Club culture and electronic music were built on the pillars of gay communities. Through the widening homogenisation and increased global appeal of the current scene, dance music is in danger of losing sight of those origins. A polarised world, where two distinct camps of populism and progressives are increasingly at loggerheads, has meant that spaces that were once deemed “safe” to marginalised communities have been infiltrated and appropriated by their tormentors.
But the fightback is underway.
The undeground LGBTQ scene is thriving, both Stateside and on this side of the pond. Promoters such as Pxssy Palace and DISCWOMAN are as much political statements, as they are freedoms of expression. And in terms of individuals lighting the path, Octo Octa is one of the biggest stars to emerge in recent years.
Like many people who identify as non-binary, Maya Bouldry-Morrison’s pursuit of happiness is one of self-realisation, as much as it is for the acceptance of others. Alongside Honey Dijon, she’s widely known as one of the most prominent LGBTQ’s figures who have crossed over into the mainstream house and techno circuit. In terms of style, her tastes are anything from downtempo electronica to jackin’ house music, with regular dances to breakbeat. Then, of course, she is not uncustomed to pummelling, body sweat techno. Her success has happened as a trans woman, but it might surprise some people to learn that she only came out as recently as 2016.
Active prior to her transition, Octo Octa’s personal battle can perhaps be charted by her musical output. Her first album, 2013’s Between Two Selves, was clearly a reference to that internal conflict. Her next LP, the Honey Soundsystem-released Where Are We Going? dropped soon after soon after her public revelation. As such, is a tumultuous and drama-tinged saga of a record, whose melodies and moments of melancholy tug at the heartstrings.
Even without knowing the backstory, the body of work was evidently made during a period of introspective soul-searching. Club-friendly music, this largely wasn’t. Dancefloor-focused tracks would follow, though. For My Girls, released on Frendzone - the label wing of the infamous NYC gay warehouse parties - reflected the diversity of the music on offer at those events.
September saw the release of Resonate Body, Octo Octa’s third studio album. Unlike the two that preceded it, commentators noted that this latest music felt like an artist more at one with herself and comfortable in her own skin.
As Octo Octa evolves into a more influential figure within the house and techno universe, another interesting facet of her journey is her relationship with fellow DJ, Eris Drew. Drew, herself a member of the Trans community, has also seen her profile skyrocket in the last few years. They met at Chicago’s Smarbar. Eris was a resident, Octo was a guest headliner. The pair hit it off almost instantly.
Somewhat unconventional, the couple cohabitate with a third party - Maya’s longterm girlfriend. Not only are they a romantic item, but Octo Octa and Eris Drew are increasingly making a name for themselves in the booth, as a formidable B2B partnership. Most recently they’ve toured across North America playing a string of all night long B2Bs on the T4T LUV NRG tour - also the name given to Octo Octa’s new label. Last year, the duo made to leap to studio collaborators as well. The Devotion EP featured music from both artists with a shared message of lust and eroticism.
The unlikely power-couple reflect a growing tolerance in dance music - one which has been notable by its absence in recent years. Our hope is that electronic music’s liberalism can permeate society as a whole. We live in poly-sexual, gender-fluid age, but paradoxically, one where At a time of political turmoil, where world leaders seem intent on driving divides and stoking the flames of bigotry, we can take solace that love is the message.
Octo Octa is part of the Friday programme at next year’s fifth edition of Junction 2 festival. She joins the ranks that include Hessle Audio, Fatima Yahama, Jon Hopkins, Four Tet and Nina Kraviz at Boston Manor Park on Friday 5th June.
Third release tickets are on sale now.