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06.10.2019 | Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva

You often see them together, dancing to each other’s records; they are full of bliss, spreading their radiant energy to whoever gets to witness their magic behind the booth or just catch a glimpse of a genuine smile crossing their faces. Maya Bouldry-Morrison aka Octo Octa and Eris Drew are two kindred spirits who share their love for music and each other, the love they also transmit to the dancefloor. For them, a party is a ritual to dissolve boundaries, a space to heal and to be part of a community.

Collaging together old disco house, Miami bass and rave records – or so-called artifacts – last summer, Eris put together a vibrant mix which became the debut release of their brainchild, T4T LUV NRG. Developed from their much-beloved parties of the same name, the label is a step further in spreading the word of the Motherbeat ,“divine feminine energy and ancient healing force” driving their artistry. September saw the second T4T LUV NRG release with Maya’s third studio album featuring cover art by her lifelong partner, Brooke. A record filled with joy and self-empowerment, Resonant Body was soon followed by announcement of the tour centered around "special queer oriented, inclusive events in a safe space that celebrates self-love, positivity, and diversity across the world." We caught up with Maya and Eris over email to talk about their new label, ritual objects and love as a protest tool ahead of their upcoming party in Het Muzieklokaal.  

Q: You decided to kick off your T4T LUV NRG tour in De School. It’s also the only party that ends a bit after midnight while the rest of the events will last until the morning. Is there a different idea or intention behind this event?

ED: I have played De School only twice, both times in Het Muzieklokaal. Maya was there with me as a dancer. What we experienced together was powerful and dissolving. In that room the dancers can focus on every musical moment. Each physical movement and choice made by the DJ is amplified through a communal process. 

The power of that space is connected to the change in natural light which occurs at sunset and the DJ booth which is on the floor. Behind the DJ is an elevated platform for dancers which creates the structure of an arena. Our party is about focusing energy and manifesting love, so we wanted to play in the early evening in that room. To harness its full potential. 

MBM: I’ve performed twice in the basement but the moments I had been a dancer in the upstairs room while Eris played were truly magical. She has made me cry in there both times she’s performed and part of that has to do with the atmosphere in the room. It has light; I can see people deep into the floor. I can spin around and see elevated individuals in a trance while the music plays. It just feels like the right spot to be. 

Q: You launched T4T LUV NRG this summer with a mixtape of Eris, Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1. It’s quite an unusual approach to a label, releasing a mix instead of your own productions. Why did you choose for this kind of output?

ED: Each one of my mixes is an album. But they are usually presented as a branded podcast. For example, my mix titled “Mystery of the Motherbeat” was only known by the name of the festival that posted it (before they stopped hosting mixes and terminated their SoundCloud account without any notice to me). When I was growing up, I bought DJ mixtapes at parties, record stores, and kiosks at the mall. Each was an object, and each had its own name and identity. In many instances, I got the tape directly from the artist. We launched the label with Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1 because it honored these experiences. In doing so we were able to create a ritual object and charge my mix with an articulated concept, an artist statement and my own visual language. Everyone who bought the cassette or downloaded the mix got it directly from us, old school style. 

MBM: It’s more than a mix when Eris plays records. She collaged it together in what feels to me like an album. I believe that’s one of the first things I told her when it was being finished and I listened to it for the first time. The amount of work and true intentionality that went into it elevates it for me. It’s a mix that needed to be brought into the physical realm. I’m very happy for us to release essentially snapshots of times in our DJing since we put more work into it than just mixing records. We weave stories and insert messages. There are things to discover if you listen as hard as we do.
Q: That mix is released on a cassette and you both are vinyl-only DJs. What draws you to such material objects?

ED: All humans have a preoccupation with matter. That’s part of our humanness. My tapes and my records are powerful objects in my life. Each one is an extrusion of individual consciousness, memory, and imagination; a coral reef of creativity. I have attached my own memories to the important ones, which makes them even more powerful in my hands. What will provoke a stronger emotional response from me when I play it, a digital copy of Sneaky Tim’s “Ever Body” or the copy I still remember buying at Gramaphone in 1994? The answer is obvious, which makes the format choice simple for me. So, I suppose I’ll be carrying my records on my back until I can’t do it anymore. No new technology can change my personal relationship with these objects. 

The label on my original copy of “Who Is No. 1” by Dig The New Breed is worn from my fingers because I used to adjust the pitch at the spindle. I wore it down before I learned to synchronize the record effectively by riding the pitch control. The record itself, not just the recording, has become a powerful symbol of my journey. I think that dance music is mystical, so the idea that the object can become in some sense “charged” over time fascinates me. 

MBM: Eris said everything I need to say haha! I like material things; I like a ritual object. I’ve made sure all of my music has essentially been released on vinyl or cassette. I need a real-world physical manifestation of the art I make. 

As for vinyl in particular - we mark our records, we imprint memories on them, and we hope that translates in the spinning of these discs. The tactile nature of working with vinyl just feels right in my hands. I like being able to look at a dirty record and see my fingerprints all over them. They’re my prints from different nights in different cities sitting on the record telling a story. My story. 

Q: With your label (and aside) you actively promote the freedom of gender identity and expression. What life experiences made you so outspoken about this topic and what T4T LUV NRG means to you personally? 

ED: The current dominant cultural mode assigns gender through a pseudo-scientific system at birth yet thousands, maybe millions, of people from prehistory to today have experienced gender differently. Being trans is like taking acid, you peak behind the cultural mode and see it for what it is: an antiquated control mechanism. In the movie Tron, we find out that the evil MCP (Master Control Program) was designed initially as a chess playing program. Gender in contemporary society is like that. We are playing out an old colonial scheme which has become amplified through an uninterrupted feedback mechanism. 

In many traditional hunter-gatherer cultures, the shamaness lives on the outside of town. She is important to society but in some important physical and metaphysical sense her power, insight, and perspective comes from outside of it. We can’t begin to see our full potential as beings of light and consciousness until we perturb the cultural mode and free our minds and bodies from ideology. We can achieve these states of temporary transcendence on dancefloors through a combination of deep listening, trance dance, psychedelic intoxication, and communal ecstasy. 

MBM: I also actively promote a cultural liberation of ourselves because that’s all I can do. I had someone the other day say to me, “Thank you for keeping politics in dance music” and my response was simple, “I have no choice”. Our existence as trans-people is not an easy one almost everywhere in the world, essentially any space where we have to interact with the public at large. I like to say that my body is a 24/7 protest tool because of my visibility. 

Our love is also a protest tool. Eris and I are pansexual, polyamorous, transgender women. T4T LUV NRG is an attempt to broadcast that fact. “Here’s two trans women in love and incredibly embodied by that fact”! We flourish together in a world that really wants us to adhere to cis-heteronormative values because that’s what seems normal and comfortable for the dominant culture to view and coexist with. That dominant culture is not for us. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the connection you share on both personal and musical level? How did you find each other and what was the first time you shared the booth?

ED: Maya is my soulmate. The music absolutely brought us to each other. I didn’t realize it for many years, but the songs are like a homing device; an ancient-sounding technology you can use to find your people. We were friends for a few years until a mutual friend decided to inject some chaos into our lives and tell Maya I had a crush on her. The first time we shared a booth was our recording for Lot Radio a few months after we started dating. We never even had the opportunity to practice together before that set, but we had been sharing music during quiet times together and charging beautiful songs with our love. 

MBM: Eris is my soulmate as well. Meeting her was a revelatory moment for me as I had found someone who liked what I liked and was a DJ as well. We met when she was my hospitality driver for Smart Bar in Chicago for a gig I was playing there. I got in the car with her and probably from the very first track she played in her Kia I knew I was with someone special. I developed an intense crush that evening that continues to this day, even after we became partners. 

We first played together in June of last year and haven’t looked back since. During that Lot Radio mix and the following evening, I knew I had found my music partner for life. Her skill challenges me every day to keep up and rise to her heights. It’s powerful to perform with such an incredibly talented woman (and to also be in love with her). 

Q: In what way did it influence each of you?

ED: She made the old vocal house tunes I love come alive for me again—like a time machine that takes the past to you instead of you to it. It is so wonderful to have a partner to share songs and techniques with. We inspire each other to push what we are doing as far as we can. 

MBM: I think Eris gets a little embarrassed when I say this, but she was my DJ idol (and still is!). Her mixes and selections brought so much emotion and technique to the forefront; it was hard to ignore such a talent. And she plays music I like. She buys records I’m jealous of. Brooke and I will be at the house in the living room just listening to her practice in her studio and our jaws drop. We scream and shout down the hall to her and look at each other in disbelief at times. She’s a force of nature and a truly unique selector. Those facts deeply influence me in how I look for records, mix them together, and tell stories with them. 

Q: You often get to share very personal topics with the public. Does it ever make you feel too exposed or vulnerable? Or would you say it gives you some sense of freedom?

ED: We feel exposed and at risk in our daily lives. We already fled a cab in the middle of a ride this week. You can imagine the fear as he followed us down dark empty Berlin streets. But that shit won’t stop us unless and until it does forever. People think that a trans person’s struggle begins when they come out and/or transition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our alienation and oppression begin when we are very young. The only way I can feel some sense of control is to share who I am with the world and try to help others like me. I didn’t know anyone like me growing up. How was I to see myself? There was no model presented to me of a transgender person aside from the misrepresented stories of villainy or tragedy which dominated the media. The only way I can effectively challenge all the myths surrounding transness is to present an alternate set of facts, my own. Our own. 

MBM: Eris says it just right. We present our struggles but also our triumph. Most popular queer narratives inherently end in tragedy. Most accessible media show our lowest moments. I like to think that we provide an alternate to that common narrative: we struggle everyday but for fucks sake I am much happier finally being able to be myself. I can move through this world in the sunlight versus dealing with the shadows. I am an open person because of this fact. I want people to know that we’re ok in so many ways. That we can also thrive.
Q: You often mention the healing power of music. How did you discover it yourselves?

ED: I spent so much of my life dissociated and disembodied. Music was the tool I used to feel alive, to feel feminine, and to connect with an ineffable mystery at the heart of existence. Music saved me so many times. It still keeps me grounded in love while I navigate a dead cultural modality with imbedded values that I find extremely overly simplistic, materialistic and cruel. 

MBM: “Music saved my life”. I think that a majority of people know that music has healing power, but it can just take certain moments to reveal that fact - whether it be a break-up or a chant of rejoice in chorus with others. You feel it when it’s doing its work. For us that’s a central point that we want to constantly hammer and have it be recognized; this is healing music. I can’t even pinpoint a moment, to be honest, it feels to me like this fact has always been true. I’ve been making electronic music since I was 14/15 years old. It’s just inside me and I’ve used it to process my life ever since.

Q: T4T LUV NRG refers to its releases as “alchemical objects for use in DJing, dancing, kissing and crying”. It seems like music has a very personal meaning to you. Do you have that one track that makes you think of one another?

ED: The T4T B2B sets are an intent to communicate with each other. Many of the records carry specific meanings for us both. A few weeks ago, I started playing an old Vibe Music record from Chicago with the line “be my angel.” We call each other “angel” because we take care of each other and have helped save each other. Maya is a light in my life, so this triumphant roller of a tune feels something like being in love with her.

MBM: Hex - Alright To Love. I can’t count the number of times she’s melted me by playing that song. Made me cry in a club and turn to her for a kiss. I reference a song she plays because it’s so often played for me. I see her love when it comes on. She’s my angel. 

Q: What plans do you have for your label in the coming future?

ED: On Oct 28, my birthday, we are releasing a collection of two old mixtapes that we found in my storage space earlier this year. The first I recorded 23 years ago.

MBM: Then more mixtapes planned plus we’re working on a split DJ tool record together. Hopefully, we will also have solo EP’s ready before the end of 2020, but we have to find some fucking time to make more music!

Eris Drew and Octo Octa play Het Muzieklokaal today, tickets at the door from 17:00
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