Although she’s now best described as a global citizen, Honey Redmond grew up on the South Side of Chicago during house music’s heyday, and those classic rhythms continue to guide her musical vision. These days, she’s known as Honey Dijon, a DJ with deep ties to New York City who’s been wholeheartedly embraced by both the upper echelons of the fashion world and the underground club circuit. As one of the few black trans women in either of these spheres, she’s been a strong example for both women and people of color, yet Redmond refuses to let herself be solely defined by her identity. Allowing her records and keen ear to do the talking, she’s been asked to DJ for the likes of high-end brands like Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Balenciaga and Givenchy, but she’s also held down residencies at noted New York nightspots like Cielo and Le Bain.
In recent years, Dijon’s also found herself increasingly spinning on the other side of the Atlantic, becoming a regular at Panorama Bar in Berlin and reveling in the club’s free and welcoming atmosphere. She’s also ventured into the production realm, turning out tracks – both solo and collaborative – for labels such as Classic, Toolroom and Nervous. In this excerpt from her Fireside Chat on RBMA Radio, Dijon discusses her entrance on the club scene, early days DJing in New York City and navigating trans and queer politics in dance music while staying true to her own musical vision.
Growing Up With Music
My parents were very young when they had me. They were still in their early 20s and so they were partying, basically. They were music lovers, so there was always music in my house. Every time we went to the grocery store the radio was on. Every time we came home and put the groceries away, the radio was on.
Whenever my parents would buy music, they would take me to the record store with them. They loved soul music – my early education was a lot of Motown, early R&B, Solar Records. They loved the Whispers, Shalamar – Minnie Riperton used to be a neighbor of theirs before they got married. It was just something that was a part of my DNA. I’m really lucky to have been around at a time when music was coming out of the Civil Rights Movement. A lot of the music was conscious music, and it was about love and life and the struggle of people. I grew up with a lot of messages in music: about human connection, about the human experience, about love, loss of love, aspiration. I was really lucky to have parents that exposed me to such awesome music.
When I was in grammar school I became friends with Lori Branch, who a lot of people don’t know but I’m starting to talk about more, because she was a protégé of Frankie [Knuckles] and Andre Hatchett and Pharris Thomas, Craig Loftis, a lot of early Chicago DJs and pioneers. I was best friends with her younger brother and she exposed me to a lot, because I was still really, really young. We’re talking the mid-’80s, late ’80s. That was an education, just from her going to the Warehouse and coming back talking about Candido and Salsoul and First Choice. I was like, “What is this music?” Because it was so completely different than what my parents were listening to.
I think I was able to get a fake ID at 12 or 13 years old and I started going to clubs. My mother cringes when I tell this story. She’s like, “You make it sound like I was such a bad parent and let you go out.” When you’re young, you find ways to get around parents, and I wasn’t always spending the night at my friend’s house. I would say “I’m staying at a friend’s house,” and this happens to be Lori Branch’s younger brother, and we would go to the clubs, but my mother just thought I was having a sleepover. Now, she’s probably going to know the truth. Mom, you weren’t a bad parent, I was just sneaky and being a kid.
I was still listening to a lot of disco and then my sister’s friend said, “I know someone I think you would love to meet. His name is Derrick Carter and he’s this DJ and he works in this record store and I think that you’d get on really, really well.” This was Importes Etc. One day I took the bus downtown to Importes and met him. We started talking and we just hit it off, and then he started inviting me to a lot of underground parties that he was doing. It was a revelation for me. It felt like home. It felt like, “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
Grace Jones & Robert Mapplethorpe
Grace Jones just broke down every stereotype that I thought there was attached to anything. She liberated my mind about what it meant to be a woman, a man, queer, an artist, not conventionally pretty, black as night, asymmetrical, strong, geometrical. She broke down everything that I thought I knew about everything. She was the first person where I realized that being a freak wasn’t a bad word or a negative word or something to be ashamed of. It was the first time that I just looked at someone without labels, and she took all of these things that were not supposed to work, and they worked. It gave me the courage to be an artist – she sort of released the inhibition in me.
Robert Mapplethorpe changed things for me because I had never seen sex depicted that graphically in such a beautiful, compositional way. I remember going to the library when I was 15 and discovering Irving Penn, just black and white portraiture. I’m a very sexual person, just like I think a lot of artists are. Robert Mapplethorpe really presented in an in-your-face way, and it was just beautiful. He also represented a time, for me, that I wish I could’ve experienced. I didn’t come to New York until the late ’90s, but my favorite time in history is New York from 1976 to about 1990.
Some people do ’30s Berlin, some people do ’60s San Francisco. For me, it was New York when music and art and fashion and sexual liberation all happened. Mapplethorpe was my window into that time period, gay leather culture and the music that was being played at the Anvil and the Mine Shaft. It all goes back full circle, because a big house record was the Skatt Brothers “Walk The Night.” When I heard that record and realized what the Skatt Brothers has to do with scat… but it’s funny, it’s like a tongue-in-cheek thing. That led to seeing the movie Cruising with Al Pacino – all these things sort of intertwine.
I probably have just as much passion for art as I do for house music or for clothing or fashion. None of these things are separate for me. Grace and Keith [Haring] and Jean-Michel [Basquiat], and Robert and Azzedine and Jean Paul Gaultier and Trevor Horn, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Nitzer Ebb, Green Velvet, Bauhaus, Echo & the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Front 242, the Creeps. The B-52’s were a major, major influence – “Mesopotamia” was a big house record in Chicago. Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, Larry Heard, DJ Pierre, Phuture, Ashford & Simpson, Patrice Rushen – the list could go on and on and on. All of these people, I don’t separate. George Duke, John Coltrane, Chopin, Mozart – I don’t see any difference.
Moving to New York
What was happening musically in New York was so different than what Chicago was doing. They both have a really good heritage in disco and R&B, so disco was happening in New York, but also there was this whole tribal scene. There’s a huge Latin community based in New York, and a West African community as well. There was a lot more percussive music added to what was happening in New York.
Danny [Tenaglia] gave me my first mixer – it was a two-channel Radio Shack mixer.
I was really lucky Derrick was really great friends with Kevin McHugh, who owns a record label with Claudia Cuseta called Maxi Records, and Danny Tenaglia used to put out a lot of his early music on Maxi Records. Derrick said, “You need to meet Kevin when you go to New York.” I met Kevin, Kevin introduced me to Danny. I remember going up to Danny, just saying right to his face, “I’m going to make a record with you one day.” Danny looked at me in horror and was like, “Who are you?”
Just saying something like that, it broke the ice and we became friends. This was right before he got his residency at Twilo, and right before he became “Danny Tenaglia,” so I knew him right before that moment where he became such a huge deal. He’d always been a name, but this was before he really blew up. He used to do these parties at Sound Factory Bar called Gag, and I used to go hear him there. When Twilo opened, Frankie Knuckles was the original resident of Twilo and then Danny became the resident. That was my whole education as far as being introduced to a lot of music that was happening in Europe – minimal music, progressive things.
Twilo was probably one of the first really big clubs that used to bring over Sasha & Digweed and Carl Cox and a lot of the UK artists, and also a lot of the things that were happening in Berlin. That’s where I heard my first Miss Kittin record, that’s where I heard my first Maurizio record, first heard a lot of stuff that was on Perlon. I would probably say there are two records that would always remind me of that time. “M7” by Maurizio – to hear that minimal music on a soundsystem like that was unbelievable. “The Real Jazz,” by Jesper Dählback. I could name so many records of that time period – “Messing with My Mind” which came out on Twisted is another one that was really big. There were so many records that Danny broke at that club that were just so amazing.
DJing in New York
So many people were cross-pollinating with one another in Chicago, but I found New York to be very segregated. If you were into those sort of deep things you went to Shelter. If you were into the big room tribal thing, you went to Sound Factory.
I really started DJing out of necessity. I wasn’t hearing music presented the way that I heard in Chicago, where there weren’t so many different genres or segregation musically. In Chicago, if it rocked the party or if it was great or if it moved you, you played it. I started playing on a Monday night for 50 bucks. I didn’t have turntables at home. Danny [Tenaglia] gave me my first mixer – it was a two-channel Radio Shack mixer.
The biggest change that’s happened in New York is definitely gentrification. Also, Giuliani coming into office in the late ’90s and enforcing ordinances that hadn’t been around since the ’20s in an effort to start the gentrification process and clean up New York City, cracking down on clubs. It’s really unfortunate, because if you look at discos from the ’60s and ’70s, nightlife was such a vibrant part of the culture of New York City. People came to New York just for the nightlife. It’s demographically changed the city. People that consume aren’t really culture-changers. There are more of the people that buy into what’s already been done by people that are renegades, who had come before. It’s become a place to consume instead of create.
The people in the clubs tend to be followers, taking instead of contributing. You don’t see very many colorful characters. Everything seems to be really segregated now. The gays go to their clubs. I find most techno and house clubs to be white, heteronormative these days, which is quite strange for me, seeing as this music is birthed in a multicultural queer culture.
When Frankie Knuckles died, he, to me, was the last black gay DJ that was a tastemaker.
I don’t know why it has become really heteronormative, white, male culture. It’s really profound to me. There are still a lot of people of color making this music, but there’s not a lot of people of color in the clubs. I don’t see a lot of queer people of color in the scene. I’m not just talking black. There was a lot of Latin people that did this music in Chicago, Asian people. People from all walks of life are a part of this culture. I hate when people say that this is a black or white discussion, because it’s really not.
Chris Nazuka was Japanese and made music with Derrick Carter, or Ralphi Rosario is Puerto Rican. There’s the Murk boys from Miami, and Candy J. was probably one of the first black trans women that I know that sang on a record, Sweet Pussy Pauline. We’ve always been a part of this culture. I don’t know how it’s become some monoculture or so heteronormative. That’s one of the great things about so many queer artists that we’re having now, Honey Soundsystem or Tama Sumo or Steffi or Prosumer or Derrick Carter. When Frankie Knuckles died, he, to me, was the last black gay DJ that was a tastemaker. I can’t even name a black queer artist today that is sort of a tastemaker, or that is in a Top 100 DJs of anything.
I don’t give a fuck who you want to go to bed with, I just care if the music is great and the party is great. That, I find, is really lacking.
Trans & Queer Politics in Dance Music
I really feel that trans and queer politics are quite different things. Trans issues really have to do with your gender identity, and I find a lot of other queer politics happens to be about who you love, or what type of relationship model you want to aspire to. I understand how it all falls under the umbrella of queer because it’s non-heteronormative. But I do feel that one of the great things in the visibility of trans politics is that we’re starting to have our own voices instead of having gay and lesbian people voice our voice for us.
That’s been an awesome thing, to see more trans people being visible in telling their own stories, because I think that there’s so much misunderstanding between the two, and within the queer community, about trans people. There is so much misunderstanding, and the only way that those politics are going to be heard or those stories are going to be heard is directly from the source. Being one of the only trans people of color that is an international house and techno DJ, and that does do fashion parties, and that has opportunities to speak on Red Bull Music Academy, is being able to give voice to those experiences.
I’m sort of tired of asking for permission to be.
I hopefully think that I’m getting to do all of these things because I have something to contribute to the culture, and not just because of my gender. They’re all intertwined, but I hope that I’m not just being presented because of one thing. I think it’s a complete situation – my history, being able to be a storyteller as an artist, and being trans is part of that. It’s not exclusive or mutual to that, if that makes sense.
The only time I’m dealing with my transness is in relationship to other people. I’m fine when I’m by myself, I don’t even think about it. It’s not an issue for me. I only have to deal with my transness when I have to go out into the world and deal with non-trans folk or cis folk. I don’t feel a responsibility, because then I’d have to take on the responsibility of being the voice of all black women, or being the voice of all black queer people or being the voice of … you see what I’m saying with that situation? I don’t internalize that, because my journey and my story is mine and yours is yours and hopefully we can, through our own experience and having that exposure, bring light to everyone’s plight in a way.
I’m at a point where it’s: “What are my thoughts? How do I feel about things?” Deprogramming what box I’m supposed to fit in to make others comfortable about my existence. I’m sort of tired of asking for permission to be.
Staying True To Your Own Musical Vision
When people show up to hear me play, they’re not sure what they’re going to hear, and that’s because that’s how I was exposed to music. I used to relish going to hear a DJ and not knowing what I was going to hear. That was the whole point of me going out to a club, was to be surprised or to be introduced to music that I normally would not be introduced to. I find nothing more boring than going to hear someone play techno for eight hours and nothing varies, and I’m not thrown a curveball or the element of surprise or a slower tempo, or at the peak of a party someone dropping a 95 BPM record.
I try to infuse a little bit of my history into the music that I make. I still feel like I’m a DJ first and a producer second, as opposed to a producer that’s made a record and now all of a sudden is a DJ, because I come from the art and culture of being a DJ. I think I’m an okay producer. I’m always learning. I’m working with really great people and I’m surrounding myself with really great people and so I’m always picking up new things. It’s a never-ending learning curve to me. There’s no right or wrong way to make music. I was recently with Phil Moffa in New York, and I was just saying, “I don’t know how to do this certain thing, but I know how to do this thing.”
He goes, “Well, why don’t you focus on your strengths instead of trying to make music that fits something else?” That’s really great, when you have such a skilled producer or someone that you respect and admire telling you that what you do is what you do, and not try to do something else. I find a lot of times people try to make music that they think is popular and that would get them exposure or gigs or whatever, instead of just making the music that comes from them. Because a lot of times in this industry, a lot of people’s success is unexpected. I think when Dennis Ferrer did "Hey Hey,” he wasn’t thinking that was going to be the one record that changed his life. I even remember when Derrick [Carter] did “My Beat” by Blaze, he had made so many records before that, records that he’d probably thought were going to make him a star, or whatever that means, get him to that place where he was respected.
Entering Fashion via House
A lot of people may not know this, but I have a huge archive of fashion magazines and books. I’ve always had an interest in the arts, be it music, art or fashion. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, it was sort of an escape for me, because I was a queer kid and I grew up in the black and Latin neighborhood.
When you grow up in an oppressed culture, they oppress themselves. It’s like more oppression in oppressed cultures, in a weird way. My dad’s brother was a tailor, and I used to go with my dad when he got his clothes fit and altered. He used to have GQ’s and Vogue’s around, and it was like this whole world opened up to me – not only the clothes but who did the hair and the makeup and who took the picture. Through that, I learned about artists, because Vogue was not just about the clothes, it was about art and music and culture.
When I would shop for records at Wax Trax, they had a book store upstairs, and that’s how I found out about i-D, NME, The Face, Blitz and all of these other magazines. I fell in love with culture and fashion as a part of culture, how people express themselves through clothing. I never knew what I wanted to do, and it’s always really funny that I’ve been able to infiltrate the fashion world through being an underground house music DJ. Like, you couldn’t choose a better thing. I used to always want to collaborate and model and take photos and stuff like that, but one of the things about being a trans person are that so many years was spent on my transition that I just never was able to really devote that energy to a career, to getting into fashion. Plus, you don’t really see a lot of representation of trans people in fashion, and even people of color, and so I didn’t know how was I going to be a part of it. It was something that I loved, but how was I going to be a part of it? I was able to blag my way in through playing music, in a really weird way.
When I moved to New York the drag culture was super huge. There were drag queens and drag culture everywhere, and performance art groups from the Pyramid like Blacklips. Blacklips was this performance art group that Antony was a part of that I used to go see. I was really into the East Village art scene when I came to New York. I didn’t only go to house clubs, I went to all kinds of things. I went to Pyramid and I went to Save the Robots and I went to the Limelight. Jackie 60 was another place I went to, where David Morales and Danny Tenaglia used to play, but they also used to also have poetry readings and performance art. None of this happens anymore. You don’t see any of this kind of shit anyplace anymore. A little bit still exists in New York but not so much, because you can’t afford to live there. You can’t be an artist and afford to, like, work in clubs.
Antony heard me DJing one night and we sort of knew each other from around town. She told me she was doing this art project called Turning, which she worked on with Charles Atlas. Charles Atlas is a videographer who did a lot of things with the dancer Michael Clark. She said, “I’m putting this art project together” – and this is 2006, when there wasn’t so much trans visibility – “of 12 women, some of them cis, some of them not,” combining music, videography, photography and performance art and taking it on the road.
I was one of the 12 girls that she took on the road, which is really awesome. It was probably one of the most life-changing, beautiful experiences that I’ve had, to be with all types of women, for trans woman to be projected in a way that was considered beautiful and artistic.
Most trans women, their ideals or their beauty standards have been based on cis people, and cis people have decided what trans is or isn’t. Here was a queer artist presenting us as we are, in a beautiful way with music and art, and it was so awesome. To meet other trans girls and other non-cis women, and even from a feminist point of view, just to be celebrated as women in this way was so awesome. I mean, having your face in Times Square… It wasn’t even just me, just having such an underground project.
Everything I try to do, I don’t say it’s really for me. I didn’t have role models. I didn’t have these sorts of images before me. I still battle with a lot of that baggage that I grew up with, in dismantling that baggage and what my identity means as an artist, as a DJ, as a person that finds themselves in romantic situations with people that don’t have the information for themselves to deal with being in relationships with trans people. To have something like that in Times Square, in such a commercial place, and so huge, you just can’t believe it. It was just really awesome. I’ve actually made music with Antony, which was another awesome thing.
Like I said, none of this stuff I thought I would ever do just buying records and listening to them by myself in my bedroom, just for the love of music.