22 dec 2022

How Honey Dijon has become Beyoncé and Madonna’s favorite producer

Flamboyant, talented, and proud, transgender DJ and electronic music producer Honey Dijon has become a queer and fashion icon, as well as a symbol of nightlife, within less than three decades. Influenced by Sade and Grace Jones, the Chicago native who lived in New York before splitting her time between Berlin and London has imposed a hedonistic and eclectic style at the crossroads between house, techno, and disco music. A style that also advocates for open- mindedness and the abolition of boundaries between genres. Her feverish DJ sets and stratospheric charisma have gathered people to dance in the world’s biggest clubs and have seduced major houses, such as Louis Vuitton and Dior. The final signs of recognition? The American ex-dancer and performer is featured on Beyoncé’s latest album Renaissance and has remixed Madonna’s songs. As she releases her second album, the aptly named Black Girl Magic, Numéro takes a look at the visionary who is changing mentalities while setting our bodies on fire.

“You know how beautiful people are at night. They are like Paris. Paris is very beautiful at night, free from the grease of the cars. I had cut the world in two. I had fallen in love with the people of the night”, the character played by Jean-Pierre Léaud declares in Jean Eustache’s cult film The Mother and The Whore (1973). From the Saturnalia in Ancient Rome to the carnival tradition during the Middle Ages, nighttime has long been the moment when daytime norms are overturned and conventions vanish. This enjoyable freedom makes the night even more exciting, subversive, and sublime than the day. Once the lights go out, one is freed from one’s complexes and able to make room for another “self”.


The unifying spirit of house music


On a club’s stage, anyone can become who they have always dreamt of being and can create a new identity, gender, or occupation… People are often more sparkling at night, thanks to the clothes of light they are wearing, and to the reflections of a disco ball or futuristic neon lights that highlight them. Masks either fall off or are adorned with sequins. These are the beautiful lessons given by disco and house music, a trend born in the early 1980s in Chicago, which is now making a comeback thanks to rapper Drake and singer Beyoncé, who both claim to be part of it. House music was born from gay and black DJs, hidden pioneers who worked in the city’s sweaty clubs. It is no coincidence that transgender American DJ and producer Honey Dijon was born as Honey Redmond in Chicago in 1968, according to legend, as she refuses to reveal her real age. Highly coveted by nightclubs, museums, and by the fashion industry for over a decade, Honey Dijon grew up in the cradle of a music that advocates for the freedom to be oneself in a flamboyant way. Little is known about her childhood and background, except that her parents – a loving middle-class African American couple, who had her at a young age – used to let her play records during their house parties as she was a kid. For her, it was a way to connect with people.


As a teenager, her parents also allowed her to go to clubs. With a fake ID in her hand, the barely 13-year-old, who used to feel different and was bullied at school, discovered that nightclubs were real “safe spaces” for marginalized minorities at that time. Fearless black, latino, gays, and transgender people were as one with the sound of hypnotic electronic DJ sets. For the time of night, everyone seemed happy there. As Honey Dijon said in a recent press release: “The secret of great dance music is joy. That’s why disco has always spoken to me. Even though it told realities from life, it also was uplifting and liberating. That’s what great dance music also does. It uplifts and liberates us, while making us think. It advocates for affirmation.”


Honey Dijon © Courtesy of Defected Records

“A really good party is like sex.” Honey Dijon


In her probably wild nightlife as a youngster, the American met house legend Derrick Carter, who became her mentor. After witnessing the power music had on bodies, hearts, and minds in the clubs of Chicago, Honey Dijon first devoted herself to a career as a dancer and performer in the drag scene. Yet the vinyl collector – she now has over 30,000 records – soon began playing records at parties in the 1990s, thanks to her large number of contacts as a dancer. In the late 1990s, she moved to New York, another city known for its wild nights. Her name began to draw people’s attention. In the 2000s, Honey Dijon played at The Cock, a New York gay bar known for its decadent atmosphere, exhibitionist clubbers, trendy and celebrity-friendly crowd – Christina Aguilera, Boy George, and George Michael partied there. It was enough to make people talk about her more and more… The DJ’s strength? Open and eclectic music sets that spread the hedonistic spirit of house and disco, while flirting with rock, pop – as long as it is emotionally deep – and techno. For the American who worships Grace Jones and Sade, the notion of musical genres is obsolete. The artist conceives her sets as journeys to the end of the night on which dancers embark for some kind of saving trance. She explains: “The journey is what makes a really good party. It’s like sex. Fast tempos, slow tempos, giving people a break to catch their breath, and getting them back on board.”


An artist close to Riccardo Tisci, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Kim Jones


This orgasmic vision of music is seductive. Honey Dijon quickly became the fetish DJ of the fashion world. Hedi Slimane came to see her play. The artist met Riccardo Tisci, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Kim Jones. She has a special relationship with the latter. Soon enough, the artist was creating soundtracks for Dior and Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections. She posed for Calvin Klein and was also spotted on the catwalk as Off-White’s muse last February, exuding incredible charisma in an oversized suit worn over her bare chest. A pair of futuristic glasses on her pretty nose complete the silhouette of a mutant who would have Beyoncé and Grace Jones as parents. As a front row regular during the Fashion Weeks, the artist with stratospheric presence, at the crossroads between ‘big night’ glamour and fierce sensuality, has even launched her own clothing line, Honey Fucking Dijon, in collaboration with Comme des Garçons in 2019. A great achievement for the former teenager who used to compulsively read fashion magazines that she would often steal for lack of money. Just like her, the colorful pieces with extravagant prints, designed for clubs and inspired by the graffiti of Jean- Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring’s cosmopolitan and effervescent New York, do not go unnoticed.


An acclaimed collaboration with Beyoncé on her album “Renaissance”


Honey Dijon’s versatile approach aims at throwing away all the labels that could be imposed on her. Claiming to be a descendant of artists like David Bowie and Andy Warhol who broke down the borders between artistic disciplines, she defines herself as a multidisciplinary artist, allowing herself to be as audacious as she wants. She even compares making a DJ set to painting a canvas. Her motto? “I refuse to think in terms of borders. People are always afraid of being told no, of not being accepted. But the real question is: who are the ones accepting you?” She can shift from a DJ set for Rick Owens, Hermès, Burberry x Vivienne Westwood, Balenciaga, Narciso Rodriguez or Givenchy, to performances at the Met Gala after-party, the CFDA Awards, or Art Basel. That is when she is not playing at the Panorama Bar, a famous club in Berlin, or delivering a speech at King’s College in London and at the MoMA PS1 in New York.


However, that creative abundance should not overshadow her work as an outstanding producer. Honey Dijon was featured on Beyoncé’s impressive latest album Renaissance released in July 2022, which celebrates the unifying spirit of house music and the African American community, and remixed Madonna’s music. After an acclaimed debut album, The Best of Both Worlds released in 2017, the DJ has just released a second equally aptly named opus entitled Black Girl Magic last November. In the booklet of this invigorating house record, Honey Dijon confides: “As an artist, especially as a trans woman of color working in music, I wanted the album to be explicit, shameless, raw, and honest. I mostly collaborated with black and queer singers and songwriters. These are songs about love, life, resistance, and the fight against oppression.

The love of music, community, and self- love are at the heart of this vibrant and shamanic record, whose motto is summed up by the artist in a few lines: “Be true to who you are in spite of everything and have the courage to love without fear. Don’t be afraid, stand up, love is a state of mind: these are words I use in my everyday life and that are present on my album. This record is my life.” Black Girl Magic both triggers a sense of euphoria and encourages the listener to reflect on their own beliefs, choices, and identity. Questioning before asserting oneself is Honey Dijon’s own magic, whose stage name evokes a tasty mix of sweetness and strong spiciness. The night is her oyster. Yet, it is not the only playground of the one who has already sampled one of Martin Luther King’s speech on techno sounds for one of her sets. Very outspoken when it comes to raise public awareness about the reality of trans-identity far from the stereotypes, the agitator also intends to change the world in her own way. Those who listen to her music will then dare to be themselves as well… from dusk until dawn.

“Black Girl Magic” (2022) by Honey Dijon (Classic Music Company), available on all streaming platforms.