New Hampshire, with its sleepy towns, rugged mountain ranges and heartbreaking burnt-orange autumns is hardly the location you’d expect to be nurturing the source of a buzzy new dance label whose specialty will lie in “limited edition alchemical objects for use in DJing, dancing, kissing and crying”. But hey, unlikely places right?
The label in question is T4T LUV NRG, the brainchild of trans DJs and producers Maya Bouldry-Morrison (stage name Octo Octa) and Eris Drew, whose imprint’s first release will be Eris’ explosive cassette “Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1”, later followed by a long-awaited third album from Maya.
The reality is, Maya has swapped Brooklyn’s buzz for a New Hampshire log cabin, and in it she says casually, she has been making “magic in the woods”. Before this comment evokes images of the producer huddled over a simmering cauldron – not quite, but actually not too far off the mark. There has been something spellbinding forming and reforming in that neck of the woods – an all-encompassing amalgamation of Maya’s efforts so far, sealed in her aptly-named forthcoming record Resonant Body. Her first in two years.
If an artist’s body of work is indicative of their journey thus far, then Maya’s pilgrimage has been far-reaching. 2017’s LP Where Are We Going? marked her first record since transitioning, sonically akin to a desperate exhalation of a lungful of air, leaving behind the anxiety-gripped 2013 sounds of Between Two Selves, whose tracklist featured revealing song titles such as “Who Will I Become”, “Please Don’t Leave” and “Fear”.
With Resonant Body she admits she has been “happier than [she’s] ever been” – so more of the same propulsive rhythms and hypnotic synths, but this time with a frisson that can only come with a newfound sense of freedom, self-acceptance and transformation.
An increasingly global presence, with upcoming festival sets at Germany’s Melt, Amsterdam’s Dekmantel, Malta’s Glitch and Melbourne’s Strawberry Fields to name a few, we sat down with the DJ and talked early beginnings, the progression of queer spaces, and transmitting love to the dancefloor…
How did you first get into music?
I originally got interested in listening to music through my dad’s electronic music and MIDI files of video game soundtracks. My friends started making music when I was like 14/15 years old, and I was just shocked that you were actually allowed to do that at home. I saw my friends play, went and bought a drum machine, and literally was like ‘okay, what do I do?’
You grew up in New Hampshire which is quite a quaint, sleepy place. How did that affect the way you were exposed to new music?
That’s the thing about New Hampshire, there’s not really a scene here. I found out much later that there was some massive New England rave scene, which I had no idea about because I had no other friends that were interested in that stuff at the time. So my access to it came through getting the Internet for the first time when I was 13. I had a friend that gave me a DJ Keoki CD, then I found internet radio, then discovered drum and bass, and it just blew my mind. I was listening to that for like three years straight.
For a lot of people, music and club spaces can be this transitional space of escape and freedom. Is that a reason why you got into it?
Things like high-school dances were very important to me as a space where I could go and dance and express myself. When it comes to clubs it’s not necessarily about escape for me, it’s more about finding community; clubs have actualised and embodied me as a person, and made me feel like the person I’ve always wanted to be. So I definitely had a certain type of freedom there. I wouldn’t say that clubs are free spaces because there’s lots of issues with clubs. It’s about not only having club space but creating a community space within it.
So you’re launching a record label, which is exciting. Can you tell me a bit about that?
So me and my partner Eris [Drew] are starting a record label called T42 LUV NRG. The name was originally based on a series of parties we did together, to have those community spaces. And also because we love each other, and like to play records to each other, and in playing for people we try to transmit that love to the dancefloor. So we decided to start a record label with it because we want to have our own control over everything we do, the music we want to make, but also the public image that comes with it, and the money. We want to take care of every aspect of it. At the moment we’re just working on projects with the two of us, but when we have a bit more time we want to be working with other people that we care about, and have their music be seen and heard as well.
You’re mentioning the aspect of control, have you had any issues with that in the past?
Almost everyone I’ve worked with in the past has been a friend of someone I know, and they’ve always been happy to let me control my music. Some people not so much, but I feel like I’ve been doing pretty well in the past couple of years, so I don’t really need the assistance of other people. And I also like the idea of having the total control not that I’ve had to fight people ver but trying to protect myself of the future is an aspect of that and wanting it to be our thing, and from the ground-up just be ours.
How do you guys find your inspiration?
We do lots and lots of record digging. We’re geeking out constantly. We have this idea of not necessarily sticking to one genre or time period. We’re at the point where it’s been 32 years since house music got the name “house music”, so we have a lot to pull from. The way we present and play records is to pull from all kinds of inspirations, and then everything is able to come together. We both have a feeling that there’s all these existing records – we call them artefacts – and they are objects to be used in conducting rituals. That’s also a reason why [Eris and I are] both vinyl-only DJs. When I play, I like to play a lot of 90s music from different genres, but I don’t have nostalgia for the 90s because I’m 32. I didn’t get to go out clubbing until I was in New York City and I was 23. We’re not referencing that time of music. Time is flat, we’re representing that music at a new time and in a different way, and mixing the records in a different way that they would’ve been mixed back then.
It’s kinda like you’ve melted down gold and made something completely new.
That’s hopefully how it’s been perceived!
How is your forthcoming album Resonant Body different to the others?
All the original music that I make has an emotional core to it. It’s very important to me. I don’t make tracks that are like “Untitled 1”, “Untitled 2”, etc… because that’s not how I engage in art.
In the past all your song titles have felt really personal…
It’s because I’m constantly just going through my life and turning it into work and presenting it in that way. When you’re working with mostly instrumental music, you can get get that emotional-ness through chords but you can also get it through having track titles to hint at that message, because I don’t really use lyrics very often. If I do, they are small vocal samples repeated throughout.
This record is different from my other ones, mostly because I’m just happier than I’ve been. It’s not like my previous records are necessarily sadder, but they were sort of filled with anxiety about what was going on; with life, with my transitioning, with things that are happening in the world around me, public spaces, daily interactions, all those things. Of course that continues into the new record, but it’s generally happier. I’ve been playing a lot more recently, and I care about the dancefloor so much, so this one is slightly more dancefloor-oriented, in the sense that when I finished recording I had like 3 tracks where I thought, “I would love to DJ these”, as opposed to playing live. I approach those two in very different ways.
You talk about feeling happier now and losing that sense of anxiety. What would you attribute that to – is it feeling more comfortable with yourself?
I’m definitely happier with myself. I have Eris in my life, as well as my partner Brooke – there’s three of us together, which I think is a really wonderful thing. I moved out of New York City about two years ago and Brooke and I bought a house in New Hampshire, where Eris just moved in. I’m in a log cabin in the woods in New Hampshire right now. The record is also called Resonant Body because it’s about things that happen in this cabin, the magic that happens in the woods behind us… there’s lots of body actualisation and embodiment that’s been happening in the past year. I’ve tried to encapsulate that in the record, while also still having those elements of fear and anxiety. I’m still dealing with that in public spaces, but I feel much bolder in those spaces than I did in the past.
Your fans will have followed your journey – musically and personally – and that’s a really inspiring thing for them to see. What’s the best feedback you’ve ever had?
I have a lot of people that have told me that they’ve heard the emotional aspect of my music and have identified with it. Especially with my album Between Two Selves, which is a very anxiety-ridden album, it’s like a coded trans message that I put out like 3 years before I even came out publicly. I still get messages from people telling me they loved it and that it helped them through hard times. And that’s what dance music has done for me. DJ Sprinkles’ Midtown 120 Blues is a highly-referenced album when it comes to trans people, but it was really important because it had really overt messaging about being a transgender individual in the world. I do like the thought of including political and personal messaging in my music. It feels important to me, and I want that to be important to someone else. Whether it is or not isn’t for me to decide, but that’s what I try to do. I think dance music is a really important, beautiful art form and it should be respected as a medium that can have that emotional content. Even with older house records, people put it down because it’s cheesy or whatever, but there’s big, powerful messages being conveyed there. If it has somewhat of a pop sensibility to it, so fucking what?
Do you think the techno scene fully interjects with queer spaces, or is there still a lot of work to be done?
Progression is a hard thing for me to reference without having a longer cultural background of being in those spaces. My reference is just the past eight years of touring a lot. That being said, I see a lot of work by queer people to create queer spaces, and have them as respected spaces and not be seen as a novelty of some sort. It’s not the gay bar in the corner playing top 40 hits. There’s a problem with larger clubs attempting to include messages of tolerance. A lot of places like to project these messages, but don’t understand how to enforce it because they haven’t trained their staff to deal with it.
You’re playing Dekmantel this year, what’s your favourite festival to play?
I’m actually not a huge fan of festivals, but there’s this festival called Sustain Release that I really love going to. I’ve gone almost every single year. It’s in upstate New York, and it’s wonderful. I loved doing Field Maneuvers festival as well, that was one of my favourite shows. But I am looking forward to Dekmantel, especially playing with Eris.
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