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Kiddy Smile, the Parisian DJ, musician and dancer, was meant to meet me for lunch, but four hours later we’re in the back of an Uber on our way to a Voguing Ball instead. It’s a slight change of plan, but when you’re spending 24 hours in London – doing photoshoots, tearing up ballroom dancefloors, then DJing to a sold-out crowd at Ministry of Sound – there’s barely time for sleep, never mind a sit down meal.

“I had high expectations of London the first time I came here,” he says, entranced by the hectic Saturday evening streets of Soho. “I was picked by George Michael to dance for his music video – but I never got to see [the finished product]. Afterwards, he took us to the Burberry store and we got to pick out one thing each. I still have my jacket!”

That kind of anecdote is one of many this man – birth name, Pierre Hache – has under his belt. Having been around for over a decade, Kiddy’s a gem in the Parisian dance music crown. Standing six feet five inches tall and regularly decked head-to-toe in designer clothes, his presence is proudly queer and powerful. During his live shows – of which he’s only done a handful so far – he appears on stage wearing a rainbow print leotard, flanked by voguing dancers who swarm him for a sweaty, glitter-filled hour.

“Everybody should experience queer culture. Just know where it comes from – and give back”

His music, a limb-jolting style of disco-house, was inspired by his upbringing as a queer black boy in the Parisian suburbs. Whether the tracks call out the snaky behaviour of those that surround him, or ask the listener to put their sadness aside and feel free for a second, they all have one common thread: Kiddy Smile has designed them with dancing in mind.

Having done just that for the best part of a decade, performing with the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Beth Ditto, Kiddy’s transition to making his own music has been peppered with naysayers – many who, at one time, claimed to be his closest friends. His circle might be smaller now, but the people he’s around today mean more to him. Kiddy singles out Rouge Mary, the lead vocalist of Hercules and Love Affair, who’s sat up front in the taxi we’re speaking in. “Rouge was the only one to say ‘Don’t listen to other people. Work hard and we’ll make it happen!’ So many of my friends thought I was crazy,” he smirks, “but they’re not here anymore.”

As a teenager, he found nights in Paris that catered to queer people of colour like the legendary, long-running BBB. “You were free to dance, express yourself, and your femininity through your moves,” he recalls. “Everybody from the suburbs came and, for once, they had the space to be themselves.” From that came his long-running DJ career; Paris’ ballrooms were calling soon after. “I was asked to [get involved] by Lesseindra Ninja and Steffie Mizrahi – two pioneers of the scene in Europe.” He’s now a member of the latter’s legendary House of Mizrahi. “They asked if I could help them set up a space for the dancers, and I knew I had to, [because] I wish that I had something like that when I was 15.”

“Cultural appropriation is never about love, it’s about profit. And who profits? Never the people at the roots of that culture”

Right now, there’s a trend of artists adopting the aesthetics of queer culture while hesitant to take note of its dark history. Honey Dijon, Kiddy says, has summed up his own thoughts on the issue perfectly: “‘You want to go to McDonalds and eat the burger, but don’t want the calories that go with it’,” he quotes. “If you get to enjoy [queer entertainment] right now, that’s because others suffered. Cultural appropriation is never about love, it’s about profit. And who profits? Never the people at the roots of that culture.” It unravels from Kiddy’s mouth as if it’s been on his mind for a while, but he insists these joyous scenes birthed by queer, black minorities aren’t just there for that community to enjoy. “Everybody should experience it, just know where it comes from – and give back.”

I wonder what it meant for him, a man whose career has been shaped by the sequestered queer club scene, to appear on a giant billboard plastered across central London. Recently, Kiddy was chosen by Smirnoff alongside Honey Dijon and British model Luzy Fizz to be one of their voices for the We’re Open campaign, which sets out to educate bar and club staff in non-binary issues and the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusivity. “It means a lot,” he says gratefully, “especially for people like me. I dreamt of [doing this], but deep down I thought it wouldn’t happen because it was always the same people getting chosen. I didn’t think I was beautiful enough for it, or that I had the right body, or that I was the right colour.”

Kiddy Smile – a symbol of the progressive future of Parisian dance – makes a point of placing emphasis on that last part. He’s part of the reason the club crowds are now understanding where the disco movement came from: somewhere deeper, queerer and more black than they might’ve thought. It’s taken Kiddy some time to get to where he is now (over ten years, to be precise) and he’s the first to admit that the hustle’s been hard, but he’s learned to make things work in his favour. “If a door is closed,” he smiles, “then I’ll go through the window!”

Photography: Kate Bones