Similar to the interlaced fabric that the title encourages, MESH is a new queer party contributing to the creative network of Pittsburgh’s dance community. Deeply inspired by Hot Mass at home and other queer parties abroad, Chad Beisner and Michael Fischer established their event to provide another safe place for music and freedom of expression.
They met during the very beginning of their college years at film school. Fischer says, “We met in freshman orientation at Point Park University and I skipped out to go out to a club and dance and came back the next morning covered in glitter and a total mess, so he walked up to me and the rest is history.”
As Pittsburgh natives they both share a passion for music and an appreciation for places that encourage creativity. Fischer says he has “always had a deep love for music, dancing, and positive creative spaces in general! I grew up listening to all different types of music from disco to punk and my love for dance music derived from that.”
Beisner, who also DJs as ChadKid, started exploring dance music in high school. “I eventually bought a controller for my laptop and started DJing at my friends’ high school parties. At the time I wasn’t really exposed to techno music at all and was playing R&B edits and disco. When I first started to go out when I was in college, Hot Mass was one of the first places Micheal ever dragged me to. That place really sparked my interest in techno and more underground electronic music. Without them I don’t know what I even be doing right now.”
Pittsburgh’s local dance scene has been growing significantly over the past several years. Although ripe with events at Hot Mass, they still have a small scene comparatively to other cities. Too many promoters in these environments can cause a competitive atmosphere and a dilution of quality, but MESH is on more of a symbiotic mission.
“Our city as a whole has been growing like crazy lately. And after being in our amazing scene and community of queers and music heads we have here in Pittsburgh, I’ve been able to see it grow as well over the past couple years. Michael and I have been wanting to start our own party for a while now, and we’ve done a couple of smaller things in the past that went well,” Besiner says. “But now the city is at a point where we have room for more than one queer techno party without it seeming like competition, so we figured now would be the perfect time to step in. It’s been great to be able to book and showcase artists that I love and give them a space to show off their talents to the rest of this amazing city.”
Fischer adds that the creation of MESH is to provide another safe place for queer freedom and visibility. With Hot Mass and some local bars there are certainly spaces already established, he says, “but there can never be enough.”
It’s also important to note that their party differs from Hot Mass in many ways. MESH is not an after hours party, which has a prominent impact on the overall atmosphere. Besiner explains, “I think there’s a lot that’s fundamentally different about our party from Mass for sure. And not that Mass/Honcho is doing anything wrong, quite the opposite, but we just wanted to create a different kind of queer party. Our parties aren’t all nighters and there’s no spaces for sex. Not that those are bad things but they can definitely create a different kind of dance floor vibe at a party. After traveling some last summer and going to parties like In Training in Cleveland and Jarvi’s Acid Daddy parties in Chicago, I was inspired to create a party with a similar vibe to those.”
Liberation through dress, dance and sound that can be found at these parties and within Club Pittsburgh is also welcomed for those who attend MESH. “Hot Mass is like a second home for me, I’m so grateful that I can be part of this amazing community and be a part of amazing events. MESH is very much inspired by the community Hot Mass has created. Hot Mass is a space where anyone can be who they are,” Fischer says. “Trust me I’ve worn some crazy shit there and all I got was love. MESH is another one of those spaces where we want everyone to express their true selves and showcase artistry of all queer people no matter where they came from or where they are going. Like I said before, there can never be too many queer spaces.”
Often adorned in mesh fabric, Beisner and Fischer developed a signature look. They decided to title their party after their favorite breathable dancing material, only to find the poetic parallels revealed as the event transpired. “As we thought about it more the better and better it worked. Mesh is breathable and unisex fabric and we like to think of our party as breathable and unisex too. Comfortable and accessible to everyone from all areas of the queer spectrum,” Beisner says.
Queer parties play such an important role in the music scene on a global level. These parties collectively work to not only shape the scene at large but also have a major impact for local communities by providing a space of acceptance where there is freedom to just be yourself.
“I think queer focus and visibility is important in any scene. Often times trans, non-binary, and just queer people in general are pushed out of scenes which sucks because there are so many amazing artists that can’t showcase their work. One of the main goals of MESH is to showcase these amazing artists.” – MICHAEL FISCHER
Beisner adds, “Queers throw the best parties! I think all the queer people I know in our music scene are doing the most interesting things. And a good queer party will draw in people who might not be too into the music and turn them into someone obsessing over it. I know several people that Honcho has done that for, including myself. I’m sure all these other amazing parties have done the same for many others.”
MESH launched on April 28 at Cattivo, a bar and venue in Lawrenceville. Beisner provided opening duties prior to headliner Shane Christian, who DJs as Kiernan Laveaux. Not only is she an advocate for queer and trans rights, and co-creator of Cleveland’s In Training parties, but she is a growing name in the techno community, especially after her performance during this year’s Club Toilet and Industry Brunch parties in Detroit.
They both share responsibilities for the event. Beisner focuses on booking and wrangling the music and lighting equipment while Fischer handles budgeting, venue and space decoration. When the night of the event arrives their friends collaborate to lend helping hands. “It does overlap and we work together to find great spaces and artists. We are also lucky enough to have amazing friends that jump at the opportunity to help set up, work the door, and much more. It would be impossible without them,” Fischer says.
Barring the space being just a little too big, the evening was a success. Fischer says, “Our event at Cattivo was great! The turnout was lovely. The only downside was that the space was huge! It’s hard to fill a room that big. The staff at Cattivo was very accommodating and great! They welcomed us techno weirdos with open arms. Shane’s set was amazing! She is such a talented DJ and it was such a honor to have her play our first party!” Beisner agrees that their first event went smoothly and free of any problems. Venue hunting is tough in Pittsburgh, especially when looking for an underground spot that is also the perfect energy for a queer friendly environment. Fischer continues, “Finding a space is difficult no matter where you are, I find. Pittsburgh has very strict liquor laws and that can be a bit of a challenge especially with after hours parties. For now, having a non-after hours party is great. People are often intimidated by after hours so while we build a following, this is perfect. We would love to find a space to settle in monthly but for now we are still on the search!”
“We want to build a very strong sense of community and a good vibe of queer friends dressing up and having a good drunken time on the dance floor together to music they love. That’s what we are hoping to bring to Pittsburgh with this party.” – CHAD BEISNER
Beisner agrees on the difficulty found while scouting locations. “It has definitely been the hardest part of organizing this party. All the existing gay/queer spaces are not fit for any kind of party like this, and some of the spaces that are aren’t necessarily the safest places for queer people … We aren’t opposed to staying in one place, but definitely are always on the lookout for new and interesting places. We wanna keep it fresh and expose people to new spaces in the city as well. Also we really wanna do a poolside day party, so if anyone has any leads on that please contact us,” he says with a laugh.
Finding The Glitter Box Theater for their next installation of MESH is a dream come true space, they say. Hailing from Chicago on June 30 will be Jarvi, and opening will be a live set from local duo A&L. Beisner says, “This time the space is gonna be perfect I think. Glitterbox is this multi-use queer art space that just opened recently, it’s the perfect size for us and it will be great to have it in an actual queer owned space instead of a bar. We are bringing in Mike Masai’s amazing sound system that is gonna fill this space perfectly. And on top of everything this space is BYOB so it will be easy and cheap for everyone to get drunk and get dancing.”
Jarvi is a non-binary artist prominently known in Chicago’s underground queer house and techno scene. Among the Naughty Bad Fun Collective crew they can be found putting on parties at Smartbar for Planet Chicago, and also on their own endeavor hosting Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel at Berlin Nightclub. Opening the evening will be Pittsburgh’s A&L, a live collaborative performance of raw techno from Alexis Icon and Andre.
“We are so excited for Jarvi! The Glitterbox Theater is more of an art space while Cattivo was a bar. The set-up of Glitterbox is a little more our style and it’s BYOB which is always great,” Fischer adds. “As usual people can expect dancing, techno and lots of mesh.”
Eventually, the last track will play and the lights will come up and after everyone has gone home, Beisner and Fischer will be planning another event. Although anyone who throws parties does so for their own unique drive, there is always a common reason to do so: community.
Fischer says he throws parties because it allows him to “see my friends and community come together and just have an amazing time is enough cause to do it. Seeing people dance and show off their music, fashion, art, makeup, etc. is so amazing to me. I really just love to have a good time!”
Beisner adds, “Ultimately I just wanna throw a party where everyone can have a good time, feel safe, get exposed to some new music, and simultaneously create a space where my favorite DJs can play in my city. I wanted to expand on our already amazing scene here and create a place to dance that is welcoming to everyone. To look out at the crowd during a party and seeing everyone have a good time and dancing is the reason I do it. Putting an event together is more stressful than you imagine before you do it, but the end result is always worth it. We will also be donating proceeds to different organizations as often as we can. We donated all our proceeds from our first party to Planned Parenthood of Western PA. It’s nice to be able to make this party give back to the community.”
Keep a close eye on MESH as they continue to develop and grow in Pittsburgh.
In a world where society is structured by gender being categorized in two opposite forms, Jarvi Schneider’s gender identity lands fluidly somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, free from segmented definition. Fully enveloped in Chicago’s queer scene, the self-identified nonbinary artist and DJ was raised as a child in the house and techno scene of Detroit.
Jarvi spent their adolescence in Ann Arbor, Mich., eventually moving on to Commerce Township until the end of high school, to finally land in East Lansing, Mich. before moving to Chicago in 2012. The move, Jarvi says, was “to finally free myself from a state of no jobs, lack of public transit, and extreme queerphobia and racism.” Due to this atmosphere and being a hairstylist by trade, the salon was a difficult environment to find comfortable footing in Michigan.
While living in Michigan Jarvi says that “even within the queer communities, there is a lot of ideas of what a queer person ‘should and should not be’ or ‘look like’ to really be accepted.” They came out officially as nonbinary about two years ago.
To identify as nonbinary means one does not identify as exclusively masculine or feminine. “I have always been androgynous. I have always been called a boy. I think the worst of it all was being forced into a queer identity (lesbian), because anything outside of the binary was even too much for suburban Detroit queers to grasp. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard the term ‘nonbinary’ until I moved to Chicago, and even then I could hardly grasp it because of what I was accustomed to all my life. After some major trauma in my life, I realized that I had to make sure for the sake of my own brain and my chosen family, I had to be true to myself and who I am.”
Chicago for Jarvi meant better opportunities and was a cheaper and easier move from Michigan. “I sold my car, packed everything I owned into a Ford Excursion, and my cat, and I moved to Chicago knowing only a couple folks from high school, to start my new life.”
Jarvi is a member of the Naughty Bad Fun Collective crew, a resident of Planet Chicago night at Smartbar, and also runs and curates freaky queer club night Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel. Their introduction to the NBFC became a pivotal moment for Jarvi’s life in Chicago by experiencing an open, free environment and eventually learning the art of DJing.
“I found this crew (or maybe they found me) shortly after I moved to Chicago. They threw the best undergrounds in the city, always had the most welcoming vibes, and even outside of the rave we all became more than just people you hang with at the party,” Jarvi says. “After meeting Sam and the crew, I pretty much attended everything that NBFC did and started to help out with setup and tear down. Somewhere between that and the DJ lessons, I became one of the crew!”
It was just before Jarvi’s birthday in 2013 when God Particle label owner and NBFC’s Sam Kern (otherwise known as Sassmouth) gave them their first ever DJ lesson as a birthday gift. Jarvi says that “after two lessons we just vibed and kept working together. I think the bond we share is incredible because I have been listening to and attending techno and house events since childhood with my father, and not one friend or other DJ I have ever met had ever offered to teach me the craft. I’ve always known the music industry is a boys club, and having the opportunity to try to do something I loved and admired for years with a person who understands the struggle of not being a cis man in this scene, is easily the best gift I’ve ever received.”
The NBFC is comprised by Kern, Jarvi, Pat Bosman, Ryan Kelley, and a slew of other DJs, producers and artists that overtime have helped create and maintain the collective. The core crew shares roles collectively when it comes to bookings, design and direction. “That’s one of the best parts about working with these folks is that every last little bit of the vibe is created by all of us. I will say though that setting up sound has absolutely nothing to do with me. I can barely set up my TR8 to Ableton without referring to notes,” Jarvi says with a laugh.
For the month of March both Kern and Jarvi continue to use their established music platforms as a vessel to push and strengthen female, female-identified and queer artists, DJs and promoters by participating in Daphne. The month-long festival hosted by Smartbar will incorporate workshops and events to emphasize that mission. According to Jarvi, the biggest obstacle for women and queer persons is commodification.
“The constant struggle of, do you suck it up and go through it in hopes that you will get closer to being seen, heard, understood? I can’t tell you how many times I read an article about some white cis techno dude talking about his struggle not getting booked and having to work his awful 9-5 when all he wanted to do was play his Surgeon records for a packed underground rave. Sometimes it feels like there’s only a certain allotted amount of women-identifying and queer artists, and the recycling of the same ones can be frustrating not because they shouldn’t be getting all the gigs, but because there are so many of us in the world without exposure simply because so many people who are in charge of bookings don’t want to look. Probably because they don’t REALLY care. I think it’s also important to point out that if your women-identifying idols in music don’t help any other queer, women-identifying and nonbinary, or POC artists, they probably aren’t as progressive as you think.” – JARVI
Motivated by the frustration and with a desire to maintain personal and creative freedom, Jarvi started Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel a little over a year ago. The stage persona Acid Daddy came to fruition for Jarvi during Plastic Factory, the first party they were ever involved in at Berlin Nightclub.
“The party was a wild latex club-kid party with wacky installations and performances. La Spacer and I were the resident deejays for the Thursday night monthly, and it evolved somewhat from a joke in our group about how me and one of the other members were the ‘daddies’ of our group, and my love for acid house – among other things.”
Long after the Plastic Factory parties, Jarvi continued on harnessing the Acid Daddy energy. “I was up at a camping trip, Tentsex, when at some point in the weekend our generator runs out of – you guessed it – diesel. In a loopy state, I’m arguing with someone about how to get more fuel for the generator so we can get the music back up and running, and in stubborn Taurus fashion I storm off back to my tent. Sam happens to be in a porta potty and overhears me mumbling to myself something about ‘Acid Daddy, gimme that diesel’. The phrase stuck, and when I was given the chance to do my own party at Berlin [Nightclub], Acid Daddy’s Haus of Diesel just made sense!”
Acid Daddy is so much more than just a name. Jarvi says, “I think what is so important to me about this stage name (that may in the future develop into a moniker for music) is that it really represents the evolution of my gender identity and the happiness that comes from no longer being forced by society to be something I am not.” The name encapsulates and empowers Jarvi’s freedom from the oppressiveness of gender normative roles.
The house and techno scene is historically rooted in providing a free space for people of all types and expressions. There are so many artists, promoters, writers and DJs out there that continue to use the electronic music environment as a platform to promote cultural and social awareness, by cultivating a safe welcoming space. Yet, there are places within house and techno where those roots have been lost somehow. Our music scene is just a microcosm of our society at large.
To deviate from the normalities of any facet can result in a negative response from others. That’s what makes the dance floor so unbelievably significant. That’s what makes artists like Jarvi and so many others equally important. To understand that gender and sexuality are on a spectrum is to see that by inherently breaking binaries we are simply forming unity.
“The gender binary is just a way to keep cis men in control and women-identifying folks subservient. Even the most progressive cis folks I know still show me totally innocent ways of being affected by the binary. I think the most obvious is the inability to use gender neutral pronouns. Folks can learn a new hobby, how to operate a vehicle, or get a certificate/degree in a field they’ve never understood in their life but can’t incorporate a plural, nonbinary pronoun into their vocabulary when they already know the word. I struggled with the use of ‘they/them/theirs’ at first, and I identify that way. Sometimes I think folks can’t grasp the use of neutral pronouns because they still don’t really believe that it exists. I connect very much with femininity and that identity, but not 100 percent. I cannot really say that I relate to anything masculine, and honestly spent a lot of time trying to dismantle the binary connection with words, for example, ‘daddy’. NBD (nonbinary daddy) is a term we use out here in the Chicago queer scene a lot. I highly doubt I started that term, but it definitely fits like a glove.”
What does being nonbinary mean specifically for Jarvi?
“Grey area. In between. Not this, not that. I truly believe there are more nonbinary folks in this world that exist than cis folks. Once the term becomes more common in mainstream queer entertainment (because it has to start there before we get it across the board) I think a lot of folks who realized that this binary they’ve been forced into because of tradition and fear, really is not for them. Some days I feel like wearing a dress, sometimes I feel like wearing a suit, sometimes I feel like growing out my mustache and being topless in a leather chest harness, but not one of those outfit choices express any binary gender to me. when you erase that, you have so many less things to worry about because you just get to be you. However you want to feel or look, it’s just you.” – JARVI
Nonbinary folks fall within the overarching transgender category. By definition transgender denotes a person whose identity and gender do not correspond with their birth sex. Gender expression and identity is expansive and complex, yet simple at the core: people are who they are, and they should feel comfortable being and expressing themselves. But we live in a society where transphobia is very real, causing harm (in varying degrees) to those who identify beyond the binary.
Jarvi spoke a little bit deeper about experiences had alongside Chicago DJ/promoter Ariel Zetina. “My relationship with Ariel, be it romantic or platonic, has always provided us with struggles from the outside cis hetero and cis gay male groups. Whether it’s slurs stemming from binary-loving cis hetero normies, or the hyper-sexualization of both our nonbinary trans identities. By cis gay men, we both encounter negativity even in the most unlikely of places (i.e. queer spaces). I have learned so much from her, especially about POC trans and queer-related events, artists, and struggles that are otherwise swept under the rug so to speak in primarily white queer spaces (which is most of the spaces in Michigan).”
How can we help? Javi says: educate. “If you hear something offensive or hurtful, it’s pretty easy to respectfully explain why that isn’t tolerated and to enforce that strict no-tolerance of hate in spaces, whether it’s rave spaces or the dang super market.”
Music will continue to be the space for Jarvi where there is safety and love. It is so very clear that this deeply rooted passion has helped them evolve and grow into a true representation of themselves. Isn’t that what we’re all really striving for?
“I love music because it saved my life. It can say everything I can’t put into words. The music itself doesn’t judge me, it guides me. Without music I would never know the rave scene. I would never have found my chosen family in the underground where you can be anyone you want to be, as freaky and weird and out there as you want. Like-minded individuals all there together because the world doesn’t see us as the creative and beautiful individuals we are. PLUR forever.”
A techno and house music scene, particularly for the queer community, was lacking in Cleveland, Ohio. Brian Bohan, otherwise known as Father of Two, is one of three who put together In Training – the city’s freaky, most prominent club night.
Bohan was born and raised in Cleveland. For the past six years he has resided on the west side of Cleveland, barring a short stint living in Chicago in his early 20s. During his free time he says “you can usually find me gliding around the streets of Lakewood delivering for Jimmy John’s, or at home with my boyfriend acting like a dumbass online.”
I inquired of him to reveal the mystery behind his moniker, Father of Two. “I had a much, much, much worse fake DJ name when we first started In Training that I will decline to share. So I was already in the market for a new one when one day, I was contacted by a stranger via a gay hookup app,” he says. “His opening salvo to me, which I assume he was hoping would lead to some sort of sexual congress, was ‘Hey! Father of two great kids here, how’s it going?’ It all fell into place instantly. I responded, ‘I’m doing well, and even though I’m not remotely interested, thank you for giving me my new DJ name!’ And the rest is history.”
He started DJing mostly through In Training, the monthly party he hosts along with Shane Christian (who DJs as Kiernan Laveaux) and Aerin Ercolea.
“There aren’t many avenues in Cleveland to get to play out the type of music I wanted to play before we started doing this. The only previous experience I had was doing a small Monday night residency with my friends in a crew called 4NPLCY a few years ago,” he says.
The idea for the queer-run and queer-focused party was developed by Aerin and Bohan in 2014 on the first night they met. “I mentioned offhand that I had always wished that I could do some sort of freaky queer night with weird music at a weird venue and she basically came back to me a few days later with all of the initial logistics for it planned out. Shane was (and is) Aerin’s roommate, so she was just always around when we were discussing all of this stuff so she became a part of it pretty quickly as well,” Bohan says. “I think we all happened to meet at an interstitial point in each of our lives where we were all very ready to switch things up and try something new, and that energy translated into all of this getting off the ground quickly.”
In Training is held at Now That’s Class, an underground bar and venue located in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood of West Cleveland. The venue is a sanctuary and blank space for the events that don’t quite fit into the more frequented and popular spaces of the city. “Now That’s Class, for better or for worse, has long been a venue and gathering space in Cleveland for freaks, weirdos, and musical acts that realistically couldn’t get booked anywhere else. The few ‘clubs’ there are in Cleveland (LGBT or otherwise) were useless and tacky, and we had zero faith in them to let us do what we wanted to do or be any sort of asset to us. Their incompetence and lack of ambition is a large part of what drove us to start doing this, so in a strange roundabout way, I almost have to thank them. We needed a space that we could transform and fully control, and Now That’s Class has provided that. The venue and location isn’t perfect, but it’s our home and it’s almost impossible to imagine doing it anywhere else in Cleveland. The world’s shittiest dive bar with, somehow by the grace of God, a really great soundsystem, knowledgeable tech people, friendly staff, and bathrooms that demand an iron will.”
The party has hosted artists and performers including Titonton Duvante, Bill Converse, Tony Fairchild, DJ Shiva, Clark Price, Sassmouth, Jarvi, Pat Bosman, Steve Mizek, Savile and more. The name of the party was Aerin’s idea. Bohan says, “It sounded mysterious, kind of slutty in some undefined way, and open to interpretation. It mostly just sounds cool, and it can mean something different to everyone”
Cleveland is among the smaller U.S. cities that play a very important role of the evolution of the American dance floor. “I think our small communities provide the blueprint that some parties in larger enclaves do their best to try and emulate. I can only speak for us here in Cleveland, but we do what we do because we would otherwise have nothing to live for. It’s that simple, and that (apparently) gives what we do in these places a sense of urgency and authenticity and ‘grittiness’ or whatever people in the larger cities can attempt to create their own version of with their more abundant resources.” Cities with the tight-knit family structured communities are fueled by concentrated energy, cooperation and a do-it-yourself attitude.
“Our communities drive this thing. We are the source of the energy. I think a lot of people generally assume that we basically just do small town versions of a big city phenomenon when it’s often the other way around. I may sound like I have a slight chip on my shoulder, but I think all of us doing things in these places should acknowledge our place and be proud of the work we do and what it means for the culture as a whole.” – FATHER OF TWO
Although he says it’s difficult to be objective about how In Training has played a role on a larger scale, he delves deeper into what the party means to him, being queer in Cleveland. “Doing this has really helped me spread my wings, so to speak, and really embrace being gay and feeling like I can define what that means for myself in a way that encompasses every aspect of my personality. Cleveland’s wider LGBT scene is pretty emaciated for a variety of economic and cultural reasons, and it was pretty hard to connect with most of the people I was coming across or even trying to date. So I hope it’s done for the scene what it’s done for me, which is put the right people in close enough proximity to each other under pleasant circumstances so that they can grow, teach each other, learn from each other, dance together, act stupid together, and make a bunch of new weird-ass friends.”
The In Training crew identifies wholeheartedly with the community they have cultivated, bringing an authenticity and ingenuity to their parties and their mission. Aerin Ercolea identifies as non-binary/femme and Shane Christian is transfemme and her talents as a DJ are becoming increasingly recognized. Historically and culturally house and techno has roots as a refuge for minorities and the oppressed. Although today’s youth has embodied a culture of acceptance, it is clear through recent events that there is still a lack of understanding and compassion. So queer focused parties will continue to maintain defiance against prejudice and hate by allowing strength in unity on the American dance floor.
“As much as we stress the by-queers-for-queers aspect of our party, at the end of the day, a substantial portion of our audience is straight and cisgender. In a city where it’s a struggle to get enough critical mass for anything besides bad garage rock and fusion tacos, we’ll take what we can get, and as long as these people recognize that they are guests in the space, we very rarely have any problems with the queer and cishet crowds coming together. Personally, I view it positively.”
Similar to Hot Mass, the Pittsburgh party that strives to blur the lines between the gay and straight communities of their city, Bohan revels in the relationship he has developed with that particular dance floor and everyone involved. He says the Hot Mass family “has become a huge part of my life personally and some of the strongest and most supportive allies for us as a crew. So much of what they do has served as the initial [and continual] inspiration for what we do and how we operate, but I think both the vibe and our goals are pretty different. I think that’s what makes the relationship between our two institutions so special.”
When it comes to the queer community of the house and techno scene beyond Cleveland he says he’s not sure how much of an impact their party has made yet. “But I hope we are part of a process that will start to open up space for all queer people and weirdos in this current sort-of Renaissance we are having for underground dance music in America.”
Catch Father of Two, along with Chicago’s Jarvi, on Saturday, March 4 for the next installation of REDUX in Buffalo, N.Y.
For years Maya Bouldry-Morrison found herself somewhere between two identities. Through her development with music production, and a positive experience coming out to the public, she has grown ever more comfortable as a trans artist known mostly by Octo Octa.
The Chicago native spent her formative years in New Hampshire, but is now Brooklyn-based, at home with her wife and high school sweetheart Brooke.
Initially she started flirting with electronic music in high school after seeing some friends perform with just a computer, Microkorg and maybe a Roland MC-307. She says, “When they were done playing I asked if I could play with them and I immediately went on eBay and got a Korg Electribe ER-1 for something like $80. From then on essentially every day I would go to my friend’s house and we would play around with what little equipment we had and would make some new pieces through circuit bending. We played a couple shows but for the most part we would hide out in a basement and figure out how to make music,” she says.
While studying at the University of New Hampshire, Maya bought Ableton Live to form dance band Horny Vampyre with her friend Jeremy, while using the Octo Octa moniker to explore experimental solo music.
Horny Vampyre is when she really started delving deeper into performance. “Jeremy and I would play tons of college parties plus other shows and the focus was very much on us being right up against the audience. Most of our friends knew a lot of the lyrics so everything would essentially become a gang chant and everyone would flail around. I later took that feeling and somewhat applied it to Octo Octa,” she says. “I was making a lot of IDM and breakcore at the time which was somewhat dancey but felt more at home at a noise show then a college party. At the end of college is when house music finally clicked with me and I figured out that a 4×4 beat at slower BPM would actually make my solo shows more fun and everyone would dance. Once that happened I was all in.”
She continued to perform and produce eventually releasing her debut EP, Let Me See You, through 100% Silk, the house sub-label of Not Not Fun Records. She says, “I was a big fan of Not Not Fun for a number of years and one day I noticed that they had set-up a side label that was going to be more focused on dance music than noise and ambient material.”
With a history producing mostly IDM Maya says she wanted to send productions to Not Not Fun but didn’t feel they were an ideal fit. “So when I saw there was a sub-label that was closer to what I was making I was excited to send them demos,” she says. With the few demos she had, Maya made a Soundcloud account and shared the link to the 100% Silk submission email. “They got back to me a few hours later and said they wanted to put out the record.”
Since then she has had several releases including the 12” Where Did You Go / Through the Haze under Argot, More Times EP under German label Running Back and Further Trips through Deepblak. Her first three albums have been released through 100% Silk, with the most recent Between Two Selves in 2013. She has also been traveling to perform, playing her first European in Germany at the notable Panorama Bar, held a Red Bull Music Academy residency in Manhattan, and has also performed Barcelona’s Sonar Festival.
Her influences range from classic WARP records, IDM, drum ‘n’ bass, Los Angeles record label Tigerbeat6, and has been supremely inspired by gender fluid trans artist DJ Sprinkles. Also known as Terre Thaemlitz, she is a prominent producer, DJ and theorist in the scene.
“I always like the display of watching people find out she’s a nihilist. I don’t always agree with what she talks about, but watching her be the ultimate curmudgeon is a refreshing perspective that I don’t think we hear enough from,” Maya says, reminiscing about Sprinkles’ lecture at Sustain Release this year. “Terre is significant to me because she was the first trans producer that I knew about that wrote music that directly spoke to me in terms of both ideological content and sound. That was something that had never happened before. I feel like that is something that would happen for a lot of people with like, punk/hardcore. When I was growing up hearing new music for the first time, going to shows and seeing people perform, even if I enjoyed it – there wasn’t a whole lot that connected on a significantly deep level. I was a diehard drum ‘n’ bass/jungle fan in my teens and even that which got me extremely hyped and excited, there was still always a little something missing, even if I didn’t know it yet. Midtown 120 Blues had this pull unlike anything else I ever heard before. It just clicked and I heard parts of myself in it.”
Maya began her own transgender process in 2012 and officially came out just a few years later, inspired by the story of Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, previously known as Tommy Gabel. Maya first told her wife (a cis woman who identifies as queer) and eventually opened up to her family. Maya made the public persona change from male to female and says the entire process was positive and supportive, except for a couple comments from the public. “I haven’t had many issues being a trans artist beyond the garbage I have to handle when traveling. Dealing with TSA, documentation, and gawking passengers is obnoxious but something that passes once I’m where I need to be. Overall I am a more comfortable performer now that I’m out, so as a whole everything has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. That also might just be the culture as a whole right now especially in underground dance music circles. If I had come out in 2013 like I had originally wanted to I may have had a much harder time.”
“I’m especially happy right now being more involved in the queer community. I’ve identified as queer since I was a teenager, but since I never came out to my parents my queerness wasn’t something that I would publicly discuss. Therefore I also wasn’t seen as someone who was queer and I wouldn’t necessarily be invited to play queer parties even though I really wanted to. They were the spaces I felt the most comfortable in.” -OCTO OCTA
During the same year Maya started coming out, she was also suffering from debilitating anxiety issues. In addition to expressing through artistic creativity, Maya explores further into how she manages her anxiety and promotes self-care in her own life. She passes on advice for others who deal similarly, especially now as there’s an increase in emotional strain during trying times.
“The first thing I try to do during an anxiety episode is figure out if there is an external issue triggering it or if it really is just an internal issue. When I feel an episode coming on and I need to be like ‘am I stressed because there is a deadline, am I forgetting something, or is it just my brain today?’ If it’s an external issue or issues I break it down into discrete pieces and do them one at a time. I also make lists when I’m really worked up and cross them off as they’re completed which will make me feel better. If I’m just having a hard day for no apparent reason then my self-care is to clean my apartment, work on music, take a bath, and maybe go for a walk to clear my head. It may or may not work, but trying anything beyond just shaking and thinking about how screwed I am helps. Talking to friends I’m sure also helps a lot, but if you’re like me then you’ll be like ‘oh I don’t want to burden them.’ I typically wait until my partner comes home and then tell her everything. That’s something I really need to improve.”
Continuing on with producing and performance, Maya has several opportunities on the horizon. This month she’ll be releasing an EP on Paris-based label Skylax as well as Brooklyn label, Love Notes. With an album to be released on Honey Soundsystem this month, she said she’s hoping to make an overtly queer statement with the record, as her last album – Between Two Selves – was more ambiguous regarding Maya’s personal life. Keep a look out later this year for her second 12″ for Argot and a second EP for Deepblak. Additionally, she’s putting out a split record with Ames Henry for her friend’s new label, based on their monthly party Frendzone. “Then beyond that I’m planning some other things. So, busy busy busy!”
You can also catch her playing as Octo Octa for the first time at Movement Festival in Detroit this year. “I am very excited to be playing Movement this year! The only other time I was there I was playing an off-site DEMF party to a couple people. We went to TV Lounge afterwards until the party there got shut down and then I had to fly home the next day. So it was a very short trip. I’m glad that this year will be different.”
From the moment she bought her first piece of gear, Maya has developed an unbinding relationship with music, while simultaneously liberating herself. “It’s the most intimate and participatory art form. I feel like it’s the best art form that you can consistently engage with in different ways and it’s also mobile so you can interact with it anywhere. Sound plugs directly into you. It can strike emotions in me in a way that looking at a painting doesn’t. Being a creative person, music is the thing that’s most connected to me and has allowed me to express myself in a way no other art form could.”
Catch Octo Octa tonight at Strange Allure in Buffalo, NY.