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Honey Dijon Interview: Clubs and fashion have always been lovers
Marko Kutlesa spoke to Honey Dijon about her history in Chicago and New York, fashion, her current releases and her plans for the future.
Last updated: 25th Jul 2016. Originally published: 7th Jul 2016
Honey Dijon, formerly Miss Honey Dijon and also sometimes known as Honey Redmond, is a DJ/producer from Chicago. She has been active as a producer since the turn of the century but has been a clubber for much longer. Raised on the south side of Chicago, her parents were accepting of her clubbing during her mid-teens as long as her school grades did not suffer. They didn't.
As a youth she was always interested in music and fashion. She identified as a female from an early age, this being an alternative gender to the one she was born with. She was embraced on the Chicago scene by DJs and producers like Derrick Carter, Mark Farina and Greenskeepers, her first production work was linked to some of their music and labels.
After taking musical and DJing influence from her hometown she later moved to New York and gained a further, invaluable experience. She became friends with Danny Tenaglia and was witness to his residency at Twilo, picking up tips from one of New York's most dynamic DJs during the peak of his popularity. This affected her both musically and in her perceptions of DJ performance.
Honey Dijon has since combined the lessons taken from Chicago and New York and applied them to her own international DJ career.
Honey has been concentrating her production work on efforts for Classic of late, releasing two tracks in collaboration with Tim K in 2015 and having just released new single 'Houze' which features Seven Davis Jr. She also has a single forthcoming on the same label in October which features Luke Solomon and Joi Cardwell and another on Dungeon Meat.
We caught up with Honey Dijon on the eve of her flying to Europe for a three month stint during which she will be based in Berlin. While there she will fulfil duties at Panorama Bar, where she holds a residency, and use the city as a base from which to tour Europe - including a date at Bitch, please! Crane Yard day party at Motion Bristol.
Hi Honey! So, you're in New York?
I'm in New York but I'm just preparing to come to Europe tomorrow for three months. I'll be based in Berlin, because I'm touring there most of the summer.
What's the packing like when you have to leave for a trip that lasts so long?
That is a very good question. I'm about to find out! As long as I have all my sleeping pills, medications and vitamins and stuff it'll be cool, because you can replace clothes and shoes and shit like that. I don't even know what records to bring, it's a bit overwhelming that I have to pack for three months.
You're packing records? You don't play with that little thing on the keyring? A USB?
No, I play USB and vinyl. What's the matter with the keyring?
There's nothing the matter with the keyring. Derrick Carter just uses the keyring.
Yeah, I use the keyring too because I'm tired of breaking my back carrying records on aeroplanes and waiting for them at the airport.
I moved house twice in the last 10 years. I never want to see a piece of vinyl again. Ever.
Exactly. So y'all can kiss my ass about all this pure vinyl shit. It's like, ok, if you wanna carry my records then we can discuss that.
Hahaha! When you started your musical career your title was Miss Honey Dijon, but now you go only as Honey Dijon. Why?
Well, you know, you edit as you go along, you evolve. You change. I just thought I should make things a bit simpler, a bit easier, more refined. I guess it just wasn't necessary anymore, I don't think. I think it was a little formal. I evolved and I think that was just part of changing my identity for me. Just like Prince changed his name to a symbol. You just change.
I wish I could tell you some story that I had some transcendental meditation journey in the Himalayas, but it's just not that.
Why did you move from Chicago to New York?
Because all my stupid ass friends were leaving me. I grew up with Derrick (Carter) and Mark (Farina) and all of those guys and Derrick was starting to come to London quite a bit, it was at the time he started Classic with Luke. So, he was spending a lot of time in the UK and Mark was going to San Francisco and I just felt like my whole posse was disbanding.
I had always wanted to live in New York and so it was the perfect time to go. I met a close friend of one of Derrick's roommates that came by the flat one day, Gant Johnson and I told him I was thinking of leaving Chicago.
He said, if you ever come to New York, look me up, so he was my conduit to New York, he was a DJ on the Lower East Side, my contact in the East Village scene and he introduced me to everyone. He lived above Dance Tracks, literally. So, all my friends were leaving and I needed to figure out what my next step would be.
How did you first meet Derrick Carter?
I was always into music and my sister's best friend told me, "You need to go to this record store, there's a guy there called Derrick." Her boyfriend was good friends with him. So, I ended up going there to meet him and we just hit it off right away. It was like a spiritual connection.
I'm not supposed to be talking about him so much in interviews because he said every time I do an interview I'm always talking about him and I don't need to do that anymore.
Another of your influences is Danny Tenaglia. How did you meet him?
Well, when I moved to New York Derrick was really good friends with him, because of Maxi Records. The industry then was really small, everyone knew everyone. When Derrick knew I was going he said I should hook up with his friend Kevin who worked at Maxi records, so I did and Danny was releasing a lot of music at Maxi. It was like one link just led to another.
I also used to go to the Winter Music Conference and back then it was just for people in the industry, it wasn't what it's turned into now. You could go to Groovejet and all these small parties and meet all the producers and distributors. So, I met Danny before he became a resident at Twilo. Twilo completely changed my mind about what a DJ could do musically.
It was really inspired by what Junior Vasquez had done at The Sound Factory and what Larry Levan had done at Paradise Garage, so Danny carries all of that information, history and culture with him. Seeing him do that in a modern way at Twilo influenced me heavily.
The music from Chicago was amazing, but it was really a descendent of disco, lots of loops, lots of swing, vocals, disco samples. And New York was different because you had a lot of the west African influence in that tribal sound, Latin culture and Latin house and a lot of Europeans there, so it was much more of a mix of things happening in New York. Danny really opened my mind musically, sonically and in terms of performance, what an artist can do theatrically.
You mentioned there the difference between the New York sound and the Chicago sound. Which style do you think you adhere to the most?
Both. At this point both influences are so intertwined I don't think I could separate Chicago from New York. I'm more of a Chicago DJ when it comes to mixing and blending. Chicago DJs are a lot more hands on when it comes to EQing, so skills wise I'm more Chicago.
You have close connections to the fashion industry. How did that come about?
That came about from DJing in New York. When I started out I was playing in a lot of gay clubs, so a lot of fashion designers would come and they would like my music. It just sort of happened organically. I started getting asked to play at a lot of the afterparties, after the fashion shows.
It was a time in New York when you could mix art, fashion and music together, it wasn't as separate as it is now. That's something I hate about the internet, everything now's so niche. You don't have as many people mixing together as you used to. Everyone just sources their own thing and they go and do that. And I think one of the beautiful things about club culture is the mixing of cultures and people from different backgrounds, of different sexualities. That was the club culture I came from.
What have been the strongest fashion looks clubbers have worn during your time clubbing?
Oh my god! Well, I've seen a lot of shit come and go. When you're only 15 life goes by really fast. I guess the craziest shit for me was the rave culture with those big ass baggy pants and people dressing like they were 12, with pacifiers, all that shit wore me out.
I didn't get into the candy rave thing, that was a little too much for me. I was like, "I don't know what drugs you kids are on but having a lollipop round your neck is not the chicest thing on the planet." It's all good though. It's just like when you had the smiley face thing going in the UK and before that you had the new romantics.
Clubs and fashion have always been lovers in a way. In the early Chicago house days a lot of the kids were into European fashion. Those were the languages you used to let people know you were into that style of music, because it was super underground in the beginning. These were the social codes you used to let people know what culture you were into, so you would meet your kind that way.
Where are the best dressed clubbers and where are the worst dressed clubbers? Be honest!
You're gonna try and get me in trouble, huh? You know I'm international, you're not going to get me to answer that, it's not going to work. Let's just say there's enough sunshine for everybody.
Hahaha. OK. How different is the approach in preparing music for a fashion event compared to playing in a regular club?
Playing a fashion event, it's a lot more of a controlled environment. Doing music for a runway show it's a lot more controlled, it depends on the look, how long the show is. So, It's a lot more orchestrated and thought out.
I feel like DJs, in a way, are usually more like jazz musicians. Each night you're really in the moment. Yes, it's music made by other people, but you're putting it together in a way that's very freeform and of the moment, because you never know how a night is going to progress.
How did your relationship with Classic begin?
Again through Derrick, he's my best mate. So, when he started the label I used to get all the promos. I listen back to some of those old records I made for them and I cringe, like I'm sure anyone does when they listen to a record they made 15 years ago.
I was just part of the family. At Classic it didn't feel like there was an agenda, it was more like it was just people putting out music by friends, Iz and Diz, Greenskeepers, myself. You made a track, you gave it to Derrick and Luke and if they liked it they put it out.
That's how I think most things in life should be. Everything now is social media, it's so fucking calculated and planned. If you put out a record now it's how many people have liked it or followed it, instead of putting out music for the joy of music.
What are your favourite releases from their back catalogue?
Well they had over a hundred records, I don't know! I would probably have to say 'Beau Mot Plage' by Isolee and 'Bushes' by Markus Nikolai. I hate shiny, perfect house music. I like shit that's a little fucked up. I like to laugh on the dancefloor, I like quirky things, things that come out of nowhere.
I like the unexpected in music and I have still to this day never heard a record that sounds like 'Beau Mot Plage'. It's like 'Little Fluffy Clouds' by The Orb, it's just one of those records that you just can't put a time on. It's timeless. Markus Nikolai was part of Perlon with Zip and those guys. They were just putting out some really interesting shit.
I like the weirder stuff Classic put out, the early Tiefschwarz stuff, 'Mouth' by Iz and Diz was a really fun record because it was just so different. 'Lovlee Dae' by Blaze was great and Jacob London's stuff was interesting.
It was back when everyone was doing this micro editing of music, there was a lot going on it that music. I listened to it and I was, like god damn, how many samples? 64 tracks for one song? It was great music for the time and I still think some of it is really great. I still play a lot of those records.
How did your current release with Seven Davis Jnr come about? How did you hook up? Where did the inspiration for the track come from?
Giles Smith from Secetsundaze turned me on to 'One', his first record. It was amazing. It sounded so new, so fresh. So, I was sort of following him and then my agent in the States, Ryan, took him on and he played at Output, so I went to just go meet him. We just got on like two peas in a pod. When he came back to the States to tour we hung out and I was like, let's make a track. It was literally just that. We sat in my studio for a few hours and the result was 'Houze'.
Originally we were going to make a bitch track, you know, in the style of New York bitch tracks, but it just took a different direction. Actually, Luke (Solomon) wanted us to take the word bitch out. I was like, "Luke, stop acting like an old man, you can't be editing house music. It's house music."
I wanted to make a funny, stupid record, because I feel house music is taken so seriously. All that trainspotting, I hate it. We're supposed to be dancing, not looking at the DJ. I hate trainspotting. When I started clubbing you couldn't even see the DJ. The DJ was either in the back of the room or up in the booth, you couldn't even see them. There was the speakers, the music and the dancefloor. So, I just wanted to make a record that was a little bit cheeky.
With you having thee months off in Europe now I guess there's no more producing for a while, but is there anything else that's yet to come out?
Yeah. I'm doing some tracks with Tim K, who I did 'Burn' and 'Thunda' with. I really love those records. So we're working on some new material. I'm doing a remix for Seven, for a track of his. I'm doing a track with Joi Cardwell who sang on 'Club Lonely'. Me and Matrixxman are going to try and get in the studio together, he's like my new best friend. I love Charlie, he's just such a great guy. We're gonna work on some stuff in Berlin because he lives there.
But it's really quite hard for me to make music on the road, I don't know how a lot of people do it. I need to be around my own environment, my own studio, my own house, my music and my art in order to be inspired to make things. New York is really great for that, just walking round the city getting different ideas. So much talent comes through this town.
It's really great to make music in Berlin too, because every DJ on the planet comes through there. You go to Panorama Bar and the cream of the crop is there every fucking week. But I still like being in my home studio because I'm really comfortable here. But it's 2016, you've got to make shit happen how and when you can. That's part of being a touring DJ. But I think making tracks on a laptop is awful.