UNORTHODOX INTERVIEW: NATHAN X
This Friday we welcome Unorthodox, the UK’s leading queer drum & bass event & collective to their first-ever Brighton show. I caught up with rising star Nathan X about their experience within the scene, living in Brighton and much more.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into drum & bass music?
My career in drum & bass started properly back in Brighton when I was studying at the University of Sussex. I didn’t do much going to University, and spent more time hanging out at clubs in Brighton and started trying to get a few gigs. Eventually, I ended up working on the bar at The Arch, working for a couple of local promoters for a few years. Sadly, my dreams of living in Brighton and being a drum and bass DJ kind of fell through, as it wasn’t going anywhere and was a very competitive industry, so I stopped DJing, moved back to London and got a job in the corporate world.
After a few years of feeling miserable and unhappy, I began to realise that I missed the drum & bass scene, as well as being on a path of self-discovery – discovering my queer identity. I started hanging out with my brother, who was experimenting with drag, and I started frequenting the gay clubs in London. I started doing makeup, drag, and wearing crop tops, becoming more effeminate, and getting in touch with my queer side. It made me feel more comfortable in my own skin, and I began to realise that my identity is something I shouldn’t have slept on for so many years. Once you get into the scene being queer becomes like your family and your whole world. You feel at home, you feel more comfortable in yourself and in understanding who you really are.
What inspired you to start organising Unorthodox events, and what makes them unique compared to other events?
I felt like I had changed so much in those few years, I was wearing makeup & all this jewellery much that I couldn’t go back to drum and bass raves and be myself anymore. I felt disconnected from the scene, and I was nervous about expressing myself as I do now. Then my brother suggested that I DJ drum & bass in drag, which at first I thought was a bad idea because the drum & bass scene can be very laddish and resistant to change. But the pandemic gave me an opportunity to do a few live streams in drag, and people started to take notice.
I felt there wasn’t a space for queer people in the drum & bass scene, so posted a question on a Facebook group with around 50,000 members saying “Hey, what does everyone think of an LGBT-focused drum & bass rave? Everyone is welcome. Same music as standard, just a little bit more camp and a little bit more fabulous.” and it became the most commented post ever in the group.
Obviously, this really bought all the worms out of the woodwork. This post was getting homophobes left right & centre saying things like, “Oh, this is causing segregation, you’re causing more problems. Why do we need this” but within that, we also had thousands of people share their stories, including how they went to drum & bass raves wearing eyeliner and got verbally abused. People were in my DMs saying “hey, I’m queer. I want to come to this event. When is the event?”. Even though I didn’t anticipate the overwhelming response, I felt a responsibility to make it happen, a fire had been lit so I said “I guess I’m gonna have to put this rave on”. and I did.
The first event took place about two years ago, and since then, it has grown significantly, attracting more of the right people. Each one is a special experience, with people coming from all over, making props, and sharing them with new people. We’ve got this mannequin head called Gladys that someone bought to the London show in 2021, and someone returned with Gladys at the recent one that we just had in 2023.
Is Gladys going to make an appearance in Brighton?
I need to find out who currently has Gladys, maybe the punter who has it will bring it to the Brighton show. It’s amazing to see how Unorthodox has grown, with people coming from all over the country to express themselves in a safe and inclusive space as queer-identifying people while enjoying the music we all love, drum and bass.
We get to see people dressed in varying outfits, and some even come in drag, wear heels or crazy makeup. It’s all about self-expression and being yourself, and that’s what we want to promote in our events. It’s not just for queer people; we invite anyone to come down and enjoy the inclusivity we offer. We see this inclusivity as the new future of drum and bass, where it’s not just a subculture or sub-theme, but a welcoming and accepting environment for all.
You used to live in Brighton. Did you go out much when you lived here and where were your favourite haunts?
Of course, it has to be The Volks. That was always where the poppin’ raves were, and even if I went somewhere else before that, I’d always end up at Volks and would be listening to music til the early hours.
When I’ve seen you play before you are definitely a multi-genre DJ (which I love) has that always been the case or have you spread your genre wings over the years?
I call myself a drum & bass DJ, but prefer not to limit myself to just one genre. As time has gone on, my style has evolved and expanded. I plan to focus more on this in the future because I believe it’s progressive. Although I still play a set that’s 70% Drum and Bass, I like to incorporate other genres like hardcore, dubstep, hardstyle, and trance. I want to experiment more because I find it more interesting. I never want to just be boxed into just playing drum & bass, I want to be flexible and be able to play other types of music that I love. Drum & bass has always been first for me, but as I grow older and my tastes mature, I feel like I can be more creative by incorporating other genres into my sets.
Talk to me about Boomtown, the Unorthodox Takeover on the Origin stage last year and what that meant to you.
The Origin takeover was a significant moment for me as a young drum & bass DJ. I always dreamed of playing on those huge stages at Boomtown. When the opportunity arose, I was like, “Fuck, yeah.” That’s one of my dreams come true. I say to people, if I were to die tomorrow, I could die a happy man because I’ve achieved the thing I wanted to do as a drum & bass DJ.
It was a big deal not just for me personally, but also for the queer community. We went up onstage in our queer outfits, with Mandidextrous & MC Chikaboo. Our queer friends and family were all present, making it a huge queer moment on the biggest drum & bass stage in the country. I used to be fearful to go into those spaces in drag, as an openly queer person when I first started, but to be accepted and loved by everyone at this event was crazy. The fact that we were invited to do an Unorthodox takeover, not just a 2pm set, but at primetime 7pm on a Friday evening, made it even more special. The whole festival was coming out and getting ready, and the atmosphere was electric. I feel honoured to have been a part of it and hope that the Unorthodox Takeover at Boomtown will be remembered as a historical moment in the progression of drum & bass.