India Jordan: how Tipping the Velvet inspired a joyful dance explosion

The non-binary artist discovered their true identity with help from novelist Sarah Waters. Now, they’re spreading a mission of self-acceptance to a euphoric disco beat

When India Jordan came out as gender non-binary last year, the world brightened. “I’ve been hard on myself all of my life,” the musician says. They write a diary to work against “negative self-talk”, and say that it’s only in the last few years that they’ve tried to practise self-care. It seems to be working: the last few years have also seen them deliver some of the UK’s most joyful dance tracks, rays of light through a clubland dominated by darker, harder techno.

After winding down their new age and ambient event and record label, New Atlantis, in 2018, Jordan cranked up the beats-per-minute count. Last year’s solo EP, Dnt Stp My Lv, and a collaborative release with Manchester-based producer Finn, HURL/FURL, saw Jordan dip into the ’ardcore sherbet: both releases softly fizz with sweetness, as UK garage, happy hardcore and bassline – sounds that first pulsed out of Jordan’s headphones on the school bus – meet disco and the “filter house” sound made famous by Daft Punk and Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You. This month, Jordan releases a second solo EP, For You: a self-addressed collection of tracks that, in part, reflect on their queerness.

Two of the EP’s tracks, Emotional Melodical and Westbourne Ave, were written in 2018 during an intense period of depression, while the closing track, Dear Nan King, was inspired by Sarah Waters’ 1998 novel, Tipping the Velvet. Watching the British TV adaptation of it as a teenager made Jordan realise they were queer; nearly two decades later, they sampled dialogue from the show for vocals on the track. “I’d never seen anything like that on TV before, and it validated all the thoughts I’d been having about my sexuality. She goes through a period of self-discovery and gets her heart broken, but all ends well for her, which felt rare.”

The sampled dialogue – including pointed sentiments such as “There’s nothing wrong with me at all” and “She’s just everything to me” – captures how Jordan felt about coming of age in a heteronormative society, “that society’s the problem, not you”. Finishing For You was cathartic: “In the context of all these different tunes being on the EP, it was about drawing maps of me – how to navigate myself and use music as a balm.”

Jordan experienced “a lot of homophobia” growing up in Doncaster, and nightlife provided little refuge. “Doncaster had one gay pub, and it was a pub – gross, rundown, tacky,” they say. “I’d go when I was underage and drink alcopops in the back. I was disillusioned with the lack of connection between being queer and being queer in clubs. I was sick of not feeling whole.”

Moving to Hull for university proved little better, but at least there was room to explore. Jordan joined the DJ society in their first year, after seeing crossover drum’n’bass act Pendulum, and became president in their final year. It was here that Jordan befriended Finn, their Local Action collaborator. Finn taught Jordan to use CDJs; Jordan taught Finn how to DJ with vinyl.

Though DJing became Jordan’s focus, “I didn’t see myself in drum’n’bass. Everyone getting booked was a man, and when I was booked I was always the opener.” When self-appointed gatekeepers refused to show them the way in, disillusionment set in. “You’re told that you’ll never be able to make drum’n’bass that sounds good because it’s ‘just so technical’, so I started making tracks to be like, ‘Fuck you, yes I can!’”

Bog standard: Jordan in the toilets at Dalston Superstore
Bog standard: Jordan in the toilets at Dalston Superstore Photograph: Prexactly

This directness has become a guiding principle for Jordan’s sound. While some moments on For You are tender, others are propulsively designed for maximum rave impact. “Some producers like being mysterious and for their music to be open to interpretation. So when someone else makes straight-up dancefloor tunes it seems as if there’s less being left to the imagination,” Jordan scoffs. “But I don’t care about that. I love getting in my feelings – I’m definitely a deep-chat-in-the-club-smoking-area kind of person. But my relationship to my music comes from DJing. I didn’t study sound design at art school.”

For You’s sleeve artwork features photographs of Jordan inside the toilets of London LGBT club Dalston Superstore. Once they moved to London in the mid-2010s, the connection between queerness and clubbing finally clicked. Diving into the glitter and grit of Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and the sweaty funk of long-running Sunday nighter Horse Meat Disco, they felt at home.

Dalston Superstore is their favourite spot, though. Being photographed in its bathroom nods to that special kind of public-yet-private queer space where cooling off and hooking up happen side by side. “There’s a note in the artwork that reads: To India, this is for you, love India,” they say. “I wanted to put something literal in there to say, ‘Look how far you’ve come in understanding yourself.’”

Though the release of For You can’t be celebrated in a club any time soon, Jordan has been touched by the early reception to it. They have been working from home during lockdown, for a London university’s equality, diversity and inclusion department, and are missing the pulse of the club. But until then, For You can brighten someone else’s world. “Three minutes of happiness is better than nothing,” Jordan says with a smile.

• For You is out now on Local Action.


Lauren Martin

The GuardianTramp

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