This interview first appeared in the print edition of RAIN magazine, fall 2016.
DJ Honey Dijon is a tour de force in the New York party scene and is now taking her beats worldwide. Touring all over Europe, from Ibiza to Helsinki, and back to New York, Honey is defining a new age of the global dance floor. She’s been invited by Kim Jones, the men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, to create mixes for his shows. We reminisce with Honey about her music, influences, the Internet, and Grace Jones.
Mark Benjamin: Hi Honey. Thanks so much for chatting with me today.
MB: I read you’re from Chicago. Is that right?
Honey Dijon: Yeah, I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago.
MB: How long have you been in mu-sic?
HD: I always like to say, all my life. My musical education started with my parent’s record collection. My parents always had music on at home, in the car, family gatherings, and birthdays. My parents were pretty young when they had me, so they always had a lot of music on. A lot of soul, R&B, jazz, and that was my musical education, really.
It’s crazy how my life has always been about music. When I started going to school, I just fell into it. I fell into a group of people that were into disco. I also became really close friends with a protégé of Frankie Knuckles. That was also one of the beginnings of my musical education, so I would say all my life.
MB: What kind of music were you listening to in high school?
HD: It was really interesting because a lot of early house music was inspired by a lot of early British electronic music. I was listening to a lot of industrial music and punk music: The Clash, Front 242, Heaven 17, Yazoo, and Kraftwerk. I also started listening to Isaac Hayes, The Isley Brothers, and Ashford and Simpson. My father loved Donny Hathaway, so it was a really eclectic musical education. I was listening to everything…The Cure, Erasure, and Dead or Alive. I have had a very broad range of musical tastes in my lifetime.
MB: Those bands are great! I love The Cure; I can’t get enough of them.
MB: Music is also very important to me. In fact, this magazine RAIN gets its name from Blind Melon’s hit single “No Rain.” Do you know that song?
HD: Cool! Yeah, I remember Blind Melon from the ‘90s.
MB: It’s a shame, they had that one- hit wonder, but I think their whole album was pure gold. I find that era interesting, because everyone was sad and depressed, but then they were singing these joyful melodies against depressing lyrics. There’s something beautiful about those opposites, happy and sad.
HD: That melancholy situation.
MB: I’ve played a ton of your set from SoundCloud.
HD: Thank you. You know, music is vibrational energy, so it creates an atmosphere. I say music is another creative thing to have when you’re creating. People listen to music when they write, photograph, and paint. Jean-Michel Basquiat used to listen to a lot of jazz and b-bop. Keith Haring used to listen to a lot of hip-hop and house. He created all those installa- tions for the Paradise Garage. Creative energy is all intertwined.
MB: How would you describe the aesthetic of your mixes?
HD: I don’t really like to use definitions for the music that I play. I’m really more interested in how music feels, than what to categorize it as, so I just try to create music that uplifts you, music that heals you, putting sex into my music, excitement, happiness, and all sorts of things. I don’t really have words to describe my music. I’m more concerned about how it feels, than what category I have to put it under.
MB: One of the other things I want to ask you about is that to experience Honey Dijon you have to do it in person. There are some mixes on SoundCloud, but there are no music videos; there’s not a huge Internet thing. You have to be dancing under flashing lights, in the middle of the night, until your ears are ringing in the morning.
HD: Isn’t that wonderful?
HD: I don’t know if a video can really capture the energy of a room. Everything is so online and overexposed to- day. I love that there’s a little mystery about it. You have to be there and just be in the moment. There are a couple of things online that I’ve done: there’s a Mixmag live thing and something from club Shelter. There are snippets.
The way I like to experience a club…I don’t even like people to look at me. I would rather people just enjoy the music, because when I used to go the clubs you couldn’t even see the DJ. You would dance in front of the speak- er, and it was more about the music. I kind of want it to be about the music. You don’t need to see me. You need to come and dance! You can see me after the function. Though, I think there’s no mystery left. Everything is so over- exposed. I don’t want people to be bored of me. When everything is so accessible, what’s so exciting about it?
MB: That reminds me of the music artist SSION. Do you know of him?
MB: You can play and listen to his music all by yourself, but then his con-certs are out of this world, because you get to take in the whole experience of his vision.
HD: I think you’re going to see a lot more artists retracting in that way. There’s something special about living life in the moment, instead of always documenting it.
MB: Yeah, I know, and you have to document it on six different apps. It’s so overwhelming.
HD: Yeah, people are more concerned about what other people are posting, instead of actually experiencing the situation. I don’t like living by committee. That’s my two cents.
MB: Do you think you’ll have music videos in the future?
HD: I’m thinking about it. Maybe, if I make a record that merits one. I have a few videos of me up when I used to DJ at Hiro. Never, say never. Though my standards are really high. If I wanted to do a music video, I’d want Nick Knight.
MB: That would be epic.
HD: That would be epic. What do you think if I just rang him up, “Would you make a video of a house track?”
HD: If he said yes, I’d probably die.
MB: An interpreted house track! Imagine that.
HD: Yeah, it would be really great.
MB: How important is music history in creating new music today?
HD: Well, I don’t like to speak for everyone. In order to break rules, you to expand on things that are already there. That’s why knowing music his- tory is important for me when I’m making music or performing. I can’t say why it’s important for others.
MB: What does ownership mean for artists today when we’re all just re- mixing everything?
HD: If you’re creating original, I mean really original content, then yeah, it’s super important. I think on own- ing your own music, if it’s sampled from other people’s music and you reinterpret it, it does become yours. Once you release something into the world it’s kind of hard to say you own it anymore. It’s like having a child. Do you still own that child?
HD: From an artist’s point of view that makes a living, I understand how important it is to own your music. It’s how you live. But, you know, there are very few original artists left. They exist, but yeah you have to dig. One of my favorite artists right now that’s making original music is Levon Vincent. He samples himself.
MB: So, past work he’s done, he’ll graft into new
HD: Yes, he’ll sample his library. You can even go as far back as to sample a machine. Then, do you own that sound? Or, does the machine that made that sound own that music? Do you know what I’m saying?
MB: Yeah, like that horrible ‘90s-era dial-up noise.
HD: Yeah, is that yours? I understand it from that point of view.
I don’t like living by committee. That’s my two cents.
MB: Is escapism important today? Do you feel raving has replaced rock con- certs? Do you think we’re all trying need to know them. Where I grew up in Chicago, there were so many artists and DJs. What separated you was your musical knowledge, and knowing the sides, outtakes, edits, and being a little more obscured, because that’s what set you apart from other artists. I love to know where things come from, and to incorporate that into what I do.
I don’t believe in old music, or new music; I just believe in music as a con- tinuum. It’s awesome to bring things in from what has come before, and what happens now. We’re living in a remix culture where there’s really nothing new. What’s new is how you put them together, so knowing history allows you, or gives you the tools to expand on things that are already there. That’s why knowing music his- tory is important for me when I’m making music or performing. I can’t say why it’s important for others.
MB: Is escapism important today? Do you feel raving has replaced rock con- certs? Do you think we’re all trying to get out of our minds more today?
HD: We still have rock concerts. Be- yoncé is not a rave, it’s a rock concert. People have always gone to clubs and concerts. I don’t think one replaces the other. Dance music is just another part of music. You still have classical and pop concerts. It’s just another way for people to enjoy and celebrate through music. It’s like, did the Internet re- place the radio? No, it’s just another way to experience music.
MB: Yeah, what is it? Did video kill the radio star?
HD: Not really. Radio is still very important. People are still driving cars. Streaming is just a different way of listening to the radio. Why can’t you enjoy varying experiences? I don’t know why one thing has to replace the other. People still go to the mov- ies. It doesn’t replace people watching movies at home either. It’s communal gathering of people.
MB: We lost two greats this past year: Prince and David Bowie. Has their music or image influenced you?
HD: Both. Image and influence. I mean how amazing was it…they’re from an era where the lyrics, image, music, and the performance were all intertwined. You couldn’t separate them. They were all part of the art- ist. What they looked like, what they sounded like, what they wrote, I mean god, that was all together. All of it. Completely, all of it. I used to love that, when you would physically buy a record and then look at the cover, read the lyrics, read the credits, read who took the photo, who did the make-up, and who designed the clothes. Buy- ing a record was just as important an experience as going to see them live. Because seeing someone live is only a couple of hours, but you actually live with those records. You live with that music.
MB: Yeah, that’s so true. I’m still kind of the same way. I get OCD and listen to the same albums for years.
HD: Yeah! I’ve been listening to “Kids Need to be Clever,” the first album by Culture Club, lately. I remember how it was when I bought that. I used to just sit and stare at the album cover for hours while I listened to the album.
MB: Yeah, and today music can be consumed like bubble gum.
HD: I hate that about not having the physical records. Just having a record and being able to listen to it. That’s something very wonderful.
MB: A DJ sort of reminds me of a conductor. Do you feel like that on stage? Do you feel like you’re creating an environment?
HD: I feel like I’m just the same as the person on the dance floor, just on the other side. Haha. I try not to feel sep- arate from people while I’m DJing. I just try to contribute my two cents to the party, like the person who shows up in the costume or the dancing peo- ple. I try to feel like I am one part of the experience of the party, not, I am the party. The sound, the lighting, who’s at the club, what other people are wearing, the dancing…I’m part of the experience.
MB: I loved your set at Ladyfag’s recent party at Flash Factory. It was so much fun!
HD: Yeah, I’m just part of it. I’m just as excited about the music as everybody else. That’s why I dance in the booth! Like hey, I’m dancing too, bitches!
MB: I want to ask you about your experience creating sets for Louis Vuitton. Were you nervous?
HD: Well, in the beginning, I was very nervous, because Louis Vuitton is such a global brand, so when you do music for them you have to understand millions of people are going to hear it, so it’s quite nerve-wracking. Kim Jones is really an awesome person, a culture vulture. He works with people and music that he really loves. He brings a lot of emotional content to his clothing and his presentations.
I’ve worked with Giorgio Moroder and Nellee Hooper. I think meeting such iconic musical figures that have con- tributed so much to music culture and people’s lives makes me star struck and nervous. After working for five years and two shows, I’m quite com- fortable doing it now, but it’s just an honor and a privilege to work with such an amazing artist that is so in touch with culture. It’s a really great thing to be a part of.
MB: You’re so global. You’re in Paris right now, aren’t you?
HD: I’m in Berlin right now, but I travel quite a bit over the summer. I live pretty much in an airplane.
MB: That’s awesome. How important is Berlin as a cultural capital?
HD: As a music place, it’s the best in the world at the moment. The most amazing artists come through here. It’s still a very free city. It still cel- ebrates sex, debauchery, art, and it hasn’t been completely gentrified in the way London, New York, or Paris have. It’s still a place where you can be an artist and create instead of con- sume.
MB: I enjoyed my time in Berlin. It’s another world. You can feel the energy walking through the streets.
HD: I still love New York. I’ll nev- er completely give up New York, but yeah, I love it here.
MB: If you could DJ a celebrity wedding, or anybody whom you admire, who would that be?
HD: Alive or dead?
MB: It doesn’t matter.
HD: I’d have to say, Grace Jones.
MB: Oh, yes! I wonder who she’d be marrying.
HD: Well, you have to read the auto-biography. She was married. It would be Grace Jones, no doubt. She changed my life.
MB: Her music too, right?
HD: No, just the image. I had never seen a black artist embody so much: art, male, female, the avant-garde, theater, performance, and presentation. She was the first one that wasn’t traditionally pretty. She didn’t fit into the traditional image of what a black celebrity looks like. She wasn’t singing happy songs and wearing gowns and make-up; she was angular, she was hard, and she was other worldly. That changed my life.
MB: I have one more question. Art is in the context of art, so we know it’s supposed to raise questions, but mu- sic can be more elusive. Do musicians have any moral or ethical responsibilities to their listeners?
HD: Depending on the artist, I think it can. The best example of that is U2 being such a political band and trying to raise a lot of awareness and consciousness about things. I think it depends on the messenger and the message you’re trying to send. One of the great things about music is that it can be healing and uniting. I try to create environments where people from different races, sexuali- ties, and economic backgrounds can come together and celebrate, meet and communicate with each other when they otherwise wouldn’t have those opportunities.
I think music can be a lot of things. Music was very political in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I think it depends on the culture, the times, but that’s what I miss a lot about music. That it reflected the times, and I guess, it does reflect the times today through a lot of rap music that I don’t really care for, because it’s misogynistic, materialistic, and violent. Not all of it, but the majority.
Maybe that is reflecting the times that we live in today, but I try to experience music in a way that heals and that gets people to connect to other people in a positive way.