A couple of hours before her live set at Mutek’s Experience 3, I walked up the winding stairs to meet with Debbie Doe at the café in Monument National. Waiting for her for a few minutes, I found myself surrounded by the excitement and stressful chatter of artists pitching their projects to representatives from grant agencies like FACTOR. I could feel the formation of art happening around me as I scanned the room, zooming in and out of conversations, hearing snippets of creative ideas, and seeing various expressions of smiles and inquiry; Mutek’s organization of space allowed for this kind of artistic production to flourish over the course of the week.
The festival also had an element of chaos, with many different events, performances, and conversations taking place at the same time. Debbie Doe had recently flown in from playing a gig in LA, was bombarded with press interviews and sound checks, and just finishing up a radio interview before meeting me. She was wearing the outfit as pictured – a sheer black shirt paired with a long black sequined vest – ready to play on the Esplanade Place des Arts. Introducing myself, I briefly explained my work in anthropology on the politics of identity and electronic music, asking her to elaborate on her musical influences and process. She told me about how, growing up, she would delve into her father’s archive of music that was filled with Arabic genres. This exploration during her formative years gave her the ability to choose instrumentation and samples for her own music productions based on the sensory knowledge of what might be emotionally triggering for her listeners. In a live set, she has to feel her audience in each moment that passes, knowing what might evoke an affectual experience in each individual, creating a community. She described to me how she uses the musical awareness gained through her immersive upbringing to generate these moments, live.
“When you create a live set, you’re creating everything from scratch, and when you play live you’re composing everything on fly, so with every string that you’re playing, you’re pulling peoples’ emotions. Oriental music pulls peoples’ emotions on another level … I fuse it into the music to connect with people, to see how they react. It’s very interesting to me as a Lebanese person and as a musician.”
The live set she played for us at Experience 3 sparked these connections. It was dark, emotional, and her fusion of music from the Arab world was so subtly and thoughtfully incorporated that it kept the audience very present throughout her entire performance. She had the minds of her listeners wrapped around her by using experimental techniques, and through her remarkable stage presence. Completely in character, and accompanied by an artistic performance including live vocals and movement, she ended with her counterpart painting herself black and sitting down, eyes closed, completely overcome by her sonic environment.
Experience Debbie Doe’s MUTEK set for yourself:
Cover Photo by Ella Rinaldo