Octo Octa: The Transgender DJ With a Strong and Overt Queer Message

Art is successful when it raises more questions than answers.

For Maya Bouldry-Morrison (professionally known as Octo Octa), her latest LP is her chance to pose two central questions that have plagued her over the past year. Set for release on March 28 via Honey Soundsystem’s HNYTRX imprint, Where Are We Going? represents her second overall full-length project and her first as an out transgender individual.

The album’s title—as well as that of the its first and last track—alludes to her constantly being unsure of just what’s going to happen next, especially after she came out publicly as transgender in early 2016 in an interview with Resident Advisor. “I didn’t get as much backlash as I was honestly expecting. It felt too easy, which is not the typical narrative you hear from coming out stories.”

This ambivalence is reflected across the LP’s nine-track journey, aggregating sounds from retro-tinged house (Until The Moon Sets), 90s-influenced breaks (Move On (Let Go)(De-stress Mix)) and moody Berlin techno (Adrift) to craft a uniquely intimate and raw portrait of the Brooklyn-based producer/DJ’s life and where she’s coming from since coming out to the wider world.

What’s particularly notable for listeners, however, is the album’s lack of lyrical content, with dancefloor-ready basslines and sparkling soundscapes instead conjuring the journey the producer has embarked on over the past year. “There’s lots of emotional cues in chords and sounds that will bring through that message somewhat.”

A prime example of this comes along after just four tracks. “No More Pain (Promises to a Younger Self) is this short piece with an old vocal sample and an amen break being chopped up over it,” she explains. “That’s very much a reference to things I was making when I was younger and also as a teenager listening to a ton of drum and bass, while enjoying pop music also and going to dances.”

Another key element on the creation of Where Are We Going? is related to the increase in gigs the producer has taken on in the past few years, with her soaring diva house DJ sets laying a more club-focused sheen on the record than the intricate, loop-centric live sets.

However, it was one of the latter that led to a chance booking alongside San Francisco’s queer DJ collective Honey Soundsystem in February 2016 that truly the wheels in motion for Where Are We Going? “I met Josh Cheon and Robert Yang when I was playing a live set at Good Room in Brooklyn last year.” After publicly coming out, Bouldry-Morrison found herself being booked on more queer-leaning lineups and parties. “That’s probably why I was paired with Honey Soundsystem at the time.” From there, a creative relationship was established which eventually connected Bouldry-Morrison with fellow Honey Soundsystem founder Jacob Sperber, who was more than thrilled when she had the makings of nearly an entire album ready to go.

When the ink was officially signed for an album and it came time to shoot the its art, Sperber urged her to pose for the cover, which features her fabulously glammed up at the forefront. “For a second it was a very scary thing to do, but he very quickly won me over and made me think it made a lot of sense,” she recalls. “I never liked to do pictures like that before because I hated my body and absolutely hated how I looked. But I was like, I’m pretty happy with how I look now and I’m excited being out in the world.

It certainly is a switch-up from her 2013 debut LP Between Two Selves, which did not feature a portrait of her on its cover. At the time, Bouldry-Morrison wasn’t out, but the album’s coded message of wanting to come out is easily seen now given its title and tracks like Who Will I Become. “I actually wanted to call the album Trans or something like that because I kind of meant it as a coming out album, but while I was flirting with the idea I never got truly comfortable with the idea to come out to my family.” This go around, fully out and aiming to convey a “more overt queer message,” Bouldry-Morrison aimed to capture the idea of “being out and trying to navigate life not being in the closet and feeling more comfortable” while still being anxious of what will happen next.

Being thrust into the limelight certainly brings its own set of challenges and pressures, of course. “It feels like I need to be doing more and saying more for things, but I also don’t mind that push being a sedentary, indoor person that’s not out there as much as I would like to be,” she laughs. “, I still have this feeling where I wonder if anyone wants to hear my voice and my ideas or am I just saying this thing out in public that everyone around me already agrees with. Are you just getting brownie points for saying something that we all already know we agree with?”

That being said, Bouldry-Morrison doesn’t feel robbed of her privacy after the experience. “I did everything personally with my friends and family beforehand. It felt like this thing I should do as this wider whole.” If anything, it’s made things easier. “It felt better to have this wider statement announcement of this thing versus if I kept it really personal and showed up to parties and had to tell them about pronouns and tell them about a name change.”

The album’s final few moments ask the question that’s most likely to resonate with listeners: do you feel better? “I got that question all the time from everyone,” she reveals. Coming in on the final track as a particularly dour bass note hits and spoken numerous times, the question is easily understood as the sort of general anxiety on which Bouldry-Morrison occasionally fixates. “It’s so strange, that question was always it. Part of me just wants to be like, ‘Yeah, I feel better. You can’t see that I feel better?’”

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