Jordan has been DJing for a long time. More than half his lifetime, in fact. While most of us were studying for our high school exams, Jordan was zipping across Ireland with a roped-in mate, playing all manner of rowdy clubs, often lacking the ID requirements that would typically get him bounced from the door. What’s more, he wasn’t a national sensation with a hit single, he just fucking loved it. Eventually, Jordan walked a Radio 1 competition that saw him play in front of a home crowd of 10000 people in his home city of Belfast. He was sixteen years old.
While this may sound like the beginning of a particularly salacious Netflix documentary, we don’t need to ask “But where’s Jordan now?”, because he’s here, delivering the latest edition in the #PHANTASYMIX series. Between now and then, he’s maintained face as one of the most skilled DJs in Belfast, a city that thanks to it’s dedicated crowd and AVA Festival, has developed a burgeoning reputation as a hotbed of electronic music. Jordan helped build that foundation, co-running The Night Institute party for many years, hosting international names and then wisely scaling things back to a wide-ranging rave based on the skills of himself and fellow DJ Timmy Stewart.
More recently, Jordan has been dancing down multiple avenues. As well as traversing Europe as a DJ, his Nocturne edits series have become some of the most sought-after slabs of wax in the market, beloved by Gerd Janson, Kornel Kovacs and our own Erol Alkan. His halcyon solo productions on Belters and Loose Fit have a luminescent, timeless quality that recalls Orbital or The Chemical Brothers alongside his constantly refreshed record collection from a bubbling underground. And now he’s here for the #PHANTASYMIX. Alongside the music, he spoke to John Thorp about those wild early days, the perfect edit, the Belfast music scene and the potential effects of the recent pandemic.
Jordan, you’ve been DJing for a long time. What sort of music were you initially playing, and how and why did that style evolve over the years (a potted history of Jordan, if you will). More so, what do you think has remained the same?
I began my ‘career’ playing up and down Ireland at all sorts of weird and wonderful venues, from country bars that finished with God Save the Queen after a night of thumping trance, to bona fide festivals. I’ve always had energy at the forefront of my mind, so when I was a kid, the sort of music I was after was high energy, ‘tech trance’ we called it. So it was basically trance without all the fluff, a bit more balls.
I am naturally a bit fascinated by your life as a former teenage DJ. You played to 10000 people when you were 16… Quite a rush, I’m sure. Obviously at that age, you’re presumably having a wicked time and just going with the flow and not overthinking your position or the significance of what you were doing. But what do you think was the net effect? Surely you look back and think that was mental? Were you partying around that time, or was it all business?
They were certainly very exciting times for a teenager! During that period I was being championed by BBC Radio One DJ Fergie, who discovered me via a DJ competition when I was 13. From the outset I was always very focused - making edits in Soundforge, sending out demos directly to clubs to follow up on gigs I’d played previously. There was certainly a drive and an attention to detail even then. The CD’s had covers, printed tracklists, intros, and personal letters. Nowadays we have social media - this free platform to promote their music and it’s easy to forget the days on end it took to burn a CD one at a time. But yeah, around the age of 16 I realised I was in nightclubs… Getting paid… and being offered free booze. So on my time off, we hit it hard for a few years and started clubbing properly which is when I got really into the house and techno side of things and took myself off to Leeds to study Music and continue the descent into debauchery.
This is a great mix, loaded with just the right kind of pressure and build. It definitely speaks for your abilities as a really great warm-up DJ. Which, following your teenage ascendency and proliferation, you were for many years, at The Night Institute. Now it feels like you’re moving in a direction towards touring more and becoming a ‘big name’ in your own right. Do you ever find yourself stuck in the gear of accommodating someone afterwards to ‘smash it’, ‘turn it upside-down’, or so on?
Thanks, I'm a bit obsessed with structure so it means a lot that you picked up on it. I usually listen to mixes at the computer or in the car, so I don’t really want to hear an overly heavy club mix. I think this one has a nice balance though, and a very audible switching point in the energy. Although I’ve had a really exciting few years playing places I’d never imagined like Tokyo, Berlin and New York, I still would rather play all night when the opportunity is offered to me. I do find myself holding back sometimes, it’s an inbred politeness to whoever’s on after. You’re always learning though aren’t you? You spend years learning to be a decent club DJ, then you have to learn the art of a good festival set, then you’re learning how different cities react to different music. Anyone who’s said they’ve perfected it is a liar.
Belfast’s clubbing hours are notoriously short, but the party culture is almost inexplicably strong. Can you make an effort to explain to a curious outsider what’s in the water there? It’s developed a reputation that could rival Glasgow’s for four-hours of relentless panel beating. On the other hand, does the city’s small size and student populace limit its potential somewhat, too?
In terms of parties, I always found there was a certain honest naivety about the scene here. The majority of the parties over the past ten years were under 300 capacity, so it really had that special community feel about it and still does if you look in the right places.
Over the last year or two, like everywhere, there’s been an influx of unnecessary cookie cutter ‘club nights’, particularly as previously commercial venues have started flirting with ‘underground’ club music. Parties like queer disco, Ponyhawke have been flourishing though with their resident-led community vibe which is what I think clubbing should be all about, and remains the ethos for our party, The Night Institute. On the harder side of things DSNT has a huge cult following too and parties like Plain Sailing are catering for garage and grime amongst the less straight up side of club house and techno which is great.
We’re very lucky for a small city to have such a talented bunch of creatives. I’m currently working on a “From Belfast with Love” charity compilation and have been on the hunt for new artists that I haven’t worked with before, as well as the more established guys. Optmst, Matheson & Viper Patrol have raised my eyebrows. I also heard a premiere of a track today by a local guy called Percboi3000 which was excellent. Check ‘em!
Your Nocturne edits series have earned big play from Gerd Janson, Kornel Kovacs and our own Erol. Each stands out and demonstrates a respectful love of the original source. What are some of your favourite edits and/or edit masters?
It’s a fine form of procrastination to make an edit in Ableton when you originally planned to write an original, and you can certainly pretend to be more productive a lot quicker!
During our all-night sets at The Night Institute, the bar would legally close at 1:30 and we’d have to keep people dancing till 3am so we’d be reaching for 80’s tracks quite regularly amongst the house and techno so that was the original purpose of making them a little more DJ friendly.
Although I think the rough production in some of that stuff was part of the charm, it’s nice to chunk it up a bit by re-playing the basslines and hooks and adding drums - giving it a little extra TLC rather than just a re-arrange and firing it out. I only do one edits record a year, that way it’s a bit more special.
Two picks from me are
As well as those, Dar Disku and Hard Fist are untouchable labels for edits.
Your solo productions are driven by similar reverence and reimagination of what we might term the ‘glory days’ of pop, house, italo and breaks. What draws me to your tracks is that they feel familiar, yet not phoned-in pastiche. Operating under the ever-increasing weight of electronic music history can be difficult for anyone with high standards they’re keen to upkeep. There’s no right or wrong way, but beyond your own instinct, whose taste and ears do you trust to let you know you’ve nailed it?
I try to be varied in my studio output, so in the last year alongside the big smilers there’s been acid tracks, moog jams and 110bpm chuggers.
In terms of ears, having played alongside Timmy Stewart back to back all night at The Night Institute for the best part of 3 years, I always trust his opinion. It’s always good to be able to call on someone with almost twice as much experience as you and he’ll always be (sometimes too) honest. Most importantly he has a respect for the culture and history so is happy enough to tell you when something’s not worth touching.
I also have Garry McCartney (Ejeca) and Bobby Analog tortured with constant audio clips, so sorry lads!
We’re heading into uncharted waters for DJs. You’re somebody who has been doing this for a long while on the strength of your reputation as a knowledgeable and exciting DJ, and ahead of a strong year of touring, you are suddenly grounded. Of course, everyone is in the same boat in one way or another, but do you have any predictions as to the net or knock-on effect of the current crisis? Do you think it will be of positive or negative benefit to a selector such as yourself? (Permission to be selfish for a second with that one.)
I think the most important thing is to be patient. I’m optimistic to some degree. As a bit of a control freak, I’ve always been self-sufficient to some extent so I’m not really as dependent on the success of other clubnights or labels to keep making and playing music. It will certainly be a tough time for all - we are expecting a baby in 8 weeks in the middle of a global health crisis meaning I’m unable to travel or throw parties and essentially have no income, so I’m certainly not downplaying the severity of what we’re going through. It will certainly restructure things, but to what degree? I’m hoping people will stop throwing crazy money at outsourcing their scene to blow-in artists who come take their money and leave little support behind. Oh and hopefully people will be nicer to each other on the internet when they realise once you take away the smoke and mirrors, everyone is in the same boat.
John Thorp, April 2020