India Jordan: “Making music feels integral to my existence as a human. It makes me feel alive”

The Doncaster dance don reflects on a breakout year, and the new EP set to cement their place as the scene’s most-beloved rising star

Given India Jordan’s incredible breakout period in this wonky year, it’s fitting that the premiere of their banging latest creation is at NME’s currently-empty HQ. Once their first cover shoot is over – in which they battle with 30 meters of iridescent film and liken the sensation to “being in a spaceship” – they go on the prowl, peeking under desks and pulling apart the empty office space. “Where does that wire lead to?” they gleefully ask from beneath a desk, before an exploratory yank disturbs a nearby speaker.

We’ve not asked our latest cover star to sort out our wiring on the cheap – Jordan’s trying to hook their phone up to play an unreleased track they’ve been working on with frequent collaborator Finn. After futile attempts to connect to a speaker, they elect to play it out of a tinny phone speaker; it’s a bright, skittering track, mixing rough-hewn bass with crisp melodies. “What do you think?” they ask. Bloody brilliant, of course. Usually, they’d be able to trial new tunes like this in an unsuspecting club before tweaking things later; presently, they’re making do with playing to the abandoned tupperware and vacant desk chairs. Whatever works, y’know?

In a year where nightclubs have been bolted shut, it has been a thoroughly bizarre time to establish themselves as one of the most exciting new names in dance music. But in India Jordan’s case it hasn’t been altogether negative; their music – joyous, reflective, and celebratory – has always excelled at cutting through the quiet.

NME Cover 2021 India Jordan
Credit: Joseph Bishop for NME

It kicked off with the release of their ‘For You’ EP in May 2020, an uplifting antidote to the monotony of lockdown that restlessly fused disco’s saturated excess with the producer’s appetite for urgently driving strains of dance: hardcore, rave, filter-house, drum’n’bass, breakbeat and trance. It was also a celebration of its author – the “you” referenced in the title is Jordan themselves. “At its vulnerable heart, India’s largest body of work to date is as much a love letter to themselves,” NME said in a five-star review.

That was felt strongest on closing track ‘Dear Nan King’, where the producer samples dialogue from the 2002 TV adaptation of queer drama Tipping the Velvet, a show they used to watch late at night in their bedroom, finger poised over the remote control’s mute button. “There’s nothing wrong with me at all!” Nan says in the snippet, beaming after escaping her life as a Whitstable oyster girl and diving into London’s Victorian-era queer scene.

For Jordan, Nan’s realisation chimed with their own journey. Last year, the producer posted about their gender identity on Instagram. “For now, I know that the gender binary isn’t something that I fall into,” they wrote, “and I ask that you refer to me using they/them pronouns or simply by my name.”

NME Cover 2021 India Jordan
India Jordan on the cover of NME

Ordinarily, tracks like ‘I’m Waiting (Just 4 U)’ or ‘Rave City’ might’ve become 2020’s go-to club bangers, but being released in profoundly odd circumstances meant that the emotional context came into clearer focus. “People reached out to me and said: ‘this is really helping to get me through lockdown’,” Jordan says. “I use music personally to find an emotive connection, and it’s pretty much a dream come true to have people connect with my music in the same way I consume music. That’s the ultimate goal of a musician,” they say.

And the producer’s new EP ‘Watch Out!’ – out today (May 7) – again taps into current times. It’s about keeping the wheels in motion and Jordan’s search to seek out new kinds of movement while the passage of time felt so slow and sluggish.

The producer is the kind of person who dislikes standing still – it’s evident in their genre-slippery music, too – and they approach each song with a challenge in mind. For standout moment ‘Only Said Enough’, their collaborator Finn tasked them with making “a hardcore track with a big vocal in it, so that’s what came out”, is how Jordan puts it, matter-of-factly. It nails the brief: a powerhouse diva vocal cries out with euphoria atop thumping, high-speed breakbeat. Jordan sees it as a “propagated baby plant” of the title-track ‘Watch Out!’ – another hardcore-laced banger squalling with sirens and hefty subs.

In little over a year, Jordan has been recognised not just as a masterful producer, but one whose songs continue to reflect their listeners’ mood. It’s been the arrival of a brilliant new voice. “A few people said, you know, this could’ve been really good for you but the lockdown has put your breakout year on hold,” they shrug. Has it? “I don’t really think it has.”

NME Cover 2021 India Jordan
Credit: Joseph Bishop for NME

Being an open book is just in India Jordan’s nature. Post photoshoot, the producer can barely conceal their glee at a passing corgi and whips out their phone to show off a snap of their latest bum tattoo. “My housemate tattooed “fuck off” onto my butt cheek, ’cos I have ‘LOL’ on the other side of my arse,” they say. Jordan also has a Bonobo-related tattoo on one ankle – fitting, given their signing to famed electronic label Ninja Tune, where they now count the British artist as a label-mate. “I still don’t really believe it’s happening,” they say. “It’s very wild.”

A week later NME meets them again as they settle into their new leafy part of south-east London. They’ve recently switched sides of the river: “I’d been there for nearly seven years, and my time was up there,” they say of north-east London.

‘Watch Out!’ is a farewell to that period, looking back over their time whirling around Stoke Newington, mainly on a bike. Their favourite cycle routes – regular escapes during lockdown – spin across the bright yellow record sleeve. The EP’s title is a gentle warning, but by ‘You Can’t Expect The Cars To Stop If You Haven’t Pressed The Button’ – a track directed at those who can’t work a pelican crossing – Jordan starts to lose their patience. It results in the first usage of their own voice on their music: “Ah, for fuck’s sake!”, they mutter at the cowboy crossers.

“Someone told me that the lockdown has put my breakout year on hold – I don’t really think it has”

With ‘And Groove’ they wanted to create “a nice house track” inspired by early Chicago pioneers of the genre, Frankie Knuckles, Jesse Saunders and Larry Heard. And in making ‘Feierabend’ (the German word for the end of the working day) Jordan stuck to the quick turnaround suggested to them by twisted club producer Dance System. “I made that one around May or June last year in an evening after finishing work,” they say. “At the minute I’m trying to make a jungle track, and it hasn’t really turned out like a jungle track. It’s important to learn new things and not get stuck on the last one.”

In the past Jordan liked finishing tracks on the train, they put the final touches to ‘Only Said Enough’ on the way to Hull towards the end of 2019, and aired it for the first time a few hours later with Finn at Crystal Clear club night. The title track was made at their mum’s house in Doncaster, and ended up sneaking into a set in Oxford right before the pandemic hit: “Somebody screamed as I played it. This wall kept getting knocked over and it kind of turned into a pissed student night with everyone falling all over the place, screaming and loving it,” they remember wistfully.

But the last year forced Jordan to slow down. Finding creative inspiration is harder work they say, and juggling a day-job working in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at King’s College London university has proved tough.

NME Cover 2021 India Jordan
Credit: Joseph Bishop for NME

“The last couple of months, I’ve been chaotically trying to fit it around my life in the evenings,” they explain. “But making music makes me feel alive. When I don’t make it, I have this voice in my head saying: ‘you’re rubbish if you don’t make it’ or ‘what if you never make another track again?’ Making music feels integral to my existence as a human. In the same way that certain things are gender-affirming to me, making music is human-affirming.”

Lockdown has also afforded Jordan more space to figure out what is gender-affirming for them: “I was talking to a therapist about gender stuff and noticed I would only talk to him when something bad had happened, like when somebody used the wrong pronouns, or someone had called me ‘lady’ – I’d freak out and feel this dysphoria. He asked me to reframe it, and think about what gender means to me in a positive way. Having that space and downtime and thinking about it introspectively – which naturally everyone’s been doing in lockdown, one way or another – has very much helped with that.”

And as clubs and festivals look slightly nearer to returning in some capacity, Jordan has been using this pause to consider their role in the scene. They’ve been discussing how to tackle structural racism and gender inequality at festivals, and as buzz builds and high-profile festival slots are offered, Jordan’s keen to put words into action.

“Having space and down time has helped thinking about what gender means to me”

Using their know-how from their day-job, Jordan has been helping their agent draw up new contracts which will be used by an entire collective of DJ agencies in future. By using power in numbers, they hope to influence the ways that promoters run events, and in future, the collective will pass on line-ups that don’t feel representative and diverse.

“You can’t escape the fact I have white privilege, so how can I use that to influence and support others?” they wonder. “It’s also about looking at how safe a space is, if there are gender-neutral toilets, and if the staff are trained in supporting people who are experiencing harassment, and also not tolerating it. And looking at booking local artists as much as possible, as well.”

NME Cover 2021 India Jordan
Credit: Joseph Bishop for NME

Jordan grew up in Doncaster, where they were raised by their mum, who encouraged them to pursue music early on. Besides buying Jordan their first guitar, their mum is also a huge fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers; “She’s got a copy of the NME with Anthony Kiedis on the front,” Jordan laughs. India soon discovered their own affliction for Placebo, Bring Me The Horizon and US post-hardcore band From First To Last and heading to rock and emo shows at The Leopard venue.

When NME spoke to Jordan this time last year, they joked that their favourite thing about their hometown was the well-connected train station that enabled them to leave it later on. “I liked to spend time on my own,” they now say. “I used to have a little den at the top of the stairs – basically a store cupboard – and I liked sleeping in there.”

Otherwise, they were constantly on the move with their local “rollerblade gang” – Jordan’s nickname was Speedy. “I used to play with my mates, and we’d play families – I’d always be the dad. My mum would try and make me wear dresses and wear my hair down, but I would always refuse. Thinking about if it’s always been in me…” Jordan adds, pausing. “It’s a bit of a cis-narrative to make people think that it’s something [trans and/or non-binary and gender-fluid people have] always wanted, and gender fluidity doesn’t necessarily align with that narrative. I’ve never really been feminine; I remember feeling most confident as a kid when I was wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt.”

“I’m quite protective and grateful for what growing up in Doncaster gave me”

As Jordan grew older, they experienced frequent queerphobia, and soon made use of the train station – first moving to Hull and then the capital. “If you grew up queer in a working-class town in the North, you wanna go to London, because you see other people like you there. It feels safer.

“The small town mentality just drove me away. Around the time I was living in Doncaster there was a rise in support for the [far-right political party] BNP and I remember they got a seat in the EU [Parliament] elections in 2009. We went on an anti-racist march in Leeds and that evening we went to a pub I was working at and they were taking the piss out of me for going to the march. I was the only person in there who didn’t vote for them! I needed to get out to a place where I wasn’t the minority, and I’m not surrounded by racists and homophobes.” In London, Jordan says that “you see other people like you, and people don’t give a shit”.

Though Jordan dabbled in production while studying philosophy in Hull, they didn’t begin producing music seriously until moving to London, having been initially put off by the gatekeeping music bros they encountered at university. In 2019, they released their debut track ‘DNT STP MY LV’ – artfully chopping up ’80s post-disco track ‘Don’t Stop My Love’ (by the boogie pioneer Kashif) and taking it into a frenetic, rave-inspired place. The EP of the same name soon became a club mainstay.

NME Cover 2021 India Jordan
Credit: Joseph Bishop for NME

After moving to the capital, Jordan also became embedded in the electronic music scene, and soon became known for running New Atlantis socials at Peckham’s Rye Wax. Clubbing’s answer to a psychedelic matinee, it was a place to lounge about with a green tea while bathed in slowly morphing projections; the music was spaced-out and ambient.

Though the last ever New Atlantis took place just before lockdown after a five-year run, Jordan got to know an entire community of like-minded creatives through running it. “I can’t imagine ever leaving London now,” they say, “it’s just ace.”

With some distance, Jordan has also been reflecting on their negative feelings towards growing up in Doncaster. “I think it’s a product of post-Thatcher Britain,” they say. “The Tories have it in the palm of their hand now by creating this scapegoating of immigrants, and by saying they’re the problem – when really the problem is the Tories taking away all of the infrastructure and industry from the north in the ’80s and ’90s. They didn’t give them anything in replacement. So unemployment is rife, the council doesn’t get any funding to do anything, and it’s a product of Tory rule.

“It’s pretty much a dream come true to have people connect with my music”

“It’s hard. I hated my time there, but I’m always going to defend it,” they say, “because I’m connected to my roots. It’s a horrible battle I have with myself. I fucking hate this place, but nobody else can say they hate it, because I’m from there. Now I’m quite protective and grateful for what it gave me… I wouldn’t have had the same experience if I hadn’t been brought up there.”

Turning their personal experiences into euphoric, utopian rave music is something that India Jordan does incredibly well. Just as its predecessor ‘For You’ giddily stitched together a patchwork of genres beneath a glimmering disco ball, ‘Watch Out!’ bursts with a similar sense of joy, trading in strut for a rawer kinetic energy. It’s admittedly begging to thump out of the nearest subwoofer, in a packed basement club filled with flailing bodies. And until that utopian day arrives, India Jordan’s given us something just as special – reflective, playful, and continually curious dance music which keeps relentlessly moving forward. All in a time when the world is mostly standing still.

India Jordan’s new EP ‘Watch Out!’ is out now on Ninja Tune