A few months ago, Bouldry-Morrison officially came out as transgender, accelerating a process that dates back to 2012, when something clicked while she was reading a Rolling Stone article about Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer from Against Me, who is transgender. "I read it on my lunch break," she says with a laugh. "That was the first piece I read where I started to put together pieces about my feelings and ideas about myself. Also, it was like someone was finally talking about some of my experiences and thoughts."
In the months and years that followed, Bouldry-Morrison slowly began her transition process, but until recently, only her wife, Brooke, and a select group of friends knew about it. "As I went out more and started to move towards being publicly trans," she explains, "I couldn't really take 'hiding,' a self-imposed measure, anymore. Each passing day, as I felt better about myself, I felt worse about not having told everyone and feeling like I couldn't." Eventually, the pressure came to a head. Bouldry-Morrison told her family, and gradually began taking on the minutiae of changing her public persona from male to female.
Of course, part of that public persona includes her work as Octo Octa. Updating her various profile pictures and amending the pronouns in her bio has been easy enough, but Bouldry-Morrison has yet to make any sort of public statement—not because she doesn't want to acknowledge her transition, but because she simply isn't quite sure what to say. "I'm just a shit writer," she says. "I'm not sure what to write other than, 'Hey guys, I'm trans, byyyyeeeee,' followed by some emojis (to be honest, probably bunny girls dancing)."
Octo Octa debuted back in 2011 with the Let Me See You EP on 100% Silk. Over the past five years, there have been numerous releases, tours and a handful of interviews, but at no point did Bouldry-Morrison—who was previously known as Michael—publicly discuss being transgender, or queer, for that matter.
"I've been identifying as queer since I was in high school, but I wasn't out," she says. "I would talk about it to friends, and all my friends knew, but I would never talk about it in a public sphere." Once she began releasing music, it became harder not to say anything, but she wasn't out to her family, and neither was Brooke, who also identifies as queer.
Bouldry-Morrison realizes that her life—and particularly her marriage—"doesn't fit a gender-norm binary of what transitioning should be," but in her mind, it's not all that complicated. "We've always had a queer relationship," she explains. "It's just continuing on that way. It's like, 'Yeah, I'm also interested in men, but at the same time, I'm also interested in women, and I love my wife.' She's my fucking partner."
Brooke contributed vocals to two tracks on 2013's Between Two Selves, Octo Octa's first full-length. In retrospect, the LP was clearly inspired by Bouldry-Morrison's transition—track titles like "Who Will I Become" are giveaways—but when it was time to promote the record, there was no mention of what she was going through.
She did, however, discuss the album's other main inspiration: the fact that she suffered a nervous breakdown while making it. While some of the stress stemmed from her transitioning process, which was still in its early stages, Bouldry-Morrison says that anxiety issues run in her family, and it's something she deals with every day. Back in 2012, they manifested in an unshakeable belief that the world was coming to an end.
"There was a large asteroid coming towards Earth," she says. "It's called a Near Earth Object, an NEO. It was coming near Earth, and it wasn't going to hit it, but for some reason I thought it was. The same day—this is so conspiracy theory—the first national rollout of the Emergency Response System was happening. I was convinced, thinking, 'They say this is a test. It's not a test. The Emergency Response System is going to go off because an asteroid's actually hitting us, but they don't want us to panic, so that's why they're calling it a test, and we're going to die.'
"My wife told me later, 'I didn't think you were going to come out of it.' It was just bizarre. I was barely able to work. I was shaking the entire time. It was anxiety. I could not calm down. It was this weird feedback loop of: you got more anxious, and then you try to calm down, and then you noticed you couldn't, then it would ramp up even more."
After the asteroid passed, Bouldry-Morrison did eventually calm, and although she continues to struggle with anxiety, it's never again reached that level, even when she came out to her parents. Although she was nervous, especially after reading horror stories about transgender people being disowned by their families, her experience so far has been remarkably positive. "My parents are being great," she says. "We had Christmas with my family… You can see in conversation where you're talking, and they're about to use a pronoun, and they'll stumble over it because they don't want to say the wrong thing, which my dad was talking about directly to me. He was like, 'I have trouble at the moment, not because I'm upset about your transition. I have no problems with it. I just don't want to say anything that's going to upset you at all,' which is a really wonderful thing that he cares that much."
Bouldry-Morrison has found her friends in the electronic music community to be just as supportive. "I dress up and put makeup on when I go and DJ," she says. "My friend was saying that there seems to be a big difference from when I was DJing before, a couple of years ago, to now. He's like, 'It's interesting, more joyful, or whatever, or just there's a difference from then to now.' There's something more exciting about performing. It's something that's satisfying, performing and appearing physically the way you've been wanting to for a long time. I guess it gives me a certain confidence that I didn't have before."
Part of the reason Bouldry-Morrison lacked confidence in the DJ booth is because she only started DJing publicly within the last two years. Although she's been buying records for much longer, her own work with electronic music was for a long time focused on live performance.
As a teenager in New Hampshire, her first venture into music making was inspired by a couple of friends, who she saw performing live with their computer and some equipment. Compared with the usual suburban assortment of punk, hardcore and jam-band shows, "it was super exciting," recalls Bouldry-Morrison. "As soon as they were done, I went up to them and said, 'How can I do this with you? What did you get to be able to make that music?' I went on eBay and scratched together $80 to get a Korg Electribe, the ER-1, which I still have."
Bouldry-Morrison joined her friends' band at 15, and spent the next few years experimenting and learning. Like most high school undertakings, the project never went anywhere, but the experience gave her a foothold. At home, she was on a diet of classic Warp, IDM and, following her discovery of the online radio station BassDrive, lots of drum & bass.
A few years later, she went to the University Of New Hampshire with a copy of Ableton Live in tow. She formed a new group, a ridiculously named dance band called Horny Vampyre, which played at all the parties for the simple reason that Bouldry-Morrison had a PA. Outside of that, she continued making more experimental solo music, taking on the name Octo Octa and drawing inspiration from shows at a local art gallery, where she regularly attended what she describes as "weird noise and Load Records-esque performances."
Bouldry-Morrison sometimes performed her solo material at college parties, but her frenetic, percussion-heavy creations—she cites Tigerbeat6 as a major influence—rarely went over well. In 2010, her music drastically changed direction, thanks to an unlikely source: Juan MacLean's DJ-Kicks mix. "I was finally like, 'Oh, I think I get house music,' after doing these shows for a number of years." Shortly thereafter, she wrote "Let Me See You," a straightforward house cut with piano stabs and a Ciara vocal sample, and tested it out at a house party. "It went off like gangbusters," she recalls. "I was like, 'Perfect. That's what I will keep doing right now because this is fun and new and exciting to me, and I will keep up with it.'"
That same year, Bouldry-Morrison's partner finished her studies at the University of New Hampshire, and they moved to Brooklyn. Once the initial excitement of being in New York wore off, however, her existence was pretty grim. In New Hampshire, she'd worked in the music section of a Barnes & Noble bookstore, and when she struggled to find a job in New York, she transferred to the cafe of a Barnes & Noble in Park Slope. "It was brutal," she says. "Just people getting mad at you because you made their latte wrong, and you're like, 'I just pressed a button. It's not a big deal. I'll make you another one.' They're calling you an idiot to your face because someone forgot to mark a cup a certain way."
She was also struggling to forge local connections in the music scene, largely because she "had no access or idea of what to go do or who to go talk to." Undeterred, she kept making tracks, and eventually caught a break when the Los Angeles label Not Not Fun started 100% Silk and began releasing house music. Bouldry-Morrison had no personal connection to the label, but she was a big fan of Not Not Fun during college, so she decided to send them some tracks. "Amanda Brown wrote back to me four hours later, being like, 'I want to put out this record,'" she says. "I feel like it was crazy. Do other people have interactions like that? It was very lucky."
Once the Let Me See You EP dropped, Octo Octa quickly became one of 100% Silk's core artists. Oddly enough, she didn't meet label founders Amanda and Britt Brown until she hopped into a van for a 100% Silk tour, which also featured the likes of Ital, Magic Touch and Innergaze (a joint project of Aurora Halal and Jason Letkiewicz, AKA Steve Summers). 100% Silk became a hyped new label, but it was also derogatorily tagged as "hipster house" amid claims that its output was somehow inauthentic, as many of its early artists didn't come from a house and techno background.
For Bouldry-Morrison, these critiques were particularly galling. "I'd been listening to electronic music since I was a kid," she says. "I'd been making electronic music since I was 15 years old. Then, it took me eight years to put out a record. I put it out, and people were like, 'Who the fuck is this? These artists are coming out of nowhere. They're not vetted. This is some bullshit. This is people just jumping into the scene that don't know anything.' It was like, 'Well, I do know something. You just don't know me as a person. Chill out.'"
Bouldry-Morrison isn't under the illusion that her early Octo Octa releases were the finished product. Although the first few were conceived as dance music, she says she had "zero club experience" at the time. "Looking back on the first record I did, 'Let Me See You' is four and a half minutes long," she says. "It's not suited for playing in a club. Nowadays, I would write it and have more extended parts or try to do it differently. At the time, it was still naive, frenetic energy of just like, 'I have these ideas, and I'm going to have something change dramatically every four bars.'"
Given the rapid ascent of 100% Silk, it didn't take long for Bouldry-Morrison to change her perspective. Her first gig in Europe was a live set at Panorama Bar in Berlin, an experience that she still recalls with wonder. "I went there on Saturday afternoon [for soundcheck], and I go on the Berghain floor where someone else was doing their live set soundcheck, and it was so loud. I was like, 'Oh, my god. This is where I've been wanting to be since I was 14 years old.'
"It was really important and also really intimidating," she continues. "Even though I had been playing shows forever, it was such an obvious marker of, 'This is a different level and scale than what you've been doing before. Don't fuck up. Just don't fuck up. Just do a good job,' because it was immediately like, 'I want to be doing this forever if I can.'"
Based on the strength of her 2015 releases, Bouldry-Morrison is well positioned to keep doing this for the foreseeable future. While her early releases were stuffed with light, vocal-driven tunes that often recycled familiar house tropes, newer Octo Octa tracks are more refined. For one thing, they're largely instrumental. "I'm really interested in how much emotion you can convey through instrumentals or just having little vocal snippets that aren't sing-able bars," she says. Her more recent songs may not color too far outside the lines, but they're not meant to—the pacing is relaxed, the melodies are warm and atmospheric, and there's a newfound depth to the work.
More releases are in the works for 2016, including a new 12-inch for Argot, and a few other projects that Bouldry-Morrison can't talk about just yet. She's also planning to start work on a new album, which she already knows will focus on her transitioning process. "It's definitely something I want to address more directly," she says. "DJ Sprinkles' Midtown 120 Blues and Routes Not Roots albums are super important to me. Being trans, seeing art that's publicly being written by a trans producer meant a lot to me. I was happy to find work that was openly talking about it."
Bouldry-Morrison has been in contact with DJ Sprinkles, and is excited to connect with other queer artists and collectives. "Queer community is super important to me," she says, "and it will honestly be very nice to openly be identified as being part of it." Moving forward, she recognizes that being transgender will likely be a major focal point for those evaluating, promoting and consuming her music, but she's also clear that she's not looking to trade on her identity for work.
At this point, Bouldry-Morrison feels like she can only say so much about being transgender—the experience is still new for her. She describes being out as a huge weight being lifted, but there are practical concerns to be negotiated. For one thing, she's not yet out at work, although many of her coworkers already know. "I'm not lying about myself at work, but it's very weird," she says. "I work in a warehouse, and the dudes are dude-dudes. They're all very nice, but I already feel awkward in so many parts of my day-to-day experience."
There's also the issue of safety. Brooklyn may seem like a bastion of progressive values, but Bouldry-Morrison is well aware that a number of trans people have been attacked in Bushwick during the past year. "I've yet to have an experience where I have felt really unsafe," she says, "but you still get stared at a lot, and people say things under their breath."
Of course, some of these concerns would be mitigated if Bouldry-Morrison were passing as a woman, but like many aspects of being transgender, the issue is complicated. "I'm trying to negotiate how important passing is," she says. "If it is important, what do I need to do to myself physically to make that possible? I also know and feel like physical changes aren't something that I have to do to identify as being transgender or identify as a woman. I don't have to do those things." In the months and years ahead, more questions are sure to come her way, and she's happy to try and answer them. Hashing out these issues won't always be easy, but at least she'll be considering them while living life as her true self, out in the open.