Diver­sity on the dance­floor

For DJ, model and fash­ion­ista Honey Di­jon, a life of mu­sic has given her the chance to help peo­ple be them­selves and to tackle the ab­sence of women, peo­ple of colour and di­verse sex­u­al­i­ties in the lime­light

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - LITERATURE MAEVEBINCH­Y -

Honey Di­jon is fiercely hon­est, with a per­son­al­ity that lights up rooms. Now known as much for her own mu­sic as spin­ning the decks with other peo­ple’s tracks, her work as a model, fash­ion icon and men­tor is forg­ing a strong global tra­jec­tory for the Chicago na­tive.

The African Amer­i­can, trans­gen­der DJ is in Dublin ahead of her re­cent But­ton Fac­tory gig and this month’s head­line ap­pearence at Life 18, the fes­ti­val of elec­tronic mu­sic tak­ing place in Belvedere House in Co West­meath on May 25th-27th.

She is also here to spear­head Smirnoff’s Equal­is­ing Mu­sic cam­paign – a global three-year ini­tia­tive that aims to dou­ble the par­tic­i­pa­tion of fe­male or fe­male-iden­ti­fy­ing acts at mu­sic fes­ti­vals by 2020.

Al­ready in its sec­ond year, the Equal­is­ing Mu­sic cam­paign was borne of the re­al­i­sa­tion that, in 2016, only 17 per cent of head­lin­ers at mu­sic fes­ti­vals around the world were fe­male or fe­male iden­ti­fy­ing. So, on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day last year, Smirnoff launched a cam­paign to do some­thing about it.

(See panel). DISCO AND SOUL

Honey Di­jon’s pas­sion for mu­sic and for life is in­fec­tious. Brought up in south­side Chicago she spins tales of a lov­ing and com­mit­ted fam­ily while con­jur­ing a land­scape dom­i­nated by mu­sic. Donna Sum­mer, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jack­son shaped the sound­track of her youth creat­ing a nat­u­ral move­ment be­tween disco and soul that still shapes her work to­day.

She has an emo­tional at­tach­ment to mu­sic, she ex­plains, that has fu­elled her ca­reer but ad­mits to be­ing sur­prised as to where it has taken her. Grow­ing up a bul­lied and some­times iso­lated child, her par­ents sent her to an all boys Catholic high school in pur­suit of a solid ed­u­ca­tion. What she found along­side it was es­capism through mu­sic.

While com­ing to terms with her own iden­tity she spent a lot of time alone in her room, she says, push­ing out the neg­a­tiv­ity with mu­sic. Bri­tish im­ports like Heaven 17, Eury­th­mics and Adam and the Ants fused per­fectly with her own mu­si­cal her­itage, just in time for her dis­cov­ery of club­bing and house mu­sic.

“I dis­cov­ered house mu­sic with­out even know­ing it,” she ex­plains. It was all around her at school, at gigs and in places like Im­ports Etc, the Chicago record store that is widely cred­ited with help­ing birth house mu­sic. It was an in­clu­sive time, she ex­plains, with mu­sic be­ing built around “a cul­ture for marginalis­ed peo­ple”.

To­day’s club and fes­ti­val cul­ture has trav­elled a dis­tance in its 30 years of evo­lu­tion since then, she says and she’s crit­i­cal of what many mu­sic fes­ti­vals have be­come – events run by “white men as mid­dle­class en­ter­tain­ment”.

The dance­floor should be a place of safety for di­verse peo­ple, she be­lieves. She misses the “sen­su­al­ity” and “sex­u­al­ity” of her early days nav­i­gat­ing the dance­floors of Chicago and feels that in many ways the un­der­ground is no longer re­ally un­der­ground.

In de­vis­ing her own gigs and mu­sic she aims to bring that sense of in­clu­siv­ity back. “Dance­floors bring to­gether peo­ple in a way that gov­ern­ments and pol­i­tics never can,” she ex­plains. “Peo­ple of dif­fer­ent sex­u­al­i­ties and races. The dance­floor is some­thing of an equi­lib­rium of cul­ture for me.”


Her tales of mu­sic and par­ties, club­bing and eu­pho­ria are matched only by her re­flec­tions on the lone­li­ness of life on the road and the iso­la­tion of dif­fer­ence. “I’m re­ally bored of de­fend­ing my ex­is­tence,” she says, in ref­er­ence to al­ways hav­ing to dis­close her gen­der iden­tity, even in the most mun­dane sit­u­a­tions.

She feels it’s im­por­tant to bol­ster diver­sity, but not by com­mand. It needs to be a fluid ex­pe­ri­ence and vol­un­tary. “You should never have some­one tell you who you should be,” she says. “Dif­fer­ence is im­por­tant. By lead­ing by ex­am­ple I hope that no mat­ter what gen­der they are or what sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or what mu­sic they play, peo­ple can be who­ever they want to be with­out shame.”

In ev­ery­thing she does she wants to send a mes­sage. “There are so few peo­ple of colour [in dance mu­sic]. How many women, how many black peo­ple?” Diver­sity mat­ters, she says, and ac­cep­tance too. She has a dis­taste for to­kenism in all its forms.

Home is a place that is very real for her and she feels its value most clearly when she goes back to Chicago to visit her par­ents. “I’ll be sit­ting on a couch with my mother drink­ing margher­i­tas. I don’t have to be any­one. It’s just re­ally nice to be loved.”

Honey Di­jon’s lat­est re­lease four-track EP is the

Stars (feat. Sam Sparro)

Strictly over 18s, en­joy Smirnoff sen­si­bly and visit drinkaware.ie

Honey Di­jon: ’I’m re­ally bored of de­fend­ing my ex­is­tence’

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