How Honeydrip is bringing her psychotropical world to MUTEK

We spoke with the Montreal producer/DJ about building speakers, building a sound system and preparing to premiere her debut album live at MUTEK.

When your album and your live show universe are both called “Psychotropical,” you can bet audiences will be in for quite the experience. That’s exactly what Montreal producer/DJ Honeydrip will bring to MUTEK — a festival she says inspires her — this year when she performs at Nocturne 4 on Saturday, Aug. 26, before releasing her debut LP, Psychotropical, on Oct. 6 via Berlin-based label Banoffee Pies.

“A lot of electronic music that exists in Montreal in any other capacity (than MUTEK) is only DJs,” she says. “MUTEK is showing that electronic music is more than just DJs, and it’s more than just dance music. It’s really showing the depth of what this sound has.”

Born Tiana McLaughlan in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans, ON, Honeydrip moved to the Montreal area with her mother at a young age. She’d first move to Nun’s Island for a couple years, then to the South Shore before eventually moving to Montreal proper by herself at 19. 

Her childhood involved plenty of moving around in an academic sense, too, going to four different elementary schools within six years. She credits all this frequent movement with helping her improve her social skills, enough to feel more comfortable going to parties alone and meeting new people once she moved to the big city.

The DJ name Honeydrip was one born partially from happenstance. Her moniker was initially Honeydip, but someone added the “r” afterward by mistake, and that new name stuck. That spelling error was made by her friend Robin, whom she’d met that night at a Death Grips concert (“I’ve thanked him many times, because it’s a better name,” she admits).

If you ask Honeydrip how to describe her musical style, she’d call it “bass-focused club music taking influence from dub, reggae and jungle.” Reggae in particular has been an ever-present influence in her life, thanks to her mother’s love for the genre.

“She used to listen to reggae all the time when I was growing up,” says Honeydrip, who is also half-Bajan. “Then, when I started developing my own tastes in high school, I was listening to Mavado and a lot of rap. I kind of got into that (reggae) sound on my own, with the help of my mom. Most people in high school were listening to different stuff (than me).”

Having been DJing for approximately seven or eight years now, Honeydrip realized during those first years that she’d also be interested in producing her own tracks. After taking some time to get her bearings and become more comfortable with production, she wouldn’t start releasing tracks until after the pandemic hit. 

Releasing her first single “Brand New Flava” with frequent collaborator King Shadrock in June 2021, Honeydrip would drop her four-track debut EP, Anti-Ego, the following month. She and Shadrock first linked up while Honeydrip was bartending at the former Blizzarts (now Barbossa) and working the club’s now-defunct reggae night on Wednesdays, where Shadrock was a regular. 

“I was hearing him sing a lot with the songs,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy has an amazing voice!’ I told myself I wanted to work with him one day, and it came sooner than I thought… We’re hoping to tour the world with this project. It would be amazing.”

Being comfortable enough to perform live as a producer of original tracks took some time for Honeydrip, though. She eventually decided to build an entire live show of her own partly out of her own self-critical nature. “There are some people who really throw themselves into things whether they’re ready or not,” she adds. 

“That approach to life is totally fine, but I feel like I’ve just been someone that would maybe over-evaluate a bit too much if I was ready for things or not. I was like, ‘I’m not ready yet to release my music. I’m not ready yet to do a live (show) because I want to make sure I do it right, and I do it in a big way.”

Though it’s not technically her first live set (she performed a “hybrid show” with a drum machine and DJ mixer opening for the late SOPHIE at POP Montreal back in September 2018), Honeydrip’s upcoming show at Nocturne 4 for MUTEK this year will be “much more comprehensive” compared to her POP set’s simple approach, with a live vocalist in tow as well. 

“I have a huge, 15-channel parametric EQ mixer. I’m going to be dubbing with it and overall controlling the sound, the volumes, and effects with some pedals,” says Honeydrip, who adds she’ll be performing with a subwoofer she built herself.

On that topic, Honeydrip has also been developing her skills in woodworking, as she’s been custom-building speakers specifically for her live set. As much as woodworking could be seen as a creative field, however, she doesn’t see much overlap between the two as far as applying her artistic instincts goes. “To work with sound in that way is really (more) sound engineering — which I’m not the best at, but I’m learning,” she says.

“Sometimes people who end up making speakers are just people who are super, super well-versed in the sound engineering world. I feel like I questioned myself a lot throughout the process because I did not have that level of sound engineering knowledge. But at the same time, I still managed to build speakers without that. I want people to know that they can partake in the sound system and speaker-building world without being genius sound engineers.”

Honeydrip admits she had difficulty deciding how to approach her live show, as she didn’t want to simply do it on her laptop. Eventually, she’d opt for a more “tactile” performance setup. The show will go through several moods, being mostly dance-oriented with “some chiller moments in between.” Expect plenty of bass in the mix, too, as well as “fun and interactive” visuals courtesy of Emma Forgues, who Honeydrip met through the local rave scene.

Beyond all that, though, an overarching theme of fighting social injustices will be a consistent presence in the lyrics during her set. “We really wanted to pass a message going against inequality, poverty and themes in life that make us really upset,” she continues. “Music has always been there to go against (those themes) and call (them) out. Reggae and dub music have always been calling out… injustice, and also calling for unity.”

Right before applying for her first artist grant (she’s applied for one from the Canada Arts Council, FACTOR and CALQ), Honeydrip dreamt up the concept for Psychotropical. Named partly out of a desire to make “psychotropical” the name of a new musical genre, it’s an album heavily influenced by dub and reggae, as well as building her own sound system and working with vocalists within the reggae sphere. 

She also envisaged a live set that would embody the Psychotropical universe, using dubbing as its core approach. “Dub producers back (in the day) would use mixers to dub out their tracks,” she adds. “I also wanted to build a sound system, which I’ve started doing with these subs. I’m going to continue building the sound system over the next few years. It’s just way more expensive and difficult than I had anticipated.”

Honeydrip didn’t always play bass-heavy, reggae-inspired dance music, though. She previously veered more toward lo-fi hip hop, and often played that and mellow electronic beats on the radio show she used to host at CJLO, Waves of Honey. Though that phase of her musical evolution landed her a slot opening for Mndsgn at Newspeak in 2017, she pivoted to dance music about a year and a half after she started DJing.

She considers that transition to be a natural progression, though, and it also wasn’t love at first sight. “When I started DJing, I was like, ‘I don’t like dance music.’ I didn’t get it. I think a lot of people who don’t listen to electronic music feel that way. It’s very different if you haven’t ever been exposed to it before. I wasn’t into dance music at first, and then, with time (I started) digging deeper in the electronic music world.”

As mentioned earlier, Honeydrip opened for SOPHIE a little over two years before the latter’s untimely passing in January 2021 (she still has the poster for that show on her wall). She got to chat with the hyperpop trailblazer for a bit that night in 2018, saying she was “super kind” and would’ve chatted with her more had her manager not come along to crash the party. 

“It was kind of a good cop/bad cop vibe,” Honeydrip continues. “She actually wanted to continue going out with us after, but then her manager was playing bad cop and was like, ‘No, she can’t go out.’” 

Music is a massive part of Honeydrip’s everyday life away from producing, DJing and performing — she’s also a full-time tour coordinator for local promotion company (Avec) Courage!. On top of that, she did a minor in electroacoustics at Concordia, which she pursued upon wanting to learn how to produce. Friends had shown her before, but she felt neither knowledgeable enough nor disciplined enough. She decided it was best to hit the books and go back to school.

“It’s a program that really shows you how to be creative with your sound design and creating sounds,” she adds. “We worked with gongs. We’d do five-channel compositions. You make sounds travel around you, and it feels like it’s swirling or crossing above your head. It’s a really comprehensive program. It got me way more comfortable with sounds that maybe some people would consider abrasive or unusual or non-musical. I have a big tolerance for weird, freaky sounds. I try to use them in a more palatable way in my production.”

Beyond working hard on her upcoming set for MUTEK, building her sound system and focusing on her full-time tour coordinator job, this new era for Honeydrip also involves tour dates in Europe next month. She also hopes to make new music before 2023 is over, but admits it’s been “hard” to do so given everything else that’s been keeping her busy.

Those in attendance at Nocturne 4 this weekend will get to hear the entire seven-track Psychotropical album during Honeydrip’s live set before its October release. The album will feature King Shadrock and singer Shanique Marie of Jamaican collective Equiknoxx, as well as remixes from la Dame and Hassan Abou Alam. 

As mentioned earlier, the title Psychotropical was given because she wanted to make a new dub and reggae-based genre with that name, since those genres have helped pave the way for so many other styles of music today. 

“I was like, ‘Okay, if I go back to the source, can I create something new?’” she says. “That’s kind of what this album is supposed to be. It’s just me in multiple instances trying to make a new electronic music sound based off of those genres.” ■

Honeydrip performs as part of MUTEK’s Nocturne 4 at SAT (1201 St-Laurent) on Saturday, Aug. 26, 10 p.m., $45. For more on Honeydrip, please visit her Bandcamp page.

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