Andrew Ryce travels to Manhattan to meet a lifelong vinyl obsessive.
Honey Dijon eats, sleeps and breathes records. In her RA Exchange from 2015, she said that, when she was a kid, she'd go down to her parents' basement and play records one after the other, as if it were a DJ set. "Kind of like The Loft," she said, "but in my parents' basement on the south side of Chicago." She had never got rid of a single record until her storage unit was ravaged by a fire a few years ago. She's been going to nightclubs and parties since the age of 12, transfixed by the sight of DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Derrick Carter mixing records.
Growing up in the peak of Chicago's house scene and then moving to Manhattan at the apex of the pre-Giuliani nightlife explosion, Honey Dijon had an enviable chance to not only see the greats, but befriend and learn from them. It's an upbringing that gives her sets a classic feel—whether she's playing on Traktor or with vinyl, and whether she's playing records from the '90s or from 2017.
She explored that facet of her DJing in the tracks she selected for this feature. Most date back to the '80s and '90s, and many of them are obscure. As she flipped through her records, her eyes lit up—she could recall her first time hearing almost every single one of them, and who played it—and she seemed to know instinctively where each record was, even in the overflowing sprawl of her collection.
Who is this artist?
I have no idea who that artist is. I discovered that record just from going out and hearing it at loft parties in Chicago. One of the great things about having record stores back in the day, most of the DJs in Chicago like Sneak or Derrick Carter or Mark Farina or Heather, all those people, they worked at Gramaphone. So if any of them played it you could just ask them what it was and you could go to the record store and get it. It's such a beautiful song and the lyrics are really great. To me it's just like one of those perfect morning songs.
The chords sound really familiar.
To me it goes in with the early Joe Smooth and Mr. Fingers sound. It was the early house sound. It sounds a bit dated but it has also stood the test of time. I just love the vocals—I love music from back then that was more about connecting people, instead of just being at the club high. I love dance music that has a message, so I think it's a great song.
Do you think that kind of message can get across in clubs now?
Mmmhmm. Especially with the political climate all around the world, from Syria to the United States to the rise of the right wing. Especially with the conversation about immigration, people coming into our country as well as the Syrian refugees going to different parts of Europe... I think this song is more timely than ever.
I noticed a lot of the songs you picked have a message.
Well, I think at this point in my life as an artist I'm just trying to uplift people and connect them, instead of segregating people. I'm not trying to stand on a soapbox, I'm just trying to make people feel good on the dance floor. Don't get me wrong, I like dark, heavy things, and I like tracky things and I can go there, but, you know, I'm not afraid of a human voice, I'm not afraid of lyrics like a lot of DJs are. A lot of people that like dance music don't want to hear vocals. It's like a dirty word. But I think the human voice is another instrument, just like a synthesiser or anything else.
I'm at this point in my career where I want people to feel good after they've listened to me. That's the whole point of clubs! To bring people together, to celebrate, to dance, to have sex, to do drugs, but to feel good about it. There's enough darkness once you leave the club.
I've always been attracted to disco and music from the '70s—1979 is probably one of my favourite years in music, because a lot of amazing music came out—and you have to understand house music is a descendant of disco, and disco is a descendant of R&B. A lot of R&B from the late '60s and early '70s—during the civil rights movement, the sexual revolutions, women's rights—they were message songs. And to me that translated into disco because most disco was about desire, love and loss, sex, racial injustice. So to me those early house songs continued those messages, and somewhere along the line it got lost.
Dance Advisory Commission
Free Your Mind
This is a Dream 2 Science side project, right?
I didn't even know that! You knew more than me. I'm not such a nerd with music. I care more about how music feels, but I'm starting to read the credit notes now. This is such a fucking wicked song. Most of these songs I chose are memories I've had on the dance floor that really resonated with me. Because to me, dance is about freeing yourself and freeing your mind, freeing your body. There were clubs in Chicago like Alcazar—which really stands out in my mind and a lot of people don't know about—where I used to party in my late teens. It was just this big black room and you had to climb up a ladder to get to the DJ booth and find out what the song was, and most of the time I was high on acid. This is another message song that I didn't know was a message song. And I didn't know it was a Dream 2 Science project either! So many people had alter egos back in the day, it's really crazy.
No Time (For Crying)
This is my favourite song that you sent over.
"No Time (For Crying)"! I heard that at Panorama Bar.
For the first time?
For the first time. A year ago. It was one of those times where you're just running around and you're sitting in the stairwell... and that fucking thing comes on. I ran to the fucking dance floor. I was like, "What the fuck is this?" I'd never heard it! That's a New Jersey house track, a very Jersey sound. I wasn't in New York during the whole Zanzibar house explosion, I never experienced the culture. And I forget the Japanese DJ that played that track, but I busted to it. I love the fact that, still, after all these years of clubbing, I don't know everything. I never claimed that I could know everything, but it's always nice to be turned onto music by different artists. That track is fucking wicked.
What I miss about record stores so much—physical, actual record stores—is the fact that when you would go record shopping you could spend two, three, four hours in the record store and get exposed to music that you never would have picked up or looked over. We had a record store here called Satellite, and Dance Tracks and all those places, they would have people that were DJing records I never would've picked up because they were in the trance section or the progressive section. I think as a DJ you should never close your eyes to any genre of music. I don't even close my mind to EDM, even though it's not something that I particularly play or like. There have been songs in that genre that have spoken to me, that I'm like, "Oh this is really good," it's not something that I would necessarily play or support, but I could appreciate it.
Rich In Paradise
It almost sounds like new beat or something.
The F.P.I. Project reminds me of New York. I think I heard that track at Shelter at one point. The thing I loved about New York—I didn't move here till the late '90s—was the slower BPMs and how dark the music was. It was really a reflection of the city and the culture at that time.
This one's a lot darker than the others.
I love dark music. People don't really know this but I'm an afterhours DJ these days. I love druggy, dark, afterhours music. That to me really sums up New York. It's dark, it's sexy, it's carnal, it's a very lusty song. It's a song to fuck to. It really reminds me of Save The Robots, Jackie 60, these dark afterhours clubs in New York where everyone was still smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, fucking in corners. That's the New York I miss.
It's just this bassline and then all of a sudden—"I'll bass you!" Then it kicks in and people lose their shit. It's not a very popular song. There's a different version of it on YouTube but it's more of a Balearic cheesy thing. This was the darker shit. To me that's one of my favourite eras in dance music because it was so the opposite of Chicago. Chicago house music, if you get away from the Trax sound, Chicago was more always disco-based, very loopy, very swingy, very jacking. And this was a sound that was completely new to me. This reminds me of those times I would come to visit New York from Chicago and hear all this fucking dark-ass music that I still love.
Oh my god! This is one of my favourite Italo disco tracks, but it's only a certain section at the beginning that you play. What Chicago DJs used to do is just take that one bit and loop it continuously. To me that's what house music is, just finding a great loop. I've just always known about this record from that one particular loop and I found a copy of it. It's another record that not many people know about, and I'm probably giving a secret away because I wanted to use it in a track. I still might use in a track because I'm not saying which part that's great. It can't be more than a minute and a half.
That's something I want to start getting into more, incorporating playing live, or a DJ-live hybrid with a drum machine. When I saw Jeff Mills last summer with four CDJs and a 909, I don't think I've ever seen anything more mind-blowing. That really inspired me to try to do more of that stuff. I used to DJ on Traktor for a long time, and I know that's a dirty word in certain circles, but the thing about Traktor, if you approach DJing from a performance point of view, is that it's an amazing tool to use. One of the things I like about Traktor is having the remix decks and having the sample decks and being able to take old music, new music, current music and even, with stems, extracting certain parts from certain songs that you like and really creating music live on the fly. I think that's a really beautiful thing.
If You Believe
I read that this was used in a movie, apparently a lot of people know it from the movie, have you seen it? Party Girl?
Yes! Party Girl was scored by my friend Bill Coleman. He was the manager of Deee-Lite. I've known Bill since I was a kid, when he used to come on tour with a lot of artists in Chicago. I chose that record because it was a Chicago house record made by Chicago people, by Chicago producers with Chicago vocalists. A lot of those early house records had a lot of gospel influences in them and, like I said, I'm not afraid of vocals. I feel right now we're so inundated with tracks, just track after track, really forgettable music. I'm trying to choose music that I will play. Not just play tracks all fucking night. What do you leave with? What memories do you leave with?
I chose this record because that intro is so memorable—it's like this long vocal intro then it kicks in and it's a beast. It's really hard to find shit on this label [ID Records] actually. Another one of my favourite songs is "Symphony" by Donell Rush on that label, I just think it's a really proper vocal house track that doesn't sound fucking cheesy. I hate cheesy records. I can't stand them. You don't have vocalists like this anymore, we don't have vocalists like Chantay Savage or Lisa Fisher, so many soulful vocalists. There's a reason why these songs are still being played and get a reaction from a new generation of kids.
I think why there's such a resurgence in early house music is because it's this generation's disco. Then you have all these kids hearing this music that have grown up with EDM, that have grown up with techno, that have grown up with electro and those genres haven't really evolved, it's like the same formula being redone over and over and over again. Like I think of like "Knights Of The Jaguar" or "Finally" or "Beau Mot Plage" or the Maurizio records, the early Perlon records—these records have stood the test of time because they were fucking unique. If it still rocks, I don't give a shit if it's from 1972, 1982, 1992, 2002. But I'm still not sure about the filtered French house sound. I'm not ready for that to come back. I think I might skip over that.
Shelter (Dan's Groove Part 1)
Oh my god! That's a Derrick Carter staple.
This wasn't a name I expected to come up.
The thing about back in the early-to-mid-'90s is that you had a lot of really well respected DJs remixing pop artists. Roger Sanchez remixing a lot of Jamiroquai, Danny Tenaglia remixing Madonna, Derrick Carter remixing The Beloved. There was a lot more cross-pollination going on between genres, everyone wanted that house sound. Now I can't even think of a pop record that is worth remixing because there are no basslines, it's all rolling snares and shit—how can you make a house track out of a trap song? There's no message in the music, everything is a hook. There's no lyricism in pop music anymore, so there is no cross-pollination.
So, yeah, the Brand New Heavies—there is no song more closely related to Derrick Carter and my relationship. I'm sure somewhere he's still playing this goddamn song. It's really well produced house, and the dub is even better. I don't even know who Dan is, I should probably look on the back. Like I said, I never look at credits, I'm the worst.
This is incredible. It's kind of halfway between R&B and house.
I'm planning on making a mixtape of all this downtempo stuff—I think Mark Farina does a series called Mushroom Jazz, which is like downtempo R&B and hip-hop and slower house. Again, most people really relate Chicago house music with either acid house or tracky things, but when I was coming of age there was no separation. I went to Wax Trax! and bought Ministry records and Front 242 records and Wide Boy Awake records and Blow Monkeys and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Then you had things like Driza Bone, which was also from the Soul II Soul era, all the R&B soul things coming out of London at the time, and the earlier Inner City stuff. I'm going to make a mixtape with this kind of music because there's such a vast collection of it—actually I have a whole pile of shit right here. You've never heard of Driza Bone? It's like acid jazz, early '90s shit. It's amazing.
People don't really pay attention to it anymore, it hasn't had its revival yet.
Not yet! I guess I'd better do this quick before some kid gets on it and then I'm fucked.
Slaves No More (Remix)
You mentioned Blow Monkeys before.
The Blow Monkeys were a pop band from London in the late '80s, around the time of Spandau Ballet. A lot of these pop bands, from the Pet Shop Boys to ABC to Blow Monkeys were really inspired by the music of Larry Heard and Ron Trent, the soulful artists at the time. Blow Monkeys were just another soulful pop band that made housey-sounding tracks. They were quite huge for two seconds, because that's what happens in London—you're popular for two seconds.
This reminds me of my childhood. I used to have apartment parties in my house, and I was so into the music, I became such great mates with so many people who I guess are legends now. I had a studio apartment and my mom would make food for the apartment—her specialties were these Swedish meatballs and German chocolate cake. She would make these things and then the only way my friends could come eat is if they made mixtapes. So, Derrick [Carter] would make tapes, Mark Farina would make tapes, Gemini would make tapes. I must have 100 or 200 mixtapes. Derrick has them all now and I want them back, but he won't give them back to me! That was the stupidest thing I've ever done. But he says it's better that he has them than if they were destroyed in this fire that I had in my storage unit. But those things are worth probably... God only knows.
Swimmin' Wit' Sharks
The track that you picked from Gemini is a pretty unusual one. It's almost paranoid.
Gemini suffered from mental illness, so that's why a lot of his shit is so out there. I still have not heard anyone make music like Gemini. The only other person that makes music like that is Levon Vincent or DJ Qu. Really unique music that sounds like no fucking other person. Gemini is one of those people for me. It's like house but it's trippy, it's leftfield, it's quirky, it's paranoia. He made this as a diss track to a record label that was fucking him over—that's why it's called "Swimmin' Wit' Sharks." But Gemini has a vast catalogue of shit that's just unbelievable.
And all of it made in a pretty short period of time.
I remember going to his house, I was really close to Gemini at one point in time, I used to go where he lived with his aunt and he'd give me music. You have to understand none of us knew what this would be. These were just friends, we were making music, I was dancing, I wasn't even DJing at the time. I just loved the music so much. Gemini made some crazy-ass fucking music. Still today, you play it and people are like, "What the fuck is that?" It's bugged out.
Dub Things Happen
We have to talk about Viola Wills. "Your Love" and "These Things Happen" were the two biggest, hardest-to-find records in Chicago house at the time. The dub side is the shit. I love a house track with some off-key vocals! If you give me an off-key vocal I am in fucking heaven. I think there's nothing more beautiful than someone singing off-key on a banging-ass track.
Viola Wills was a disco singer too, she made a lot of high-NRG gay music but this track was the nastiest, funkiest shit I've ever heard in my life. The Black Madonna used it on her Beats In Space mix and I almost wanted to stab her in the neck because I was like, "How the fuck did you know about this song?" It was played at a gay black club called Club LaRay. If you know that one you get a gold star from me because everyone talks about The Warehouse and The Power Plant and the Muzic Box, but there were so many other fucking places that played such amazing music. There was The Rialto, there was Club LaRay, there was AKA, there was Windy City, there was the Bistro, there was Paradise. Chicago music at that time, we had a lot of shit going on—it wasn't just the lushness and orchestration of a Frankie record or the tracky acid shit of a Ron record.
A lot of this information I got second-hand too, because I was a kid and I was friends with Laura Branch, who was the first queer black female DJ that I had ever been exposed to. I used to spend the night at her brother's house and she would come home high from the club and talk about this music. She was the one that was instrumental in introducing me to Prelude, West End, Salsoul, Sleeping Bag Records. That's how I discovered "Go Bang!" and all these records that have stood the test of time.
The Many Shades Of Cajual
Oh my god. Have you heard the entire mix? The broad range of musical styles in that one mix is such an inspiration to how I DJ. You have everything from deep house to tracks, to acid, to vocals, to leftfield. That album is seamless to me. It's an amazing body of work and to me it's really like... I don't live in the past, I get inspired by what has gone before.
I'm still discovering new talent like Rimbaudian [DJ Seinfeld] and Urulu, I love Norman Nodge, I love Galcher Lustwerk. I love a lot of the crazy Qu shit. But to me that album and the two Global Underground mix CDs by Danny Tenaglia are just like pieces of art. Those two artists are the ones that are really... well, I would say the three artists that have really shaped me are Derrick Carter, Danny Tenaglia and Mr. G. And Maurizio. And Trevor Horn. And Quincy Jones and, who else is my favourite, Sly and Robbie. I love everything on Compass Point Studios, I love dub, Gino Soccio, who was a Canadian producer, Patrick Cowley, Sylvester. Fuck! I could just go on and on and on and on.