Ten Minutes with Octo Octa, Ahead of Her Set at Manchester’s Warehouse Project
A night off is something of a rarity for Octo Octa. When I jump on a call with the DJ, producer, and label boss – whose real name is Maya Bouldry-Morrison – she’s at home in New Hampshire, scavenging through her record collection. She’s met with the laborious task of deciding which UKG dubplates, bassline wobblers and nineties house floor fillers she’ll take with her on an extensive touring schedule this autumn.
October alone has seen Bouldry-Morrison travel to Geneva, Amsterdam, and across the UK, with a stop at Manchester’s Warehouse Project coming this Saturday (November 6). Here she’ll play alongside her partner, Eris Drew, at Homobloc: the North West’s biggest queer party, “for Homos, Hetros, Lesbos, Don’t Knows and Disko Asbos”, as goes its tagline, amongst a lineup which includes Honey Dijon, Jayda G and Sherelle.
The pair have positioned themselves as two of the most exciting – and in-demand – names in dance music. So much so that Mixmag christened them as their DJs of the Year in 2019, citing that they “have an outstanding knack for uniting mind, body and spirit on the dancefloor”.
Together they’ve created T4T LUV NRG, a record label, community platform and globe-trotting party which is centred around providing safer club experiences for LGBTQIA+ music lovers, whether that’s making sure there’s gender-neutral bathrooms at their parties, or concocting the sort of cathartic clubbing environments that hold the power to make the dancefloor feel akin to that of a healing ground.
Alongside jumping on remixes for DJ Q and Lauren Ritter, this year saw Octo Octa release her She’s Calling EP, the follow-up to 2019’s stellar Resonant Body album. Described by Pitchfork as a “pursuit of higher states of consciousness,” its three tracks are some of her strongest works yet, holding the power to transcend its listener to a state of euphoria.
Here, Bouldry-Morrison opens up about her teenage fascination with drum and bass, the joy of playing alongside her soul mate and how she hopes nightlife culture will become more inclusive in years to come.
Where are you in the world right now?
“I am at my house in New Hampshire, in my bed, propped up on a bunch of pillows currently. It’s been good recently, I mean it’s been busy which is good. I finally played some shows, which kind of brought me back to life again.”
Where was the first party you played after the clubs opened again?
“The first one I played was with my partner Eris Drew in Chicago. We went to Smartbar which is like her hometown place. It was extremely nerve-racking to actually finally be back out there and play a show.”
Even though you’ve been playing live streams throughout the pandemic?
“It’s totally different, I hate doing live streams! Just because Eris and I are both perfectionists with our sets, meaning there’s lots of room for error. If something doesn’t go right, even though no one knows but me, I’m just like ‘No why are we doing this stream? Its garbage, I’m DJing like garbage’. In the club, people will just be like “I love that song”, and it’s like yeah but I brought in that song like a bar too early, but they have no idea what you mean. But my brain just can’t handle it you know, it’s like the self-sabotage within me. When you’re playing in front of people versus a live stream, of course, I might still screw up, but the people are just so into it like “YEAH! ALRIGHT!” that they don’t even realise.”
When you’re going to play abroad, how do you both prepare in terms of your vinyl selection?
“One thing that we both love about playing on vinyl is that you have a very set selection of stuff you can bring. I bring more than a record bag. So, I bring a full record bag that I’ve taken the lining out of so I can fit even more records in, and then I bring a tote bag, so it’s probably around 80 records that I’ll bring. It can range between around 75-90 records which is probably way too many. But the thing that’s neat about that is that when I’m playing a night really fast, I can play like 18-20 in maybe an hour if I’m really cooking, like really going for it. So, having that set bag means that you’re constantly reinterpreting all those records together and every night is a little bit different.
I build a bag based on what could be possible and have a nice broad range of what I want to be able to bring to the stage. And then, inevitably, I will come back from tour and a couple of records that are in that bag I will never have played. Eris and I spend a lot of time putting our bags together at home. We’ve been practising together the past few days so that we also learn each other’s records. We go b2b playing three for three so that gives us each a little bit of time to stretch out and do something different. We both know how to give each other space and make sure that we know each other’s records. We played recently in Buffalo, and she put on a record from an old house label, and I know that she has a number of those records but she had it face down so I couldn’t see what record it was. And she was looking through her box trying to figure out which one she picked, like not that one, not that one, but I heard this Clash edit come in and I then knew exactly what record it was so then I started putting together my three records that I was going to play for my next little set based on that one part.”
What do you think Eris has taught you in terms of developing your style and how you approach DJing in general, and how do you think you’ve influenced her?
“She’s been DJing a lot longer than I have, I’ve been DJing for about 10 years, and many of those years were me at home not really being as good as I wanted to be. No one could come and see me DJ before I perfected it. But she’s been playing for 25 years, so that’s a 15-year jump physically playing more records than I have. So she’s extremely technically skilled and has taught me a lot about how to mix my records, especially like holding the pitch shift and matching records rather than just touching the platter. I just don’t want to let her down when we play together. She’s my artistic partner and she’s also my love. She is extremely skilled at what she does so I want to rise to the occasion and we both want to constantly improve, you know? And I think I also helped her become looser and do things off the cuff a little bit, as sometimes she doesn’t know all my records before we start a tour but then by the end, she knows them all! So I think we balance each other well.”
Photography by Eris Drew
What I really like about your sets is that there’s such a UK influence, from old school bassline and UK garage. Where did your love for these styles stem from?
“For me, it comes from falling in love with drum and bass when I was like 13-years-old. This is a very silly story, but it is actually what happened. When I was around 11, I started getting into electronic music and really produced pop. I liked Beastie Boys for example, lots of samples and really produced music. Because of that, I also fell in love with electronic/techno CDs as it reminded me of video games as well which I loved at the time. So, electronic sounds and synthesisers were something for me. Then around 13 years old I was about to go into high school and my parents were like ‘Okay, we can get the internet now’. I was hyped because all my friends had the internet and I really wanted it too. They got an iMAC, and iTunes at the time had started an online radio, so I clicked on the electronic section to find out some new music, and there was one that said Drum and Bass radio and I thought ‘Well I like drums and I like bass’, so I clicked on it and my little 13-year-old head exploded, I thought it was incredible.
For about four years that was mainly what I listened to. 13-18 was just drum and bass, jungle, hardcore. So that’s how I fell in love with it, as in New Hampshire there’s literally no club scene, the online radio was all I had.”
Talk me through how you both founded T4T LUV NRG, because as well as being a party and a record label, you’ve also produced a series of ‘How-to’ guides to help people with their DJing skills.
“The name T4T LUV NRG started as our party we were playing together. A T4T LUV NRG party has intentions and things we worry about like safety with patrons and making sure people have a good experience. When we do a party, it’s very important for everything to go right, be safe and be inclusive. Along the way, we both thought ‘Why not release some records underneath T4T LUV NRG?’ because I always wanted to release my own music and I know she wanted to as well.
We’ve started working with other people as well, finally! A lot of our friends are also working on pieces. The idea is that we want to work with trans and non-binary DJs and producers, to help platform the community more and who we work with. As they’re all our friends anyway. And then with the tutorials, I guess I thought it was just a good place to host that kind of stuff. Eris and I like to do workshops when we can in person so it made sense to host the guides on our own space. I’ve worked on more guides but they’re just not finished yet. There was never a plan for what T4T LUV NRG would be, but it just seems to keep evolving.”
Do you think club and festival line-ups have been more inclusive since everything has opened up again?
“Personally, I think everyone could do a lot better! I think if you actually want to bring up people that are underrepresented then they should be a majority of your line up. Not a half and half. There should be far more representation happening right now. We can only try to do that on an individual basis with our own parties that we’re putting together, and who we’re trying to work with.”
What can we expect from you in the upcoming months?
“I’m trying to finish my next EP which I have been working on technically for a year now. I have finished the one really long track and I’m on like the tenth round of edits, so it’s nearly there! I also want to keep putting stuff out on T4T LUV NRG. We also don’t want it to just be the Eris and Octa label though, so I’ve been taking more time working with other people, taking time off my own stuff isn’t bothering me too much right now. But, I normally finish records in like 2-3 weeks. I’m very quick, so this is like my first record I will have put out where I’ve been working on one song for over a year now. There’s a heap of other stuff I want to do but who knows when I’ll have time to do it!”
Top image photographed by Yvette de Wit. Homobloc takes place at Manchester’s Warehouse Project this Saturday. Buy tickets to the remaining Warehouse Project events, including Jamie XX Curates, Bicep, The Chemical Brothers and two massive parties on NYE and New Year’s Day, here.