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Octo Octa
Octo OctaPhotography Jeffrey McMahan

Octo Octa spins cathartic tunes & dancefloor-saving bangers

Before she plays Dazed’s party at Bestival this weekend, the New Hampshire DJ and producer curates a slamming party playlist

It’s been a few months since the release of Octo Octa’s Where Are We Goinga triumphant, compelling deep dive into queerness and self-realisation. Introspective and reflective, the album saw Maya Bouldry-Morrison offer a personal and deeply moving collection that hit so many right in the heart – it was for anyone sitting with their headphones in, basking in the blue MacBook glow, or spinning into a friend’s arms on a sticky dancefloor.

The breakthrough success of Where Are We Going has led to a busier schedule for Octo Octa. This spring and summer has seen Bouldry-Morrison take her rapturous live sets and breezy beats to crowds across the world, from Bristol to Brooklyn to Berlin. Just last week, she released the second single from the album alongside two remixes: the synthy, heart-rate pushing “Adrift”.

But this is all just one small part of the tidal waves of change happening for Bouldry-Morrison recently. Over the past year or so, the producer and DJ has moved from New York back to her native New Hampshire, publicly come out as transgender, and move from one label to another. What’s more, Bouldry-Morrison is now tentatively working on new music, which she describes it as “angry”, taking no bullshit from anyone to discover what her next musical statement will be.

This weekend, Octo Octa performs as part of Dazed’s takeover at Bestival alongside Eclair Fifi and Mykki Blanco. Ahead of the weekend festivities, she’s put together a party playlist, pairing slamming diva vocals with liquid club and dub tracks. We caught up with the artist about her mesmerising music set-up, touring the world and crafting the stories she wants to tell.

How have you been dealing with – this may not be the right word – the aftermath of your most recent album?

Octo Octa: It feels like a big deal. After I finished the other album four years ago, I was supposed to have another out a year later. But they are just too hard to actually do that, and I like albums that have narrative focus –  I want there to be a reason that it’s coming out versus ‘Here’s a bunch of tracks, enjoy these.’

The ‘aftermath’ has been super positive, which is really great because I made something so personal; having low self-esteem, but having put all of this time, effort and thought into something you hope isn’t a total stinker. Now, I feel more confident about stuff. There have been a lot of shows, which is good, but I’ve also never been so busy. I’m travelling every weekend and I’m losing my mind slightly from it! Touring is a great problem to have, but it feels weird.

What’s your act of self-care? I’m sure things can feel relentless.

Octo Octa: I’ve been staying at a friends and I was like, ‘I'll definitely go outside’, and then I was like, ‘...I’m going to stay inside and watch more TV.’  Usually it’s lots of TV, and a Nintendo Switch playing a lot of Tetris in Endurance Mode. With every new city I’m in, going for a lot of walks is always really good too. I’m not so great at not drinking, which is something I need to get a little better at, but it will all be okay.

“I’ve been doing electronic music for 15 years and it’s only now that I accept writer’s block doesn’t mean I’m never going to write again” – Octo Octa

When you visit a new place, does it influence you creatively?

Octo Octa: Yeah, but it can be quite strange, because I feel like a lot of cities are a little too similar. Inspiration from travelling comes in fits and I never know when it’s going to happen – it’s just some particular party will be really fantastic. When I see another DJ who has more sort of locality that I don’t see anywhere else, that will get me excited and make me want to do things.

I was just in the Midwest in Madison, and I’ve been in Detroit at (local electronic music festival) Movement, and I saw my friend Eris Drew from Chicago. They have an amazing aesthetic to their DJ sets that I just don’t hear in New York. After that I was just like, ‘Oh my god this is so exciting, and electric, and I want to go out and DJ right now, and make a whole new bunch of music!’ And this also inspires choices at record stores where I’m buying too much of the same stuff – I feel I should be buying more of the weirder stuff now. It’s just random. Some months I have writer’s block but then I’ll go on tour, and on the weekend I’ll write three tracks. Or during the week at parties something will happen and my brain will light up and I’ll be like, ‘Now’s the time.’

I’ve been doing electronic music for 15 years and it’s only now that I accept writer’s block doesn’t mean I’m never going to write again. It just means that it’s just not going to happen right now. Especially when I first started having records come out, I would put out two records and then it would take me forever to finish something and I would think it was all over.

Do you find that whenever you do get home, you view your local scene differently? Is it a haven, or a place to work?

Octo Octa: It’s not so much a solace getting back. I just moved out of Brooklyn for New Hampshire where I mostly grew up. New York was really beating me down – I would be on tour, so when I would get home, I was rarely going out and not really taking advantage of being in the city. It was frustrating. I would rather leave for a while and come back to New York for shows and special trips that mean more. My wife works many hours, and by the time the weekend came around, it would finally be time to spend together. I just need time for a relationship. I got to bring my wife to Room for Resistance in Berlin which was really fun; she gets to come out every once in awhile.

Do your listening habits change depending on where you are?

Octo Octa: My listening habits – I am quite terrible for talking about new music. Other than promos that come through, I am quite excited about older records and I DJ mostly older records. I am awful at keeping up with what’s new beyond what my friends are making. When I go home and drive I just want any classical station, something I can absolutely ignore – the last thing I want to listen to is more banging club tunes. The only time I do want to listen to them is when my wife is tired and doesn’t want to listen to music – she’s like, ‘No, for the love of god, I don’t want to hear kick drums!’

“I’ve just been waiting to feel out what the next thing I want to try and say with music is. Right now, it’s been very, very angry stuff” – Octo Octa

What’s a go-to, save the dancefloor tune for you?

Octo Octa: I have way too many tracks that I always go to too often! I have to consciously go in and delete tracks off it because there will be moments where I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to play right now,’ and then I’m like, ‘Oh, this one always works’. Then you play it four or five sets in a row.

But one of my favourite records that I consistently plan as a closing track is a song by Nathan Haines, Earth is the Place’. It goes like (sings), ‘Cos I’m a woman.’ A friend gave me it two years ago, a couple months after I came out (as trans). It was one of the nicest things they had given me. I always think, ‘This is the record. Everyone should be playing this record.’ Women should be playing this record especially. 

And your live sets – like the recent Resident Advisor video and live set at Bristol’s Motion – are so mesmerising.

Octo Octa: Live sets are so much different from DJing – I get in such a weird mode of focusing. When I’m DJing, I do a lot of dancing and singing – which is not performative, it’s more just that I’m playing songs that I love and I get excited about playing them. In a live set, I’m laser focused and not having many moments where I can stand back. I’m enjoying it of course, but I don’t have moments where I can dance and appreciate some piece of improvised music that’s happening. At one point I don’t know if it’s been going on five minutes of ten minutes, or if people are bored or enjoying it. It’s quite strange. 

With a live set, I’ve also had to kind of take a ‘fuck you’ attitude to it. This is all my own music, this is what I do – there’s not much I can do if you don’t like it. One thing about the improvisational moments in live sets is that I will look out a little bit more unless I’m really into it. Sometimes when I’m DJing, someone will come up to me and be like ‘Are you going to play something different?’ And I’m just like ‘No, fuck you.’

People really do that?

Octo Octa: Yeah, it’s always some asshole dude that is upset that they aren’t DJing, or some shit like that.

You said earlier that narrative is integral to your releases – what’s the next story you want to tell?

Octo Octa: I don’t know! It’s actually funny because I had seven records come out this year, and it was all kind of backlogged from last year, all from different labels and their release schedules compacted into one. I haven’t really finished anything new except two, where I was quite angry after something had happened: ‘Leave Me Alone’. It was a lot tougher and heavier than what I usually do because I was really angry. It’s a very basic, easy emotion to pull when doing something, but it felt good. It was the same with another about people being sneaky. I’ve just been waiting to feel out what the next thing I want to try and say with music is. Right now, it’s been very, very angry stuff and once again having a lot of anxiety, thinking about what’s going on and moving through the world as a non-passing trans woman who is trying her best and having to deal with bullshit from people a whole lot. I think that’s what I will be talking about a lot.

It sounds overwhelmingly cathartic.

Octo Octa: Yes, it needs to be cathartic right now because I feel crazy often enough. 

Music can be the best place to feel that out. 

Octo Octa: Yeah, and I’m not the sort of person who thinks ‘Hmm, I need a banger out there right now, let’s just make something.’ Something has to be invested in it for me to be able to come back later to it and finish it. I’ll finish some things that I like and then I listen back to it and then I think ‘I don’t know what this is saying, it feels so flat.’ It will sound cool, but I won’t know what’s there. Ultimately, those never come out.

Even if I didn’t have records coming out, music became the most potent mode of expression for me. Everything I try to make has to have an emotional core and have some idea behind it, whether people get it or not, but at least it has something there for me. Otherwise, I don’t see the point in putting it out.

Octo Octa plays Dazed’s stage at Bestival this Friday (September 8) alongside Eclair Fifi and Mykki Blanco