Lyra Pramuk & Eris Drew are on a mission to heal us all through music - Features - Mixmag

Lyra Pramuk & Eris Drew are on a mission to heal us all through music

As they release their first collaborative project, we host a conversation between two innovators separated by continents but united by artistic credo

  • Interview: Megan Townsend | Lead Image + Lyra Pramuk Photo: Joseph Kadow
  • 19 August 2021

Eris Drew and Lyra Pramuk are two women on a similar quest with their music - to heal, to welcome and to establish bonds. As part of Lyra's remix album 'Delta', Eris has taken vocal samples from her entire debut record 'Fountain' to create the trippy, emotional heater 'Everything Is Beautiful and Alive'.

Both have become adept at using their bodies to create - Lyra Pramuk experiments with her voice, using vocalisations such as sighing and humming, manipulating it as if it were a synth. Whereas Eris utilizes her physicality at the turntables, keenly communicating with her audience via The Motherbeat. 'Everything is Beautiful and Alive' sees Drew employ Pramuk's vocal throughout the track, weaving it as if it were another electronic element. The title comes from a short sample that Eris found in a YouTube clip, of a girl who has taken acid and begins to describe to her straight-laced male interviewer everything that he is missing.

The pair first met during an artist dinner in Helsinki and instantly felt a connection, and with Lyra based in Berlin and Eris based in New Hampshire, they continued to maintain their relationship across the Atlantic as the pandemic struck.

Ahead of the release of 'Delta', we talked to Lyra Pramuk and Eris drew about "Ecstatic Healing", the blurred lines between nature and technology, tinnitus, and how they have communicated through music during a time when being at one with others has seemed so far out of reach. Alongside that, we've got the premiere of the new single 'Everything is Beautiful and Alive'. Listen and read below.

Eris, when was the first time you heard this album and decided you wanted to remix it? and Lyra how was it to hand over your music to be remixed by Eris?

Lyra: Well actually I sent it to Eris initially...

Eris: Yeah, yeah so Lyra came to me with a very specific idea.

Lyra: So, part of the concept for this remix album was that I knew some people would want to remix specific tracks, but I also wanted to give people the whole record really and do whatever they wanted with it - making new works using any of the material. So that's what Eris did, it's a new work that uses sounds from the album instead of being a traditional "remix", it's a little more abstract.

Eris: It was really cool how Lyra approached me, cause I could do whatever I wanted with these parts. So she had said that I could take a few different elements from different songs or I could pick one and just focus. But what it really did was decontextualise all of her performances a bit, I love the album, but when I set out to do this I really wanted to try to not think about the production that was already there but to engage with Lyra's voice as an instrument.

I found a few samples that really resonated with me and listened to them in my Cabin in New Hampshire - to play someone's voice here, it bounces all over the structure. I started to listen to Lyra's voice really fucking loud and then began tuning on my favourite synthesiser - the Fender Chroma Polaris, it's an 80s synth. It has this wonderful tonal character to me, it's like my cello or my organ really - and I started working with a vocal part that for me really captured why I wanted to do the whole thing in the first place. Lyra's voice to me sort of collapses into nature - but also has this mechanical aspect to it too. We're sort of future mechanical people really, both of us.

So Lyra, for you 'Delta' was about giving people creative freedom?

Lyra: Yeah, I wanted to give people agency. Not to be like - can you remix this track? I find that very boring. People did remix tracks because they wanted to, but they chose to do that and I love that. But I wanted to give agency to the artists who got involved and let them do whatever they wanted with it - to explore the world of 'Fountain', find things there - like an online role-playing game, go scavenging and see what you can find. I love Eris's tracks so much.

Eris: I've heard the universal pulsation in Lyra's voice that I've heard in other things. I found in quarantine that I was engaging with memory a lot, it was a way to bring forward certain things in my life that are meaningful to me. You hear a lot of samples in part A and part B or my remix. At the time I watching these videos from Chicago in 1994 and 1995 from this amateur filmmaker who used to video me and my friends at raves. You'd see 20 of us dancing and it was such a powerful time in my life - so this mix has elements of the 90s in it, I'm thinking about the past.

After I'd done the first part which is a bit more of a drone piece, the second part I wanted to take her voice and put it back in the dance context. I wanted to make something beautiful for the dancefloor using the pulsations of her voice. It starts with a little sample that says "Everything Is So Beautiful and Alive."

Lyra: It's so perfect. This track ['Everything is Beautiful and Alive'] it's high-August heat. it's coming for you. They are gonna hear this and they are gonna be like, this is sick. It has this future past - it feels very new but also feels a lot like the 90s. I'm also a total noob when it comes to house music so... it's like something I really need to educate myself in more now.

Eris: Yeah I mean I never set out for it to be from the 90s and truly those main beats that you hear were classic 90s loops that were always sampled from Todd Terry's work cause it’s a motherbeat loop. You hear it in all these tracks - all these people have built these amazing tracks around it, it's a little hip hop culture nod too. But it's this universalised beat.

Lyra: It really rips.

Eris: It starts with a little sample that says "Everything Is So Beautiful and Alive". It's from this interview, an old one on psychedelics and it's actually quite problematic because it's this man and he's interviewing this woman who's quite intoxicated. But she starts grilling him at one point and she's going "You don't see the truth in everything." I was watching and I thought, what is my message to my friend who is so far away? what's the thing that I could never convey in a text message to her? I thought this message about being alive in our bodies was perfect.

That's what Lyra's music is to me: it's an engagement and love of her own body and I don't hear that enough as a trans person. Lyra's music is incredibly special to me - it makes me feel alive, it makes me feel beautiful. That's what I wanted to convey with this remix, you'll notice the tempos shift and the sounds are stretching and warping and bending and that's just about that ability to transform and change and become part of unity with everything. One second the track sounds like a Todd Terry record and the next second it's almost downtempo. I did that using turntables cause that's how I flex my body, that's how I transform things - through manipulating these objects. I was wild and unrestrained, I wasn't trying to write a club record, I wanted to engage with Lyra's experimentalism.

Lyra: It kicks ass that track, it's so wild. It's very unrestrained, it's very off the grid and untamed. It's also what I try to get my music to and that's why I really connect with it. I identify so much with this freedom and wildness - it's how I can show that my identity is legitimate and I don't have to fit into a box of what is expected of me.

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So for you, Lyra is your music also a form of protest?

Lyra: I say yes to my whole body with my music, I don't need approval from cisgender people in society. If you look at history, and why society thinks trans people are new, it's like some of the technologies are new - surgeries and hormone replacement therapies and stuff like that. But the identities are really old - genocide is the reason people like us don't exist, it's a really powerful thing to just say like - this is my voice, this is my body.

I don't need to change it or manipulate it to make it fit into the expectations of others. Some of my thinking here comes from a workshop I went to in Berlin to see Alok Vaid-Menon, and talking with them was so inspiring - but what I learned through Alok was, we have no reason to sit and suffer and try to fit into this binary model. What I can do is be political with my body and I can say yes to my whole voice, my whole body. My show is very dramatic, very transcendental at times and then I also do some stand-up comedy in between, I like the breadth of saying yes to possibility.

Eris: Alok's words really resonate with me too. The genocide is colonisation and race - I want to say this explicitly as many people reading this might not know what we're talking about - it's that some indigenous folk when they were colonised identified outside of the gender binary. There's plenty of anthropological evidence that was collected, which can demonstrate this really happened - It was just another colonial process. These people were systemically targeted and eradicated through religion and because of racism, and a desire to eliminate the ecstatic element to these cultures because it was an important part of what powered them. With "ecstatic healing", I'd like to think trans people are reclaiming that part that was lost, creating a modern version of it.

Was it comforting to make music with each other when you're both trans women?

Eris: Yeah!, I mean my label is called T4T which means “trans for trans.” I think it's healing for us to work together, but also it's healing for the world too - because like, this society is pretty broken when it comes to gender - what is it Alok says? the gender binary is the collective fantasy of thousands of generations and it needs to be broken. We're real with each other, there's no pretence when I talk to Lyra.

Lyra: It's really important to have healthy creative relationships with other trans people, and those relationships are really important to me. Even though we've only hung out a handful of times and our relationship has been more internet-based since the pandemic - I think ours is really important. I have a great relationship with other people on my record too, but it's different when you have this trans siblinghood, it's a different thing. it's a more specific thing that can be very healing. It’s so important that we support each other.

Eris: The most fundamental.

Lyra: I feel like, I can say even though I can't speak to what you've experienced in your career Eris. I feel we're on similar missions with different tools. I felt that before we even spoke.

Eris: Yes. 100% that's absolutely how I felt. I hope my work doing this drone piece and also this energetic dance piece is a message that I see that connection.

Lyra: We can talk about this. But you just have to listen to the track and you can feel it.

Do you think you both approach your music in similar ways? in that, it's something that is spiritual and connects you with others?

Lyra: I actually got to see Eris give a lecture before one of her parties in Berlin here in Fall 2019 before the pandemic, and it was super inspiring for me to hear her thoughts on ritual and psychedelia and the purpose of dance music in our contemporary culture. We were talking very recently about a term Eris used called "ecstatic healing" and I've resonated with that so much since I heard her say it. It's the idea of using the body and nature and technology but to do healing work in an ecstatic way.

Eris: Well yeah I mean we have different styles I guess, I mean to be honest when I met you - after your soundcheck, I went to go play my very breakbeat, clubby house night [laughs], but then I felt like in a way we were doing the same thing.

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In your musical output, you're both very honest and very genuine. How does that impact you, when the music is released into the world? Is it difficult to bare your soul or are you happy for people to know you in such an intimate way through your music?

Lyra: I don't think there's a choice. It's truth-telling, and when you know the truth - all my favourite artists are very true in some way. There's a transformative process when you're searching for the truth and there's no choice but to share it once it's there, it’s a mission really, it's a spiritual vocation for me. I try not to care what people think, I made my first album for myself and my friends.

Eris: When it comes to my songs, I write them for myself. They are my little tools for feeling better or processing things and making something beautiful. There's always an autobiographical element - so how they are released into the world doesn't affect that relationship really. But also... I'm a DJ, and there's something really democratic about soundsystems.

With Lyra's record, I never set out to make "something" in particular I just made art. But I do make dance music and I want it to make people dance so there's part of it that's wanting to please people and I want to see smiling faces. You know when you release an EP, not every song is going to be a banger, so then I get nervous to see which one everyone is going to love and it can definitely be hit and miss. I'm self-critical too - if people don't like something there's a reason so I wonder why they aren't into that particular track. There are so many songs I've written for myself, that no one will ever hear - but releasing them does have this other dimension.

Lyra: It is an ecosystem of you primarily making music for yourself, but you have compassion for other people. You wanna be a good host, like with this record now - I wanted it to be hosting my friends to do whatever they want with my music. Also when you release music there's an element of that - for other people's ears and bodies, you want people to have a pleasant, sensual experience.

Eris: Sometimes I wanna crack people open, but it's like... not so necessarily pleasant, I mean it will be in the end. [laughs]

Do you think technology had an influence on this mix?

Eris: To be honest the first time I heard Lyra's voice wasn't on a recording - so I don't think so, It was actually at a dinner party [laughs], but after that, it was at a soundcheck at a little club called Kaiku in Helsinki - It's beautiful, its a really resonant space, they have an intense soundsystem in there. I think Lyra was granularly processing her performance in real-time, but you know one minute I was just eating dinner and the next I'm listening to this woman's incredible, physical music. So for me, that engagement with technology seemed so amazing and liberating.

Lyra: When I'm making music I feel like technology is just as present as nature, it's just so omnipresent. My first experience of music using iTunes when I was 13-14, was like really getting into the medium of recorded electronic sound and the power of that. I think technology is a really generative, incredible space and I think of my voice as an instrument and I think of my body as a technology that's connected to other technologies. The kind of singing I learned to do when I was studying singing, it's very technical - It's kind of like running the body like an instrument, a synthesizer - interfacing with technologies in this web of technologies. This big interface really.

Eris: Also when I started working on this music with Lyra, the timing was very different. We didn't just start on this two months ago or anything - we worked on this last fall? right?

Lyra: Maybe December, January?

Eris: Yeah, it was in the middle of the quarantine for everyone, the darkest days of it. I felt a breach of that connection with nature and almost like, the negativity of technology turned itself on me. Almost all my interactions with my friends or my broader community, which used to be based on these really intense subjective experiences together - you know Lyra and I met not on social media but in person - so all of a sudden all these interactions are going through social media at a time when people are really hurting.

We both lost family members - my grandfather died of COVID, I lost friends, I mean yesterday, the scene most recently [with Kelli Hand and Paul Johnson]. But then also then, listening to Lyra's voice on a recording and suddenly she's here with me in my studio and that was so healing. It was honestly more powerful to listen to Lyra's music than it was to get into those spaces with psychedelics on my own during the quarantine.

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So tell me about the dinner party in Helsinki.

Lyra: It was an artist dinner right?

Eris: Oh god, yeah. It's so weird you're supposed to go do a performance but you have to go to this fancy dinner. It's such an old fashioned thing. But also being a DJ - it's super athletic, energetic and spiritual so a big fancy dinner before [laughs] is not ideal. It's the total opposite way you'd wanna prepare for such an experience. But this one was nice because I made a new friend.

Lyra: Yeah that was the thing, I mean obviously I knew who you were and I had been following your work, and I've been a raver too. I didn't know what the tracks were or the history, I knew dance music through my body.

Eris: That's the best way!

Lyra: Yeah, I mean, It was my first time in Finland - I don't know whether It was yours too?

Eris: It was my second time

Lyra: They were really nice promoters, Eris played a set later than night, I had a concert before so, we got to hang out. It was a small group of people, like very intimate. That's the first night we became friends. I also saw Eris in Berlin later that year, then I went to your Motherbeat party in October.

Eris: [laughing] God, that dinner party I was trying so hard to make conversation and then you showed up and it was like yes! and the whole room disappeared.

Lyra: Yeah it's like "Hello American trans kin"

Eris: Yeah, Lyra came in and it was pretty cool. We hung out in Berlin after that and Lyra came to my talk and my Motherbeat party - it was with Room 4 Resistance, to make a true psychedelic, alcohol-free rave experience with deep-listening drone and healing music for 4 hours after a 12-hour dance party.

How did you find the Motherbeat party?

Lyra: I mean, I can't say how many parties I've been to in the last 12 years [Living in Berlin] and that's the best party I've been to.

Eris: Aw thank you Lyra, I felt so bad because you knew that I was stressed out that night because the soundsystem was malfunctioning, and my friends were over from the states - it was almost a year of work to pull it off and I'm a total perfectionist too. Whatever that “psychedelic letting go” is, that has nothing to do with what I was doing running around that party.

Lyra: It was so nice! I have to say it's so special to rave without alcohol. There's always alcohol in the background of normal parties, it was such a different vibe at 5:AM, alcohol really brings the energy down. It was so incredible because everyone was so present, dancing their asses off, the vibrations were so high.

Eris: At the end of the dance party portion, around 8:AM, we cleared the dancefloor and put yoga mats down and everyone could lay down and listen. The neat thing was that the best parties end and it's ecstatic and exciting, but it's this moment where you're waiting for the train to go off the rails. This was the opposite, it was like watching an elephant fall into a bed of pillows. There's a moment where everyone acknowledged the DJ - me in this case - then everyone just lay down and sat in groups. You kinda can't imagine that happening if everyone is really off their heads, loaded on booze. There's fun in intoxication, but it was nice to invite people in with intentionality and for them to be able to engage in a mindful way.

Lyra: Yeah, an intention of mindfulness.

Eris: There's such a gentleness at these parties, you could hear a pin drop. No one talking over each other and stuff - if you're the only person doing that in a room full of people it's kinda weird.

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Lyra you're in Berlin now, Eris you're back in New Hampshire things are starting to open up again following various lockdowns, as two performing artists how are you feeling about that? is there a sense of relief?

Eris: ah yeah, Berlin is still pretty locked down right? my friends were still djing sit-down parties last week.

Lyra: Yeah, there's like outdoor events and they are piloting opening some clubs indoors this month. I've been to outdoor things, I'm super happy to get to socialise again - but I'm still really kinda tender from the whole experience. I still take baby steps. I think it's still really important to sit with the grieving of what's going on and the collective care that is still required.

It's important not to just think "oh it's over," and it's frustrating because we all just wanna go back to normal, but that's not possible. We have to grieve, the world has changed - there will be people wearing masks on public transport for the rest of our lives, and there weren't before. We have to adjust and recognise that the world is different and stay responsible and that's not a fun thing to think about - cause everyone wants to kick it.

Eris: Everything Lyra says has resonated pretty strongly with me. I have had some really different experiences the past couple of weeks I'll say that, I guess I've been sort of thrown into it? what's that expression? zero to 60? [Laughs]. I went from being in the forest and feeling pretty alone - to all of a sudden being overwhelmed and playing events for thousands of people under conditions very different than the renegade raving that I grew up with.

I have a lot of mixed feelings - it's hard to celebrate when I know so many people are hurting - so the broadcasting events over social media and stuff, I have a little bit of trepidation about that. But also, I believe it's really good for people to get together. For myself, events where people are taking precautions and getting tested, vaccinated - then I would say it's pretty positive for participants. But this could change, there's a lot that is still so unknown - I'm someone who is really excited to see events happening but also waking up the next morning reading the newspaper.

So there's both a need to be back in the world again and around people, but also concern about what could happen?

Eris: I mean, I feel like as I was djing this weekend [at GALA festival] I could sense how everyone had this feeling of lost time. More than a year has disappeared in our lives, part of me wants to acknowledge the world has changed but also our need for subjective experiences hasn't. This is our only life, I do in some sense encourage people to go dance in situations that are safe, or where the risks are at least manageable.

Lyra: It's all about comparative risk. We have to still keep living and understand where the risks are greater and smaller.

Eris: I was feeling... I mean, I might as well just say it: everyone has been depressed during the quarantine. I don't feel that way as I sit here today, and I know that's because I was around people recently and I'm back doing the work I do - everyone has their thing you know. I feel like my old self a little bit.

Lyra: I played four shows this past month and it was really hard to go back to performing, there was grief with that. But now at the end of the month - after the fourth show, I'm back in it. I feel like myself, I'm taking care of myself better again and I'm so used to it, but it took the whole month. I remember I was crying with the sound technicians the first gig back, it was emotional.

Eris: I hear you! when I was heading back from London I posted a little picture of myself and I was super happy - and someone who was at my first show at Smart Bar a few weeks ago messaged me and said "you look a lot more well-rested than you did at your first show." I was triggered, even terrified that night - I had gone from being in the woods to in a basement with 600 people. I relate with what Lyra is saying - at first it was definitely harder.

So now it's easier cause you're in the swing of things?

Eris: You start to get your sea legs back for sure. But I am also getting used to the everyday trials and tribulations of being a trans person, who's not been used to misgendering and people's meanness and worrying for your safety again - because I live in the woods! I don't have to deal with it, and that’s intentional. I've found myself a little extra sensitive, a little extra defensive navigating the dominant society again. I feel hyper-vigilant out there.

So the Catch-22 of lockdown really is that it's isolating you from your community, but it's a safe bubble you can control?

Eris: Yeah, I mean I'm worried about my hearing again. Whereas in quarantine all my senses had been restored to a sort of normal level really.

Lyra: I had the same thought, I went to one rave in Berlin and my custom earplugs were in a drawer somewhere, because obviously... I hadn't been using them.

Eris: Right! [laughs]

Lyra: Oh my gosh. I was like, I can't do this - my ears! I'm out of practice. I couldn't even go on the proper dancefloor cause I was, so nervous.

Eris: For both of us, our ability to listen is so important, there's definitely a bio-feedback thing that happens when Lyra plays - same as I feel the vibration with the music. I'm trying to listen to high-hats falling off by a tick, by a 64th of a beat so no one else hears and I'm correcting the entire time I'm mixing. If I lose my hearing, I won't be as tight of a DJ and I can't slice those records together.

Lyra: There are some experimental treatments I've seen for tinnitus and hearing loss.

Eris: Oh well, that's interesting, I've done a little bit of online research on psilocin mushrooms and how they can bring your tinnitus down. [Octo Octa]'s experienced it too I really wanna read what you're looking at.

Lyra: Maybe we can trade links! I'm curious what you're taking too, cause I have tinnitus.

Eris: You do? oh wow.

Lyra: It's a thing that happens [laughs].

So Eris, you spend a lot of time in Europe or you did in the before times, and Lyra you live in Berlin. Do you often feel like an American in Europe?

Eris: Oh! I'm back baby.

Lyra: Well, I speak German and I have a musical theatre background so I'm like a morphing little pixie. A lot of people actually don't know that I'm American - since my hair is really light I think people think I'm Scandinavian or something. I love to roleplay different characters, people who know me know I'm American but I've spent most of my twenties in Berlin and people always think I’m from different places.

Eris: I don't think anyone is surprised I'm American [laughs]. I love denim. I always feel like an American girl.

Lyra: Yeah guess my style is a bit more mutable, I try to blend.

Eris: I feel like in Europe it's great because there is infrastructure around what I am doing. But in the US you have people who come to our shows and we can go and play in all these smaller cities and folks come out and it's just awesome. I would be so sad if I didn't have that my home is my home and it means the world to me. If I hadn't had all these experiences in the States with these people I sure as hell wouldn't be playing in Europe I wouldn't have had the experiences I need to have my unique sound and style.

So to play on these huge soundsystems and meet so many who love the same music that I do, even the media to be available to support this music and give it some context is something. As problematic as that can be, it's good we have some infrastructure like that. In America, there's really very little infrastructure supporting dance music venues, but there is a big grassroots scene and I like having access to both. But being a trans person in Europe that's difficult.

Lyra: Yep, I agree.

Eris: Everywhere I go there is significant oppression towards trans people and now there is a worsening public debate, I cannot believe the amount of attention that people are giving this issue. We're literally just a type of person that wants to have a public life. Have the correct documents, be able to use public facilities, be able to make health decisions for our bodies - this is basic shit, I can't believe the kinds of nonsense that has grabbed the collective imagination of the cis-world. Whether it's in Poland or the UK or even in America - it's everywhere I go. There's this conservative media fixation with us right now. I feel that every border I cross I feel that - It doesn't matter where I am, and in certain places, it's more pronounced.

Lyra: It's really bad in Hungary now, it's like the worst in Europe.

Eris: But also I have a lot of rights as an American trans person that I wouldn't have in other places. It's hard now navigating the world as a trans person right now, people know I'm trans wherever I go - It's not something I can avoid. I mean 6 ft 2, I can't exactly hide it.

Lyra: You know there are lots of really tall women in Europe so that helps. [laughs]

Eris: Ok, yeah [laughs].

Lyra: I will say I wouldn't have been able to have the career I've got or make the art I'm making without the arts infrastructure in Europe. It was a big reason I moved here many years ago - there were a lot more opportunities, also there's like a long thread in American society of anti-intellectualism that has been around for decades. I like to be able to connect my work to philosophy, artistic concepts - what's so beautiful is that there's a scene in Europe where you can do this and people will be listening and watching and understanding your references. It's not really a value in American culture and I find that quite sad, I always have, ever since I was a precocious, artistically minded 6-year-old.

Eris: Yeah I mean, I came up with the concept of Motherbeat in underground clubs in the US. But then next thing I know, I'm at Unsound Festival getting interviewed by someone with a PHD from the local university about my thoughts on ecstatic healing and Dada. The infrastructure to connect dance music with theoretical thinking is a wonderful thing.

Lyra Pramuk's 'Delta' remix album is out on September 24, you can buy Eris Drew's remix track 'Everything Is Beautiful & Alive' here.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter

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