club culture

Mandidextrous: The Transgender DJ Challenging Prejudice At 190 Beats Per Minute

Meet Bristol's Queen of Jungletek

by Shanna Jones
20 April 2015, 3:10pm

A kaleidoscopic sea leaps sideways to the sound of bass and snare; dancing bodies pack the streets, bouncing in rhythm as yet more bodies hurl themselves over the wall to get involved. Jungletek tunes march from bass bins, puppeteering their eager congregation like a particularly eccentric scene from Fantasia: it's possible for an entire crowd to be chaotically in sync.

St Paul's Carnival 2014 was an afternoon where ordinary underground dance music lovers were transformed — by the likes of Mandidextrous, Stivs, Vandal, Mattycore and C3B — into leaping frogs on pro-plus, flagons of cider duct-taped to hands and grins on faces. This was jungletek culture writ large: fast-living liberated euphoria.

The genre is relatively new, combining jungle, D&B, hard techno and dub reggae. A typical jungletek record ramps up a dub sample with enough energy to keep Mr Motivator going all night. Any conversation about jungletek will inevitably always come back to Mandidextrous. The self-professed Underground Queen has almost single-handedly pioneered the genre, started her own record label Amen4Tekno and made it as a transgender underground artist in a predominantly cis-male dominated scene.

"I suppose for me jungletek is my natural expression when it comes to music. In a way I've created this sound that people now know quite widely," she says. "My tunes are about 190 BPM. Before me the only person really responsible for that kind of sound was Dan Fix from Bristol. His sound was very different to mine though."

On top of her musical achievements Mandidextrous, otherwise known as Mandi Gordon, has strived to change attitudes and expand minds on the subject of transphobia. She said: "I've always been very trans-empowered. I want equality and I will make a point about it. I am trans-gender and there are other trans people out there. We are normal people."

According to Pace, an LGBT mental health charity, almost half of all transgender people have tried to commit suicide and 59 per cent have considered it. These shocking statistics bring home the gravity of the issue and highlight the importance of banishing one of the last bastions of 'accepted' prejudice in every day society.

Mandi said: "I am really happy that there's people out there who, a while back if you were to have asked them outright about what they thought of transgender people, probably would have said it's disgusting or whatever, but they've since discovered my music and figured out more about me and that's changed their opinions on the whole issue. Which is amazing.

While she's now achieved peace with herself and society's perception of her personal life, it hasn't always been smooth sailing. Having been bullied and beaten up in school for being effeminate, Mandi has been through a lot.

Sadly, it doesn't even seem surprising when we learn that she's been subjected to years of hostile comments. Many trans people have had to deal with similar situations. Mandi is sanguine about those who take time out of their day to try and ruin hers, noting that, "they've got issues in their own lives or they wouldn't feel the need to spend their time doing it." Sometimes in life, those who've been through the most difficult times who find the most peace. For Mandi, the rave scene was a massive help in overcoming her negative self-image.

Mandidextrous before her transition.

Starting out as a male drum and bass DJ, using the name Mastral, at the turn of the millennium, Mandi looks back and cringes at the person she was then. "Believe it or not I was a slightly chavvy ruude boy. I think the name kind of meant the 'master of all' I don't know why I chose it, I was an idiot back then. I'm glad I made my mistakes then and not later in life."

Things took a downward turn for Mandi and she found herself deep into drugs, going massively off the rails. It was the acid techno scene that helped her regain control.

The London acid techno scene, formed as a kind of amalgamation of 80s punk and the early acid sound that bounced out of Chicago, is known for combining raw passion for music with anti-facist morals and a friendly attitude. "The support from all of the acid techno lot has always been amazing, people like Chris Liberator and Rachel Rackitt especially. Rowland the Bastard turned out to be a bit of a father figure in my eyes, I've never had a dad and he's helped me loads. More recently the likes of Vandal and Stivs, Mattycore and the South West crew have taken me under their wing and really helped me push and develop what I do."

Mandidextrous tunes and remixes such as "Gals Dem Sugar", "Analogue to Digital" and "Where's the Princess Gone" bring a sweet release to youth cultures bored of trendy club nights and minimal beats. The enthusiasm of the crowd in turn lifts Mandi up and she's rarely seen performing without a big grin on her face. "At one point in my life I thought I'd never smile and today I'm smiling all the time."

Speaking with Mandi it's humbling to encounter her positive attitude despite overcoming more than most people ever have to even think about. "I don't feel proud of what I've achieved because I'm transgender, I just do my thing and as long as I'm making people dance and putting smiles on their faces then I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing. That's what makes me happy. I am a minority, I know I'm a minority, but I don't consider myself as that minority."

The UK rave scene is a colourful mish-mash of characters: hippies, chavs, punks, travellers, people who work, people who don't. It doesn't matter if you're different. As long as you have a good attitude then you're welcome. "Even though most people in the rave scene are gender normative, everyone's out of the mainstream," Mandi says. "They're not doing a 9—5 job, or they're an artist. I guess we're all non-conforming in some way. "

Subcultures can often be a supportive net to those who require acceptance for whatever reason. Shared passions act as hubs of unification bridging stereotypes and bringing to the table the question of segregation's absurdity.

Mandi has found solace in the underground dance scene making her the person she is today and fuelling her love for music. "So many have been really accepting of me; I've been a bit of an oddball on the rave scene, having started at one place and now got to another, it's almost like I've been two different people. I've always been the same person at heart but I've just had to go through some changes on the way."

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Photos via Oliver Pooley.