Q&A with musician Delia Beatriz, aka Debit


Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m., James Theater, Iowa City, $10-75

Debit will perform on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the James Theater. — courtesy of Witching Hour

Delia Beatriz (aka Debit) is a musician who crosses borders: She was born in Mexico and grew up in Texas. She’s a dance music DJ, but her latest album, The Long Count, uses machine learning algorithms to process the sounds of Mayan instruments. She has a Masters in Music Technology from Columbia University, but she’s toured extensively as Azealia Banks’s DJ.

The unboxable Beatriz is appearing at the James Theater Saturday, Sept. 17, the first performance in the newly imagined Witching Hour series of shows (presented by Englert Theatre and Little Village). Tickets for Saturday’s event at the James are $10 student, $16 members, $20 general admission. Passes for the full series are $40/$65/$75. Debit answered a few questions for LV ahead of her show.

The Long Count uses samples of Mayan musical instruments that you processed with machine learning software. Is it a political act to connect sonically to the pre-Columbian world? Yes, 1000%. I’m from the north of Mexico and the Mayans were in the south. Working with cultural material — in my case, sounds from something that’s outside of me — I don’t feel it belongs to me. I haven’t been able to appropriate it sort of organically. I wanted to give something back both to the culture,but also to the sounds themselves.

So the politics of working with the material that isn’t mine, and how I thought would be ethical — or approximating ethical — of relating so that it’s mutually beneficial in some way or another. I think there is politics inherent in wanting to expand the sound sources that are processed by AI and machine learning technologies.

Contemporary Mayans, because they’re still Mayan descendants, they’re in the south and they are fighting for their land still against contemporary slavery and oppresson. There’s political movements that we relate to, as artists. Can we make work that can be part of it? How do we do it so that it’s not propaganda or lame, so that it’s authentic to us?

You share a first name with Delia Derbyshire. Who are your favorite women composers in electronic music, and does gender have artistic relevance to you? I definitely think so. It’s not so much the bio-determinsim of gender. I think there’s something to the cultural context of our gendered experience. For me, growing up as a woman and what that means, I definitely think that poses a lot of challenges, both things we’ve internalized and external challenges and obstacles of infrastructure. There’s just so many more nuances. So I do believe that women composers are special in that way.

It becomes more rare to be able to get to a point where we’ve done the breakthroughs of creation and socially, too, so, we’re perceived as artists at an individual level. Favorite women composers? Delia Darbyshire for sure, being amongst the first, if not the first, to use the oscillator in the BBC workshop to create a rhythm. Eliane Radigue. Just thinking of that era of pioneers. Pauline Oliverros; I think she really changed my mind in terms of listening.

You’re going to be in the James Theater, which is actually a small theatrical space. Will your audience be in the seats absorbing your music or up on their feet dancing? Or both? I would hope [they’ll be] sitting. I think it’s important for the body to be comfortable when receiving this sort of information. And like I said, these are ancient sounds that have now been processed and I believe it has unleashed a series of not spirits, but energy that’s inherent in the sounds. And it could be really emotional and it can be very cathartic and I think it’s really easy to ignore because it’s very uncomfortable. So sometimes this show in the wrong space is just people talking over it and that’s a shame to deprive oneself from experiencing something psychedelic without drugs,

Have you DJed in Latin America? How do audiences compare with the US? Yeah, I have. Definitely. Every country within the region expects and wants very different things. I remember a show in Columbia. I very much feed off of the people and there’s a sort of symbiotic relationship. Sometimes at the beginning of my set, they just aren’t vibing with anything and it’s really easy to see and to feel. Once I started with techno, that really resonated. But then there’s places in Mexico where I played that I’ll start with techno and people are turned off, so it’s hard to generalize, but I think definitely percussive heavy.

And I will say that in Latin America there’s more of an aperture to use different time signatures and polyrhythm. I think in that respect. The U.S. and maybe Europe can be a little more four-to-the-floor. But I still always try to do a mix of both because I feel very much influenced by both schools of thought.

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