In a 2022 interview, Tiana McLaughlan, the DJ and producer known as Honeydrip, was asked to draw a picture that describes her sound. Her resulting image depicts a phantasmal figure surrounded by swirls of tropical foliage, tendrils shooting from the decks directly into the heads of the dancers. Though it’s a quick sketch, there’s a dreamy, celestial aura to the drawing, and it serves as a precise visual analog of the Montreal-based artist’s knack for merging skeletal vestiges of Caribbean rhythms with spectral ambience and deep vibes. Her latest effort, the ‘Psychotropical’ EP — featuring vocals from Shanique Marie (from the envelope-pushing Jamaican music collective Equiknoxx) and longtime collaborator King Shadrock — has just been released by the Bristol label Banoffee Pies.
McLaughlan grew up outside Ottawa, and moved to Montreal while still young, soaking in the reggae, dancehall and soca that her mother would play in the car. (“I know the lyrics to a lot of reggae and dancehall tracks.”) She found that she had a passion for anything related to music. “In my early years, I was a little ballerina,” she says. “And then around mid-primary school, I started singing and I was a part of these few girl groups where we would perform. I kept singing throughout high school, I would go to all of the talent shows and do solo stuff.”
Among McLaughlan’s other pursuits was cheerleading, which led her to a sort of proto-DJing. “You’d have this high-intensity routine that’s about two minutes long,” she explains, “but you’d have like maybe eight songs in it. Instead of doing blends, you do hard cuts out of the drops. I was kind of making mixes without realising it.”
Enrolling in Concordia University, McLaughlan discovered that the school had no cheerleading program. “I was looking at the extracurricular options that they had and what would interest me. I saw ‘radio’ and I got super excited, but in my head, I figured it was going to take me three years before I got a radio show. I just went there super eager. They’re like, ‘Okay!’ They just took me! But the show went really well, and people liked it, and then I started getting bookings.”
It took time for the Honeydrip sound to fully form. On the show, she was mainly selecting lo-fi hip-hop and related sounds. “I think it’s what got me pretty good at DJing, because all of the tracks were something like a-minute-and-a- half or two minutes long, so I really had to be quick or do a lot of looping.”
In school, McLaughlan applied for electroacoustic studies, something she credits for spurring her creativity. Her first release was on a Covid-era compilation she headed up called ‘Pandemic Artifact’, featuring an array of producers from the Montreal underground. Her track, ‘Speaking Moistly’, is built from alternating tones arranged in a way that suggests a fractured lullaby, before settling into a fluttering hum anchored by an angular, rigid rhythm. It’s a far cry, vibe-wise, from her current output, but by her next releases — 2021’s ‘Brand New Flava’, quickly followed by the ‘Anti-Ego’ EP — her sound was coalescing.
For her current release, the title ‘Psychotropical’ is apt. “There’s the ‘tropical’ thing, which is the whole dub and reggae influence,” she says. “And the word ‘psychotropic’ means whatever alters your perception and your mood, and with all the music I’ve always liked, there’s been a trippiness, an otherworldliness to it. I think that’s what I’m trying to do with the music I make.”
She’s into soundsystem culture — she’s currently constructing her own system — and there’s an overlap between that culture’s concerns and that of ‘Psychotropical’. “Within the album, we’re touching some deeper subjects, like gun violence, like Babylon — the elites keeping people poor, all of that. We’re touching on all of those subjects, and it’s meant to kind of wake people up.”
At this past summer’s MUTEK, she debuted the live Honeydrip experience, with King Shadrock on the mic, Emma Forgues on live visuals, and McLaughlan herself on, among other things, “a big 16-channel parametric EQ mixer that I use to do some dubbing.”
“I’m going to take that out to festivals and hopefully be able to travel with it,” she says. “I’m going to keep building my soundsystem. And I do have to work on a remix. But otherwise, the past two years was all ‘Psychotropical,’ and now it’s like, ‘okay, I’ve satisfied that hunger.’ And I’m going to wait till I get hungry again.” We’ll be waiting as well.