Eris Drew: Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1

It often feels like the word “rave” means about as much to electronic-music fans these days as “punk” does to the rock crowd. The term can still conjure certain iconic images—booming sound systems, dancing masses, Day-Glo attire—but there’s no denying that rave culture long ago lapsed into caricature. You’re as likely to hear the word used by a hectoring politician or youth marketing specialist as by someone actually in the know.

So it’s curious that Eris Drew has titled her latest mix Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1, which kicks off her T4T LUV NRG label with her partner Octo Octa. There are some genuinely ravey moments—particularly the organ vamps and piano stabs toward the end of the mix’s latter half, which she’s dubbed “I’ve Got a Story to Tell…” (The first half is called “Good News Boppers!” and yes, that’s a reference to 1979 cult classic The Warriors.) On the whole, though, the session showcases her deep affection for a particular strain of early- and mid-’90s breakbeat house music that likely soundtracked many of her youthful nights out while growing up outside of Chicago.

Drew, who still calls the Windy City home, came of age when house music was still emerging from the local black and queer communities in which it was born. That history is inextricable from this mix, even on a technical level, as Drew relies not only on vinyl, but also on uniquely Midwestern techniques such as doubles (cutting back and forth between the same record on both turntables) and fast-paced “hot mixing” (rapid transitions between records). For a generation of electronic-music aficionados brought up worshipping ultra-precise, nearly imperceptible transitions, Drew’s quick cuts and sudden turns may sound odd or even jarring, but Raving Disco Breaks offers a window into how many of dance music’s originators operate behind the decks.

That window also includes the music itself, which drips with elements of funk, soul, disco, and even hip-hop. The mix is full of black voices, many of the diva variety, and although there’s no rapping, the music swings with the same sort of euphoric abandon and loose shimmy that characterized hip-house during its brief heyday. These days, it’s easy to conflate all electronic music with the rigid, four-to-the-floor march of Instagram-ready tech house and Berlin-style techno, but back in the ’90s, house and techno tunes were just as likely to sashay down the runway as they were to pummel you into submission.

Where does the raving come in? It’s there, but Drew isn’t waxing nostalgic about glowsticks and JNCOs. Her artistry is driven by what she calls the Motherbeat, a sort of divine feminine energy and ancient healing force that she says first came to her in a vision while she was being driven home from a party, high on LSD, in 1994. Simply put, her rave roots run deep, and she’s interested in the culture’s most powerful element: freedom. She is a trans woman whose life has been profoundly shaped by experiences on the dancefloor, so it makes sense that Raving Disco Breaks’ connective thread is one of joy, elation, and release.

Drew not only found herself on the dancefloor; she also found a kindred spirit and loving partner in Octo Octa, and their T4T LUV NRG label—which sprang out of a series of back-to-back DJ gigs under the same name—is both a celebration of that love and a full-throated celebration of trans visibility. (T4T is short for “trans for trans.”) All profits from Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1 will be donated to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), a nonprofit working in defense of gender identity and expression.

Given the “Vol. 1” of the title, we can assume, or at least hope, that additional installments are on the way. If they maintain the vibe of this first Raving Disco Breaks, celebrating dance music’s marginalized past while optimistically working toward a more accepting future, then perhaps the term “rave” might still have some legs after all.

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