This piece was discovered on Concept By Sound
Today Smirnoff launches the next chapter of their “We’re Open” initiative via a TV advertisement aimed at creating positive change in nightlife culture. And what better person to be an ambassador for this campaign than Honey Dijon? The campaign (which includes the video below), also features gender non-confirming artists Kiddy Smile and Lucy Fizz.
Honey Dijon is an internationally respected dj and producer (she played at Ostgut, the predecessor to Berghain), a vibrant figure of the fashion world (she recently posed naked for Vogue Italia), and a native of Chicago, where house music was born. She also happens to be a trans woman of color.
“Club culture is so important for me because I was able to find a community in these places. I was able to find guidance.”
Intelligent, witty, and candid, Honey Dijon knows the importance of community and creating safe spaces. Below, Honey let’s us have it, in addition to sharing her timeless tracks for the dance floor (which she says have now all become wedding songs).
The slogan for the Smirnoff campaign is “We’re Open.” Why is this campaign necessary? If you think how dance music started, it was much more multigenerational and gender fluid. There was a lot more diversity.
When dance culture went from being a safe space for marginalized people and started to cater to the mainstream, it became entertainment. Watered down and colonized for the masses. It went from people who were creating to people who were consuming. And this tended to be homogenized. Resident Advisor just stopped during their dj polls because it started to favor straight white men.
Do you find certain cities to feel more open? There are different places for different things. I still think Berlin is the electronic music center of the world. There’s such a community around dance music. London is such a musically rich city. I’ve found Paris can be great, Chicago can be great. What I do is more embraced in Europe. I think America is still far behind in terms of their dance taste.
What has happened in our major cities is that gentrification has pushed people out so clubs can’t take risks. In America it’s things that tend to work. In Europe everything is not dependent on the bottom line, and how much you sell. In America everything has a monetary value. But then again you have social care (in Europe). It costs a lot to live in America.
“Gentrification pushes out people that take risks and that change culture. Consumers don’t change culture. Luxury and laziness are the same thing to me. As long as everyone’s comfortable, no one’s rocking the boat.”
And I get this a lot because I “pass.” Passing is going from one box to being invisible. I blend into normal heteronormative society and I understand why I do, because it’s a matter of life and death. Being pretty is not radical.
But I had a skilled surgeon that was able to do certain things to help me with that process. I don’t want people to think I started out with pretty privilege. I didn’t start off pretty, and it doesn’t guarantee you anything. Pretty gets you through the door, conversation keeps you in the room. But I like to think I benefit from going through a rough experience, because I know what that is.
I grew up in a time when you had to fit that norm in order to survive. In order to be liked, to be loved, to have opportunities in fashion. I’m glad that things are changing where you can sort of be who you are in a lot of ways.
We are just at the iceberg of what gender expression means, and choosing who you want to be. Trans, the word wasn’t around until the early 90’s. I grew up when there was no word for it, no mirrors of affirmation, and being trans was associated with violence or being a sex worker. I was able to find community though music, and that allowed me to have a different experience. I struggled with a lot of gender identity issues, you’re just looking to find yourself. And in New York City I found this group that showed me where to get healthcare, and where to find work, and I would say I was riding the storm.
Can you tell me about the track you created for the TV ad campaign? It’s a cover of a Sylvester song, who was a queer man of color. Sylvester was a binary non gender confirming artist. To be able to do that in a contemporary way, it represents everything I stand for as an artist, which is to bring this dialogue back.
These voices haven’t been heard, and a lot of people don’t even know where half the music that they like comes from. There is an Instagram called AIDS Memorial, and it talks about all the people that we lost. People in the prime of their lives wiped out. Two generations. And so all of the B’s and C’s were able to scoot to the front. So now mediocre is great, and before, great had to be phenomenal.
“There’s not one way to be a trans person. There’s not one blueprint for everything. What’s great is that you’re gonna have so many voices coming out besides mine. We live in America with fifty-five different types of vacuum cleaner. There’s a feature for everybody.”
What’s really great is that we’re going into the fifth dimension, where people are being more sexually fluid. The new generation is not bound by post WWII values that were adopted by corporate entities that has left us walking around trying to fit in. Ideas of homosexuality didn’t exist before the 1920‘s, which is new shit in the scope of things. And post depression, after Hollywood came in, that’s when it really hit the fan on roles of men and women.
I deal with being black, and then I have to deal with being a woman, and then being trans woman. We walk out of our house with dynamics that we all navigate. Club culture is so important for me because I was able to find a community in these places. I was able to find guidance.
Tell me about your recent album, “Best Of Both Worlds.” The title was a play on how people view trans women. Taking something that was fetishized and objectified and making something artistic. I wanted to go back to the days of NYC when you collaborated with painters and artists and fashion designers. It was sort of an art project, and it combines that experience.
I’ve been working on this album for four years. I feel that dance music has become really monochromatic and monotone. The dance culture I came from was very vibrant, lots of colorful characters. So my approach was to bring back some of the emotion and feeling that I experienced growing up. I wanted something different. It was sort of of an organic process in how it came out. I wanted to sort of look back - not in a nostalgic way, but more in an inspirational way.
And this new generation of clubbers, early 90’s house is their music. It’s also the music that I grew up on.
What’s your process like in the studio? Some things I make on my own, some things I make with friends. I’m great at drum programming, but my friend Tim K is a classically trained pianist. I didn’t study music in a scholarly way, I learned my music by going out. I’ve been listening to music since I was five years old. I don’t ever have a set agenda. When I was trying to get booked early on they said I was too eclectic. Growing up in Chicago , people like Ron Hardy or Frankie Knuckles, David Mancuso or Larry Levain, we didn’t deal with genre.
What’s the last book you read? Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983 by Tim Lawrence. And I just got the new Andy Kaufman book, and it blew my mind. It’s really profound because I was always a fan of Jim Carrey. It’ so interesting that someone that became the biggest star on the planet then said, I’m still unhappy.
How many likes does it take to feel ok with yourself? Where is all of this need for external validation coming from? When nothing is for you, you have to develop your own since of worth in your life.
“I don’t need to have external validation to get up in the morning. I’ve learned how to navigate this world when the world had nothing for me, and it still doesn’t.”
And what about New York now? I’m sad for New York because gentrification has ruined Manhattan, and it’s slowly ruining Brooklyn. It pushes out marginalized people who create change, and the discussion for change. If you have a city of just rich people its bland, it’s sterile. New York used to be a place to make art, now it’s a place to buy art. When I moved to Chelsea it was a Latin neighborhood, and then it was a gay neighborhood, and they’ve been trying to push me out for years.
When corporations and banking took over administrative roles, that’s when things were neutralized and sterilized. 1977 until 1981 was the golden era, and then AIDS hit. A lot of people died and their families didn’t know and there stuff was put on the street. You had all of these people coming in and jacking up the rent.
Artists will always find a place to create art, people are just having to find ways to do things differently.
Do you have any timeless tracks for the dancefloor?
“La Vie En Rose” by Grace Jones
“I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan
“Everybody Dance” by Chic
“Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson
“Somehow timeless records turn into wedding songs.”
“Adventures in Paradise” by Minnie Riperton
“Your Love” by Frankie Knuckles
“Planet Clear” by The B-52’s
”The Sweetest Taboo” by Sade
”Missing You” by The Rolling Stones
”Gypsy Woman” by Crystal Waters
Do you have any advice for other artists? I mean obviously we all have to make a living. But you don’t need to copy what someone else is doing. As someone said, the copy never sells as much as an original. The Basquiat is always going to be worth more. And you don’t want to be replaceable. Don’t be a part of the mold, master your craft and your voice so no one else can come for you.
Do you have advice for other trans woman that may be struggling? I think that’s a tough question for someone like myself to answer. Because I know I tend to move in very liberal circles. And not every trans person is an artist and lives in major cities.
Sometimes I feel like I’m not the best example for that because everyone’s experience is different. I hope people are inspired to live their truth. I was able to navigate life, but what about people whose family throws them out a young age? I can’t speak from that experience, where you have to do whatever you need to do to live your truth. The best thing I can do is be as authentic as I can be. Because we’re not all the same. Every one is affected by patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia.
There’s a lot of talk about toxic masculinity. And I never really thought about what it’s like to be a man. Should you have to feel guilty about how you were born? But you should be aware and cognizant that not everyone operates from a place of privilege.
I always ask my straight male friends, where they learned about sex - and they said either porn, or their friends. If you don’t know how to pleasure yourself, how can you pleasure someone else?
Sexuality is meant to be explored. Sexual identity is your own personal thing. You don’t need to explain that to other people. If I have to make you comfortable to like me, then I don’t need you in my life.
I think that’s why we have so much violence and shame. People find all sorts of people attractive. You shouldn’t have to explain to anyone what turns you on. I feel men are so concerned about what people think of them.
And in the words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”
Honey Dijon Tour Dates