Honey Dijon’s rise to success as a DJ is rooted in her playful musical upbringing. Perhaps the most organic way to realise her musical passions, she started clubbing in her teens and has since built on this desire to use her music – not just to entertain the crowds – but to create a space that stood for acceptance, inclusion and freedom for marginalised members of society. As she’s waiting to board her flight to Santiago for the latest BUDx Boiler Room Event, Ms. Dijon spares some time to talk about the key to mastering longevity in the industry. Who better to learn from than the master? Honey has undeniably succeeded, with her achingly cool music and kaleidoscopic sounds that blend between genres and have dazed the club and fashion communities worldwide.
If you didn’t think Honey could be any cooler, she has long been producing the original mixes for Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton Menswear shows and she has confirmed that she will be continuing her work for Jones at Dior Homme. Her reception from the fashion world is just a small part of the community of devotees that love her. At the BUDx Boiler Room event in Santiago, she’ll undoubtedly continue to inspire her supporters to combine activism with musical talent to instigate a new age of acceptance and creativity in clubbing culture.
In a recent interview you said the most important thing about being a musician wasn’t popularity but longevity, you’ve had a really wide spanning career that’s been so strong, what do you think the key is to this longevity?
Perseverance and not letting someone else’s “no” be your “no” and to just continue doing your own thing and follow your own journey, there are going to be times when you don’t make the kind of money you wish you were making or have the visibility that you wish you had but then the question is: are you doing these things to be an artist or are you doing these things to be an entertainer? Those are two different things. There was never a plan B so I had to keep working at it… Actually I’m still working at it, harder than ever before. This is my journey and part of your journey is to own it.
You’re doing such cool things as well in fashion, performing at the Louis Vuitton menswear show.
I’ve been doing that for the last seven years and I will be going with Kim [Jones] to Dior when he moves. For me, I’ve never had a separation from art, music or fashion, it’s all creative expression. I never just wanted to be a DJ or be a producer, I wanted to be an artist and have all those intersect in the way that I feel like I can create and contribute to culture.
Is there a different creative process putting together a soundtrack for something like a fashion show and putting together a set?
When you’re doing a soundtrack for a fashion show it’s not your vision, you’re collaborating with the artist so there’s a lot of back and forth, give and take. When I’m DJing for myself it’s completely my vision. There’s much more compromise in collaboration.
You’re obviously from Chicago which is the birthplace of house music, how do you think the music scene has changed there since your younger years, I’ve read a few pieces saying it’s diminished but how do you see it from your perspective?
House music is 30 years old now so of course it’s evolved and changed. There’s still a lot of great parties there like Queen! at Smart Bar which continues to carry the torch of what Chicago house is really about. It’s a great crowd, different people of different genders and races and ages all together, so it’s still there, it’s just evolved into something different.
There is an existing bias against people of colour and members of the LGBTQ+ community in the music industry; are such prejudices things that you have found difficulty overcoming in your career as a trans woman of colour?
Well, it’s a constant struggle. Y’know I feel like the conversation regarding the lack of diversity on the creative side, I feel like it should be more behind the scenes: club promoters, festival hirers, label owners, label bookers. Behind the scenes we need more diversity because it does seem pretty male and straight. I constantly deal with people wanting to pigeonhole me because of who I am and think I should be playing a certain way or for a certain crowd, but music doesn’t have any labels on it so it’s a constant struggle and I am happy that I have some visibility now to shine light on all the struggles that are not straight and white and male.
Like you said, the issues are more deep-rooted than anyone can guess.
Yeah these are structural paradigms; societal issues that affect every track of life, that aren’t just limited to artists or DJs in a club.
I wanted to ask about your mentor and life-long friend, Derrick Carter, who introduced you to the underground of Chicago and house music, is there anybody else that has really influenced your music?
Oh yeah! There are so many. Y’know the first person to expose me to disco and dance music was Lora Branch, she was the first queer woman of colour DJ that I ever saw that was working and she introduced me to disco. She’s an unsung hero that people don’t know about. But there’s so many people; I’ve been part of dance music culture for so long that there is not just one person. Derrick Carter is just my best friend and I’ve learned so much by watching him play.
Is that how the process of learning to play music begins? By watching other people? How much of it was hands on?
Yeah! Of course! Everything I’ve learned just from watching the best… It’s one of those jobs that you have to learn on the job no-one can teach you how to DJ. People can teach you the mechanics of beat matching but no-one can teach you how to DJ. You either have that or you don’t.
Is vinyl something you prefer?
To me it doesn’t matter if it comes from the computer or wax or a USB stick, I mean it’s not about how it’s delivered. It’s about the music first. I learned to play on records.
“That’s my main aim as a DJ, right now, to pass on all of the musical knowledge, club culture and creative energy to queer people and people of colour and marginalised people and make them visible.”
You’re on your way to Santiago for the BUDx Boiler Room, have you ever been to Chile before? What will you be doing there?
I have but not for over five years so it’s been a long time! And I probably won’t see much of it! I will be talking about is music that influenced me as an artist and as a producer. I’ll playing and talking about all the music that has influenced me and the integral part in my development as a musician and an artist.
We were just talking about how you had a mentor, so the people that will be coming to watch will be looking to you as a mentor.
Exactly. That’s my main aim as a DJ, right now, to pass on all of the musical knowledge, club culture and creative energy to queer people and people of colour and marginalised people and make them visible.
I think you’re doing a good job of that!
Yeah I’m very serious about it. Because I find that, y’know, dance music has come from safe places and subcultures that allowed marginalised people to assume identity and be themselves in a crowd.
Going back to fashion, you’ve worked with Steven Meisel…
I’ve actually worked with Steven Meisel once which was on a Prada shoot. I’ve worked with Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton. I’ve worked with a few people in fashion.
Is there anybody that’s left that you want to work with more?
Steven Meisel! [laughs]
I’ve heard of your magazine collections and you seem like a big fan…
Well, I’m a really big fan of images and artistry than I am about fashion. I’m more interested in style and expression, through fabric and then photography and image. I was obsessed with how the image would create a story or a fantasy or another way of living.
Is that something that you’d want to get into more, obviously your main focus is music but photography and styling and creative direction?
I think if I was ever to switch careers, I would go into yoga and skincare, I do a lot of yoga and I’m really into wellness. I have a love and hate relationship with fashion because it’s not really great with the environment, how many pieces of clothing do we use? Every six months making more and more shit. Talking to a fashion magazines that needs clothes to make an issue… there’s always going to be a conflict. I love working with really creative people from hair stylists and makeup artists and fashion stylists, that’s the fun part of creating but consuming is the part I have conflict with.
That makes complete sense. When you’re performing, how much is trying to push boundaries and create new things and how much of it is trying to dip into your heritage?
One of the wonderful things I love about music is that it’s in the moment. I have all my music, past, present and future and it’s just a matter of telling the story! I don’t care if the record is from 30 years ago or yesterday.
So it is spontaneous when you’re performing?
Completely, all of it! There are certain songs you know will get a certain reaction if you play them, but you know, you never play them at the time you’re thinking of playing them because then everything switches!
We’ve spoken about house, techno and disco but are there any other genres you listen to yourself?
I’m obsessed with 70s rock! I’m obsessed with jazz! I listen to a lot of Fleetwood Mac and Chicago and Stevie Nicks. I love jazz from Nina Simone to John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder… I listen to everything when I’m at home! The last thing I want to hear when I’m at home is a kick drum.
You said your sets are spontaneous but I know you’ve introduced Stevie Wonder and similar in your sets before, are you constantly making note of tracks to use?
Research never stops. Never. I’m thinking about music all day, every day.
I think that’s the way it becomes so organic as well. If you try and force it then that’s where you get prepared sets and things.
I mean I’m not an EDM artist so I don’t have a pyrotechnics show that needs to go with certain songs. It’s just a different relationship. No disrespect to those artists, it’s just completely different.
Completely. Have a safe flight! I saw your instagram post about losing all that makeup…
The funny thing was, I played Monday night in Madrid and I had an hour or two between work, it’s the first of the month, I had to pay my rent, I didn’t have time to do laundry and I went to buy underwear and this morning I was packing like, ‘Where’s my new… No way!’ So I left all my new makeup I bought an hour before there.
I’m so sorry! That’s so painful.
Yeah, me too! Trust me, me too.
We will be live streaming Honey Dijon’s lecture at BUDx Santiago with Boiler Room & Budweiser 2330––0030 BST tonight on our Facebook here.