It’s been a hectic year so far for Toby Nathan; both for his brand Unorthodox and as his artist alias Nathan X.
From an Unorthodox point of view – as the first LGBTQ+ movement to emerge in mainstream drum & bass – Nathan and his troupe have been holding some of their most legendary and important parties to date. They range from the queer talent championing open decks night recently launched and Box Park, Shoreditch, to the forthcoming Queers Platinum Jubilee at Village Underground London on June 3. A collaboration with Mandidextrous, it’s the biggest event Unorthodox have been involved in so far, featuring the likes of IMANU, John B and Mrs Magoo among others.
They’ve also been invited to host takeovers at festivals ranging from Belgian EDM monolith Tomorrowland to boutique UK bash El Dorado.
Meanwhile as Nathan X, the young Londoner has found himself travelling further and further around the UK thrilling dancefloors with his unique high energy performances, laid down in full drag persona. Away from the decks, he’s also developing his productions in the studio and experimenting with his vocals, all of which he hopes to reveal before this hectic year is out.
In the meantime, as Nathan readies us for the The Queers Platinum Jubilee, as we follow up our last extensive chat with him from last year. Get reacquainted:
Things seem to be going from strength to strength in the last year!
Yeah it’s all a bit crazy. I’ve definitely noticed a large up-take in bookings and demand for Unorthodox takeovers for club nights and festivals. It says a lot about the scene and proves that people do want to see change and progress. This is our first full summer of doing it properly and it’s going to be crazy. I’m not sure how it’s all going to play out. We’re still building Unorthodox so what does an Unorthodox takeover even look like?
Yeah you don’t even know that yet!
We’re working it out. Every event we’ve done so far has been very different, we don’t have a formula, we’re still building what we are. When we did our St. Trinians themed Halloween party, we had everyone dancing on stage with us. That was amazing. But for the last show we had just the DJs and MCs on stage and that was sick too. It changes with the theme and vibe of the show every time, it keeps it fresh, although I think by the end of summer we may have a bit more of a formula.
Another challenge is that there are so many incredible queens and performers in the queer scene, but they’re not really into drum & bass so it’s like a fish out of water, the performers sadly didn’t quite gel with the show as we hoped. What we need now is drum & bass culture’s very own queens and performers. We’re seeing queer DJs and party people coming through now, which is amazing, but if we want to be performative and have that real show-like experience then we need more performers too.
As you establish yourselves and build up more and more of a community do you think that will naturally inspire performers?
I think so. It’s slow progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day and we’re still rewriting the rule book for both the queer and D&B scenes. Merging these two worlds together is different from both perspectives. With every show, things get bigger and things get more hype, so we’re constantly levelling up, checking if that’s how we want to do it and then revising from there. It’s very intense!
Tell us about the next one. It’s a biggie isn’t it?
Oh yes it is! We’ve named the show, The QUEER’S Platinum Jubilee, and we’re holding it on the Queen’s Jubilee itself! It is a biggie; we’re really scaling this one up with bigger acts, more performers and going next level with the production. We just want to do something different, but it’s a tough game; I come from a D&B background and find it easy to market to the D&B crowd but I’ve never promoted in the queer world, and it can be a real challenge to navigate, especially as it’s not been done before.
Ah wow yeah, you’re in between two worlds!
It all comes back to why I started Unorthodox – I never felt like I fit into the queer scene, I never felt like I fit into the D&B scene. That’s still the case but I’ve built my own world and I’ve surrounded myself with people who are queer and into D&B, which is amazing for me personally, but it’s still a niche that we need to develop and nurture.
We’re not promoting just to the D&B market, we’re not promoting just to the queer market. This is a new market and that does make things tricky from a promoting perspective. But I still believe it’s a matter of time and we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and people will come. We’ve now got a lot more artists involved which is great. For example we’re working more closely with IMANU, this will be our second show with him, and of course it’s a collaboration with Mandidextrous who’s done some great events, is killing it anyway and flying the flag high for the trans community.
You’re sharing a common audience and you both share a lot of similar energy when you perform. Kind of in the sense that you don’t take things too seriously and you remind people why we should be raving in the first place!
Definitely and it’s funny seeing people’s faces when I step up in drag and they’re like ‘what the fuck is this?’ But the reaction once I hit play is next level, if people aren’t sure before, they certainly are after! This style of performance is on the rise too, we’ve got Bennitrate now coming through. He’s an MC that’s just got into drag and he kills it, it’s great to have this expansion of queer people in D&B which is growing by the day.
You’re right about the energy from the crowd too. The energy at the last Unorthodox was just unreal, I got on the mic at the end of my set to say thank you. Mandidextous said I sounded drunk but it was just the pure emotion at what had happened. I think it’s made all the more heightened because we’re on such a hard path. Every little win feels like a really big victory.
The open decks event looked like a victory!
That was really good! We’ve always said we need to do these community projects to help discover queer artists and give them a platform. It’s part of our mission statement. I’d love to just put every queer artist on our Unorthodox line-ups but that’s sadly not how promoting works; however doing this gives us a chance to get to know the talent properly, hear them out and help nurture them.
All the DJs killed it and some really good talent stood out, such as DJ Insight who will be playing at the Village Underground event. The vibe was amazing on the night. I was on the mic hyping it up and there was this moment where Insight dropped this very naughty double, and the whole room literally lost their shit, I got her to reload it and we all lost it again. It was great to document that energy and it was proper full-on D&B, being loved by the queer community.
The open decks also act as a sort of Unorthodox showcase, it’s interesting because some of the crowd weren’t queer as the DJs had brought their mates with them too, so it was another good way of showcasing what we do and open it up further.
You’re going to be showcasing what you do in Ibiza soon too, right?
Yeah! I happen to be on the Breakin Science line-up playing alongside Wilkinson, Bou, Andy C and Friction. Not quite sure how that happened… I’ve never been to Ibiza, and what better way to lose my island virginity than to perform there? It feels like a real DJ tick box moment.
Absolutely! What else can you reveal?
I’m at El Dorado, Electric Woodlands, a new festival in Bristol called Fields of Fantasy… So many things I should remember and so many things I can’t confirm yet! But let’s just say Mandidextrous and I are doing a very big stage takeover at a very big festival. I can’t say any more than that right now…
Sick! How are you finding life on the road anyway?
I’m loving it, but the rockstar life isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s loads of fun, new cities, new places, new people, but it’s also tough and tiring. I’m still new talent, so I may not always get a hotel, which means long drives when I’m tired and I don’t yet have an agent or manager, so have to also manage my bookings, travel and logistics on top, it can be very physically and mentally demanding.
Plus doing drag is a labour of love in itself – it takes 2-3 hours to do the make-up and prepare, then like other DJ’s I still have to sort my library out and practice on top of that. My sets are very active and I dance around, I have sparklers, and do performative things, so I’m knackered by the end of it. But despite the drawbacks, their ones I wouldn’t change for anything. I’ve had some amazing experiences already, going further and further around the UK, and it’s set to continue abroad! Before I did this, I worked a corporate 9-5 and rarely got out of London, I was unhappy and miserable, now it’s all flipped upside down.
That’s amazing. I love the performance aspect, too. Are you producing and creating on that side of things?
I am! This year it’s my goal to bring out music. I’ve been learning a lot and putting loads of time in. I’m really passionate about doing the vocals and being political with my lyrical content; making observations about how things have been, how certain groups act and the lack of acceptance in the scene, but also how things are changing. I’m working on it and I’m teaming up with producers to collaborate to hopefully make something happen this year, but it’s early days right now, until then you can catch me drop my bars on set!
All sounds amazing and inspiring… And maybe going faster than you expected?
It all comes in waves. Sometimes it does feel like, ‘Wow yeah this is happening!’, especially when you’re on the road at gigs. But a lot of the time it’s just day-to-day living, grinding away until the next date. I speak to lots of artists about this and how it’s very cyclical isn’t it?
You’re either super busy and there’s lots going on or you’re not busy enough and you’re stressed out that things aren’t happening fast enough. But it’s cool. From this weekend until the end of the summer, I’m booked or committed to shows and events every weekend. I’m just getting into the flow of things and am gassed for the summer ahead.
This is the calm before the storm! And you’re right about the balance. You can never have it perfectly, it’s too crazy or not crazy enough. Always.
Totally. It’s tough and it does feel like a battle – I’m literally out here trying to change the world! Maybe a bit dramatic, but I am trying to do something that’s never been done before. So when it goes well, it is amazing. But when it’s not going 100%, sometimes the mind questions ‘why the fuck am I doing this? Do people even want this change?’
I spoke to Clarkus recently, a close friend of mine who’s very involved in Unorthodox, he said, ‘Just think about the vibe at the last Unorthodox and remember that.’ And he’s right, gotta keep thinking about the bigger picture, even when the day-to-day gets you down and the inner-saboteur comes out!
Yeah! And there’s new nights like Drag & Bass which you headlined recently…
Yeah! That was great fun and it’s good to play other sorts of events too. It’s a reminder that Unorthodox isn’t doing something completely new – D&B has been played in the kink world forever and there are lots of interesting events which aren’t marketed as D&B but play a lot of it and have a kink element or a theme or sometimes even dark-room. A queer D&B scene has always existed but it’s been very underground. Unorthodox is trying to bring the queer D&B movement into the mainstream more, I’d say Drag & Bass have that type of approach too. It’s great to see other nights come along and encourage queer talent and mixed crowds.
This builds a real community!
Exactly. We can book their artists, they can book ours. I also want to collaborate with more non queer promoters and work within drum & bass in that respect too. This is crucial for us. We want to be a D&B event and label, not a ‘queer D&B event and label’. A respected brand with a queer foundation, but something everyone can enjoy. That’s the future of drum & bass for me; I don’t want us to be a novelty, I personally don’t want to be a novelty. I don’t want it to be like: ‘Oh there’s that crowd over there doing their queer D&B thing.’ I want it to be like: ‘No, we are drum & bass, we are the future of drum & bass, we stand for something more diverse.’ I don’t want to segregate myself, I don’t want D&B to be segregated – I want Unorthodox to be open to everyone.
This is actually something I think a lot about when I’m spending all that time putting on my makeup. It would be so much easier if I turned up in my Adidas tracksuit to DJ, like so many others do… But I’m not going to do that because I’m trying to prove a point – you can be anyone who you want to be in D&B, you don’t have to be a novelty, you don’t have to be in the kink scene, you can be in the main D&B scene and be who you want to be.
Yeah! Finally… Did you just casually drop in the ‘label’ word? Will Unorthodox be launching a label, too?
Ahah, that’s a bit too soon to say! We’ve been thinking and talking about it for a while and we’re looking at logistics but yeah… Watch this space!