For one so young, Jordan possesses quite a storied history in dance music. Beginning his career as a teenager under the tutelage of Fergie, he famously required the help of milk crates to allow him to reach the controls. So prodigious was his talent that he made his debut on BBC Radio 1 aged just 16, and also found himself securing gigs in Glasgow, London and Ibiza, playing harder-edged music at around 140 BPM. When he was of legal age, he started attending parties as a clubber, separate from DJing, and became fascinated with the diversity and age range of house and techno fans, making him realise that he felt more in tune with those kinds of genres and the clientele they attracted. After landing a residency at the now-defunct Yello, he caught the house bug and began to see clubbing as a culture that had much greater substance than the image of loud laddish types pogoing to pounding beats. After relocating to Leeds to study music technology, he played all over England, including appearances at Mint, and Back 2 Basics and this helped to shape even further his ideas about the diversity within dance music and the appeal that this held for him. As fate would have it, his plans on staying in Britain foundered as family matters brought him back home to Belfast, and he began throwing his own parties and had guests such as Roman Flugel, Session Victim, San Soda, Gerd Janson, Tom Demac and Mark E making their Belfast debuts. He has established himself as one of the most recognisable personalities on the Irish scene and has carved out a reputation for delivering a no-holds-barred eclectic style that is designed to make you dance, smile and dance some more. His track ‘No Love Lust’ had extensive radio play in 2017 and was remixed by Tuff City Kids, and his take on Jan Hammer’s ‘Crockett’s Theme’ lit up dancefloors all over the UK and Ireland.
I caught up with Jordan on a busy Belfast lunchtime to touch base and discuss all things musical and nocturnal, starting with the weekly event that he co-curates.
The Night Institute, delivered by Jordan and Belfast dance stalwart Timmy Stewart, and which recently celebrated its third birthday, is one of the city’s most honest nights. Taking place in the intimate, understated Art Department, TNI is not for shrinking violets. With a warm, diverse and enthusiastic crowd, the dancefloor is only ever empty during the early stages of the night, and the boys’ heady mix of disco, house, Italo and techno make shape-throwing an unavoidable consequence. The stripped-back aesthetics and compact space are no accident, as Jordan elaborates.
‘We’ve been in many venues before where people have walked in, poked their heads round the door at the beginning of the night and didn’t know what to do with themselves, so they’d either choose not to go in, or just lurk around the edges, whereas here when you walk in, you’re at the back of the dancefloor. So you have two options: go and buy a drink, or go and dance.’
The small-scale intimacy also invariably attracts a much more focused, attentive crowd, and the boys are keen to keep it that way. ‘It’s slightly off the beaten track – a destination venue – and we look at the likes of Sub Club and Fabric as underground nights that have longevity, simply because they have consistency. It’s there on a weekly basis and people know it’s there. We don’t get offended if some of our regulars want to attend other events from time to time, because they’re here at least 2 Saturdays a month, and we really do appreciate their presence. It’s the type of place where faces become familiar, something of a family affair, and I’ve known people who have found their romantic partners on the dancefloor at TNI, which is pretty special. The fact that we don’t often book guests is because it has taken us three years to establish the flow of the night, and to realise that there are correct times to play disco, correct times to play Italo, and indeed techno if the mood is right. The flow works, and it’s the only way to sustain 200 people who attend, by and large, week in, week out, and if the format changes, the crowd changes. In fact, I was chatting to a lady recently who’d been 4 weeks on the trot, and she told me that she’s in her 40’s, LGBTQ Australian, and this is the most inclusive club she’s been to in Belfast.’
High praise indeed. And Jordan is very much of the realisation that sustaining a successful club night in Belfast requires negotiating more barriers than most other cities. ‘I wish we could play for longer, but that’s an argument that has been going on since time began, and there doesn’t seem to be any prospect of a solution in the next few years, so we work with what we have’.
Making the best of the means in which one operates is commendable, though Jordan admits that the lure of other, less restricted cities is irresistible to some.
‘There are so many people making music in their bedrooms who are bursting to get out of Belfast which is sad. There is a brain drain. I know artists who live in Glasgow, Liverpool, Berlin, people from Belfast who are out making and playing music all over the world yet they could be doing it here. But they’re not supported. I have friends who are pushing to get out of this place, we’d like to have them be able to afford to stay here, but still have the freedom to bring their music around the world. But always to come back.’
Those who do choose to stay are thankfully never short of options when it comes to clubbing (‘there is a very real thirst and demand for dance music here’), and Jordan is one of the most famous faces on the scene, not just in Belfast, but all over Ireland, where he is a regular on the festival circuit, spinning at AVA, Castlepalooza, Higher Vision, Longitude and Life among others, and his penchant for peppering his sets with Italo tracks gives his gigs an extra dimension, and indeed informs many of his productions.
‘There are a few different reasons why I’m drawn to that music – and don’t get me wrong, a whole night of it would bore anyone to tears – but I think it’s the right side of “cheesy”, in that you can play it and people will tell themselves that it’s fun. But because of my trance background the melodic and bass-heavy elements will always appeal to me. In general though, I just love 80’s music, and I think in terms of pop music that there’s never been anything better.’
He is keen not to pigeonhole himself, however, as his unpredictability is something of a calling card, and indeed his current studio noodlings are an indicator of this. ‘For the last two weeks I’ve locked myself away and made 2 tracks that are ready for mixdown and I’d describe them as Afro-meets-electro. I certainly don’t want to become the victim of what some might perceive to be a passing fad. If you put all your energy in one place and suddenly that genre has lost its popularity, you’ve nowhere to go. Look at Sven Vath. He’s been around from the early days and that’s because he plays house, techno, electro, anything, really. It’s all about making people dance, not having them take notes.’
Jordan is also acutely aware of the current trend in house, where the classic sounds from the late 80’s and early 90’s are very much back in vogue.
‘My favourite label at the minute is Gerd Janson’s Running Back, which is the perfect example of where house music is now and it does hark back. And then you’ve artists like Phillip Lauer using Italo elements and Shan doing piano-led stuff. Some people spend too much time trying to create stuff that’s futuristic without realising that house started with sampling and taking bits that were already there and repackaging them.’
The remainder of 2018 promises to be exciting for Jordan on the production front, with an EP to be released on Liverpool’s Abandon Silence label, and a remix on the Future Disco imprint. ‘I’ve been wanting to do something with a disco vibe for a while now but with a bit more “pump”. But I want to be as eclectic as my sets. I’ve been taking piano lessons and generally trying to improve my workflow. Production isn’t something you can rush, and I have tracks that I would regard as well-produced but that I wouldn’t play out. It can take years to get it right.’
Jordan has seen many years, many genres, and many clubs come and go. His considerable experience stands by him well and he draws on all he’s seen and heard to deliver gigs that are high on energy, and bereft of boredom. It is surely incumbent upon any clubber who visits Belfast to get on down to, and at, The Night Institute. With Jordan and Timmy at the controls, one of the city’s most popular nights is an intergalactic adventure in dancing, and the future looks tip-top, as Belfast’s clubbing scene continues to blossom.