Life & Culture

Joey LaBeija Is Making Music You’ll Want to Dance and Cry to

Having just DJed at Mowalola’s LFWM show, LaBeija is now launching his new album Tears in my Hennessy – a series of sad songs to go clubbing to

Authenticity is the dish du jour. Like with anything new, we all became obsessed with the internet, then we all became critical of it, and now we’re, apparently, post it – searching for truth instead of adoration. Even brands want meaningful engagement rather than droves of likes, authenticity rather than a shiny endorsement followed by that classic killer ‘hashtag ad’. We’re not buying it.

But the quest for authenticity is something which, when bound up in the system we’re all apparently post, is fruitless if you’re doing it for the numbers. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to pause the system for a short while, and see what happens. And that’s what Joey LaBeija – DJ and music producer – did when writing and producing his new LP Tears in my Hennessy, which came out yesterday. “So it’s a breakup album,” he tells Another Man, having just returned to New York after DJing at Mowalola’s brilliant show at London Fashion Week Men’s, “but it’s a happy one. It’s juxtaposed by dance music. I used to pull up YouTube playlists and listen to a bunch of references, but with this I just got lost in making whatever I felt like when I was doing it.”

As his relationship slowly ended around him, LaBeija realised he had produced nine tracks which make up the album. “I’ve always resonated with sad dance music like Robyn and Róisín Murphy and things like that. And you don’t really think of it as sad, but you do think of it as honest. Music means a lot to me, and you forget that those are people doing the same shit that you’re doing and that’s why I wanted to just be honest.”

And it’s this honesty which can be found in a lot of queer, or queer adjacent, music like LaBeija’s (although he defines as a gay man, or “a big old faggot”). It’s the kind of music that makes you sad, and euphoric, on the dancefloor. Music authored from very specific dynamic, one which you can only understand if you’ve been inside it. That of same gender relationships, ones which are affected by everything that comes with that label; ones which are affected by the ways in which we’re allowed to love, both within the community and outside of it. And this is the music LaBeija is making. A diary, of sorts.

“I grew up listening to R&B music,” LaBeija explains. “Obviously I used to identify with the female singer in a heterosexual relationship in a song. Like that’s the core of my being. We grow up listening to a cis female sing about a breakup with a man, kind of like believing you’re her, feeling like you’re Keisha Cole at her worst. So maybe some 15-year-old post-internet Instagram kid will find my record after his first breakup and it will mean something to him. It’s so corny but that’s the stuff that makes me excited.”

As for the name LaBeija – it is something Joey considered changing with this project, as he isn’t as closely affiliated to the legendary voguing house of LaBeija as he was when he was asked to join it some seven years ago. “I was put in the house by elders that started categories in the ballroom like aeons ago. They put me in the house because I was promoting, and I was Susanne Bartsch’s personal assistant, and I’d met some kids that were in the house and I was starting to DJ at the time, and I was really doing it New York for a minute. I know that there’s young kids in the house that don’t know who I am because they haven’t met me, and they have to go to the house meetings and stuff like that. I wanna meet all the young kids, but at this point I was in the house to carry out the name outside of the ballroom. I still keep in contact with people, and it’s part of who I am at this point. But I don’t think of it as being a part of the house any more, I’m just gonna be Joey LaBeija forever.”

While LaBeija has lived multiple lives – he was a hairdresser for 13 years, he grew up “dirt poor”, and was part of the New York scene of Kids Who Do Amazing Things – he’s now committed to making music. “I quit my job two years a go to make music work. And I kind of knew that to make music work I just had to put myself into it. I had to avoid the numbers. I made something honest, and I did something for me, and I hoped that people somewhere would connect to it.”

LaBeija is making music for the people who’ve been where he’s been. And the music isn’t dissecting queerness per se, it’s just voicing what it feels like to be a person in love and who’s also gay. That’s a rare find when it comes to artists today – people often baiting or lightly hinting. But this is LaBeija’s diary in musical form, it’s personal, sad songs to go clubbing to. And if crying on the dance floor isn’t authentically queer, then I don’t know is.

Joey LaBeija’s new LP Tears in my Henny is out now.