Bassbin Book Club: Eris Drew

Whether it was being derided in media headlines, sung in samples or dropped in Top-of-the-Pops bon mots by those in the know, if there’s one word synonymous with UK rave history, it might just be ecstasy. But thirty years down the line, have we lost touch with what it means to be in a truly ecstatic state?

House priestess Eris Drew is one DJ/producer looking beyond dance music as more than just a ‘large night out’ and encouraging ravers to re-examine what it means to be in a state of ecstasy. Through her T4T LUV NRG label (co-created with Octo Octa), Eris advocates for dancers using raves and club culture to find the ecstatic, and reconnect with the spiritual and shamanistic aspects of dancing together.

Rob Smith chatted to Eris to find out more about her following of the Motherbeat, a healing, spiritualistic force in dance music, and the books, tunes and beliefs that drive her ecstatic practice.

Any books you’re into at the moment, or that identify with the ecstatic?

I just finished The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained by Whitley Strieber (Communion) and Jeffrey J. Kripal (J. Newton Rayzor professor of religion at Rice University). The book takes the position that our most unusual subjective experiences (sexual experiences and synchronicities to name a few) are an important part of life, nature and being human, even though the dominant culture denies their importance.

Such experiences are susceptible to analysis under multiple analytical frameworks that can’t be easily reconciled or resolved. Strieber has had some intense and strange experiences (entity encounters, synchronicities, and trance states). Kripal is a deeply respected academic in religious studies.

The book is a dialogue between the two. Stieber recounts subjective anomalous experiences which Kripal then subjects to various analytical frameworks. Chapters such as “Trauma, Trance, and Transcendence” and “Super Sexualities” would be of interest to any raver trying to understand their ecstatic experiences and the connection of sexuality/gender to the music.

It isn’t a perfect book, but it helped me to put additional context around why my Motherbeat experience was so powerful, why sex can be so psychedelic and spiritual, and why I find raving such an essential part of what it is for me to truly be alive.

As an artist interested in ritual magic, any magic books that have had a transformative effect on your practice?

The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds by John Higgs is basically my most important grimoire. Higgs takes the position that the KLF were not merely a great and mischievous band but also true chaos magicians. Higgs suggests that when the band burned a million pounds it wasn’t just an art project or political statement but also a magical act. Not a spell with an intended result mind you, but a burnt offering with unknown consequences.

The Motherbeat was revealed to me in 1994, the same year KLF hauled a million quid to the Island of Jura, set it ablaze and quit the music industry for 23 years. 23 is the number associated with the Greek goddess Eris, so I view myself as a small entry on this very long timeline. If the fire was a magical act which symbolised a deep rejection of dominant cultural values perhaps its shockwave was felt over a long period of time and impacted many people in ways they didn’t even realise.

Unbenounced to me I transitioned and told the story of the Motherbeat publicly for the first time 23 years after the fire. The exact date they burnt the money, August 23, 1994, has had strange synchronistic reverberations in my life, especially in 2014 and 2017.

If you had to choose two books ravers should read, what would they be?

American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, and Technology by Diana Walsh Pasulka. It sounds like a book about UFOs, and it is, but “American Cosmic” is also about how technology became the focus of our spirituality during the 20th Century. The UFO symbolises the collective dream that technology might transform, save, or destroy us. In the modern world, technology is viewed by many people today as both the mechanism for spiritual transformation and/or our eschatological delivery system (i.e. the world-ending apparatus).

You won’t find any mention of raving in the book, but if a person wants to understand why raves became a cultural phenomenon at the end of the 20th century and wants to understand the underlying spirituality of raving, this book has more insight than most books actually about the culture that are written by music journalists.

It is important to keep in mind that raving was a reconnection to nature through music and also reflected a desire to attain a higher state of consciousness through technological means—-the pursuit of the superhuman to put it in philosophical terms. But in other ways raving was a dystopian ritual which imagined less enlightened futures resulting from the development of new technology.

Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence. The book is a detailed account of the NY disco scene, including The Loft, which incidentally I went to last Sunday for its 54th Anniversary party with Maya (Octo Octa). Again, there is no mention of raving in the book but Lawrence lovingly talks about the creative spirit of dance culture and dispels so many myths about what it means to be a dancer and lover of dance music in its many forms.

Any films you’re into at the moment, or that identify with the Motherbeat?

Yeah, I think the original Tron film is one of the better on-screen metaphors for Motherbeat. The lead characters are programs in a simulation created by humans. They fight for justice and balance in their System by flinging record-sized 12-inch “identity disks” in ritualised combat. They also use the disks, which incidentally encode their life memories, to communicate with their ancestors, again through ritual. All of this happens in a blacklit matrix made of blue and red light. Wendy Carlos provides the soundtrack.

Hopefully anyone into dance music can at least partially relate to your conception of the ecstatic, is it an idea, feeling, both or neither? Did any other creative work help you to reach it?

Oh, I am sure a lot of people think I am off my rocker when I talk about this stuff. We have to acknowledge that for many consumers of dance music this culture is mostly about personalities and, to quote one of my favourite industrial bands, “a good night out” (Test Dept.).

But even for these folks I think they do go to the events in search of a powerful subjective experience so that they can feel alive in a dying world regulated by social media, consumption and war.

Whether we know it or not, dancing durationally to this music does lift us out of mundane everyday experience, activate our bodies, and dissolve us into a heaving corporal mass dancing to an ancient beat given to us by our mother (nature).

I personally have found the expression of the ecstatic in dance, the act of blending records, making music on my own and in groups, listening deeply to music, taking psychedelics, having deep connective sex with someone I truly love, and spending contemplative time in nature. All of these are “creative” acts.

Any house or techno you’re currently enjoying that sums up all things ecstatic and Motherbeat?

The music itself is a technology, much older than the technology used to make it. It is a technology which uses the natural world (particles of vibrating air) to produce demonstrable changes in physiology and consciousness. What music connects one person to Motherbeat might not connect another.

Maya (Octo Octa) and I took some mushrooms last week while we were having a studio session. On break we listened to the Glidub of Slid by Fluke. It instantly transported us.

At The Loft the other night we thought Ability II’s Pressure Dub seemed to transpose the voice of the Motherbeat through the speakers. Octa was certain she could hear a chorus of ethereal voices singing along on the other side of the room.

We love a zine (we have a whole series of interviews about them) but Octa Octa’s Groovebox zine really stands out from other synth zines in its playful tone. Why did you both choose to self-publish it through T4T LUV NRG?

Cause we wanted it to be downloadable, free of charge and with no advertising surrounding it. Octa’s goal was not to suggest a set of objective “best practices”. Instead, she wanted it to be approachable and reflect simply her actual process.

What can our readers find in your newsletter?

My Journal of the Motherbeat is organised into columns/subject areas. For example, my Journal includes the Raver’s Toolkit, which discusses techniques to elevate raving like avoiding alcohol when using psychedelics, dancing into speakers and “going it alone” on the dance floor.

I have a column on tips for DJs that focuses on the things you do before a set, like needle cleaning and getting hearing protection (called “A Fine Tip”). I have an “Encounters” column which is starting to catalogue my anomalous experiences. There are also columns for important records (called “Identity Disk”), discussions of events (called “Integrations”), and notes on my mixes.

I started the Substack so I could speak to people directly instead of having my thoughts filtered through editors, delivered primarily through my own social media, and subjected to limited word counts.

You and Octa Octa have also put several guides up on your website about how to set up studios, was this always part of the Mother Beat plan from the start? Or is it something you feel you’ve been driven to do?

Pauline Oliveros, who coined the phrase “Deep Listening” to describe the practice of gaining mindfulness from listening to “all sound” deeply, was drawn to education. We are both getting older and want to create spaces for people to share and gain deeper understanding of the potential of this music, DJing and production. To be honest though, mainly I think we are drawn to it naturally as an expression of our maternal instinct.

Played any standout parties recently?

5am -7am b2b with Russell E.L. Butler at Nowadays in Queens, NY. We played the deepest real house music to a locked room of dancers at around 125 BPM. It was powerful and gentle at the same time. A moment I needed very badly after many months of peak-time playing.

What steps can any raver try to reconnect with the ecstatic?

Raving is more than just a party. Close your eyes, find a spot near a speaker to dance, leave your chatty mates at the bar, and don’t waste your energy on alcohol.

Listen to music durationally at home, meaning don’t spend all your listening time flipping through playlists. Dance when you are alone or with a small group of friends. Spend time in nature.

Where is the healing in house? Why do you find it so therapeutic?

It is in real togetherness. It is in the power of the music to put the body in a state of rhythmic connection with nature and other souls. It is in the expression of a language hidden in plain sight that not everyone in the dominant culture understands. It is in the dancing to records by artists who are no longer with us. It is in the fundamental pulsations which are the indisputable backbone of the music. It is in a true subjective spirituality decoupled from religion and dogma. It is in the ordeal of dancing for hours without stopping. It is in some of the substances used at the events. It is in the river of time that the music represents.

What’s next for you, Octa Octa and the Motherbeat?

More true underground raves with our LUV NRG Soundsystem in fall of 2024. We’ll be driving our analog monoliths to Detroit, NY and beyond to create experiences outside of clubs for communal connection with the Beat.