Welcome to History Class, Kiddos. We have quite the lesson for you all out there so buckle up. Modern members of our community often hear stories or recall things themselves of a golden age of electronic music in the 90s. A period where the underground was truly and wholly the underground; owned, controlled, and enjoyed entirely by itself.
The community mysteriously attracted so much that the contained world electronic music had created began to gain more traction than it had seen since disco; mostly thanks to the Jamaican and Caribbean Black communities from the UK being generous enough to share their music with us from across the sea (again). It was then when Jungle and the later evolved Drum & Bass genres made their waves in an ever-evolving music scene.
DNB n LGBTQ
Not only was the music community making moves, but after the HIV/AIDs crisis in the 80s, the members of the LGBTQ+ community were more in the spotlight than they ever had been before. The queer people that had always existed up to that point were thrust into a more intense and violent battle for the validity of their own existence. One that still evolves and continues to this day. And in many instances, both music, and queer spaces combined in places for the people on the perceived outskirts of society to thrive. Away from the eye of judgemental people. Or at least that’s what they said they would be…
An experiment turned genre pioneer When Worlds Collide, was an album released in 1997 under the name 1.8.7. Gaining a reputation and working with DnB label Jungle Sky, Jordana LeSesne managed to burst into the scene with her debut album. The sci-fi music experience about an alien arriving on earth to a less than pleasant reception was one of the earliest American drum and bass albums to rock the country. Behind it, the young Black transgender woman on her own journey to find acceptance in a world where she had always been alienated.
A humble transition and genre-definer in more than one way
The second to last track on the album “Distant Storm Approaching” tells of the coming tumult that Jordana was about to face. She released her second album Quality Rolls, along with the announcement of her transition in 1998. Quality definitely rolled from that point on. She took the world quickly and quietly. A humble transition and genre-definer in more than one way. This album decidedly set her down the path to becoming a legend of drum and bass in the coming years.
Unfortunately, nothing gold can stay, especially in the ever-escalating transphobic climate we have always lived in. On a tour stop in Ohio, February 2000 Jordana was brutally attacked. Two men assaulted Jordana and in the end, received nerve damage to her face from the blow to her head. Despite the arrest warrant, the culprits were never convicted very much so due to lack of care from the police.
She escaped to the UK in the hopes to find some semblance of safety. But because of this, she also left behind the career and future she had been building in the music scene. A scene that had always preached acceptance for so long. Jordana spent many years in the volatile existence that many trans people find themselves in as they search for acceptance. Yet, always still working on music despite the hate crime changing everything for her. Eventually ending up back in the US in Seattle, working with a Goth Metal band.
Jordana released an early version of her song “Fight For Our Lives” during the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Please listen to the track as it’s a powerful and raw piece detailing her experience in her own words. It was her first Drum and Bass release in years as she bursts back onto the music scene. She tells of a new EP on its way as well. Her story deserves to be heard, and this is why we reached out to her for Pride Month. We were able to get in touch with Jordana and managed to ask her a couple of questions. She talked to us about the future of her creativity, representation, and inclusivity. She has some valuable words for a community she’s watched for a long time. As well as some kind-hearted encouragement for the trans members of our own community.
Without further introduction, the wonderful Jordana LeSesne…
How is the new EP coming along? What should we expect from this new project?
“Currently, the EP is available in an unmastered form on my Bandcamp. I created these tracks for my fans and as tech previews for labels. As far as the full album release, you can expect to hear me pushing myself creatively and technically to reach my greatest potential as a DnB producer. I’ve been upping my game and studying new techniques. This will be professionally mixed and mastered before release, and part of my fans supporting me now on Bandcamp will help facilitate that.”
Coming from the locale in Seattle, what is your favorite part of being in the metal scene and how do you think it differs from the electronic scene?
“I’m actually no longer located in Seattle. I am in a small town over an hour and a half away and outside of the scenes but I do hope to move back to Seattle in the near future. I was not immersed much in either scene but I hope to change that when I move back. When I first arrived in Seattle in late 2006, no one was interested in booking me, despite me making mixes and press kits available to them. In the 6 years from the hate crime until then I was pretty effectively hidden by the industry and ignored almost entirely until 2014. In mid-2008 I pretty much gave up.
I joined a friend’s band as a guitarist. After that band dissolved, I fronted a Goth Metal band for a while but we didn’t really play out much before I had to move away from Seattle. So I can’t really say that I’m an expert on either scene to properly answer this. Just based on my experience, the metal scene felt more open than the electronic music scene when I lived there. But, as I said, that was many years ago.
Last year I played two well-attended and well-received Seattle live streams. The first was for Kremwerk’s online Pride live stream. Later in the fall, I was asked to play a live stream for Seattle’s Drum & Bass Tuesdays. That which is the longest continuously running Drum & Bass weekly in the US so that’s encouraging. While I’m best known for Drum & Bass, I’m open to music outside Drum & Bass. I have always been multigenre so I’m optimistic.”
Who was your biggest inspiration when you started making music and who is your biggest inspiration now? How do you think the things that have inspired you have evolved over time?
“I don’t have one person who was an inspiration in music or in general. I’ve always listened to all kinds of music and I’m inspired by many things in life. To single one or two out would give the impression that those one or two people or things are my most important inspirations.
As far as early musical influences, while I was growing up I listened to my dad’s old r&b and jazz records. Along with my brother’s record collection which was primarily hip-hop and early electro. He was a DJ for a while. My sister whose birthday I share sang in an R&B band and I always looked up to her. I listened to all kinds of music beyond that though; pop, new wave, punk, metal. I was in my high school’s orchestra and played guitar in local bands. I started attending LGBTQIA+ youth nights at the Pegasus Club in Pittsburgh, that’s where I began to hear house and techno for the first time. As the local rave scene developed, the predominant sound was Breakbeat Hardcore, which became Jungle, Happy Hardcore, and Drum & Bass.
As far as inspirations now, I’d have to say all my new fans who are younger. Since I’ve been in isolation and was largely erased after the hate crime, it’s super inspiring to see that there is a new generation of club kids and people who appreciate my music who maybe haven’t been exposed much to Drum and Bass given its history of being generally gate-kept by cis straight men.
My musical influences over time became broader as I traveled and began listening to music from all over the world. I also have learned more music theory than when I first began.”
What is your favorite project you’ve ever had the chance to work on?
“The Free CeCe! Documentary produced by Jacqueline Gares and Laverne Cox. Personally, I feel it is the most important project I’ve ever been a part of due to the subject matter, and CeCe Macdonald’s powerful story. I produced music for the soundtrack. Part of one of the songs off of my upcoming album also appears in it.”
What does Pride Month mean to you? What do you enjoy doing to celebrate your own existence during Pride Month?
“The first time I’ve played a Pride event in my entire career was last year for the club Kremwerk’s online streaming of their pride festivities. I had never been asked before! I’m super excited to be one of the people bringing Drum and Bass and UK Garage to these communities in a new way. After all, electronic music has its roots in black, brown, and LGBTQIA+ culture. It’s important that the communities which helped start certain industries are also able to benefit and celebrate them as well as enjoy the music that was influenced by them. “
What is one of your most positive experiences as a trans woman in the industry?
“Playing at San Francisco’s legendary Drum & Bass night ‘Eklektic’ back in the ‘90s. At a time when there was over-the-top hostility towards LGBTQIA+ people in Drum & Bass. The three women who ran Eklektic, Dina Marie Alemagna (dMarie), Susan Langan (Qzen), and Emily Griffin (Ms. E/GriffinGrrl) all accepted me, made me feel welcome, safe, and heard. It was truly an oasis at that time.
One of my most empowering moments was being chosen to DJ on the Knowledge magazine tour with some of the biggest names in Drum & Bass. We played some legendary venues like First Avenue in Minneapolis and the House of Blues in Chicago. It still remains the largest all Drum & Bass tour of North America. I learned a lot from others on that tour, particularly MC Chickaboo and DJ Dazee. Chickaboo MCing for me at every tour stop was amazing! She’s one of the best MCs I’ve ever worked with. “
Do you think your idea of representation in the music industry has changed as the industry has become more commercialized?
“Not really. In the ‘90s, representation was simply about existing, being seen, and heard. Today, as commercialization has taken place, it has whitewashed the origins of electronic music. This is excluding many of the originators of the culture from its success as an industry. Prior to COVID, Electronic Music was one of the largest industries in the USA and yet the face of it was generally a cisgender, straight, white guy. This became the dominant narrative. For music, which had its roots in queer, black, and brown culture, this seemed like a step backward to me. It appears as though the burden of change is being placed, once again, on the artists, as many are having to use inclusion riders to encourage promoters to book more diverse lineups.”
How do you think the industry can provide representation and inclusivity and not just simply commodify people’s existence?
“This is a tough question because the very nature of the industry being as commercial as it is to make money. Therefore its tendency is to commodify people’s existence. However, it has to do more than just profit from showcasing people from marginalized communities. This is where the conversation is about more than representation but inclusivity from the ground up.
The industry committing significant resources to things such as music education, artist and business development, and music law instruction in those communities would show that the industry is not just siphoning off those “fortunate” enough to have navigated the many obstacles just to get to the point at which they become a commodity. Rather, the industry would be nurturing the roots of many future artists to participate on a more level playing field. “
“Fight For Our Lives” Is still a work in progress, do you know when we might see its full release?
“It will see its full release when the album is released. The pre-release was really an early work in progress. It’s being reworked so it may sound a bit different, but better.”
Speaking of which, the hate crime you speak about in the song has clearly left a deep impact on you for a long time. I am wondering what advice you may have for others out there for healing from similar experiences, or even the day-to-day prejudice that trans people face?
“I don’t know that I am the best person to answer this question as I am still trying to heal myself. If I knew what advice to give, I’d probably be further along in that healing process. Just because I am working, doesn’t mean I have healed or that everything is okay. What I can say is that I keep going because I do not want the people who tried to end me, to win. Period.
As far as day-to-day prejudice towards trans people who face it, I’d say try not to face it alone. Having understanding friends or family you can turn to will help a lot.”
Ways that you have helped validate yourself and move forward in life, despite the failure of the system to give you any external closure or support?
“I’ve always seen myself as valid in the face of those who did not. It’s not an activity, it’s a state of mind based on my sense of self which is not dependent on external support. However, moving forward in life IS dependent on external support. I try not to confuse my validity with my needs despite a system that assumes my validity is based upon my needs being met. It’s hard not to devalue yourself when a whole system devalues you. Decoupling your validity from how the system views or treats you is essential to staying strong in the face of adversity.”
What can people in the industry do to make specifically Black trans artists feel safer and more encouraged to be in certain spaces?
“This is an excellent question but one which would probably fill a book for a complete, comprehensive answer. So instead I will just offer a few simple suggestions. These suggestions are informed by some discussions of common experiences among other black trans artists.
On this question, there are three areas that need to be addressed: physical safety, financial security, and creative freedom.
Regarding physical safety, properly vetting people who work security at an event or venue to know if they are racist or a transphobe. I mean this is pretty basic but absolutely necessary.
For financial security, it’s simple, make sure artists are paid equitably and on time.
Creative freedom starts with feeling welcome in the space, but this extends to individual black trans artists not being viewed through a singular lens or stereotyped. Like everyone, we are individuals with different experiences, dreams, wants, needs, and desires. Becoming familiar with an individual artist and their art is essential. Them being free to express their art whether or not it directly references their experiences of being black and/or trans is a basic foundation of creative freedom.”
Is there anything you’d like to say to our trans community members?
“When I was little my sister used to tell me ‘You’re a person, not a problem.’ Many, if not most of you already know that your experiences are valid. You also probably already know that you have it within you to change your world so long as you don’t let the world change you.
Follow your dreams.
Value your time as much as you value yourself when choosing how or whether to educate someone. While we are often expected to educate people just because we’re trans, educating others is work. This work can emotionally impact you so don’t feel obligated to do this free work if it negatively affects you. If on the other hand, you find yourself drawn to this work, are energized by it, and helping others, then by all means learn from others in the trans community who are doing this work and do it yourself whenever and wherever you feel it necessary.”
Is there anything else you’d like to say in general?
“First of all, if you haven’t already been, get vaccinated. As we return to nightlife after COVID, I think people should reflect on their experiences and how we can work more collectively to create sustainable communities within dance music. This means not just questioning the dominant narrative, but holding accountable those who use it to justify a lack of diversity. You can help create change that is reflected in how the industry conducts itself from the top down. The most effective way to realize actual change is by encouraging intentional reformation and restructuring in the way that events are booked, promoted, and deployed. Your voice here matters.”
We were so honored to talk to Jordana LeSesne this Pride Month and have her close out our celebrations. Remember that Black trans lives will always and have always mattered. Jordana is a voice with so much value and wisdom. Every word she gave was appreciated, and we cannot wait to continue to listen to the advice and input she has for the industry. We are on the edge of our seats waiting for the release of her new EP and her return back to the world of Drum and Bass.
Thank you to Jordana LeSesne for speaking with us and a final Happy Pride Month sign off!
Looking for new music? Keep up with our weekly Spotify Playlist, Fresh Hunts. Updated every Friday with all the latest releases. Whether it’s the newest drops from Jordana LeSesne, as well as all your favorite artists. Some old-school, or underground – we just want you to hear it.
June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month! EDM began with the LGBTQIA+ community, and it remains a space to be fully yourself – safely and without judgment. This is not only a time to celebrate the full spectrums of gender and sexuality. This is also a reminder of the continued fight for gay and trans rights. Learn how to support trans rights here. Also, support several causes for the LGBTQIA+ community here.