In a short space of time, Eris has gone from playing small queer parties in the US to the major clubs and festivals of Europe. I sat down with her in London days after she played at Unsound festival, and before a three-gig weekend starting with a set at Corsica Studios that night. Throughout a three-hour conversation that covered everything from alchemy to ego dissolution, she struck me as a deeply reflective and empathetic person, one quick to make a joke at her own expense, covering her mouth as she giggled.
Later that night at Corsica Studios, I could see in action everything she had told me that afternoon. From the minute she started her set, the energy didn't dip below a ten, with both Eris and the entire room feverishly dancing from start to finish. The common thread running through her records was a bouncy broken rhythm and an urgent ecstasy, blending new bass and breakbeat records with old school rave classics. She even scratched in field recordings of bird noises, one of the special vinyl techniques she'd demonstrated earlier that day.
Towards the end of her two-hour set she eased into a gentle euphoria, playing Disk's "The Spirit," a track I recognised from her mixes and one of the records she's written a magic sigil on. She ended with "Hold Me (T4T Embrace Mix)," the standout track from her debut release with Octo Octa on Naive. A song about love, it felt like a fittingly emotional end to a joyous set. Everyone on the dance floor beamed at each other. In a scene which often takes itself too seriously, forgetting the powerfully positive impact music can have, Eris's loving outlook is a breath of fresh air. Her insightful philosophy about DJing, music and rave culture is something we could all learn from.
How was Unsound for you?
Unsound was really good. I was playing in Kamienna, it's an old building next to a train track with big pillars and a wooden floor. They set it up beautifully, but it was tricky with turntables. I had to be careful dancing. I'm not someone who can stand still when I'm DJing, I don't even think it's a good idea. Some people view dancing as being separate to DJing, for me it's part of the technique. If I'm in this state of motion, this ecstatic state, I find myself making different musical decisions. The change I make will be on the 16th or the 32nd—rather than just, "OK, now I'm gonna turn the bass down," my movements on the mixer become part of the dancing, and it leads to weird things happening.
I really relate to that, it's almost like different body parts take on different parts of the track. Do you often face a conflict between dancing and playing records?
Yeah, I have to edit my movements. I figured out a shuffle I can do when it's unstable. The floor's vibrating, and the record ran out to the centre twice. If that had happened to me two or three years ago, I would have been like, "Oh my God! Major fuck up, this is terrible." But the first time this happened when it was a good thing was at TUF in Seattle. It sounded like thunder and the whole room exploded. Ever since then, I embrace it as a chaotic act—it's the universe telling me to have a moment of silence. At Unsound the whole room went nuts when I then scratched in the next record, which I wouldn't have done otherwise, I was just ready to cue a mix. As I'm doing other turntablism techniques, it sounds intentional, like a runout. In Greek mythology, Eris is the goddess of chaos, so if I'm going to have the name I have to not get upset when things like that happen.
How does the concept of chaos play into your DJing?
It's something I've embraced. When you're embracing chaos, accidents and mistakes become part of the creative act. Things people view as technical problems I try to convert into something musical. At TUF I was having terrible feedback problems. It's not something I would ever talk about after the party, because people are like, "It was great, what are you talking about?" It cheapens their experience. But I played this Orbital record, it starts with quiet sounds, and it's feeding back like crazy. I had to let it play for a minute and a half, there's no way around it. I realised if I move the pitch fader I can manipulate the pitch of the feedback. So I created a drone and a rhythm with it, it became part of the piece. Afterwards people were like, "That part was amazing!" It's like, "That was all a huge mistake!" But instead of running from it, it's a very chaos magic concept to run to it. I also treat my record bag like a tarot deck. Sometimes I'll play a record and I'll know exactly where I'm going next, but oftentimes it's more of a pull, you're looking through and suddenly something grabs you. At that TUF party I got into this loop of like, "If you pull the record, you have to play it. Don't put it back." Now I follow that. There are occasions where deeper in my brain, not in my heart, I'll think, "No Eris, this isn't the way you want to go right now." But more often than not I try to honour that.
Would you ever want to switch over to USBs?
I have loaded up a memory stick, but when I'm in the flow state I don't go near it. Something I've studied over the past year is alchemy. Most people think alchemy was just people in the Middle Ages trying to turn lead into gold. The more philosophical alchemists were actually fascinated with the idea of a material that could reflect consciousness. I guess records are like alchemy for me, because they are someone's creative extrusion etched into physical form on vinyl. I've had some of them in my collection for 24 years. I have all these memories attached, like I remember Elliot handing me the Hawke record. Each one of them triggers a memory or set of emotions, and just touching them feels like magic. It's inexplicable. It feels like something magically charged with memory and intention.
How do you organise your records then, when you put together these different memories?
A lot of people think I'm this BPM junkie, because all my records have BPMs written on them. If I'm gonna slow a record down, I do need to know what tempo to continue on. So it is useful when I play, but mostly it's to organise my bag. It's a numbering system effectively: I start at the front with slow stuff, going backwards to fast stuff, and I have my field recordings, drops, samples in the very back. This way I'm like, "I want to play 'Acid Rain' by Disk, oh that's about 127, it's gonna be about here in the bag." It helps me find things really fast.
Is that also how you organise your record collection at home? Do they have a sticker on them?
No, no, my record collection at home is a total fucking mess. I have 8,000-9,000 records in a storage locker. They're in shelves but not organised at all. I only started doing the sticker thing a year and a half ago. I would buy these used records with BPM stickers on them, but nobody I know does this anymore. As I was reading about how sigil magic worked, I was like, "OK, I can write other things on my records too." My Disk records are the plainest records ever, white labels that just say "Disk." I thought, why not write on here how the record makes me feel, or what the intention should be when I play it? It reinforces my intentions, someone into magic would say it's like a spell.
Could you explain what a sigil is?
A sigil is a way of doing chaos magic, popularised by Austin Osman Spare. To create a spell and magic you take a word and write it over itself in a way that no one could know what it says. Sigils are symbols that are then mixed together, but they're often words. It's a way to code intent, just the act of doing it is a magical act.
OK. Do you write those on special records then?
Yeah, it's sometimes writing messages, or I'll put 23 on a record 23 times, as 23 is the number of Eris the goddess of chaos. Part of my whole philosophy is to engage with playfulness. I'm not a scientist, I'm sort of a home anthropologist. These are creative acts, and there's value in that. In a world that seems prescriptive, these personal things can be really beautiful.
Yeah, especially if it gives meaning to you. What's the process of preparing for a gig? Is there more to it than just organising your record bag?
The preparation of the bag isn't really what I'm doing to prepare for a gig. I haven't actually done a full unpack since the forest gig. Before that gig, I was doing these private rituals, thinking a lot about the forest, spending time in nature. I travel with a working set of about 100-120 records, and create a bag from that for each gig. One thing that was interesting about coming to Europe was the cultural differences. When I'm coming to England, it doesn't matter how I feel that morning, there's hardcore in my bag. Playing in Paris right now, maybe I'm not gonna play hardcore for two hours.
Have you found a difference between playing in Europe and America? Has it changed the way you DJ?
It's definitely different. Those first two tours were an uprooting in a sense. Before I started coming to Europe I'd mostly play at queer parties, TUF collective, Hugo Ball, Bunker New York, Midwest Fresh. I went from those to playing like a big warehouse rave in Sheffield, with a very student crowd. I love playing these events, but they're different. Huge crowds where I didn't necessarily see myself in anyone. It was hard to find my grounding. So much of my belief in DJing was having experiences like TUF, where people are writing to me afterwards saying, "I feel healed by this, I feel a sense of visibility after having this experience." But you could be in the most corporate club and someone's there who's dialled in. That could be the one place they go and wear something a little expressive, or let themselves dance. They're my core people, I'm trying to reach them the most. It would be very cynical of me to go into these clubs like, "Oh, this isn't for me. These aren't my people." No, they're there. I didn't start out going to these perfectly curated queer parties, with anti-harassment policies and gender neutral bathrooms. Not at all, these big parties were the wild west of America, a free-for-all, no rules.