October 1522, 1998
Roll With the Changes
DJ Jordana Lesesne takes on a new sound and a new identity.
By Justin Hampton
"Music, I believe, is vital to survival to many, and a necessary part of life for all," she says. And she should know.
Since Lesesne moved from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia last year, she's taken two major steps in her life. First was her decision to revise her second album, Quality Rolls (Jungle Sky). Originally, Lesesne planned to concentrate on a fusion of jungle's rhythms with the hard analog sounds of the early Detroit techno sound.
But, "as I worked on it, my ideas about it changed. I decided to go for a more darkish, roller-type sound overall, which of course has more relevance to the title, Quality Rolls," she says, referring to the deep, continuous basslines that characterize "rolling" drum and bass tracks. "I still plan to release that material at some point in the near future, but it won't be a whole album of it."
The other choice she's made is a bit more radical. Until recently, Jordana was a he, not a she. When interviewed for last year's City Paper Music Issue, Jordana was still Joe Lesesne. But in an explosive press release issued on June 1, Lesesne announced that starting then and there, he had officially and legally changed his name to Jordana and would begin living full time as a woman for the legally required year before undergoing a sex-change operation.
"Simply put, my emotional and psychological gender, which is female, is not in alignment with my genetic and physiological male sex," she revealed in the release. "Despite all of the behaviors that I learned over many years in an attempt to deny my feelings, trying to live in a made-up identity has been a source of great unhappiness and pain in my life."
Having spoken out about the issues both on her Web site (http://187.nu) and for a July cover story with Mixer magazine, she's loathe to discuss her situation again. But her circumstances have given her a unique perspective on the role of women in drum and bass.
"Certain people find it hard to take me or any other woman who produces or DJs seriously. I would say that for the most part I haven't had a lot of problems in this regard. I think the music speaks for itself. I would rather people focus on that rather than on me. That said, there certainly are quite a few women who are DJing and quite a few producers. However, the only ones you tend to hear about and get more attention are those that make a big deal about the fact that they are women and fit a stereotypically glammed out 'woman DJ goddess' image. The only high-profile exceptions to this that I can think of are [British jungle DJ/producers] Kemistry and Storm, who I have a lot of respect for."
Lesesne was first exposed to electronic music in the early '90s as a raver in Pittsburgh. Back then, new styles of music were invented almost monthlytrance, hard techno, funky breaks, ambient dance. Lesesne had been playing clarinet, saxophone and bass in various ska and punk groups, but began to pick up on one particular dance music style played at the parties most referred to as breakbeat. In it, Lesesne saw an opportunity to create something brand new. "The sound was something that was definitely futuristic. [So I thought] this is where I want to go, this is where I think music should go."
As time progressed, breakbeat evolved into drum and bass, and Lesesne honed her production skills. She picked the brains of techno pioneer Richie Hawtin for initial gear purchases and began learning dance music programming by trial and error. She made the wise choice of concentrating on live performance from the very beginning, developing a name for herself by playing at raves throughout the Midwest and Northeastern United States. Early performances augmented dancers and other theatrics into the fray, and she continues to fine-tune the performances, as she plans to integrate live musicians into the show one day. Along with DJ Dieselboy and drum and bass promoters Steel City Jungle, Lesesne helped establish Pittsburgh as a thriving center for drum and bass. While she was living there, she recorded her first album, When Worlds Collide, for Jungle Sky, which turned heads as far afield as Tel Aviv, Israel, where she performed last year.
As an old-school raver, Lesesne still holds onto the ideals that first defined the electronic dance community. When Jordana was coming up, emphasis in the rave scene was placed on the collective,its DJs and producers were not expected to adopt celebrity status. These days, DJs are like rock starscase in point, our own Josh Wink, the Chemical Brothers or Crystal Method.
Lesesne insists that returning to the scene's original tenets will make it easier for women to coexist in what's been turned into a man's world.
"I think that people need to drop the whole novelty aspect of female DJs and producers. This is, after all, electronic music. It is not really a personality-based thing, and while some people may think that is a bad thing, I think that's its strength. Most people into this music could care less what sex the person who did the track is, just so long as it is good."
Considering what's been going on in Lesesne's life as of late, it's tempting to listen to Quality Rolls to see if her life changes are reflected in it. However, in keeping with her past output, Quality Rolls only shows Lesesne's perfectionism, from the jazzy overtones of "Blue Nile" to the aggressive funkiness of "Deep Stealth" (a longtime UFO nut, Lesesne particularly favors this extraterrestrial track for its "hidden meaning"). The album also shows her desire to create a production style markedly different from the city where, many argue, drum and bass startedLondon.
"I know that I basically tuned out what was coming out of the UK so I wasn't too influenced by it. I still have no idea what Shy FX's Bambaatta [track] sounds like. Some may view this as a bad thing, but I think the separation has helped me find my own sound and define an American sound." Currently, she admits developing a fondness for Tin Pan Alley songwriting, Luscious Jackson and the work of Henry Mancini, and hints that this may influence the future orientation of her work.
In the meantime, Lesesne continues to DJ and perform every weekend all over the country. Her weekdays are usually spent holed up in her Philly apartment with girlfriend Stephanie, working on new songs and remixes (asked about current remix projects, Lesesne is tight-lipped, although DJ Spooky recently revealed she would be remixing a track for him off his Geffen debut, Riddim Warfare) as well as practicing jujitsu on the side.
Lesesne's adventures in drum and bass have been as much a process of exploring and experimentation for her as it has been for everyone else, and she only hopes to improve.
She confesses, "When I first started out, I'll admit, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and it didn't seem to bother anybody. I don't think a lot of people [producing] really did either. I do jazzy stuff. I also do dark stuff. I've done a fair amount of jump-up, and usually my live sets consist of stuff somewhere in the middle. And now, I couldn't put my finger on it and tell you what it is, but I've definitely gotten a sound.
"As far as where my music's headed, or where I've steered it, I've just worked towards a higher qualityno matter what style."
So in more ways than one, for Lesesne, nothing has really changed at all.