We got high with the veteran DJ at Desperados SkyFest...

Honey Dijon is looking remarkably composed for someone who’s just been DJing inside a hot air balloon. She’s lounging in the backroom of a restaurant in the tiny village of La Seu in the Catalan Pyrenees, a place that would feel scarily remote had elrow not brought a massive party – SkyFest – to the mountainous region that evening. The notorious partymakers, famed for their immersive, wild-as-fuck events, have casually commandeered a fleet of hot air balloons for a 1500-strong audience.

“All I kept thinking about was Michael Jackson,” the Chicago-born DJ laughs, reflecting on the experience. “I kept thinking my hair was going to set on fire! I don’t care if I die, I just don’t want my hair to be on fire...” For someone who’s afraid of heights, the sky-high soundsystem was a test of her ability to deal with vertigo as much as her beatmatching.

“This has to be the craziest place I’ve ever [played]. It’s so different from DJing in a club, or even DJing a normal festival,” she says, “as opposed to this, being hoisted in the air and looking down on a bunch of people dancing! It was a little bit like, are people really into it or not?! Because you really can't see... It's like ants, ants with lights. It was really about having to experience music in a very different way which I thought was awesome.”

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She's the kind of DJ who doesn’t need a choreographed light spectacle to get a party going, though. She can easily turn a dingy dive bar into an unforgettable party; after all, she’s had a fair amount of practice. Honey Redmond grew up on the South Side of Chicago and cut her teeth as a selector there in the '80s, meaning she’s been around for dance music’s most formative moments; present for the rise of house in her native city and its diversification in New York.

A crate-digging obsession in her hometown led Honey to strike up a lasting friendship with Derrick Carter, who introduced her to the underground sounds of Chicago, and by extension, jacking house and Detroit techno. Relocating to New York in the late '90s and flinging herself into its cultural scene, Honey met Danny Tenaglia, who gave her her first two-channel mixer, and whose sound came to influence her own – a blend of bumping house and the more classical sounds of New York.

It was being fired from a job that fully propelled Honey into the music world. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she recalls. “DJing spoke to me and I had to really think about how I was going to do that. Anywhere I could get work, I DJed. Department stores, bars… I had to play a lot of music I didn’t like but I never stopped believing that this is what I want to do.”

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But the Big Apple isn't the same city that Honey knew when she first started playing there. “New York is like London in that gentrification has really changed both cities,” she says. “I mean, it’s pushed out small artists and instead people from the tech or finance industries are the only ones who can really afford to live in our cities right now. And everything is then tailored to their tastes, which – I mean, they’re pretty sterile. Sterile and homogenous. It’s really pushed out the people who created change, as it’s mostly marginalised cultures and people that create movements of change in cities over history.”

“But there’s still some really great people about,” she adds, “the other day I had lunch with Bruce Forest, who is an original DJ from one of the old queer black clubs called Better Days which is where C+C Music Factory came about – he was a close friend of Larry Levan. I also met with Bill Bernstein who calls himself a cultural anthropologist, he took pictures of all these amazing clubs in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. And I got to interact with these people who were so much a part of what I love about club culture – for me it’s not about going out, it’s about finding these spaces for people to really express themselves, find their art, for marginalised people to find work.”

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We don’t need a million lawyers, we need freaks and fashion designers and photographers... Clubs are supposed to be their safe places.

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At this moment in time, house music was in its infancy, a movement spearheaded by inner-city queer people of colour. A black transgender woman herself, Honey found clubbing and dance music a means to shrug off her outsider status, to escape persecution and even violence. “I take clubbing a little bit more seriously than other people because of being a part of that era,” she explains. “What’s so sad with what happened at Fabric recently is that young people need places to go to release all of the daily life stress, and to create...”

Now splitting her time between New York and Berlin, I wonder whether she sees something in the latter that’s reminiscent of the New York of old. “Berlin reminds me of what New York was like in the early ‘80s, the clubbing era. It hasn’t been tainted as bad as New York and London, so it retains its rawness and roughness, it’s really young and still somewhat affordable. So there’s a lot of young artists, ones who take night life seriously, not as a threat to culture but something that adds to culture. More people have drug overdoses in their homes than they do in clubs, so there was a lot of irony there for me: I mean I know a lot of people who work in finance are raging coke-heads. So I think it’s really unfair that clubs are targeted for that. New York to me is the Dubai of North America now, it’s just a place for rich people to consume. We don’t need a million lawyers, we need freaks and fashion designers, and photographers. Clubs are supposed to be their safe places.”

Just as NY has morphed into a different beast, so has the music industry ,and the art of DJing – with technological advancements prompting change. “I’m in a period of pulling back, to be honest,” she says. “If you can access everything online, what’s the point in coming to DJ shows? The music industry has changed because as soon as you put music out there, it’s shared and it’s gone. I think DJs need to have a bit more mystery, so that it’s about the live experience. Things I do live, for example, are visual or experiential, and so don’t translate very well digitally. I hate that everything is so available – if you know everything, what is there left to want?”

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I hate that everything is so available – if you know everything, what is there left to want?

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“We’re now living in the age where it’s about whether you’re a social media personality,” she continues, “which has completely changed what it means to be a DJ. We deem certain people stars based on how many followers you have, and so the game has changed. It’s about what you look like. Tastes change just as quickly as music – what was hot six months ago won’t be hot soon, but if you develop the craft and create a sound that’s authentic then I think you will have longevity.”

Honey’s fabulous, expansive sound has caused her to be embraced by the fashion world, as well as music – two spheres in which being a trans woman of colour is a rarity. But her talent speaks for itself. She's been asked to spin for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Givenchy, while being a regular on front rows. "For many years I was hired to be a DJ to play music that other people wanted, but now I’ve transitioned into being someone that contributes to the vision, so my tastes are considered," she says. "So people in fashion are coming to me because they agree with my artistic vision, rather than them giving me theirs."

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It's fitting, then, that she describes her music selection process as “just like my wardrobe, to be honest. I have staples that I play in every set, and then things I am constantly updating. Dance music is so disposable at the moment, there’s so much out there. So I just tend to update things I know. I really try to be aware but in touch with the music I’m using. I have thousands of tracks on my USBs, with subfolders of subfolders of folders… It’s literally homework creating a set. Especially because I don’t play one style of music, I play disco I, play house, I play techno. It’s not like you just turn up and click, there’s so many dialogues.” 

As well as DJing, Honey turns her hand to production, too, and recently released ‘The Best Of Both Worlds’ on Defected Records – a glorious celebration of house music's diversity, it includes collaborations with Cakes Da Killa, Seven Davis Jr, and Tim K. You can sense the joy radiating from her productions; a love letter to the empowering spirit of a darkened room and a soundsystem, it's quite clearly the product of someone who lives and breathes dance music.

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Even after a long night of DJing and speaking to press – and managing to keep her hair from catching fire – Honey is engaging, kind, and armed with a razor-sharp wit. It seems like there's not a lot that could phase her. “Isn’t every club thing some sort of experiential event?" she replies when I ask how she feels about the rise of these kind of immersive parties. "Depending on big clubs, small clubs, bars… they’re all different kinds of things. This one just happened to be in the air!”

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Watch the highlights from Desperados' inaugural SkyFest:

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