum & bass and dubstep, letting their sombre tones bubble to the surface through beams of sunlight and the promise of fresh air.
Recently, Jordan has been branching out into remixing and collaboration. Remixes for artists like Caribou, Prospa and Austra, the collaborative ‘Let’s Go’ with Dance System, and a joint EP of ecstatic ‘90s rave nostalgia with Finn, ‘H.U.R.L / F.U.R.L’, have opened up a new world for Jordan’s own productions. “Working with singers has been really cool,” they beam. “It’s made me think about song structure in a totally different way. I also think it’s important to form a connection with someone before you start making music with them — part of the reason why Finn and I work so well together is because we’re such close friends.”
There are more collaborations in the works, which will be revealed in due course, but one thing Jordan’s attitude to working with others emphasises is the significance of friendship in their musical journey. When they first moved to London, after a few years of DJing and working full-time in events in Hull, they felt that their work and social lives were becoming blurred, and wanted a break from the industry side of music.
To switch things up, they started a monthly New Age-leaning ambient daytime party (and later, a label) called New Atlantis, hosted in Peckham’s basement club Rye Wax with their pal Al Wootton. A loose, chilled-out gathering that didn’t focus on ticket sales or “hierarchical line-ups”, New Atlantis emphasised a sense of community fun that’s stayed with Jordan, even after it wrapped up for good early last year. “Not taking yourself so seriously is so important and New Atlantis had that vibe to it,” they remember. “We’re a bunch of New Age hippies that love meditation and sound baths. But also — that’s fun! Whale sounds are fun! Looking at trippy visuals on the screen is fun!”
With Local Action too, the camaraderie and companionship of their label mates and founder-manager Tom Lea has pushed a mutual evolution, and meant that Jordan’s own rise has felt like a genuinely natural and positive one. Regular Zoom quizzes and a label holiday to Wales last summer (when restrictions allowed it) helped keep the crew connected during the pandemic and, unsurprisingly, Jordan is eagerly awaiting the chance to play alongside Finn and Anz on a Manchester dancefloor once again. “It’s good to have people around you, isn’t it? Friends are good shit! It's so important,” they say.
With that kind of support, and with their music and mixes hitting more people’s ears every day, the future is looking beyond bright for Jordan. While the dream would be to take their music career full-time, they’re cognisant of the risks that come with taking that plunge. Being brought up in a working class household, the idea of giving up a secure job feels “very out of my nature, but we’ll see”, they say. “It’s very hard to predict how the world’s going to look in a couple of years. I’m very fortunate to have a job that I love. It doesn’t feel like I’m using it as a prop-up with the music — they’re interlinked.”
One thing Jordan is certain of, though, is their desire to keep moving, and to take their electrifying sound to dancefloors outside of the UK once clubs reopen. “I keep on dreaming about New York,” they say. “I don’t know why, I just feel like I need to go there and play.”
In the long term, Jordan wants to keep all options open. That could mean an album sometime down the line, or international tours. “I’m just going to try and take it as it comes — being fluid!”
As the world looks ahead to a life outside of lockdown, and as Jordan prepares for the next step in their journey, they’ve been thinking about how far they’ve come within themselves, in this past year of restricted motion. “I’ve moved in so many other ways,” they say with a smile.