In Conversation: Octo Octa
Octo Octa's music has been a continual source of lockdown inspiration for this writer.
The American producer's ability to decontextualise rave tropes and furnish this energy with cutting edge techniques is little short of a revelation, capable of illuminating even the very depths of lockdown fatigue.
New EP 'She's Calling' closes a two year discourse within her work, teasing apart the connections between ritual and electronic music.
Out now, it follows the 'For Lovers' EP and her 2019 full length 'Resonant Body', which it also acts as an adjunct to that wonderful fabric mix, constructed alongside partner Eris Drew.
Combining her teaching commitments with daily magic ritual, Octo Octa has spent lockdown out-with the physical release that the nightclub experience can offer.
Clash spoke to the producer over email to discuss her new EP, future plans, and the intersections of magic ritual and club culture.
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You’ve spoken eloquently before about your love of club culture being rooted in a sense of connectivity – with COVID disrupting that, how have you coped? Has there been an emotional impact this enforced solitude?
There’s been a huge emotional impact on me not being able to be out with people and hearing music on a large sound system in a dark room. I viewed each weekend as a ritual to heal myself from the week prior. Not having those moments has made sadness and frustration more prominent in my life.
I’m lucky during this time to be surrounded by nature in a nice cabin with my partners Q and Eris, but it’s been very difficult having that pillar in my life be gone for a year. I love the act of making music and art, but I also cherish the chance to perform and present it.
What was 2020 like for you? Some artists relished being off the road, and attending to the day-to-day aspects of their own lives. Did these holes in your diary prove to be opportunities for other activities / art forms?
I had been touring endlessly for about four years prior to having to come home because of COVID. During that time I would be home for maybe a weekend or two every couple months, but otherwise I was gone. Away from my partners, away from my pets, away from my family. So having time at home and actually living a version of a normal life again has had some beautiful benefits like seeing my family, being in nature, and taking care of the cabin. But it’s a lot of the same cycle over and over again.
When I’m not working on music I’ve tried to fill the time by revisiting video games, anime, and other media that I grew up with. That’s been particularly interesting to say the least.
The past 12 months has brought a joint fabric mix with Eris Drew, and also the ‘Love Hypnosis’ mixtape. Does this new EP draw on that same energy, or does it exist outside of those projects?
Everything I do music-wise draws on my life. It’s all autobiographical whether it’s DJ mixes or original productions. I try to channel certain energies and emotions with everything I make.
This EP is specifically closing a loop that I started with my EP 'For Lovers' and continued with my album 'Resonant Body'. It’s been an exploration of love, queerness, connection, and ritual. 'She’s Calling' in particular is very focused on connecting with the Other and what that means in my life. How has my connection with other planes molded who I am? It’s going to be a lifetime of processing it’s ever present influence.
How do you feel you have evolved as a producer since the release of 'Resonant Body'? Would it strictly be a question of technique etc or have you been drawn to other sonic avenues?
I feel that I’ve gotten better at engineering my records to sound more like I want them to with every release, but it’s never a process that will end. I like to say that I’ve been an amatuer for the past 18 years!
It’s a slow build and exploration of production techniques, playing with new equipment, having new experiences on different sound systems, and just continuing to feel out where the sound wants to go next. I try not to retread music I’ve made already, but I hope that all my work has a through-line. My partnership with Eris has also deeply impacted me the past few years; I found my musical partner in the world who I can share my work with and discuss music endlessly.
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The material was largely written before the pandemic curtailed your tour activities, yet it feels oddly prescient. Do you believe that we as humans can feel such events coming, even on a subliminal level? Do you see the music as anticipating the events that followed in your own life?
I can absolutely say that I did not expect a pandemic to occur nor was I truly prepared for it, but part of being a person who works with chaos means learning to cope with it. One can also harness it. I feel that humans experience time in many different ways.
For myself, I feel that I’ve seen possible versions of the future, but it’s always a glimpse with little context. How true these visions are I won’t know until I get there. I also have a terrible memory which makes it more important to myself that I process so much of my life with my music. I can go back to old songs or mixes and get clues as to what happened in my life then. I also create to attempt to manifest a future that I want to see and be in.
I think all of these exercises are present in my music.
The three tracks on the EP discuss club culture’s ritualistic aspects – it’s a series of different rhythm cycles working together. Is there a spiritual aspect to this? Is this something you have explored outside of dance music?
Ritual and spiritual practice is something that I wanted to highlight with this EP. Part of the ritualistic experience of being in a club is the fact that the music being played is shifting over time. Those points of transition between rhythms and moods can say so much about the songs being played and the person playing them. I like having these shifting aspects in a single song as well. I’m not trying to have two, three, or four different songs packed into one presentation, I’m trying to highlight connected thoughts and emotions that are there throughout the whole piece by showing different sides of it.
I practice magic in my everyday life. It’s about connecting with yourself, connecting with others, exploring your world, and listening. The Other is there and talking with you constantly. It’s about having moments to take that in and appreciate it.
‘Spell For Nature’ and ‘Goddess Calling’ both seem to echo wiccan / other religious traditions – has an awareness of these helped you configure your thoughts surrounding club culture?
It has. I broadly call myself a witch in that I practice magic and cast spells, but I think it’s important to say that it’s self made. I have no dogma that I follow except what I feel in my heart. What I know is that I feel something on the dance floor that was not taught to me. I see the ritual experience at many parties and clubs. It’s somewhat ineffable, it’s more of a feeling.
Is there a particular reference for the Goddess in the track title? Who [or what] do you see her as?
It was important to directly acknowledge her in the latest work because of her strong presence in my life. She’s the ever-present Goddess of everything.
For myself it’s been important to not manifest an image of who she is and exactly what she has made and done. It’s larger than that. She’s all around everyone and in everything. I know she’s there because I hear her and see her in so many different ways.
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The relationship between artist and audience is reciprocal, particularly in dance music. Has increased physical separation from your audience altered the way you produce, do you think?
I have so many years of being a performer that having a year away from it hasn’t really clouded what that was like. I have lots of fond memories of incredible nights and mornings right before lockdown that I’ve been holding onto. Those moments have continued to inform what I want to make and hear.
I have mostly been listening to dance music since I was 13 years old (I’m 33 now). I grew up in a place that did not have clubs; the closest we could get would be DIY shows, house parties, and a crappy top 40 DJ at a local bar. So I started producing essentially in a clubless vacuum when I was young. Club experiences definitely inform where I go next with my sound, but the feelings and emotions move me even when I’m alone.
In the UK the politics surrounding trans issues seem to be in an increasingly dark place. What would your advice be for someone who wanted to be a more effective ally towards that community?
Listen to trans and non-binary people. We are telling you about what we need. Our needs and wants are not always aligned, but too often we’re the topic of discussion without our voices being included. When we are included it’s typically to defend ourselves from people not in the community. It’s time to just listen to what the community is saying.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year? Will there be more projects? Live streams? Or something else?
I just finished teaching a five-day class about home studios and production for IO Music Academy. I’m finishing a split 12” with Eris Drew for fabric. I hope to release my next mixtape, 'Love Hypnosis Vol. 2' on T4T LUV NRG this year. I have a number of remixes that will slowly be coming out the rest of 2021 and I am also starting work on a new EP for a friend’s label.
I am really excited about music that is going to be coming out on T4T LUV NRG coming up! Eris and I have a number of people that we love who are putting tapes and EPs together currently.
Also Eris is finishing up her debut album which we will release this fall. So there’s lots of label work coming.
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'She's Calling' EP is out now.
Photo Credits: Basti Schlze (main), Eris Drew (inset)
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