Originally from Nancy (France), the nineteen-year-old Berklee student and keyboard virtuoso has already won over Louis Cole and Thundercat. Teamed up with drummer J.D. Beck, DOMi is working on her first album, which is being pursued by the labels Brainfeeder and Stones Throw. The future belongs to her.
In recent months, when a synthesizer is on an American stage, it is not uncommon to see two blond pigtails pop up. DOMi is unanimously acclaimed by Thundercat, Jacob Collier, Knower, Blaque Dynamite, and Ghost-Note. It’s only the beginning. At 19, she’s already being courted by labels like Brainfeeder and Stones Throw while her career is made up of a handful of viral videos. At the rate that she is progressing, all possible options seem open to her.
Without insulting Nancy, the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine is better known for its jazz festival (Nancy Jazz Pulsations) than for the musicians it has produced. So it is a surprise that DOMi (her real name is Domitille Degalle) grew up there with music-loving parents who noticed that her older brother, and then herself, have a perfect ear. “My brother was able to say what note the vacuum cleaner was playing,” she recalls. “For me, it took a little longer.” Time is a relative notion for DOMi, who moves faster than anyone else. At the age of 2, she played piano and drums; at 3, she fell in love with Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. “I could hear the sound of the room echoing, then he would start a total improvisation; it fascinated me. My parents made me study classical music and I was sick of it. I wanted to improvise like Keith Jarrett, not spend my days reading sheet music.”
Her schooling was limited to one week in kindergarten. Removed from the system by her parents who wanted her to enter the conservatory as soon as possible, she took correspondence courses so she could devote as much time as possible to music. Especially her listening. “I spent my life on YouTube, Deezer, and Spotify, devouring the Blue Note and ECM catalogues. I typed the title of a standard to know all the versions. I went from Louis Armstrong to Robert Glasper by way of Jonathan Kreisberg.” Since the neighbors asked that she quieten down the drums, she also focused on composition. At age 5. “I wrote without a piano, just with my head, filling in sheet music.” After studying at the Strasbourg Conservatory, DOMi was a teenager when she applied – in the same week – for the entrance exams to the CNSM (the Paris Conservatory) and the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. She was naturally admitted in both cases, but remained in France when the Americans discovered that she did not yet have a high school diploma, contrary to what she had said. It was only a matter of time. A year later, Berklee contacted her again and offered her an exceptional presidential scholarship of $65,000 to cover the cost of her four years of schooling.
Now completing her third year at Berklee, DOMi remembers her arrival in Boston. “The first day, when I didn’t even speak English, I attended a jam; I was filmed, and the video had a million views. On the first Sunday, I was asked to play gospel in a church near Berklee. I did it, without sheet music, and I still do it every week. I like to adapt to all kinds of music, by ear, and I don’t ask myself any questions.” With social networks providing advertising, her phone soon started ringing. One of the first calls came from Robert “Sput” Searight, the drummer of Snarky Puppy, who was fascinated by the genius of this young Frenchwoman who was able to unleash unbridled improvisations between jazz and funk. In January 2018, he introduced her at the NAMM Show, the largest trade show in the music industry, which is held annually in Anaheim, California. There, DOMi met drummer J.D. Beck (from Dallas like Sput), who is another young prodigy: he is only fifteen years old. “The following month, he invited me to Dallas where he was playing for Erykah Badu’s birthday. We jammed non-stop day and night, he showed me how Instagram works, and we posted some videos. In a year, we have gone from 100 to 50,000 followers.”
DOMi had never before used her Instagram account that had been opened for her by … Louis Cole, half of the duo Knower with Genevieve Artadi. This is yet another one of these encounters scattered throughout her young journey as signs of a destiny being fulfilled. “We met in Paris and he contacted me again when he came to play in Boston. We found ourselves at the after-party, with Genevieve and Jacob Collier with whom I was rehearsing. It ended in a roasted potato battle and that’s how we became close. I wrote a lot with Louis and he had me listen to people like Thundercat and Flying Lotus, whom I didn’t know at all. Above all, I owe it to him that I no longer care about people’s opinions.” In double bassist Riccardo del Fra’s class at the CNSM, DOMi had studied jazz in depth, but she had also endured criticism from its purists. “On the other hand, in the United States, everyone told me, ‘Go ahead!’” So she went ahead, trading conventionalism for eccentricity, and her casual look for fluorescent pajamas. “It was Thundercat who told me, ‘Do you want to go on stage in a bathing suit? Do it!’” The bass player, with whom she had jammed in Los Angeles with Sput, even invited her to form a killer trio with drummer Justin Brown at a concert in Brooklyn. This shows how much trust is now placed in her.
As DOMi and J.D. Beck have also formed a trio with MonoNeon (Ghost-Note’s bass player), the next few months will be decisive for the duo. In addition to the American tour and upcoming festivals, a first album is being composed in the young drummer’s room. Stones Throw and Brainfeeder have already positioned themselves to release this album, featuring guests of the caliber of MonoNeon, Thundercat and Casey Benjamin (a pillar of Robert Glasper’s band), in late 2019 or early 2020. For the moment, everything is going well for DOMi. But she also knows what is waiting for her around the corner: “We’re under pressure. We have to do something awesome!”