Best Collective: Honey Soundsystem’s Sweat-Drenched Year

We caught up with the San Francisco queer DJ crew to reflect on their biggest highlights of 2016.
December 23, 2016, 5:35pm
Illustration of Honey Soundsystem by Alicia Adamerovich.

To look back on this long year, we're paying tribute to some of the people who shaped the look, sound, and feeling of club culture in 2016. Today, Honey Soundsystem is THUMP's 2016 Best Collective.

When THUMP last spoke with Jacob Sperber a.k.a. Jackie House, one-quarter of San Francisco's resident queer DJ collective Honey Soundsystem, in September, the crew was gearing up for another round of their annual sexual discotheque spectacle, Deviants, at Folsom Street Fair. In addition to the usual decadence, this year's event wound up featuring two women dressed in Lisa Frank-inspired pony outfits, neighing at one another. For followers of the collective, it was just one more satisfying musical beat to add to a year of spectacular parties—the ones you gush to your friends about after they're over.


When the crew—which, in addition to House, also includes Robot Yang a.k.a. Beziér, Jason Kendig, and Josh Cheon—launched back in 2006, they provided a much-needed booster shot to the Bay Area's house scene with their own set of raucous parties and record releases. For the last decade, Honey has continued to crank out a steady stream of disco rarities and new dance tunes, acting as both tastemakers and unofficial historians of the queer dance culture movement.

But, like any long-term relationship, keeping it all together has proved difficult. As House says in our interview here: "Maintaining a collective is no easy task. Everyone in Honey has their own style, own opinions and discerning ear."

The last 12 months proved that the collective has been built for the long run. From their dazzling opening night sets at Glastonbury, to their eclectic selection of new songs like Justin Cudmore's "Crystal," 2016 was a sweat-drenched, pivotal year for Honey Soundsystem, and THUMP is delighted to name them our pick for Best Collective of 2016. THUMP caught up with House over email to reflect on the crew's epic year, read the interview below.

THUMP: What were some of Honey Soundsystem's musical highlights from 2016?
Jackie House: We gathered with the gay techno underground for the first day of 2016 as we celebrated our seventh New Year's Eve event in the bay. Jason gets asked to become one of Smart Bar's 2016 residents. Justin Cudmore's "Crystal" record sells out and is heard all over Movement weekend in Detroit. Bézier opening for Soichi Terada in Brussels at HORST festival. Dark Entries [one of the crew's three labels] celebrating the Candida Royale 12" release at The Magazine, a vintage porn shop in the Polk. The B2B with Prosumer at Block9's Genosys at Glastonbury. DJ Harvey gives Bézier and Jackie a tutorial on how to use his custom Alpha Electronics rotary at the Flaming Man Pride party in LA; he says: "Red is for whores," referring to red lights on the readout. Honey hosts a two-floor packed party with Black Madonna, Steffi, and DJ Minx in San Francisco––the place throbs with good vibes until the early morning. Jason and Jackie play the "hazing" slot at Circoloco Ibiza and end up in a DJ booth full of their dance music heroes. Honey closes on a high note its 10-year running Burning Man party "Honey Dusted," with guests from Paris, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles. Someone parks a giant cow-painted 1976 convertible El Dorado in the middle of the dance floor to great effect. We are asked to submit a mix to Dekmantel's podcast and join the ranks of some of our favorite dance floor selectors. RS94109 record store reopens in the Polk (SF) just when we needed it again.

Photo by Jef McMahan

You were once again back at Folsom Street Fair in September with your annual Deviants party. How do you think this year's performance went? This year we staggered open the main room dance floor, stealing a trick from the [legendary gay techno party] Saint's Black Party. The balconies of the space were open and full of attendees waiting for us to open up a cordoned-off massive dance floor. The main room lights highlighted a 30-minute two-woman performance piece of "pony play," which would end in exploding confetti cannons and two dames dressed in Lisa Frank-inspired pony outfits neeeeghing in delight, while hundreds of onlookers in harnesses and jocks had to ponder the question: Does this turn me on?

The group made its Glastonbury debut at Block9's Genosys and NYC Downlow stages in June. What was that experience like? Had any of you been to Glastonbury before?
In 2008 on a self-booked mini-tour of Europe, the Horse Meat Disco guys threw Ken Woodard and I onto a bus headed to Glastonbury. With little understanding of just what we were getting ourselves into, we had 24 hours to gather rain boots, cheap tents, and some essentials. Halfway to the fields where Glastonbury resides we came to the conclusion we were the odd men out on a VIP shuttle of London's premiere performers and drag queens heading to NYC Downlow for the weekend. By the time we got to the fairgrounds all of the men that had been sitting besides us had transformed into Scottie, Johnny Woo, A Man To Pet, Le Gateau Chocolat… and the list could go on. Needless to say, we experienced the diva entrance through the muddy festival halls, the bus passing by many a down-on-their-luck camper trudging through to an unknown campsite. When we arrived at Block9, our bus expertly passed in front of barricades holding back a group of press photographers and cameras from the BBC. The bus doors opened onto a red carpet flanked by hunky construction men handing out flutes of champagne one-by-one to the drag divas as they made their entrance into the Downlow, camera flashes lighting the way…

It took us eight years to return to the Downlow. In many ways because the first year was just too perfect to mess with. After finding our way back, it is hard to think of ever passing up the opportunity again. Block9 is one of the greatest club playgrounds in the world. It just so happens to be at Glastonbury.

You released "Candida Cosmica," a new compilation of music from Patrick Cowley. Why is it important for the group to continue to highlight Cowley's work?
"Candida Cosmica" was another highlight in the continued work Josh Cheon puts into revealing the story of Cowley and his hidden musical world. Although there is always some poetic significance behind the when and how Josh drops these records, the timing was ripe with the bevy of new fans for Cowley's soundtrack work to share the "Candida Royale" collaboration. "Candida" and Cowley's music sheds light on a beautiful facet of San Francisco's early 70s artist and performance scene. The city was flowing freely with sexually liberated imaginative spirits of all genders taking to the studio and stage. We hope these releases encourage people to find those communities again and feel strength in knowing queers and women were exercising personal liberty and freedom of experimentation in much more unforgiving times. The world spent 30-plus years obsessing over a fairly modest amount of Cowley's music. They deserve to have more if it is there. And for those who didn't know… the news items that mention his name today hopefully direct many a sympathetic new ear his way.

What are your thoughts on the music Honey Soundsystem released this year (Justin Cudmore's Crystal 12", Beesmunt Soundsystem's "Sensual Works" EP, etc.), and how do you think the group approaches the music it puts out today compared to when you first started?
The label succeeded this year because the releases were preceded by hearty discussion. If we all felt strongly about a release it's because there was something that bound us together to support it. That love and appreciation as a crew infects the discs before they go out into the world. People can feel that when we play the tunes out or when they get them in their hands. Not every release came with immediate agreement. The most rewarding moments of the label for me have been when someone's instinct that a release was right for the label meant in the end it was also something right for everyone in the crew.