Honey Dijon: “The club is about feeling freedom”

Honey Dijon photographed at Printworks London  (Liz Johnson Artur)
Honey Dijon photographed at Printworks London (Liz Johnson Artur)

Born in Chicago, feted during her years living in New York, currently resident in Berlin and soon to pack a fancy suitcase for a move to London, the wondrous Honey Dijon is not just a handy map of sophisticated nightclub culture. DJ, producer, remixer, Comme des Garçons-endorsed style mogul (her fashion line, Honey F***ing Dijon, is available at Dover Street Market), recording artiste in her own right, house music evangelist and transgender icon, Honey is an encyclopaedic bank of queer culture.

She is about to release her — frankly banging — new album, Black Girl Magic, a second long-player fashioned with her closest musical ally, Luke Solomon, which introduces a grand guest list of collaborators drawn directly from the counterculture over which she has long presided.

This has been quite the year for Honey. Working with Madonna on her greatest dance floor hits compilation, it turned out, was merely a dress rehearsal for co-writing and producing two of the highlights on Beyoncé’s Renaissance album: ‘Cozy’ and ‘Alien Superstar’. That record drew a smart, ferocious line of house music culture from its Black, gay beginnings in Chicago through to its current beat-matched global supremacy, selling it to Walmart America without compromising an inch on its diversity. With Honey’s guiding hand, Queen B had never sounded more audaciously in touch with the underground.

This autumn, Ms Dijon debuted a new monthly residency at the Panorama Bar at Berghain, the lawless Berlin benchmark by which all other nightclub culture is currently adjudicated. With one hand on the tiller in preparation for her entrée to London, we chatted in a Manchester hotel room. Tonight Honey is headlining Homobloc, the 10,000 capacity queer rave. In honour of her top girl billing, she has brought over voguing house originator, Javier Ninja, and insisted he gets a catwalk right beside her DJ booth. Honey is not the type to pull a drawbridge up behind her. She stays true to the original tenets of house music. She is the very spirit of Chicago, in all its greatness, wherever she may wander.

‘I look at all these headline slots and they tickle me,’ she says, prepping herself in a towelling robe in advance of the bacchanal that awaits. ‘It’s so funny. I’m not different than when I was DJing in my bedroom. For me, it’s all about the music and it doesn’t matter whether it’s 50 or 50,000 people. The club is about finding and feeling freedom.’

So as party month enters full seasonal sashay, what better child of the night than Honey Dijon to school us in a 12-step programme on how and why the party matters more now than ever?

1. Bring the respect

‘A party is the last place you should have rules. The only rule that I uphold is not being disrespectful to queer people, and especially not to women. At Panorama Bar, I see topless women, queer women, lesbians, cis women, all dancing freely, expressing themselves sexually without the predatory male gaze. I think it’s very important for queer people and women to celebrate themselves and their sexuality without shame, judgement or fear. That’s what the club is for.’

2. Bring the bad taste

‘Bad taste goes a long way. Chic is a bourgeois word and the club has no place for the bourgeoisie. Beauty, yes. Bourgeois chic, no. Divine, to me, is one of the chicest people to ever have walked the Earth. So bad taste? Yes. Cheap bad taste is essential to the club.’

3. Bring the humour

‘I miss humour in the party. There’s that song by Uncanny Alliance, “I Got My Education”, which opens with the monologue: “Miss thing, miss thing, miss thing, miss thing, she had to pawn her diamond ring/went on down to Burger King and found they weren’t hiring.” So good. The club should not be serious. It should be about play and fun. I purposely, on point, play a lot of queer music in straight spaces because I want them to gag at it. I’m a representative of joy. That’s my job.’

Honey Dijon photographed at Printworks London (Liz Johnson Artur)
Honey Dijon photographed at Printworks London (Liz Johnson Artur)

4. Bring the blackness, bring the queerness

‘What I like to really focus on is how music connects us through our humanity. One of the briefs that I was given when I was approached about [the Beyoncé album] project was that she wanted to go to the source of house music. When I speak of this music and culture coming from the Black queer community, it is not about erasing other influences. It’s not erasing early British synth-pop, Kraftwerk or Italo disco. But the culture that formed around this music and embraced it was Black and queer. They are the roots. And that is why I evangelise it.’

5. Bring your phone, if you must

‘I know certain generations love screaming “no phones!”, but it’s 2022, what are you going to do? I would like not to have phones shoved in my face when I’m playing. But at the same time, would I have this platform without doing [online nightclub platform] the Boiler Room? If we didn’t have these phones, would we have had the George Floyd Black Lives Matter moment? Would we have had #MeToo? Would we have trans visibility? My only thing with phones is that I wish people would be more considerate of others around them. Because not everybody wants to be recorded. The club is a den of iniquity. That should remain sacred. Not everything needs to be seen and heard.’

6. Bring the sex

‘If you have no sexual tension in the club, then you might as well be at your auntie’s wedding or your grandma’s wake. This is why we go out. This is why we go to the plastic surgeon, why we wear designer clothes, why we get our hair done. To get laid. Let’s just say shit is what shit is. We all come to the club to get laid, worshipped and adored. And if you don’t want to be worshipped and adored, more power to you.’

Honey Dijon photographed at Printworks London (Liz Johnson Artur)
Honey Dijon photographed at Printworks London (Liz Johnson Artur)

7. Bring the Black Girl Magic

‘I don’t own “Black Girl Magic”. I don’t own anything really. I’m just a passenger, a tourist through life. But I’m glad those words are synonymous with me because they are about me looking for love, acceptance and validation — and realising that it was never going to come to me in the way I had put it all together in my head. I had these images of Hollywood from magazines and books. This is how success looks. This is how my partners are meant to be. This is what my music career is meant to look like. I was attaching all these expectations. It doesn’t work. I have a hashtag that I use on social media, #bethethingyouwishtosee. For me Black Girl Magic is about stopping asking other people to recognise your magic and doing it for yourself.’

8. Bring the inspiration of your icons

‘Grace Jones, Sade and Neneh Cherry mean so much to me. They really own Black Girl Magic. Like many queer people, I was heavily bullied in my developmental years. When I discovered these women, they were a place of power. They gave me a place to, dare I say, dream. Grace connected everything for me. Fashion, music, art, performance, theatre, gender, race. She connected every single dot then dismantled them all. Sade was like fog rolling over the ocean on a stormy night. So other-worldly. Neneh combining hip-hop, streetwear, [being] mixed-race and fashion. It’s all there. These women are still sources of inspiration to me. Pinnacles of excellence. Singular, non-traditional beauties. Look, I’m just going to quote somebody who I recently wrote with [Beyoncé]: “One of one, I’m the only one.” They’re Alien Superstars.’

9. Bring the fashion

‘You have to understand what it was like for trans people in the early 2000s. I did not know if I could do or be anything. I started my transition and my DJ career in 1998 with no mirror of affirmation. You can’t be something you can’t see. The only person I saw in fashion was Teri Toye and I wasn’t a white trans woman, so how was I going to be that? The revelation came to me when I came to New York and first saw Connie Girl. She was the first Black trans woman I saw on a runway. I still don’t see creatives with real power in fashion. The trans and non-binary model conversation is about satisfying optics. That’s why Honey F***ing Dijon was so important for me #bethethingyouwishtosee. In the past six months, I had a real epiphany about what Honey F***ing Dijon was about for me. I’m using clothing as a vehicle to communicate queer culture — precisely what I do with music.’

The dance floor is about more than getting f***ed up on a Saturday night and trying to get laid. Although I would highly recommend both

10. Bring your education

‘I am totally self-taught. [When I came to New York] my best friends were [legendary house DJs] Derrick Carter and Danny Tenaglia. But I wasn’t them, either. It’s hard to look back on my life now. Look, this is going to sound really bad, but I thought I had no value. So where am I going to go and what am I going to do? I found work dancing in clubs. Like a lot trans women, I became a drag performer. That’s when I really started my transition. Then I started DJing because I had all this music. You just do the thing until you are the thing. I got my first DJ residency at [East Village dive bar] The Cock and a lot of fashion people would come. That was my entrée. I met Hedi Slimane, Stephen Gan from Visionaire, Narciso Rodriguez. They asked me to DJ at parties. I connected with Kim [Jones] through our love of Paris is Burning. My thought was always, I love house music so much, how can I contribute to the culture? I wanted to be a part of it so badly.’

11. Bring the trans

‘The biggest social change we’re going through right now is the deconstruction of gender. That’s our cultural revolution. We’ve still to see what comes out of that. We’re at the tip of the iceberg. Trans women, especially trans femme bodies, are objectified, fetishised. It’s a battleground for gender politics, identity politics; what bathroom you can use, what is and isn’t considered to be a female body. But this is just about human evolution. It’s about the things that didn’t work. Things that aren’t working. It’s about having our own agency. Being self-determined and not living by someone else’s limitations. Gender is not only freeing trans and non-binary people. It frees us all. And I’m sorry, heteronormativity doesn’t even work for straight people. The church doesn’t work for the religious. Governments don’t work for the people. Dance floors unite people in a way that religion and governments can’t. I should put that on a T-shirt, baby. The dance floor is a place of liberation, community, release, celebration, joy. It’s about a lot of other things than just getting f***ed up on a Saturday night and trying to get laid. Although I would highly recommend both.’

12. Bring the gag

‘That is my whole thing: watching the whole room f***ing gag. On my tombstone, I want one word: “gag”. I don’t care where I’m buried. Just put me in the oven and bake it at 300 degrees. I won’t be there, so what will it matter?’

‘Black Girl Magic’, by Honey Dijon, is out on 18 Nov Turn the page for Honey’s ultimate party playlist

With thanks to Printworks London.