Eris Drew and Octo Octa: Love vibrations

© Kasia Zacharko

Words by:

Eris Drew and Maya Bouldry-Morrison are kindred spirits. Driven by the healing power of the dancefloor, the two DJs are on converging paths.

Both artists are much-loved figures in electronic music. Maya makes radiant, expressive house music as Octo Octa. 2017’s breakthrough LP Where Are We Going? saw her chart new emotional terrain, cementing her as one of dance music’s most enchanting producers. Chicago native Eris Drew emerged from the old school rave scene of the 90s, spinning techno and electro at underground queer parties. Last year saw Eris’ profile as a DJ rise while she spread the good word of the Motherbeat, her personal philosophy that sees music as an ancient healer.

Together as partners and creative collaborators, they’re an unstoppable force. In October 2018, the pair put out their first split release, five-track EP Devotion. Appearing on Violet’s Lisbon-based imprint Naive, it’s a cosmic house journey through themes of love, sensuality and magic. Their recent joint tour, T4T LUV NRG, united them behind the decks, where the two are luminous. Their sets are a celebration of their love for each other, dance music and the queer community. Both independently and together, Eris Drew and Octo Octa are leading the charge with love.

Crack Magazine: How did you two meet?

Maya: We met in 2017. I was playing Smartbar in Chicago and I was over at a friend’s house doing a video for a release of mine. Eris was the hospitality runner for the night.

Eris: I used to drive for Smartbar to earn extra money and meet people. Steve, our mutual friend, has been friends with Maya for a while and when I heard when she was coming into town I asked if I could take that job. I really wanted to meet her and spend some time with her. I drove her around for the weekend basically. The next time we saw each other was when I played Club Toilet and that was the first time you heard me DJ.

Maya: I came back to Chicago after that and that was when I was playing on your birthday. I really wanted to kiss you. And I didn’t.

Eris: We drove around in my car listening to UK hardcore. We were just kind of bugging out.

“I had a very awkward school girl crush on Maya. We're also two trans women who were going through a lot at the same time so we had a bond through that”

Maya: I was blown away thinking, ‘here’s this girl that also likes all the same stuff I like!’

Eris: One who likes to drive around in the car with the music way too loud.

Maya: So, I didn’t know that Eris liked me. I knew she was my friend. Later through a mutual friend I found out that she liked me also. So I sent her a text message saying, ‘I have a crush on you.’

Eris: I had to sit down and read that message several times.

Maya: We’re both polyamorous and had other partners as well. I’ve had my partner Brooke and I’ve been with them 16 years. There was a lot of navigating when it came to our relationship.

Eris: I had a very awkward school girl crush on Maya. We’re also two trans women who were going through a lot at the same time so we had a bond through that.

Maya: The way Eris talked about dance music and the power of it is something I felt deeply but didn’t necessarily know people that shared that same ideal and connection with it. All my work is highly personal and emotive. I found that music was the best way I could express myself and talk about what I wanted to talk about. People talk about clubs being a place to heal but not in such explicit and powerful terms like she does, which is another thing that attracted me to her.

“Music allowed me to unlock that emotional side of myself, especially with coming out. Before that there were societal pressures to be more reserved”

Crack Magazine: Eris, the way you speak about the power of dance is so interesting because you describe it as a kind of exercise in spirituality, both physically and mentally.

Eris: It’s interesting you mention the physical because that’s one of the things Maya was talking about in her connection to me initially, and ideas about what a dancefloor could be, healing-wise. She was also the embodiment of a lot of the things that I was interested in with dance music. Maya is someone who very much understands the power of music to unlock your body. We both use dance and our bodies when we’re playing to help bring people into that state of letting themselves be free. I think it’s something we share. She’s this beam of light playing house records.

Maya: The thing that pulls me towards your DJing is the fact that, honey, you play bangers. You have this dynamic way of playing and orchestrating the floor, to bring forth emotion from records and also having resting moments of consideration as to why you’re there and who you’re with at the time. It’s really great.

Eris: There’s certain emotional vibes I play within sets. There’s just pure love, and one of the vibes is this communal vibe. There’s no genre search for community. I can’t explain it, I can’t put it in English, but there are these tracks that just bring the power of the community and the ritual that you’re partaking in. It’s almost like your perspective shifts. It’s not just the ecstasy we whip the dancefloor into sometimes. It’s interesting to hear how you perceive that.

Maya: Eris has such an understanding of what I see in the things I listen to. I’ve done plenty of b2b sets with people and most of them are fine. But with her it’s so easy and I’m so excited about every track she plays.

Eris: I’ve played b2b sets with people that were really fun but this dialogue we have about the music that we’re playing is like nothing I’ve ever seen. That’s really, really magical. Especially since coming out, a subject I’ve been exploring has been psychedelic love. But she really brought out romantic love in me, big surprise! It factors into our sets and it’s part of life. It makes my work more radiant, frankly.

Crack Magazine: It’s nice to hear people talk about how much they love each other because this is something people struggle with – this really open, public adoration for a partner. There’s still shame attached to affection.

Eris: What you say resonates with me because I think that a lot of people are scared to love in big ways. You know, we all hold back a little bit. I play this song called Alright to Love. I love this song because I was falling in love with Maya. I’ve seen the song rip people’s hearts open because they need that message. Love is biologically built into us, we can access this place pretty easily. We’re all affected by our ability to express love.

Maya: I think sometimes that’s why a lot of people don’t love vocal house. But these songs are extremely expressive and emotive pieces of music. I think sometimes people are scared to let go because it is so vulnerable.

© Kasia Zacharko

Eris: I totally agree. When you look at the popularity of 90s garage, it’s ecstasy culture, and all that had something to do with it. People were cracked open when that shit was huge. I think your heart does need to be open to access that music. Maya’s dead-on about that.

Maya: Love is so conditional for a lot of people. We all struggle with this one. We should be able to express love in ways that are honest and descriptive and don’t become, you know, our provision. I struggle with that too. I think everybody plays those mental gymnastics.

Eris: I really use music to help myself with my emotions. I was raised in a home where you could be emotional, my parents were very sweet. But also they’re baby boomers raised by Depression-era parents in a conservative, middle class environment. To connect with emotion on that kind of primal level took some deconstructing work like music and dancing. That is some of the most direct technology we have to open our hearts.

Maya: Music definitely allowed me to unlock that emotional side of myself, especially with coming out. Before that there were societal pressures to be more reserved. It was very real and heavy. The lyrics are where I let it go before coming out. There’s a lot of power in trying to harness that vulnerability and that has proved extremely healing for me. Using music as permission to go beyond art and personally enact something in the world with the people I love. That’s what makes this all worth it.

Octo Octa’s For Lovers EP is out now via Technicolour

Octo Octa appears at Bilbao BBK Live, 11-14 July

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