Honey Dijon is like the big sister you've always wished for: funny, intelligent, and occasionally a little bit spiky. In London to play Village Underground, the genre-defying DJ, fashion icon and trans rights activist has agreed to spend an afternoon with me doing the most sisterly of activities: going magazine shopping and bitching about boys, specifically, techno lads. "It's always straight white men who seem to fuck up the party!" she says as we browse the shelves at magCulture, London's leading independent magazine store.
If Dijon is direct, it's because she has to be—this is a woman who doesn't have time to fuck around. While all DJs are used to the jet-lag-induced fugue that comes with their career, Dijon hums with the nervous energy that only the truly exhausted emit. On the way to the shop Dijon remains on her phone throughout, and she is a delight to eavesdrop on. In the ten-minute drive she talks about the precise definition of shade; discusses her dinner plans with Dalston Superstore owner Dan Beaumont (a vegan restaurant in Dalston), and says things like, "I don't know, I just go where my agent tells me to," a sentence I aspire to one day say myself. I'm disappointed when the journey is over—I could listen to Dijon all day.
Here are some things every profile of Honey Dijon mentions: that she is from Chicago and was mentored by house music legends Derrick Carter, and later by Danny Tenaglia; that she is one of the only underground DJs to have close ties with the fashion world (she's friends with Ricardo Tisci and parties with the fashion elite); that she came up through the New York club scene in the 1990s; that she refuses to be defined by one genre, but mostly plays house and techno; that she is trans.
Here's what you won't read: that she is fiendishly smart and intellectually curious, which makes her a little bit intimidating; that she has a cool, measured way of speaking, not unlike a university lecturer; that she is unfailingly polite; that she will get annoyed if you stick a camera too close in her face (as Jake our photographer finds out); that she knows a phenomenal amount about contemporary culture; and that she is very, very tired.
I've asked Dijon to accompany me to magCulture because, as a child growing up in the south side of Chicago, Dijon obsessively read and re-read all the magazines she could get her hands on, purchasing them from a small book shop above legendary record store Wax Trax.
They were a gleaming portal into another world; a world where young black kids didn't need to produce three forms of ID at the door of a club while a white kid sailed straight in; a world of glamour and beauty and even a hint of erotic threat. In essence, they were a perfect warm-up for the 1980s and 90s New York club scene, a place of decadence, excess, and ultimately tragedy, as the Aids epidemic ravaged the city's queer communities.
"When I was growing up I was very ostracized for being a different person," Dijon says calmly, flicking through a copy of Japanese fashion magazine Whatever. "So magazines were my escape. I didn't do drugs, I collected magazines and stuff, and I learned about culture, art, and music. I used to devour them cover-to-cover. They were my salvation. When I felt like no one wanted to play with me or be associated with me, they were my friends."
I ask Dijon to name some magazines that inspired her growing up, and she reels them off in staccato rapid-fire bursts. " I-d, Italian Vogue, British Vogue, French Vogue, American Vogue, French Elle, Italian Elle, Details Magazine, Interview Magazine, what's that one which Mapplethorpe used to shoot for? [Pained, she fumbles for the name—when it comes to her, she snaps her finger, which is wearing a Louis Vuitton ring—in satisfaction.] Splash!" she exclaims.
Dijon's wearing a Louis Vuitton ring because she's got close ties to the fashion label, having recently soundtracked their menswear fashion show. I can't think of another underground DJ so comfortable in the fashion world, but then Dijon is a polymath, and a collector.
"Growing up, music and fashion and art were my worlds because I was a weirdo," Dijon explains candidly. "I say that with the most respect. All my friends are weirdos and misfits. So this [she makes an expansive gesture with her hand, sweeping the room], this was my school, my training."
Recently, Dijon suffered the thing all hoarders most dread: losing their collection. The majority of her records were wiped out when a flood damaged her storage unit. Dijon seems to have cycled through most of her stages of grief by now, and is equanimous when I ask about it.
"It made me realize I don't own anything. Anything you think you own, you don't. Everything we have is an experience—from the houses you live in, to your clothes, none of it's ours. It's just shit on loan, even if you pay for it," she says, as nobly and self-sacrificially as a wandering monk.
Dijon has a sense of perspective about these things because she's known real loss. "I'm carrying on the traditions I was taught by people who are no longer here," she explains, referring to how AIDS decimated her New York community. "AIDS really got rid of two generations of queer creative people; people of colour; misfits, so it's great to still be here and to have something to pass on and to still be around."
Today's set at Village Underground is Dijon's first in London for a while, although she'll back in Europe to play Farrago Festival in August. The intervening months since her last London visit have seen gentrification and over-zealous officialdom threaten to suck the soul, Dementor-like, out of our club scene—leaving it wan and pale, like New York's nightlife. I mention Dance Tunnel's closure and fabric's near miss. In a superbly low-key but also extra move, Dijon picks up a copy of Artforum magazine and points out an essay she recently submitted about the perils of gentrification.
"The biggest thing that's happening for me in our cities is that gentrification is pushing people out of all the spaces where they'd be able to play loud music. All the people who'd create change—artists, musicians, people who need space for their art—they're being pushed out. Real estate is so expensive that the people who create change cannot be part of that change. So they don't live in our cities anymore. Our cities are being taken over by really wealthy people and filled with gourmet chocolate shops; gourmet this, gourmet that. And wealthy people consume. They don't create."
Also: techno lads. Techno lads are ruining everything. I ask her why dancefloor have become so male, pale and stale—for every Glastonbury bread raver, there's a hundred Asos lads who'll swipe a swig of your water bottle and hit on your mate. "This is what happens when anything becomes colonized by the masses," she explains coolly.
I namedrop a couple of festivals I've been to recently—including Sunfall, which Dijon played at last year—that I think are particularly guilty of attracting all-white, male-dominated crowds. "Sunfall was very white," she says matter-of-factly, surprising me with her candour. "I think it's because of the music that's being made and played. It's just not connecting with people of colour. People are making tools, not music. It's extremely monotonous," she says. "It's just loops for hours and hours on end—music for people who do drugs. Instead of enhancing the night, drugs take the place of the night."
We wrap up our interview and Dijon purchases a bundle of magazines whose names I barely recognize, thanks magCulture's owner Jeremy for letting us take over his space, then chats the breeze with us in the cab as we sit in traffic on the way back to the hotel. Just as I'm asking her about Milan Fashion Week (she's flying in the following day) Dijon spies a stationery shop from the window of the stationary cab and jumps out at Old Street roundabout to investigate. I rate it: like the polymath she is, Dijon's always got one eye focussed on the present, and one darting around the side.