WORDS

An Unorthodox Conversation With Nathan X

As Pride month wraps up in a big old rainbow and several hangovers to boot, we at UKF wanted to hone in on the brand which champions LGBTQ+ artists and queer spaces. Some may ask why we still need to have Pride; astonishingly, it is still illegal to be gay in 70 countries. Pride is a protest, and one hell of a party, so we caught up with Unorthodox, the ones making the loudest noise right now, to gain insight into the celebrations and tribulations currently in the drum and bass scene for queer artists and ravers.

LGBTQ+ identity is stamped all over the very roots of dance music since its 80s awakening. Dance music itself evolved as a subculture almost exclusively made up of minorities, from queer, Black, and Latino communities, notoriously those in Chicago and Detroit. Counter culture, rebellion, and freedom have long been synonymous with both queer rights and raves; mutual places of peace, love, unity, and respect. So where the hell is the d&b at? Drum & Bass heads and junglists pride ourselves on being sound people with an even better sound, not standing for injustice in our backyard. Yet d&b has been called out royally over the last few years for it’s apparent burial of it’s very foundations such as the Black and queer cultures so integral to the core of the music. 

The d&b communities’ attitude towards the queer community goes beyond rife homophobia in forums and comment sections. As a gay womxn, I’ve experienced first hand the objectifcation that can linger over drum & bass nights like a bad odour. When a section of the party stops to stare and heckle something so tame as a same sex kiss over watching some killer drops, one does wonder what’s truly so enthralling? Being gawked at for kissing my girlfriend in a rave that boasts one love, on top of some sickening comments is not what you pay £30 for. There’s a lack of respect, perhaps due to a lack of exposure that forces these reactions. These stares and comments can ultimately lead to far sinister consequences and experiences for other LGBTQ+ people, hence the lack of us at d&b parties.

It seems there is little crossover between one of dance music’s most popular, enduring scenes, and the queer community. Whereas house music, disco & techno, have a whole host of nights, collectives, and brands; such as Glitterbox takeovers every Summer in Ibiza, to the infamous Block9 at Glastonbury, d&b remains rather humdrum with representation once again. From unfriendly dancefloors, to a complete lack of queer representation on roster’s and lineups, it’s beyond any doubt it’s time for change. Change which Unorthodox is affecting one fabulous action at a time. From finding queer artists and DJs, to making hilarious vlogs, to throwing their own drag themed rave spectacle, I sat down with Nathan X with a virtual pint on Zoom to discuss the need for queer spaces, the inclusivity queer drum and bass does actually desire, and how queers are here for life, not just for pride. 

Happy Pride 2021! Any plans? We’ve heard Motion Bristol is gonna get the Unorthodox treatment…

Hey thanks! So, we’re waiting for the lockdown restrictions to lift, which is really annoying as we had this amazing show planned for the Bristol Pride after party. We’re just trying to move the lineup, so it should be later this year around September. 

Drum & Bass at Pride sounds like a complete recipe for delight and debauchery…

Yeah I think so, for me anyway, I was really into the idea as I’ve been to however many Prides and they never really have any substantial DnB events… I’ve seen House, Disco, bits of Garage and Hip-hop but you never see any Drum & Bass which always really confused me – it’s just like why?

Strange, as we know D&B is the king of the after party vibes…

Yeah! When I was in Brighton there might be a few Drum and Bass events but it’s never been at the events or after parties that dominate the Pride’s in the big cities, they never have Drum and Bass, so that’s something I really want to change, as time progresses hopefully we can get to the point where we fill out the big capacity venues for after parties.

So when we got asked to do room 2 at Motion, I was like yes, this is a stepping stone and a step in the right direction! It’s nice that a house/disco promoter can recognise that there is the market for Drum and Bass in the queer community!

A market Unorthodox is unveiling one fabulous step at a time…

Yeah 100%. I think DnB just has a bit of a negative stigma attached to it for outsiders of the scene and the wider queer community, a lot of my queer friends who go to the more standard queer events, such as Heaven, will say “well it’s a bit rough, I don’t think it’s quite my scene it feels a bit macho” and that’s the stigma attached to it. That’s the reason why it’s not so integrated and there’s not such a cross over between DnB and the queer scene. 

The scene needs to take a good look at itself when it preaches peace, love, unity and respect…

Yeah, it’s mental, it’s so strange how DnB has taken a completely separate path; all rave culture comes from queer groups and people of colour as these were the communities who were shunned from society and had nowhere else to go, so they created illegal parties… raving… basically all rave culture today stems from that past, including dnb and whilst the music might have some other influences from different places, at the end of the day it does come from hardcore, acid, and house roots…

People seem to forget that the most infamous drum & bass night was held in Heaven…

Yeah Heaven, one of the most famous queer dance venues. Again, when raving blew up here in the late 80s it was mostly for queer people and thats why Heaven has been established since then and other famous queer rave venues such as Fire & Lightbox have also been established for a long time.

Sounds awesome, we should get in a time machine.

What can I say, the gays know how to party!  We are the party starters and that’s why the vibe at a queer event is so interesting, there’s so much fun and happiness, positivity, and everyone’s a sl*t! and you don’t get shamed for it…ostracisation doesn’t happen, it’s just more fabulous and more fun to be at a queer party and I find it very confusing that DnB has gone in such a different way.

I’m kinda tackling it from two angles – trying to get the people within DnB who are queer to get invovled in the movement and I’m also trying bring people from outside of drum and bass into DnB.

Obviously we really needed to chat with you as the main brand or dare I say, only brand championing the queer scene, queer artists and indentity, within d&b.

There are a few brands who are great allies such as Not Bad for a Girl, EQ50, Dynamics, but yeah we are focused JUST on queer music and drum and bass. At the same time we actively engage in seeking change for other groups of minorities.

We get a lot of support from womxn as well who aren’t even necessarily queer but I think there is a strong connection there, as even straight womxn have an attraction to drag queens and queer culture… so that also helps with our movement, and then they bring their boyfriends, and I’m very grateful for how having that sort of crossover brings people together. 

So you say on your mission statement that you offer a new experience and bring different cultures together at the same time.

Yeah so it’s sort of the familiar and unfamiliar merged together. Queer people may understand what we do at our events, music aside, but to then merge that with Drum and Bass, creates an unfamiliar relationship which is actually familiar to everyone. The idea is to create an enjoyable experience for anyone who is either queer or likes DnB.

So how did the initial idea for Unorthodox come about…

Basically I was working down in Brighton in the dnb scene for around 2-3 years I was working as a promoter with a few venues, I was doing radio, DJing and all sorts, I was very ingrained in the scene, but at that time, I was very much just trying to fit into what I call ‘the dnb mould’, so I looked very much ‘male dnb dj’ which is very minimal black clothing, possibly a snapback, just that same regimented look you see throughout the scene.

I never had acrylics, I never had make up or crop tops, I just looked like a normal Drum and Bass boy, tryna’ fit in… I knew I was gay but I never really took an interest in exploring queer culture or expresing myself, I was just another DnB clone.

So you felt like there was more for you outside of the drum and bass world?

Eventually yes, I felt like I could express myself more away from DnB, but as time progressed I realised, Oh f*ck you know what, I really miss drum and bass!  I went to a couple of raves even on my own in London and it was just a completely different experience going as my ‘new self’ I was suddenly a lot more obviously camp or gay.

Did you feel targeted and unwelcome?

Yeah it certainly didn’t feel the same as when I was that drum and bass boy at the clubs in Brighton, I went to a couple of raves and the sort of looks and comments about my appearance like “why are you wearing that” were apparent, and I just noticed a lot more geezers, a load less womxn for a start. A lot of the ‘dnb mould’ lot and the snapback crew. 

It’s not the most welcoming environment for a queer person then…

I’ve not had the worst experiences of it, little microaggressions, but you could say I’m one of the lucky ones, as I’ve heard sickening stories… but yeah, these were quite intimidating experiences and everyone has the right to feel safe at a rave or on a night out. 

I think this was a bit of a turning point because then I was like “Why is it like this? There must be more queer people like me in the scene? Why do I feel so ostracised?  Why am I not accepted within a music genre that I thought was my favorite thing in the world?” The next step was influenced by my brother, who is also a drag queen…

Oh so it runs in the family!

Yeah, we’re a real drag family! He suggested DJing drum and bass in drag. Me at the time thought that would never work, that would never be accepted, no one would be interested in that. 

As time passed I thought hmm, I would like to try it but I couldn’t just rock up to any rave in drag, I think I’d fear for my life if I rocked up to one of the more macho big ass London raves, that could be a very bad idea. 

Questions started to arise… there must be more people like me? So I thought “do you know what why don’t I just put on my own queer drum and bass event and I’ll DJ in drag and see what happens!”

Woah, Unorthodox has definitely come far since then. 

Yeah it was just a small idea at the time, and this is when I did a post in a big DnB forum to gage interest.  

At the time I didn’t think it would be so political but I think it’s the most commented post in that group in all of history! It was mental what happened! So the comments I went through in the since well viewed video weren’t even the worst, a few people got blocked from the group for using slurs and such, there were some really bad homophobic comments.

Homophobia is still rife in the drum and bass scene then, especially when there’s a screen to hide behind…

I just realised f*ck, this is a thing, a fire has been lit and the last thing I can do is let it die out. We can’t sit around waiting for change, it’s started. This event has to happen! And it all went from there, coming up with the brand… Unorthodox!

People also need to understand WHY we need queer spaces off the back of those homophobic comments, it’s pretty evident…

We need spaces to hear our favourite music and you’re allowed to come if you’re an ally! Even from that first post I ever did on the dnb forum I said “great music, slightly more queer vibes, everyone is welcome”. Even from the conception of Unorthodox it was very fundamental to us that everyone would be welcome.

Some say it’s segregation throwing a queer DnB night but it’s totally NOT exclusive…

Yeah, it’s totally not an exclusive thing. I see Unorthodox hopefully becoming a big rave that everyone comes to, but has a very much queer foundation, it doesnt matter who you are, what background you’re from, whether you’re straight or whatever, you come to this event because it’s a good event! 

It’s initially there as a queer space for people but I want everyone to come because that’s how the scene is going to grow. If we compartmentalise over here, it will become our own thing or own subgenre or whatever and that’s not gonna help change the scene or help it grow.

These days, Drum and Bass is huge, it’s gotten so big, but like with dance genres they come and go, a bit like with Garage, DnB has stuck it out for a long time, but the way I view it, if it doesn’t move with the times and become more socially accepting, where’s it gonna go?

It would be a bleak future indeed if the scene doesn’t evolve and become more equal for all…

Yeah the younger kids are more switched on, I’m more switched on than the generation before me and that’s the way it seems to be going. What if these kids grow up, go to a rave and think this isn’t accepting, I’m not gonna come here! Drum and Bass will die a sad, slow and painful death! Very dramatic, I know, but that’s what I truly think. 

For real, it’s kinda hand in hand with growing diversity all over the scene where black DJs and female producers are all involved, ridding misogyny, racism and homophobia from dance music forever.

Yeah, and I’m often asked ‘how can promoters and venues be better as allies?’ Put little clauses on your events like “this is an accepting place for anyone, whoever you are, any discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated”. It’s imperative to give minorities that knowledge that they are safe there, if something does happen they know they can go to the security or the bar staff to resolve conflicts or threatening behaviour. 

Shout out to all the groups and allies recognising this. This post on Facebook the other day by Benny V of Souped up caught our eye: 

“I still think Jungle/Drum & Bass, for all its great work since its inception in tackling racism, is way behind other Dance genres when it comes to homophobia. Lyrics with undertones. Things I see in my timeline from time to time. A comment this week on a youtube video featuring a Hardcore MC and calling him out for being gay along with the comment ‘I dont like em’”

This calling out, coming from a cis straight dude is EXACTLY what we need!

I know! Another one was A.M.C very recently. He was on DnB Radio and he kinda said out of the blue “you know who doesn’t get any representation at all? The queer community” (paraphrased)

So Laurie who hosts the show sign-posted him to Unorthodox and since then we’ve spoken and he’s honestly the nicest guy! He said if there’s anything he can do to help such as promoting our events etc. he’d be more keen to help out; and when it came to Pride, he shared a couple of screenshots from our website which we didn’t ask him to do, he just decided to do it.

That’s wonderful – great account of allyship.

One difference I did notice too since I did that initial post last January, was although there was some backlash on A.M.C’s post, a few nasty comments here and there, there was not nearly as much as when I did the original post. So I think opinions are changing.

 

So things are slowly moving in the right direction…

Just from me doing that and the people who are close to the community spreading a similar positive vibe has really helped change opinions in just a year and a half! It’s just amazing that A.M.C can do a queer awareness post and he probably has a lot of the typical dnb crowd following him and there was little backlash, even most of the comments were positive like “this is amazing!”

It’s easy to slap rainbow flags all over insta but actively making pushes for diversity on a lineup or roster is even more proactive…

Yeah there’s a lot of that being pushed when we talk about inclusivity and inclusivity riders for womxn or people of colour, but I never hear it for queer people. Obviously it’s something that we’ll try to push but it’s one step at a time. We’re also trying to find those artists and bring them out, show them that you are allowed to be queer within drum and bass. Once it’s grown a bit we can start to come at it from another angle.

Such as inclusivity riders…

Yeah, and for the people who do push for inclusivity riders it would be wonderful if they can mention about queer artists too, as I feel that’s often left out. We’re getting the start of recognition from straight cis men but even the people pushing the other minority movements it would be great if we could all push for equality including queer representation all at the same time. 

Queers are for life, not just for pride!

Totally, I’m getting more bookings and interviews now that it’s pride month but beyond this month?… I don’t even mind being a token as a start, but once there are more queer artists active in the scene then tokenism needs to disappear. 

For now, I’m happy to be a token on a line up for a start. It’s quite interesting that in Pride month people want a bit of Unorthodox…

Haha, “now you say you love me…”

Hahaha for real! But at the end of the day, we’re still a baby brand and Pride 2021 has been super beneficial for us and the movement.

So back to Unorthodox…That’s a great name by the way, very tongue-n-cheek and very queer…

Yeah slightly sexualised and with a certain style, but that’s part of the queer vibe, it doesn’t mean you’re going to some orgy haha! We wanted to be different and show how Drum and Bass isnt queer and hasn’t been for many years, so yeah unholy, unorthodox you know, I’m very much wanting to play on the theme and the name for future events.

So the next event we have coming up on the 20th of August is really gonna play to being unorthodox, being unholy, being queer and sort of leads into the question of what you can expect from Unorthodox…

So Unorthodox has grown from more than a night, into a brand and community…

In a way I’m quite grateful for the pandemic, as I was supposed to throw the first ever event in April last year and obviously it couldn’t happen because Covid19 hit but I realise now, I don’t think there would have been that many people there, I hadn’t established the community or the movement. 

The brand is quite firmly out there now though…

I’d like to think so! I think it has just grown and we’ve got a good aesthetic; it’s very Drum and Bass but has that queer element that’s relateable but also brings in influences from outside of the DnB scene.

What’s changed a lot is the community, what helped really push it was doing my ‘Drag and Bass’ sets over lockdown, just in my back room, sort of just getting into drag at this point, looking like a bit of a mess…

A hot mess!

A hot mess darling! Yeah and on insta, more and more people are getting clocked onto us and we’re getting recognition from more and more people involved in the scene. We were initially set up as an event yet we’ve grown into so much more…

Our mission statement involves Events– which break the mould by taking inspiration from other Queer events and fusing it with DnB; creating Opportunity, through efforts to discover and support Queer Drum and Bass talent, and also helping the scene to Grow and develop.

This could be developing very soon as we expand Unorthodox into more areas, I like the idea of being able to connect queer artists; bigger brands and festivals can come to us and ask how the can we be more inclusive, we can hopefully act as queer consultant of sorts and connect them with relevent artists.

So a roster of such is on the cards?

Could be, for example we could do a takeover, or host room 2, this will give us the space to expose queer artists to the wider scene and that’s how we’re going to create unity. That’s something we’ll grow on in the coming year especially when festivals come back. We’ll have our own events to showcase artists but as a collective we can come and do takeovers and that will be our other method. Maybe a label one day… I’m very events-centric and love the management side of things, yet we’re still in the process of assembling a team, so who knows!

Wow, so much exciting stuff going on. So what can people expect from an Unorthodox night…

We would love to build up to something rather fabulous production wise, so think lights, set work, drag! So because we’re called Unorthodox we’re going for the more queer, punk, goth look. 

That definitely translates, pretty provocative eh. 

Quite sexy and obviously we haven’t really been able to communicate that because we haven’t had the opportunity to do it yet, but for our 20th of August event, we are filming a promo video which will feature drag queens, club kids and DJ’s, which will hopefully help set the scene of what you can expect at an Unorthodox event.

You know how gay nights have hosts? That’s what we want to bring to our shows: the club kids, the drag queens, the gogos…our nights will have lots of cool characters and people who will talk to you and it’ll be like “woah this is different to anything I know” certainly within DnB.

So when we do festival takeovers, it’ll be like a queer spectacle with dancers on stage, we’ll have the outfits and themes, we’ll make it a show PLUS we’ll have amazing DJs and MCs. This is our way forward really.

So despite being a queer night, music is still at the forefront at Unorthodox 

I think one thing I find interesting is that queer artists often make music with different influences and stand out with their sound, such as the artist Gyrofield. 

So they’re queer and also not from the UK, so fusing the two things you get this whole different result which is unlike anything anyone’s heard before.

As queer artists we’re certainly not afraid of experimentation in and out of music!

It’s utterly amazing and loved by none queer people as well, everyone is listening to Gyrofield! At our events you can expect well curated Drum and Bass. We won’t be putting anybody on the lineup just because they’re queer, but talented artists who are slowly coming up through the ranks. As Unorthodox grows I think we’ll be able to push queer artists to labels too and get them that real life recognition and experience.

So I understand you are championing the more modern sound…

Yeah we are trying to hit a more modern sound but I think some of the slightly older crowds and more established sounds do have nicer crowds. The younger crowds can be a bit ‘testosterone guys on stimulants who don’t really care about anything else other than having a good time’ kinda vibe but we are trying to hit the younger crowd as I think that’s where the factor for change lies; with the younger minds who are more switched on and socially aware.

The more modern sound incorporates a lot of bootlegs and acapellas from pop which is popular in the queer scene, so this could also attract queer people to drum and bass…

Exactly! Like in my sets I do a lot of live remixes, I take queer songs and mix them with drum and bass tracks. It’s interesting though that there are a lot of DJs making these bootlegs of notoriously queer tracks… and they go off!

So you’re one busy queen bee, as a promoter, DJ, and fabulous drag star!

Oh yeah, the first Unorthodox launch was mental! Imagine trying to plan an event, sell tickets, manage all the artists, then spend 3 hours before the event having to get into drag and then spend another 5 hours walking around the venue from place to place interacting with everyone in 8 inch heels! Plus DJing! It’s a lot… but totally worth it!

When did you discover your first pair of stilettos?

Halloween 2019! So I threw a party basically as an excuse to get into drag haha.

Does it give you confidence? 

Yeah like I’d still never really been out the house in full drag until Unorthodox and because we’ve all been f*cking locked down, I’m just ready to go now! Let us out and let’s have some fun!

Grass roots projects and smaller nights seem to attract friendlier crowds, do you see Unorthodox on a bigger stage at some point?

I have approached some brands about us doing maybe an hour takeover on a stage even in the main room so crowds can see this big queer spectacle and see that its fun and a whole big vibe’ but I think there are still a few stepping stones before the bigger brands are sold on the idea, but we do want to grow organically and it will take time. It’s important to build up the community, nothing happens overnight, and this is a political movement at the end of the day.

Have you seen the positive impact Unorthodox has made already?

Yeah, each time we get a piece out like an interview or a vlog, I do generally get a bunch of messages saying “I’ve never felt more accepted in drum and bass!”  It feels so good to know that we are actually making a difference and helping people feel more comfortable and be themselves you know. A lot of people will say “I really love Drum and Bass but I’ve never felt it’s somewhere I can go wearing makeup or heels but seeing this has really helped me grow on that”. It feels great, you know that we can help people be themselves in a scene which you know hasn’t been that accepting of these people for at least the past 20 years.

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