The New Hampshire-based DJ’s new album ‘Resonant Body’ carves out a space for joy and limitlessness in a dangerous world.
Octo Octa is recovering from a rave. She phones NME from Berlin in the aftermath of the latest in a series of parties under the Motherbeat name, the collective set up by her partner and tourmate Eris Drew. The make-up of the party in question is refreshingly unconventional, and underlines everything that Maya channels through her music.
Beginning with a ‘More Than A Party’ lecture hosted by Eris, outlining the fundamentals of the party – accessible, trans-inclusive, alcohol-free – music from across the dance spectrum then runs from just shy of midnight until 10 in the morning. Attendees then grab a rubbish bag each, clear up the dancefloor and place mats down before entering a two-hour “deep listening session”. Not your average night out, huh. As a statement accompanying the event read: “All are called to dissolve boundaries in the fundamental pulse of the Motherbeat, the whispering geometric wind of the goddess.”
This entire philosophy – thinking beyond the surface-level enjoyment of going to a rave and dealing with the consequences the next day, and believing in the healing properties of dance music – is vital to Octo Octa. “A lot of people walked away saying that they wished this was a party that happened all the time,” she tells us with a smile.
The current tour she’s on has brought her to London and Berlin, and she’ll head to Taipei, Bali, China and beyond before its conclusion. Often playing back to back with Eris, the shows are deeply collaborative and community-led, with the aforementioned healing properties of shows such as these felt as deeply by those behind the decks as the ones on the dancefloor.
“I love playing music with someone I love deeply,” Maya reflects. “We play records that have messages, and we talk to each other with them. If she’s having a hard time at the beginning of a set, I might play some tracks that are calming and have messages of support, saying ‘It’s okay’ – and then she perks up, and it’s the same thing the other way round.”
Alongside a burgeoning DJ career, Octo Octa’s work as a producer hit a new peak this year with the release of her new album ‘Resonant Body’, a wonderfully bright, jubilant collection of uninhibited house music. She calls it “the most joyous record I’ve written,” one that comes from “embracing a lot of things in life finally for the first time that I wasn’t able to for a long time.” This power and assuredness comes bursting out of the record, rubber-stamped with titles like ‘Deep Connections’, ‘My Body Is Powerful’ and ‘Power To The People’. Elsewhere, like on ‘Spin Girl, Let’s Activate!’, all deeper thought is replaced with a raucous wish to lose all inhibitions and just dance.
Maya says that her previous records saw her “dealing with anxiety and stress and sadness,” but, somewhat in tandem with her coming out as a trans woman, she felt embodied and strong coming into the creation of ‘Resonant Body’. “It’s not about being more comfortable in public, because I was happy immediately when I came out,” she reflects, “but where I am now, I never imagined I could be three years ago.”
“I felt like I had to put this album out now, because I don’t know what lies in the future” – Octo Octa
“It’s a lot of themes of empowerment and embodiment, and that’s important,” she says. “It’s especially important for queer people, because it’s hard out there for us. As much as people like to think it isn’t, and that things are okay now, they’re not. They are in certain places, but those are few and far between, truly.
“It’s hard to look at the past and think of it as regrettable, because things had to happen in the way that they unfolded, and certain life experiences had to happen in order to bring me to the place where I am now,” Maya reflects of the time before she came out, but instead of ruing the time lost, she tells us that “now, it’s a case of living as long and as happy as possible.”
With a DJ career that can more than sustain her and push her forwards artistically – Octo Octa DJ sets rarely feature Maya’s own productions – the need to create a new album had to come from a deep compulsion rather than throwing out a half-baked production just because that time came around again. Managing to clear her diary for three weeks last December, Maya returned to her quiet New Hampshire base – she moved out of New York two years ago, needing “a reprieve from urban society” – feeling like “I had an album in me.”
“I had so much of the year just gone that I wanted to process,” she reflects. “It’s also a thing of being a queer trans person in the world, and especially with travelling so much. I’m not always in the safest situations. I felt like I had to put this [album] out now, because I don’t know what lies in the future. If I was to disappear…” she says before pausing. “If I was to die, what would be the last thing that I’d want to have out? This piece of joy that I have inside me.”