Despite the obvious absence of concerts, clubs and festivals, 2020 actually turned out to be a big year for dance music. From Lady Gaga's pop house epic, Chromatica, to disco efforts from Dua Lipa, Jessie Ware, Kylie Minogue and Róisín Murphy and so many would-be club anthems that it feels tedious to name them all. But if things had been different, odds are you would've been hearing a lot of India Jordan.
For all intents and purposes, last year was a break out year for London-based producer and DJ India Jordan, thanks to their EP, For You. A dazzling high energy collection of rave tunes full of shimmering synths, nostalgic vocal samples and pulse-quickening beats, For You garnered loads of critical praise and wound up on almost everyone's "Best of" lists by the time 2020 was finally through.
From the twee tropical vibes of the ecstatic title track, "For You," to the giddy euphoria of "I'm Waiting (Just 4 U)," the EP was not only a reflexive love letter about identity and sexuality, but also a celebration of dance music and its special connection with queer history. It was a stunning achievement, albeit bittersweet, shadowed by the unavoidable irony of producing an EP about the community-fostering power of the dance floor.
Now, with 2020 firmly in the rear view and a tentative glimmer of hope on the horizon, India Jordan is back with their highly anticipated follow-up EP, Watch Out!. Building off of the same high energy sound Jordan has honed on their previous releases, Watch Out! is described as "an homage to both physical and conceptual movement." Kicking things off with the hardcore-inspired "Only Said Enough" Jordan immediately sets a fast pace for the EP, with a flurry of frenetic percussion, bumping bass and pervasive airhorn-like vocals.
Jordan carries this same momentum into the EP's title track before spilling into the mechanical churn of "You Can't Expect The Cars To Stop If You Haven't Pressed The Button,'' crafted from the sounds of actual traffic lights and cross walk signals in Peckham and Dublin. The back half of the EP takes a more melodic turn with the sensual, and easy-listening vibes of "Feierabend," which is German for the end of the working day. Closing out with "And Groove," Jordan loops the same vocal sample ad nauseam until listeners are blissfully carried out into the night. Watch Out! is just as strong of an effort as its predecessor and has us itching to get back on dance floors experiencing that unique sweaty euphoria once again.
Ahead of the release of Watch Out!, we caught up with India Jordan talk about their new EP, what it was like to have a break out year in lockdown and what they imagine our post-quarantine return to nightlife will sound like.
Where did the inspiration for the EP come from?
It's an accumulation of stuff that I've been making over the last year. Starting in Christmas of 2019, I think the first track I made is "Watch Out!" then I made "Only Said Enough," then "And Groove" and "Feierabend" was made in lockdown, and "You Can't Expect The Cars To Stop If You Haven't Pressed The Button" was made partly in lockdown, partly using field recordings from when we were able to travel and I was in Dublin. There's a scene behind the EP, and it's around both physical and conceptual movement. That's not something that I had at the very forefront of my consciousness when I was making it but something that had been underlying, and connected all the tracks together. It also felt like something to highlight about me and about how I make music as well.
It's fascinating also because movement ties in very well with the genre and medium of dance music itself.
Yeah, exactly. There's so many layers to it. People have mentioned before that my music has movement and momentum and how I make tracks — my manager Tom has commented on the movement by having tracks by use of automation and that stuff. There's the idea that you go to a club and that dance is totally connected to that. I often use clubs as a workout. I like dancing all night.
What I love about your work is your sample usage. I'm curious about your process when it comes to that?
I don't overthink samples, actually. I try to go through sample selection as quickly as possible, and the moment that something takes my ear, if it's just a second clip of a song, I'll have it. I don't overthink, and I don't overwork it. I just go with a gut feeling of what I like as a loop, I love making loops. I just keep it as simple as possible, I think it's how I learned to produce. How to chop up samples, arrange them in certain ways, edit and warp them before I learned like anything else on Ableton. The first music that I made was like an ambient track that is just like, I don't remember what the sample's from but I just warped the sample both times. It feels like quite a natural process for me to use samples.
I want to ask what your process is like when you're in the studio, so to speak.
I used to make music on trains, which is where a lot of the movement stuff came from. Like being in between spaces and having that middle ground, I used to find it really creatively inspiring. But in terms of my process of making whole tracks, I think my tracks splinter off each other and they're all babies of each other. So I have like a generation of all the different tracks so I made a track called "Warper" a couple years ago and "I'm Waiting (Just 4 U)" came from that because I originally tried to put a sample in that track to have a bass over it. And then "For You" came from another track and "Only Said Enough" is like a little baby of "Watch Out!" So yeah, I often find patchwork samples together whilst I'm making a track and if they don't go together but I really like the sound of it I'll make a whole new track out of it.
I love the bit about making music on the train, there's definitely something to be said about liminal spaces and their influence on creativity.
Yeah, I think actually taking what it is like when you're on a train, it's like in between. There's that anticipation of something at the end of that, and it almost feels like what we experienced in lockdown as a very extended part of that when we're in this in-between phase where we can't really do much. I don't know how it's actually helped with my creativity; I find that when I was on a train, it was like, "Wow, I don't have anything else to do and the world was still moving." I don't know what it's like currently in America, but in the UK we're very much in this in-between phase at the minute where it's not complete lockdown and not completely normal again. It feels like we're constantly just sort of on the edge. It's quite anxiety-inducing, actually. But I think it just makes me long for clubs again. I think our lives now have just become this waiting around for things to happen and then not getting our hopes up because it's not happening yet.
Along those lines, what was it like seeing the For You EP be such a success and not being able to play it out live?
I've definitely just tuned off from thinking about what could have been as a means of being able to not grieve that and first process it. But I think it's been quite strange, because obviously the record did well, and I say obviously, but that's been hard to recognize. Even though people are saying to me, "You did well," and like I'm cleaning up with all these charts, I don't feel that, it doesn't feel real to me because I'm not seeing it. Like I'm getting like comments on Instagram, but that's not the same. So it's felt very theoretical, quite distant and quite removed. It's obviously been lovely, I won an award last year and got a lot of support for the record, which was amazing. But it's still missing that real connection in the club. I think also because this is quite new for me, I started producing a couple years ago. I don't know what that feels like. I haven't got a reference point of what it could have been because I never had it anyway. I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing.
It's interesting seeing how music and new artists are being received this past year, there's this weird level of detachment from it. Theoretical is a great way to put that.
Yeah, there's only so much you can get from looking at a Spotify stat and see that as a real thing. I don't know how to process that with how well the record did, it's just numbers.
In a way, it probably also gets back to club music as being a visceral medium. You get that instant feedback.
Yeah, massively. I can't wait until I can play that in a club. I barely played it out before it was made anyway, so it will just be really cool to hear people. What's been really nice about that is people said that it was their record that helped them get through lockdown. It's incredible that it had that effect on people, that it still served a purpose and people still use the music to help them or to get joy out of. I've also been told that is quite like a nostalgic track anyway, and it does have a sound of nostalgia in it. So people might hear it in a club a year later, after lockdown, and be nostalgic about the previous year or think about how to use it to connect to those feelings that we were feeling when it first came up. In fact, it would be cool to see it go through different life stages, and in a way it might have a bit more longevity because of that. Like music, not just my music, but everyone's music, everyone that's had records out that haven't been able to play in a club, they've got longevity, because they haven't played in a club yet.
As more and more people are getting vaccinated and plans to reopen are starting to finally take shape, what are you looking forward to most about getting back to the dance floor?
Everything. The joy, just feeling of loud music, and being with your friends and hearing stuff, and just that community element of it. The collective joy is something that I'm missing a lot. I'm making a song at the minute called "First Time Back In The Club" and it's around the first feeling that you have back: just pure ecstasy. Quite a euphoric track. I just can't wait. We've had so many restrictions for so long, and just being in that space, knowing the first time that you get back into that space, it's gonna feel like all of those things have gone and that's just gonna feel wild. It might feel quite scary at first, but I think once we're more used to it again it'll feel good.
How do you think that'll influence music coming out for the next couple of years to come?
I think people are gonna be looking for a lot of joyous anthems. In the same way that no one wants to talk about COVID or read about COVID or listen to podcasts on COVID because we're in the middle of it. We don't want to process that just yet. People say no one spoke about the Spanish flu, that is barely written about or spoken about theoretically because people, just like I am, are sick of this. We are moving onto the next thing now because no one wants to remember a horrible time. I don't want to sound like I'm dissing people who don't make happy music because that serves a purpose. But in terms of the club spaces, I think that it will be very euphoric. I hope so anyway, I'll be making euphoric tunes.
What have you been listening to lately that's been getting you going?
I think I'm obsessed with Rinse FM's Garage Hour. Their show is just incredible, and they're just great. I've been listening to a lot of Dansu Discs mixes and the EPs and I listen to a lot of Chrissy. Chrissy's stuff's just like super high energy, euphoric. So I think it's just like connected to that as well.
Outside of music, what have you been getting up to?
I took German like a year ago. So one of the tracks "Feierabend" that's German for free evening, and I made that track in an evening and I sampled "Thank God It's Friday" or something and the lyrics. So yeah, that's a bit of a homage to me taking up German during lockdown. I have taken up cycling a lot. I used to cycle quite a lot just to work and back. But now I do long distance, I did like 60 miles — so 100 kilometers. But I also work, I have a full time job. So I've been mostly doing that.
You also came out as non-binary a little bit over a year ago, what, if any, influence do you think that had on the EP?
Whenever "Watch Out!" was, was like, 10 days after I came out as non-binary. I finished the EP at the end of last year, and was just starting to come to terms with my own identity. And the idea of movement, conceptually, this has been a massively transitional period for me. Lockdown in itself has been quite a useful tool for me to come to terms and understand my own gender identity, and to get confident about speaking about it. Before lockdown, I was in a space where I was still asking people to use they/them pronouns for me, and I was worried about taking up space, asking things of people and that people are going to judge me. It's taken me this year period to actually get over that, but now I'm quite comfortable and confident speaking about it. Now, I think that the issue isn't other people, it's the system, the construct of genders as binary is just completely bullshit. I'm not a problem. I shouldn't feel guilty even asking people to see me in a different way. We should be breaking down the systems.
In basic, there's not a specific song on the EP about being genderqueer. But the journey that I've been on in the last year is very much tied to that record, because it existed the same time the music was being made. It does tie into the movement theme as well. It's nice to feel this confident and to be able to talk about it. I think before "For You," I spoke about like being queer and growing up in the north of England in a working class background, and people tried to make parallels between that and coming out as non-binary. Now, it's like, no, that's not what it's about. But I do think it feels more solidified in this EP rather than "For You."
Photography: Oliver Vanes