In anticipation of their momentous display at Ape-X alongside Midland last year, Dr. Joseph spoke with Jackie House of Honey Soundsystem. Backdrop are proud to have their resident on the same lineup as you Jackie and thank you for your thoughtful & hilarious insights.
I have read about your parties extensively online and followed your music for some time, you have been really busy for a while now with gigs all over the world. How are you enjoying life? What have been some more recent gig highlights?
Well, had you asked this question on November 3rd I would have had a bit of a different answer for you. Jason and I were playing Block9 at Glastonbury the days the Brexit announcement hit and it was such a surreal environment to be in. Finding ourselves around longtime UK-based friends as the look of pure shock found way to their faces seemed to slightly prepare us for what was to come back home. When Trump was elected, it became abundantly clear what kind of bubble we have been incubating in. Our events and touring has been mostly unaffected by the current state of governing politics worldwide. In many ways it has been a blessing to be able to explore at a less dire pacing and freedom of certain restriction. Although throwing illegal parties in San Francisco was something we had to lay off of mostly (we have thrown some raging undergrounds in our day) we have been able to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in licensed and often traditionally straight spaces. There have certainly been gigs in the past decade that reminded us about how good we have it back at home or the privilege we bring with us to a more conservative state.
The future road seems to hold greater challenges and even greater responsibility as cultural ambassadors. Being gay men is something we will always be proud of and will define us, but the issue of equality for all has yet again been fundamentally threatened and it is time to put down our more precious things and lay focus on that.
Music, community gatherings, and artistic expression always play an important role in this and it feels empowering to already participate in that discussion in some way. Being a San Franciscan also seems to hold considerable new weight again. So we are looking forward to some SF events already on the books in January/February. DJ’ing in the past 2 weeks has also been a joy. Lots of hugs from friends and sharing of love and many a “I needed that” statements.
For those that do not know you, could you tell us a bit about who makes up Honey Soundsystem? How and when did you started DJing? Could also tell us a bit about how you first started throwing your own parties…any legendary ones that spring to mind?
Our first time in Newcastle! College towns are a personal favorite… Who doesn’t love some fresh meat? But more seriously, you can’t beat the raw energy of students out for a night of dancing. For me, those were the days where I got my start. Rocking a dance-floor of 20 year olds is always a friendly reminder of my foundations and where the fun started.Honey Soundsystem is celebrating 10 years as a collective of 4 gay dudes from San Francisco who came together on their shared love of music. In that time we have started 3 record labels, produced music as a crew, and thrown hundreds of events. Things really came together for us when we started our weekly Sunday party which ended up running for 7 years. The weekly became a bright spot for us to host international guests looking for a gig on an unlikely night – in the end it helped us build inroads to scenes all over the world and eventually a tight network of queers working in house/disco/techno. Our podcast – which was started in the blogger days became a way to connect the dots with our early musical obsessions and to create name recognition for lesser known DJs whom we wanted our friends to be ready for when we brought them to SF to play for us. We have also become known for spearheading the issuing of several archives of the late-great synthesizer wizard Patrick Cowley. From porn soundtracks to 12 minute disco songs about drugs, Honey came into a stockpile of original reels of Cowley’s work that was never released after he died very young due to the AIDS epidemic. These days you can find us fitting our threads into the colourful fabric of the international rave quilt, bringing our dance-floor energy to all reaches of the globe.
One issue we do have In Newcastle though, and elsewhere, (this is the case at our own Backdrop parties too), is that for some reason a lot of the more house and especially techno focussed parties, seem to be majority white & straight men. Both playing and dancing. I cannot account for them all being straight, but they are certainly not being openly gay on the dance floor. Of course the majority are going to be white, newcastle and the North-East of England is a majority white population, but we could still do a lot more to make our dance floors more diverse. We find we get more girls along when we book more female acts, which is understandable and which we should be doing anyway. Having come through the “gay techno underground” as RA described it, how do you find playing to these audiences which are sometimes all young (18-22 year old) students, from a different country, who perhaps have little idea of the contribution of LGBTQ community towards dance music? Do you find you have to alter your music at all, for if your playing a sexually charged gay rave to a party elsewhere?
I love this question. If you have done any of your Rave homework, Ecstasy played an important role in changing the hearts and minds of straight CIS white males in the 90s whom maybe during the week were shoving queers into lockers. Although partying and revelry has a history well beyond the coming-of-age process, it plays a unique role for boys and girls finding their own place in the world as they redefine from the systems they grew up under. Certainly every generation has its own kind of party, and depending on where you live, there are only so many boundaries that are safe for you to cross without being jailed or killed. It seems as though music festivals are playing a bigger role in how and where kids are finding themselves and pushing their comfort zones. Nightclubs are feeling the financial burn of the festival trend and in many ways not as risk-taking as they can and have be. Musically, I think that the age of the internet have made it pretty easy to push some edgy sounds just about anywhere. People are more exposed to the varying styles of music then ever. All the djs in our crew have grown up playing records for small audiences and hazed into every type of clubbing situation. Whether it is a room full of queers, Women, or straight bros, everyone can be the worst version of themselves with enough drinks and stress from a long week. As a DJ it is your job to just make people lose a bit of themselves, and if you do your job right people will. That comes with responsibilities either way. With an aggressive crowd, you just get aggressive back. Personally, I just try and pay attention and take all of my years of playing music for people who likely didn’t want it, or even worse were incredibly patient with my inabilities into play. If there is a gay guy in an audience of bros at one of our gigs, all they have to do is look up into the booth and they will know they aren’t alone.
There is a real culture of quite bro-ish tech house style promotion all over the world, it can at times mean lineups are majority male and the dance floor is the same. As openly gay men and as DJ’s who also run raves, do you come across much intolerance within the underground music scene you ply your trade? Or do you find most promoters and dancers to be very tolerant and open-minded?
There is intolerance everywhere. There is intolerance in you. Personally, I invite it some nights when I put on an outrageous or androgynous look. Generally though, the raving and partying world is a safe haven for freaks. I mean, if you are willing to say out til’ dawn you are already out of the civic-norm. If you have the courage to go somewhere like a nightclub you are likely not the most traditionally god fearing human. Sure, there is a horrendously large industry of bottle-service clubs, and places that have bro-brawls on the nightly. But, those are just night-houses of natural selection – they aren’t places we are booking ourselves anytime soon.
I think the most important thing these days is to stop people in their tracks, don’t wait until you are in front of your laptop later. If someone says something intolerant or is doings something questionable, tell them. I have found that most people in the club world are looking for a good time and to forget about something happening away from the dance-floor, no need to make them feel unwelcome, rather to help them find a way to participate correctly.
That being said, there are places people probably shouldn’t go, or frankly aren’t wanted. There is sanctity in balance and I feel like in order to have functional spaces of unity there needs to be places for people to exercise who they are among likeminded others. Bros are people too, and I don’t mind them inviting me into their spaces to take them on a ride – all puns intended.
Newcastle is a very friendly and open-minded place I like to think. It does, however, have a very segregated gay scene…it is geographically separate and the crowds tend not to mix much sadly. I would say that although we have tried at Backdrop to promote in the gay area (as many promoters forget to) and have also brought diverse lineups, with Tama Sumo and Prosumer playing all night for our birthday, we do not seem to have done a good job of persuading many LGBTQ dancers to join us. I know there will be many people who are tired of the style of music that predominates the gay scene, they would like to enjoy more credible electronic music, but perhaps do not feel comfortable enough yet to join us. We want to bring a mix on the dance floor and become a gay friendly party where really, it doesn’t matter at all if your kissing a girl/guy/trans or thereon your own. We really want total unity. What more do you think straight promoters can do to help this situation and bring about a more diverse dance floor, while still remaining respectful? As some people can be quick to level accusations of tokenism or money driven sales/promo at promoters for such activities.
First off, it isn’t about what straight men can do for you. It is about what you can do for straight men. If we left it up to them we would have died off in the 80s.
Look, queers drink. Even when they are getting tossed on other drugs, they still buy drinks at alarming rates. We have developed a potentially unhealthy penchant for booze, but bars have been our churches and cultural meeting spaces since the beginning. In my experience the best way to drive the business of getting queers into non-queer spaces is by using this loophole. For us, Sunday nights were the key, a night that at most nightclubs that weren’t doing great numbers at the bar, could be an opening to start a night predominantly queer. Getting gays comfortable with a space without a bunch of raging straights in it has always been the backdoor to getting them into those spaces on other nights. It is almost like knowing what a place looks like with the lights on first, just in case it gets creepy and you need an escape route. Feeling safe is still an important part of queers and women going out, and having a sense of ownership over a space can help bring that safety. So, what better a way to get a crowd to feel safe in a nightclub then to have them own a night to themselves somewhere first. My best example of this is from our weekly night at this bar called Holy Cow. The venue itself was an episode of Jersey Shore on any other night then ours. I wouldn’t be caught dead inside except on Sundays. But soon after throwing our weekly, Holy Cow bartenders started to tell me about our regulars showing up on other nights, which had me AGAST!
Being inventive always produces results, but more often then not it just helps you focus less on your bad ideas. Dance-clubs are zoos of human behaviour, and humans haven’t changed much outside of hitting each other over the head with more sophisticated rocks. If you want a melting-pot in your club, find some shiny objects, a diva, and an honest beat – and BE CONSISTENT.