London DJ Manuka Honey has taken over clubs around the world with her unique sound, which reimagines sounds from across the Latinx diaspora, including dembow, baile funk and reggaeton. Guiding it all is a deeper sense of the universe’s rhythms, patterns and synchronicities, gleaned through her learnings as a practicing astrologer. Writer Geralda Cela spoke to the artist to find out more about her between spiritual and sonic journeys.
Illustrations by Tracy Chahwan.
Manuka Honey wants you to leave her DJ sets exhausted. “I want people to desperately need a cigarette because they weren't able to leave the dance floor,” says the London-based producer, DJ, and astrologer from their childhood home in Connecticut. “I want people to connect. I want people to feel in their bodies and confident. I just want them to feel elated, but also a bit like, ‘Damn, that was crazy.’”
When we speak, Manuka Honey—real name Marissa Malik—is having some downtime at her family home in Connecticut, after playing the notorious Papi Juice party in New York City, Hyperclub in Toronto, and parties in Montreal. Reimaging sounds from the Latinx diaspora—dembow, baile funk and reggaeton, with darker underground sounds of UK bass, and shatta from Martinique—Malik will leave you feeling sexy, shook, and shaking ass. “It's all things that make you want to move and have those visceral, energetic moments with other people,” she explains.
Playing into vibe more than genre, Malik is more interested in creating feeling and world-building rather than genre or DJing rules. “I’m not afraid to play the darkest, most unhinged club sound that you've never heard before, but then also play a ‘Stereo Love’ edit,” she says. “I'm never going to take myself so seriously that I won't play an absolute banger, even if it's number one in the charts.”
Underpinning Malik’s sonic world are the natural rhythms of the universe. As an astrologer (she writes horoscopes for the astrology app Sanctuary, and is the resident astrologer at the British media platform gal-dem) Malik’s deep-rooted sense of the stars, spirit and celestial timings have naturally informed her music practice. “Everything's about cycles—a Mercury retrograde cycle, a lunar cycle, a Gregorian year. It's all repetitive, cyclical. And it's all about us moving through those cycles in ways that connect us to our highest potential in astrology,” she says.
“Then with music, it's about creating these rhythms, these patterns, these cycles which are played over and over to enchant us on the dance floor and connect us to our bodies. Every time it's different, but every time it's the same. Each time I play a song it's the same song; it gives me the same feeling of epicness and power. But it hits differently in so many different contexts—sometimes it makes people on the dance floor react the same way and sometimes it doesn't,” she explains.
Malik’s 2021 debut EP, “Industrial Princess,” released by Mexico City-based label N.A.A.F.I, is perhaps the most tangible expression of how her two worlds interlink. Over the four tracks, we're transported into a dark sonic dimension. The music is provoking, eerie, and enchanting all at once, resting on a radical bedrock of hardcore club beats that have been pushed to extremes. But it also pulls in ancient drum patterns and arrangements. The result? An unyielding tension.
The EP was based on elements of Malik’s birth chart and planetary movements. “I was going through a really intense Chiron transit,” Malik says. Chiron, the small planet known as the “wounded healer” was squaring Malik’s Mars sign—the planet of action and aggression. “It was a super intense time and this dark energy was really coming out. My sense of time was really warped from that. And so I was trying to represent this oscillation between immediacy and just the ethereal unknown,” she explains.
The rise of astrology in pop culture has seen people adopt a more holistic and spiritual approach to working and creating recently, but Malik has been incorporating these practices ever since she can remember. “[Music and astrology] are both so within me,” Malik says. “Astrology is underwritten into everything, just the same way when people say, ‘Don't make it about race,’ it's like, well, things are always about race. Things are always about power structures. Astrology is just a language and a tool that we use to interpret the world. There can always be an astrological application to things, and I'm always aware of what it is.”
Malik creates radio sets based on the moon cycles. She has pre- and post-club rituals. She plans releases around astrological events. And she knows who she works best with. “I often will research the star signs of people I'm working with or talk to them about that,” she says.
With British-Colombian DJ and producer Florentino—one of her main musical collaborators—Malik has that astrological synergy that she looks for. “He's a Virgo and I'm a Pisces, so we have a lot of complimentary opposite sign inputs into things. We [also] both have Aquarius placements, so that helps a lot,” she adds. But ultimately, Malik stresses, the sonic chemistry comes first.
Malik’s sun sign, Pisces, is known as the dreamer and empath of the zodiac. Likewise, Malik says she has an innate ability to read and absorb energies around her intuitively. “It’s definitely helped a lot, being able to read people. The gig I just played in Toronto, I could tell people were ready for darker stuff, so I hit them with that hard-style ‘Better Off Alone’ edit,” she explains. But being Pisces also means “wanting to do everything and experience the world all the time,” as Malik puts it, and she isn’t going to limit herself.
However, as Malik notes, the worlds of astrology, DJing and production are all rooted in purist undertones. “If you do too much, you're a clout chaser—you're just putting your finger in too many pots. I'm definitely busy, but I invest in the things I love and I want to do.”
By genuinely contributing to the two scenes, Malik’s been able to lift the pretentiousness and stifling energy that can sometimes arise in each space, and tap into the well of creativity and connection where the two intersect.
Growing up in Farmington, Connecticut, with a Mexican mother and Pakistani father, Malik was part of “maybe one of seven families of color,” she recalls. “It was very racially isolating.” As a teenager, her strict Catholic upbringing left her further disenchanted with her surroundings and led her to seek solace online, where she spent time building the world she wanted to see. “I was just always on the internet because I'm from a really fucking boring place, and I had no friends, and because I was really weird,” she says.
It was in the middle of a Reddit rabbit hole that Malik discovered dubstep, UK funky, garage, and grime after being sent a Digital Mystikz EP. “I was just obsessed,” she recalls. “I would be on these grime forums so I could understand what they were saying.”
It was also during her teenage years, that she started leaning more deeply to her spirituality and astrology, which had always been a part of her life. “My Pakistani grandmother was a tarot reader; and on my mom's side, my grandmother was Mexican Catholic, but embraced a lot of indigenous Mexican spirituality.”
In time, Malik began working as a visual artist for the UK underground scene, creating artwork for the likes of J:Kenzo, Compa, and Mala. It wasn’t until she moved to London to study printmaking at the Royal College of Art that she learned to DJ and produce music herself, experimenting with the local sounds that she loved, as well as those of her Pakistani-Latin heritage.
For Malik, her upbringing and journey are proof that she can exist at myriad intersections. Similar to the planet Mercury, with which she most identifies, she sees multiple pathways open to her, and she’s reluctant to be subscribed to one thing.
“One of my favorite things about Mercury is that, in lore, it’s the only planet that's allowed to go both from the heavens to the underworld and back,” Malik explains. “Mercury has this natural multiplicity to it; it's able to just transcend worlds. I feel really connected to that because I feel like I've lived a lot of lives and I'm in many different worlds.”
Online, Malik's different audiences support her different lives. There’s her astrology audience “which tends to be on the more wholesome side, cute queer people from all over the world,” she says. “And then I have my music audience, which is also cute queer people from all over the world…but can be quite bro-y at times because I have that underground UK undercurrent to everything.” But then she also has her Latin-American club community, which has been strengthened by her party collective, SUZIO.
“Then, because I went viral for a picture of my pubes, what, three years ago? I have people with hair fetishes who follow me or people who are following me as body positivity inspiration on their journey to embracing who they are,” she adds.
On the day that we speak, Mercury is in its retrograde shadow period. Communication, contracts, and travel flow less easily during such periods, which is less than ideal for Malik, who is set to play Razzmatazz in Barcelona, Turbo Sessions in Porto, and Colour Factory in London in the coming weeks.
One thing that Mercury retrograde is good for, though, is introspection—slowing down, reflecting, and refraining from starting anything new. Anticipating this, Malik is planning on using the time to revisit her upcoming record, due to be released on Florentino’s label, Club Romantico. “There’s going to be loads of weapon noises and reggaeton,” she says of the album, which will reflect the Latin diaspora club community that orbits her.
“When I moved to the UK, I really missed reggaeton, and now I’m able to bring that part of my identity to the dancefloor. It’s been really beautiful and exciting to watch new parties cropping up, and [to see] producers that have worked so hard on this for years finally have a light shone on them for their talents.”