“I am very much the conundrum of immigrant youth identity crisis, an alien everywhere.”
Debby Friday’s music ceaselessly circles beauty and brutality, questioning their respective limits and underscoring the possible impossibility of their implicit separations. On her new release BITCHPUNK, Friday echoes, samples, sings, speaks, and reverberates through innumerable Black diasporic sonic geographic landscapes and fields, a churning critique of strict categories. Summoning running hum and clamor, Friday’s BITCHPUNK assembles dissonances casting attention towards moral disorder and insurrection. It’s a grounding and a sounding where love/hate and good/evil are named and tuned to revolutionary uses.
Debby Friday states: “who I am is a confrontation.” What does it mean to identify as a challenge, as trouble? It might mean that “I got vision, yeah I got guts,” as Friday relates on their track “STAY UP,” continuing: “And I flood and I rain / and I seed and I weave.” Written after a period of time touring the United States, Canada, and Europe as a DJ, BITCHPUNK announces Friday as an intricately dexterous and dangerous artist whose spiraling interconnections span oceanic speakers and pan in and out of Yoruba poetries, contemporary queer woman and non-binary-identified underground music communities, and various generations challenging the order of things, its against-ness as a propulsion for creation.
Debby Friday and I corresponded to discuss her various experiences of music, politics, and thoughts on the through-lines of Blackness, gender, queerness, and power congregating in her work. They currently reside in Vancouver after living in Montreal. (Friday uses she/they pronouns.)
The album opens with the question: “C’est Quoi Ça, BITCHPUNK?” Could we start with that question – “what is that” – by discussing the name BITCHPUNK?
For me, naming the album BITCHPUNK was my way of bearing witness to myself. A making of me in my own image. I am a bitch and this is my punk. And it’s a punk that is intimately tied to centuries of Black oral tradition and musical history, both arenas of confrontation with oppression and also confrontation with the Self. These confrontations are informed by fantastical c(h)ords of Love that span generations and also a very kinesthetic experience of violence.
As I’ve gotten older and more serious about what it means to heal, I’ve been able to better reconcile the place of violence in the fabric of the universe and my own life. And for me, violence and beauty, diaspora and home, hate and love, have become two sides of the same spectrum: a duality that collapses the more I come to understand the very human capacity for both. We can be very good and very motherfucking bad. And this requires a space to be made for the full complexity of who we are. And who I am, as a human being, as someone who is Black and woman and queer and alien and wicked (among other things), who I am is a confrontation, it is something to be witnessed. This is the space in which BITCHPUNK was born.
What is your process for incorporating samples and other pieces of music into the work? How does this process of making “your own” music maybe differ or feel the same from the process of DJing and making mixes? The last track, “AMOR FATI,” features/samples Yoruba poet Mayowa Adeyemo singing a praise-poem for Ogun. Finally, could you discuss the importance of Yoruba to you?
Well, firstly, I am Yoruba. I was born in Nigeria and immigrated to Canada with my mother when I was about two years old and have grown up here my whole life. I am very much the conundrum of immigrant youth identity crisis, an alien everywhere. I used to struggle with it a lot more when I was younger but now, I’ve more or less made my peace with it. My personal experience of diaspora is one that is heavily shaped by the processes of hybridity and abstraction. And these processes inform all of my work.
I could not have made this album without having first been a DJ, that’s for sure. DJing allowed me to see the dots and connect them in my own way. The whole process of sampling, mixing, production and the whole mélange aspect of DJing, to me, it mirrors the collage-like narratives of being an immigrant and being in diaspora. It’s that experience of knowing, in your bones, where you come from, but having no conscious memory of ever having witnessed this place. That is what “AMOR FATI” is about. I’ve never been back to Nigeria since I left. And I don’t think there will ever be a “going back” per se. And so, I am left to create my own context, my own version of the past, present and future. And it’s just as valid as anything else, even if it is a pastiche.
This is also how I came across Adeyemo’s work, as I was doing research into my people. It was through this kind of retracing that I found out about ijalas, a part of the ancient oral tradition of the Yoruba people (which is what Adeyemo was singing). I just really connected with it because her vocal inflections reminded me of the Yoruba gospel songs my parents would play while I was growing up and I could also hear the lineages of Black musical and literary traditions that have descended from it. I also connected with the fact that it was a veneration to the orisha Ogun. He is the one who gave us iron (a tool of war and harvest) and he brought civilization to humanity and yet we’ve demonized and attempted to erase him, the other orishas, our native spiritualities, and so many ancient cultural traditions. They’re denounced as barbaric and evil, and to me, it’s so plain to see that in actuality, these things make up the very civilization that was given to us. It’s not just about religion, but it’s about philosophy and art and community.
There’s definitely been a very recent resurgence of interest in African spirituality and cosmologies, especially Yoruba spirituality. Which makes a lot of sense to me when I think about blood memory and the histories of how Black people have been disconnected from Africa through migration, slavery, war, colonialism. We are kind of all looking for a way to name the space of that which has been obscured from us. “AMOR FATI” was my way of making my own space as a living descendant of my people where I can explore what that sounds like, on my own terms.
You describe your own music as “UNBRIDLED FEMININE AGGRESSION” and “holy aggression.” What is the importance of a gendered spiritual summoning that involves revolutionary violence, and how does that also operate with the type of sounds you’re creating?
There’s a quote I read somewhere and actually paraphrased in the lyric book for the EP as: “the creation of new societies is always startling and violent.” This has been true throughout the history of humankind. Revolution is violent. Transformation is violent. And in my opinion, it’s not something to be afraid of but rather something to be embraced. And this is connected to what I was talking about before in regards to witnessing and space-making. With this body I inhabit, in this universal timeline, to speak myself into existence is a BIG BANG, a ritual, a confrontation of good and evil.
The whole EP is very much the story of my personal confrontations with good and evil. I came to understand that my power is a creative and deeply sexual and spiritual experience. It’s like the world just kept trying to tell me that I should be ashamed of this power, ashamed for existing. And shame is the key here. Such a stubborn emotion. It is the cause of so much destruction and trauma in my life, in my generational bloodline, in the world at large. I could not tell you why it exists. Maybe it was the apple. But I do know that it was only through plunging completely into shame that I was able to emerge on its opposing shore: awe. To understand myself through the lens of awe was a healing balm that purged the spirit of shame from my body in violent ceremony and let self-love take hold.
BITCHPUNK (especially “STAY UP” and “INDULGE ME”) was my way of making myself as awfully BIG as I dare to be. And like I wrote in “STAY UP,” who I am is bigger and bigger and BIGGER and BIGGER! It was one of the first songs I wrote for this EP, out of a subconscious desperate plea to myself to keep going and finish what I had started. It’s a chant and a motivation anthem. A way to remember.
Is your process of creating both “making” and “breaking” at the same time?
Oh, definitely. My process involves a lot of screwing around and accidental discovery. I’ve only been producing for about a year, so I still have a lot to learn but the journey is exciting because I’m doing it on my own and in doing so I’m dictating my own creative path. Mentorship is an arena I would like to have access to one day but for now I love DIY everything. It helps me develop discipline but I also think when you take an autodidactic approach to learning, you create a very special space for yourself where you don’t have to be resisting or proving anything. You can just be, learning at your own pace and in your own way. Your intuition ends up guiding you instead and developing that compass is more valuable than any formal instruction.
How do you consider the word “noise”?
In the beginning, there was sound. It was a word, a noise in the nothingness, that brought the universe into being. This vibration connects everything because it is in everything. All music is essentially noise, at the end of the day.
But if we’re talking about “noise music,” I guess I find all genres a little funny in the grand scheme of things, but I get it. It’s an abstraction, a valuable one that challenges the identity of whatever is considered “real music.” A noise can be anything so therefore music can be anything.
It’s something I started considering last year, when I taught myself how to live-code and started loading my own samples and sound effects into the system I use (TidalCycles). Live-coding is so messy and it can be very “un-music-like.” You get the impression that you’re just smashing sounds together until you get something that sounds like something. It’s something I do for fun and it helps me open up my thinking about music and technology.
Do you feel like your creative work right now returns to some kind of origin state, allowing you to work through the same questions again? I’m reminded of this line from Gayl Jones’s novel Corregidora: “Everything said in the beginning must be said better than in the beginning.” And I’m also thinking about the track “Chapter 1” from your TERROR: A MIX/TAPE, which involves “God separat[ing] the whore from the mother” and the whore being named Joy and the mother being named Mara, or pain.
When I first started DJing and making my own music, I felt this pressure to be good for other people, rather than to be good for myself. I’m not that person anymore and so I see her as this “false self.” It’s like looking back on a stranger I knew very well. There’s this sense of multiplicity there. That’s linked to the shame I had been carrying around since childhood, which was very much connected to my struggle with womanhood. I’ve felt like a “bad woman” for as long as I can remember and this fed my obsession with archetypes of deviant women in literature and media. I identified with these women who were furious and violent and intense: crazy, sexy power bitches. I wanted to be them because I felt I was one of them. And yet I also didn’t want to be them because I knew it was “bad” to be this way, to be who I am. There’s this feeling that who I really am is suppressed by a force outside of myself, and yet I was the one expertly carrying out the suppression. I guess that’s true to varying degrees for everyone. While working on BITCHPUNK, I started doing this unearthing and digging through all these falsities, trying to get back to “the beginning” in a sense. Like who was I before but also who am I after? After everything has been said and done and I’ve decided to embrace the strange and the change? Who am I now, at this beginning? What happens after you survive shame? In “Chapter 1” from TERROR, I was exploring this idea of an alternative past/future and I feel like with BITCHPUNK, and specifically “MEDUSA,” it’s kind of a continuation of that. It’s a reconciliation.
Who do you see as your musical comrades?
I really am a spawn of the world wide web and for that, I am grateful. The internet has been a powerfully equalizing force. It’s how I started making my own music in the first place and it’s how I started meeting other people in underground music communities. I met a lot of people via SoundCloud and when I was on/off tour last year. It really just changed my life to be able to witness so many young people of color creating their own narratives in music and art, in whatever way they choose, all over the world.
At the moment, I’m obsessed with Deli Girls and their latest album, Evidence. It’s such a powerful fucking project! I’ve also been revisiting Abyss X’s Nüshu EP and the 700 Bliss tape from DJ Haram and Moor Mother. I really like the work of FOOZOOL, Kablam, Pan Daijing, and Nkisi; they often end up in my mixes. I’m a cinephile and so I listen to a lot of film soundtracks and that’s how I discovered Mica Levi’s score work, which is just beautiful, haunting, genius. And it’s not a mistake that pretty much all of the people I’ve listed are women/non-binary. There is something very special happening in the many spheres of music and art right now and I can feel the deep rumblings of a worldwide feminine reckoning. It’s very wicked and it’s happening right now.