SHERELLE and I. JORDAN in conversation

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As the pair announce a joint EP and embark on a UK and Europe tour, Isaac Muk caught up with SHERELLE and I. JORDAN to reflect on class-influence in music and how the industry can better support marginalised communities

  • Words: Isaac Muk | Photos: Alex Lambert
  • 15 February 2023

It’s a cold, Friday mid-afternoon in a busy café just off East London’s perennially hectic Dalston Junction. Only 10 minutes or so have passed since the scheduled meeting time, but I. JORDAN – dressed subtly in all black, with the exception of their emerald green hair – apologises on behalf of their friend.

SHERELLE is always late to everything,” they say, with a knowing smile. “And I have to organise a tour with her.”

The pair haven’t seen each other in two months, with SHERELLE having taken a break from London life to do a spot of travelling around Mexico. She soon appears through the front window, donning a beret and dressed in a vibrant, black-and-white fleeced jacket emblazoned with smileys and frowns, marching with a purpose. I. JORDAN springs from their seat and the two hold an embrace – a long, familiar grasp that people usually reserve for the best of friends.

“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” they say.

Read this next: SHERELLE is leading a paradigm shift in dance music

And they have a lot of time to do it – in just a few hours their ‘Reflections’ tour across the UK and Europe kicks off with a sold out show at London’s FOLD. The pair also have a joint EP, ‘M1, M3 / GETOUTOFMYHEAD’ set for release on February 22 via fabric Originals, with three storming tracks that show off both producers’ singular takes on high-octane dancefloor shakers.

For them, the tour and EP mark more than just a collaboration, and instead the beginning of something – both as musical partners, but they also hope to encourage wider change in the music industry. We sat down together to find out what’s in store for dancers in the next couple of months, creating safe spaces, and why they inspire each other as artists, people and friends.

How did you meet?

S: I didn’t realise our first encounter was LCY’s show [on Reprezent Radio].

J: It was! I was on their show and you were there.

S: I thought I’d met you before but clearly not.

J: I think maybe we were Internet friends or Internet aware of each other.

First impressions of each other?

S: What an amazing human.

J: Hot as fuck.

S: Very sexy boy. I think it’s nice when you watch someone evolve and you’re a fan first and foremost, but then you have the privilege to become friends with them. I was a massive fan of yours – I really liked ‘WARPER’ and I was like: “Ooh, that’s a bit of a naughty tune.” Naturally I’ve been really impressed with your progression throughout your career. I think also at LCY’s show as well, considering the conversations we were having about how long you’d been doing it for, and your various backgrounds, I was like why are they not blowing up? But it was only a few months later when the Ninja [Tune] related stuff came out.

J: I think it was the ‘For You’ stuff.

S: And that made me really happy because I thought: “Sick finally, getting the props for the work that you’ve obviously been putting in.” So yeah, I didn’t have to wait that long. I know LCY would have felt the same as well – they were fan-personing over you.

J: I was fan-personing over you both, so when you came into the studio you and I wasn’t expecting it I got a little bit nervous – but you put people at ease really well.

S: I feel like you have that quality yourself – just a very fun person. It feel like we’ve known each other for a very, very long time, even though on the friendship side it hasn’t been as long.

J: I feel like our friendship ramped up just under a year ago, just after the Homobloc thing happened.

Read this next: I. JORDAN announces new music initiative for trans and non-binary artists

What was the Homobloc thing?

S: We were at Homobloc in 2021, and that was just a really good night, basically – full of fun frolics.

J: In the green room SHERELLE came up to me and said: “I need to play more parties where the crowd reflects me and I was like: “Let’s just do something ourselves then.” That’s just what this tour’s turned into, so that’s why we’ve called it ‘Reflections’ as well. A lot of the conversations with the party started off that night.

S: We both enjoy playing the parties that we do, but naturally we want to make sure that we are inspiring people to come forth and try out stuff that we do – so obviously production and DJing – but I also wish people had more people like us and to [help them] feel more comfortable in spaces. We’re at a point where people are acknowledging and more aware of these things, but I still don’t think we’re at a space where people can fully be themselves and get a full representation of what it means to be queer. We obviously play different types of music and I think our backgrounds naturally reflects the difference.

Are you playing back-to-back?

J: Yes, we’re doing a combination of our sounds.

S: Because of the lineages of where queer music and where Black music comes from, I feel like a lot of queer parties or spaces lean into genres like house and disco – whereas with our night I hope to express a wide range of music, but also the bass music [that’s our background]. Techno and bass are cool genres, and are played often but I don’t know whether you can find many gay nights that are dedicated to what we’re planning to play. It will be interesting to go back-to-back and see how much and how far we can take it.

Is that reflected in the clubs and spaces you’ve chosen to do your tour in?

J: Yeah definitely, we’ve been quite intentional with the spaces we’re working with, like FOLD for example, because of mine and SHERELLE’s connection to UNFOLD. But White Hotel – obviously a very trans-inclusive space, lots of different parties there. There’ve been some offers for other things that we were like: “This doesn’t fit the vibe and ethos we’re going for,” so instead of grasping at everything, we’ve been a bit more intentional.

SHERELLE have you played UNFOLD as well?

S: I haven’t played but I took my top off [while I.JORDAN was DJing], and it was the first time I’ve taken my top off at a set.

Who else have you got playing with you?

J: Tonight we’ve got Jex Wang, who’s a good friend of ours and they’re a part of Eastern Margins, and then for The White Hotel tomorrow we’ve got Soyboi and d. clemente. Soyboi is a good friend of ours as well and on SHERELLE’s BEAUTIFUL label, so there’s all this connection. When we started this we said that we needed to make sure that people we’ve got on support are reflected in the whole vibe – we’ve prioritised trans people of colour. It’s the first time we’re doing this and if we can bring friends along we’ll do it.

S: Also I sometimes think that queer nights don’t know how cis they feel. So it’s super important with this tour that there is a lot of trans inclusion.

J: I can feel it when a queer party is very cis. I played one a few weeks ago and felt very out of place as a trans person, even though it was meant to be queer. Within communities there’s still work to do for people to recognise where the privilege lies and where they are taking up space.

Read this next: SHERELLE announces new platform beautiful for Black and queer communities

Musically, obviously you both have different, but some overlapping styles – how would it look in a back-to-back set?

S: We tried this out in Miami and we had a lot of fun. Obviously you get quite a fast-paced, rage-filled, euphoric set from the both of us. Going back to our backgrounds, when you grow up working-class the music that naturally you’re given is to distract you from the shit that is around you. Not to go too deep into our personal lives, but music was a way to escape a lot of different things. We’re naturally very aware of lineages and understanding and celebrating particular sounds, but we’re also aware that there aren’t many nights where you can have a full spectrum of potentially techno, jungle, bass-led things and all the things that weave in between that too.

J: Absolutely, the class element is really important.

S: It’s important for us to show that working-class queerness. We’re aware of the scene, how many working-class people are in the scene, what the representations are. There’s no shade here – you are where you came from and you should be proud of where you came from. But we want to make sure for the working-class queer lot that it is possible to get out of the space you live in, the bubble, and be proud of who you are too. It’s super hard now to get into music – cost of living crisis, you’ve got a choice of electric, food, whatever. You need a full-time job and be super dedicated and basically have a seven-day week.

J: Yeah that was my life a year ago. I think if people just admit where they came from, it’s not a problem but there’s just a thing in the industry where people are in denial of their wealth, and there needs to be a bit more transparency. And if you’ve come from wealth then just fucking use it in the right places rather than pretend you’re wealthy.

S: It’s working-class cosplay.

Do you think, with a lot of music coming back to the forefront of dance music that has traditionally been attributed to the working class and looked down upon, like jungle and hardcore, that attitudes will change?

S: They’ve only come back to the forefront because a lot of working-people have been playing it. If you take the jungle side Tim [Reaper], Coco [Bryce], Nia [Archives] are all working-class people. Collectively in our own different ways we have brought the sound back to the forefront, but the majority of people who have looked down on it have probably been middle [class], upper [class] until one of their favourite DJs drops it. Like if Ben UFO was to drop it or Joy Orbison it would be really cool, but it’s not cool if it’s someone else. With regards to my scene anyway, naturally people want it – it has been getting faster and there’s nothing now people can really do about it. People are going to find their own ways to express themselves and that makes me super happy.

J: Definitely, I grew up with hardcore, trance, drum ‘n’ bass. I never heard any techno elitism because I wasn’t around middle-class people who listened to techno. It’s only since moving to London that I got to engage in those sorts of sounds – if you go to small towns in the North of England, it’s not talked about. Drum ‘n’ bass is still huge in the North, bassline, donk.

You both have been around the music industry for a long time, but really broke out as artists and performers in the last couple of years – how has the journey been for you?

S: I’ve really enjoyed the journey of my contemporaries. Like I. JORDAN and Anz, and how we’ve navigated the scene because we had to carve out our own space and I feel that’s testament to our hard work and perseverance. But I’m happy now to be in a position where we can go on tour and our nights are sold out – it’s also testament to people’s tastes and how open and willing people are to hear different sounds.

J: Same. SHERELLE, you inspire me so much because you’re the fucking loveliest person ever but also helped me navigate music. Over the last six months especially, you’ve helped me grow confidence in myself. It helps inspire me that what we’ve got and the friendship groups we’re in, we’re all here to inspire each other and uplift each other.

When I first started doing shows I didn’t think I had it within myself or the confidence to be critically reflective on the scene. For years I’ve been misgendered a lot and sometimes staff would be transphobic, but it was only until this year to think actually I can do something about that rather than absorbing it. Like I’m not standing for this bullshit anymore, I’ve started getting my team involved, saying like: “You need to call this promoter” – there’s only so much bandwidth I have.

Read this next: Queer the dancefloor: How electronic music evolved by re-embracing its radical roots

Especially with so many clubs and events calling themselves “safe spaces”.

J: It’s just performative-ism. You can call yourself a safe space but have you got any people of colour working for you? Do you have any trans people working for you? Are you all white, cishet men? Your very existence isn’t safe for people even if you’re a nice guy – people need to see themselves reflected in the systems of power. It’s not just us, the DJs but the staff.

S: I agree. We’ve had many a conversation about infrastructures in electronic music – who’s doing what and where they’re from and that does need to be levelled out a lot more. I would like to see more promoters of different worldly views, and not just the same old people putting on the nights. I would hope bigger promoters – who have enough money – put funds on to allow people to build their own infrastructures, not be so cutthroat business oriented and help grow an actual scene. There’s enough cake for everyone to eat if people thought about ways to share that wealth.

And I also hope that bigger promoters are aware they can help [by] giving money for instance to particular minority groups, and not having to enforce their name onto things. Rather than get involved in queer spaces or minority spaces, [being] not really people who understand those communities and might be putting on nights which are quite unsafe – that’s all I ask for.

J: The whole fucking issue is we live under capitalism. Event models are still based under for-profit structures and that needs to go before we can even start talking about things like safe spaces. There’s only so much me and SHERELLE can do when we’re operating under a system that isn’t built for us to succeed – but it’s also about recognising how liberating and freeing spaces can be for people of marginalised communities. I think I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the death of Crossbreed, and how that branded itself as a queer utopia but at the end of the day it was a for-profit night that was running weekly parties – a utopia can’t exist under capitalism.

One thing we also want to do [with our tour] is make sure everyone is paid properly – people need to make money to live. I think generally in the scene there’s a lack of transparency on pay, like white cishet men will get paid more than me and SHERELLE.

S: People should also be paid fairly if for an hour set, three hour set, stage or curation work. Basically we hope that we’re able to build an infrastructure here to do that for other people and share the influence that we’ve managed to create. There is cake for everyone providing people actually face their front and give cake over to other people.

J: This tour is the start of stuff, that’s where we want to go with this – we put on this party where everyone is paid properly and everyone is equally important. We’ve got the single coming out as well and they all sort of connect – this is the start of us making this statement as collaborators and friends.

Read this next: Thirst for freedom: Kyiv’s queer clubbing community returns to the dancefloor

How does it make you feel when people call you ‘scene leaders’ or ‘innovators’?

S: Very weird. We don’t call ourselves leaders or innovators – we are aware however that we have been able to enter a space and create a space for ourselves and do things in which people might not necessarily expect. What we want is to help and influence things for others like us who aren’t in the same positions. We’re very careful of being attached to labels like that because we’ve never said that and we don’t think [of] ourselves as above other people – we’re just artists.

J: If I was to call myself an ‘innovator’ or a ‘scene leader’, I would be separating myself from the thousands of queer trans people that have worked their arses off without recognition to get me where I am. We’re not alone in what we’re trying to do, there are lots of people who are extremely talented and work so hard. Say if some people connect with us and they see people using that language, that others us from them and makes people think we have this quality that they don’t.

S: Back to the tour we want people to have fun, everyone is equal, and people know what the space is about. We’re lucky we have fans who are not necessarily queer and they’re aware of what we represent to people – and that’s well sick. We just want to create a really nice family element.

Tell me about the EP.

S: I got approached by fabric to be a part of some singles, but they suggested a few names that didn’t make sense to me to be a part of those. So I suggested a change and they went with it. Then they sent me I. JORDAN’s track and I went: “Oh my God, I have the perfect track to go with this,” and it had been this tune that had been bothering me for a very long time, hence why it’s called ‘GETOUTOFMYHEAD’. I. JORDAN’s track influenced me to finish it because I worked out where I wanted to go.

J: It was inspired by a night in Manchester – the title of the tracks are ‘M1’ and ‘M3’, because I had three shows that night – two at The Warehouse Project and one at White Hotel. SHERELLE and I were talking about our relationships with the tracks and they had quite a lot of crossover. Sonically if you’re going to put us into boxes SHERELLE does more jungle and footwork than me and mine is more trance inspired, but in those singles themselves you can hear the overlaps in our sounds.

S: I think it’s just the start of a natural bond, working relationship, symbiosis, masc-on-masc energy. We’ve spoken about just making music together, which we definitely will but it’s just the start – it’s well nice to get to this point.

To purchase tickets for SHERELLE and I. JORDAN’s ‘Reflections Tour’ click here.

Pre-order ‘M1 M3 / GETOUTOFMYHEAD’ here.

Isaac Muk is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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