Octo Octa: Pow­er­ful bod­ies, beau­ti­ful people

The DJ and producer has become a trusted source for dancefloor euphoria. Her next album Resonant Body is her most joyful chapter of her journey so far.

From the moment Octo Octa places a vinyl on a slip­mat, she’s mov­ing, danc­ing from record box to mix­er to decks while pump­ing out slam­ming, feel-good club music. An Octo Octa set is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate sweat-drenched ecsta­sy shared by both DJ and dance­floor, and her pro­duc­tions cap­ture this feeling.

From the mes­sages of love, togeth­er­ness and sur­vival that charge her sets, to her sig­na­ture deep and dreamy pro­duc­tions, elec­tron­ic music has long been a lan­guage for Octo Octa, aka Maya Bouldry-Mor­ri­son. Her discog­ra­phy invites you into inti­mate chap­ters of her biog­ra­phy; Between Two Selves, her 2013 debut album for the left­field dance label 100% Silk, explored the ten­sion caused by dis­placed iden­ti­ty. And Where Are We Going?, released four years lat­er on San Fran queer col­lec­tive Hon­ey Soundsystem’s imprint, sees her pro­cess­ing life post-tran­si­tion, work­ing through the gulf this ques­tion posed. 

While she’s been mak­ing music for the bet­ter part of two decades, Where Are We Going? was arguably her break­through – a com­ing togeth­er of Maya’s matu­ri­ty as a pro­duc­er and an accom­plished gelling of her sound. She’s been on an upward tra­jec­to­ry ever since. When we speak on the phone, her Mix­mag cov­er is still plas­tered across news­stands across the UK, and she’s decom­press­ing from her biggest DJ set to date: a main­stage per­for­mance at Dek­man­tel with her part­ner and fel­low DJ/​producer Eris Drew. 

It comes mid­way through a year of near-con­stant tour­ing across the US, all around Europe, and to even fur­ther-flung places than her New Hamp­shire home. It’s all hap­pen­ing… all the time… con­stant­ly,” she says with an audi­ble, if a tad exhaust­ed, grin.

For now, and only briefly, Maya is back at home in her East Coast cab­in where she lives with Eris and her high­school sweet­heart Brooke, about an hour away from the town in which she grew up. It’s a wel­come change from the city sprawl of her pre­vi­ous home in Brook­lyn, she says, paint­ing a quaint and qui­et pic­ture that leads down a grav­el path, to the house, and out to the riv­er snaking through trees in her back­yard. Sud­den­ly, this calm is punc­tu­at­ed – as much of our con­ver­sa­tion is – by infec­tious, soul-warm­ing laugh­ter: oh gosh, Eris is play­ing records down­stairs and it’s total­ly dis­tract­ing! She’s prac­tis­ing scratch­ing right now.”

Music is a big part of life in the cab­in. Up in the loft is Maya’s tim­ber-clad stu­dio (one of two in the house) where all her hard­ware and record col­lec­tion sits in front of a back­drop of the wood­lands stretch­ing beyond. An open space with plen­ty of nat­ur­al reverb, when she’s pro­duc­ing or mix­ing the sounds car­ry and fill every room. It feels super pow­er­ful,” Maya says. A lot of rit­u­al stuff I would do here would be play­ing with high­ly res­o­nant fil­ters because you can feel and hear the vibra­tion through­out the entire house.” It was also here, in the loft, where she made Res­o­nant Body – her third stu­dio album, due Sep­tem­ber, on hers and Eris’ new label, T4T LUV NRG

The result of an inten­sive­ly cre­ative three-week break in Decem­ber 2018 that fol­lowed a busy yet real­ly pos­i­tive year”, this eight-track LP is a stun­ning, strik­ing body of work root­ed in her men­tal and phys­i­cal land­scapes, the ener­gy of the stu­dio and her New Hamp­shire home. It is the first album to incor­po­rate many of her synths and drum machines – the“cool pieces of cheap gear, because I like cheap gear,” like her Korg Vol­ca Keys and DW-8000, which she picked up in a local pawn shop for about 300 dol­lars and is now her cat’s favourite sleep­ing spot. And on the album cov­er, a ten­der paint­ing by her part­ner Brooke, she is sat on a rock pro­trud­ing out of a riv­er on a near­by trail – naked, back turned, soak­ing in the seren­i­ty of her surroundings.

My mantra used to be no bangers, only tears’. But I’ve been out play­ing so much. So now I’m like yeah, club bangers, here we go!”

The spir­it of that for­est radi­ates most vivid­ly in the bird­song, howls and low-end, aque­ous tones that glide through the penul­ti­mate track, My Body Is Pow­er­ful. The track title is the LP’s guid­ing prin­ci­ple and a mes­sage that lit­er­al­ly inked into her skin (“it was my mantra, specif­i­cal­ly for mov­ing through air­ports and deal­ing with peo­ple con­stant­ly grilling me”). If Res­o­nant Body is an expres­sion of Maya’s inner-self, then it is her most embod­ied – and cru­cial­ly, most joy­ful – to date

It was nice to have a hap­pi­er state­ment with things, for an album in par­tic­u­lar,” she reflects. Between Two Selves is a cod­ed mes­sage about my transness and try­ing to come out. Then Where Are We Going? was like, I’m out and I’m deal­ing with the world and here’s what’s hap­pen­ing.’” On the lat­ter, even the more uptem­po moments are under­cut with pangs of unease; the Where Are We Going track No More Pain (Promis­es To A Younger Self), for exam­ple, is at once ecsta­t­ic and gut-wrench­ing, and the rap­tur­ous, can­died loops in Fleet­ing Moments Of Free­dom (Wooo) are, well, fleet­ing, spun back in trep­i­da­tion again and again and again. 

Much of her lat­est work, by con­trast, is built for let­ting go of the dance­floor. My mantra used to be no bangers, only tears’,” she chuck­les. But this is a lit­tle more club-focused because I’ve just been out play­ing so much – and been hap­py. So I’m like yeah, club bangers, here we go!” 

Res­o­nant Body is a tes­ta­ment to the heal­ing pow­er” of music. This has a more phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion; half the prof­its made from the record will be donat­ed to the Sil­via Rivera Law Project, a New York-based organ­i­sa­tion that pro­vides legal aid and resources to guar­an­tee that all peo­ple are free to self-deter­mine their gen­der iden­ti­ty and expres­sion,” and who, for Maya, were deeply help­ful at a time when I need­ed it.” 

But also, cod­ed into every mal­leable, chopped-up vocal sam­ple used is a mes­sage for the lis­ten­er to receive and process in their own way. Can You See Me? – her lat­est sin­gle – soft, hyp­not­ic synths car­ry one of the album’s most pro­found state­ments: I know exact­ly how you feel.” An ambigu­ous and mal­leable hook, for Maya it is a mes­sage on transness, her extend­ing out her arm in under­stand­ing and sol­i­dar­i­ty. While the under­cur­rent of anx­i­ety and ten­sion that swelled through her pre­vi­ous work has sub­sided, Res­o­nant Body is still an album cen­tred on the pow­er of music to heal – espe­cial­ly in the face of adversity. 

We talk about being able to see each oth­er in a soci­ety that doesn’t want to [see us],” Maya explains. We were lis­ten­ing to the test press­ings the oth­er day and my part­ner, Brooke, was cry­ing. It’s that point – I know exact­ly how you feel, the world at large doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly under­stand it.”

Res­o­nant Body is released 6 Sep­tem­ber via T4T LUV NRG.

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