NME Radar: Breakout

DOMi & JD Beck: meet the virtuosic jazz duo signed to Anderson .Paak’s new label

Newly signed to the Blue Note imprint Apeshit Inc, DOMi & JD Beck are intent on proving that ‘serious’ jazz musicianship can still be light-hearted

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

When you visit DOMi & JD Beck’s website, you’re immediately confronted with chaos. A spinning image of a sax-playing rat sets the scene, before their bio describes DOMi as “the only living theoretical physicist” and Beck as a “6-year-old sheep investigator”. None of it makes much sense, but it is bold, bizarre and intriguing – just as every great new band ought to be.

The duo’s truth is perhaps even better than fiction. Having first met at a music trade show in 2018 (from where they immediately headed off to play together at Erykah Badu’s birthday party), 19-year-old Beck and 22-year-old DOMi have been drumming – and keyboarding – up internet hype ever since, performing in Thundercat/Ariana Grande sessions and embellishing J Dilla beats with the kind of frenetic improv solos that have you wondering where they’re hiding all their extra hands. With original works like ‘Sniff’ and ‘My Favourite Ballsack’ (their take on John Coltrane’s 1961 standard ‘My Favourite Things’), their carefree Gen-Z humour brings a touch of much-needed levity to the kind of slow-paced Insta-aesthetic ‘lo-fi study vibes’ that have dominated mainstream jazz representations of late.

“We’re not media trained, so whatever comes out just comes out,” says JD, reflecting on their “goofy” aesthetic. “My least favourite thing is when people are all straight-faced, like, ‘I’m making serious music right now’. Your aura doesn’t have to reflect your work like that.” DOMi continues: “It’s just the way we are – we make jokes as we rehearse and bring them on-stage. We both like to play fast stuff with a lot of energy, and that definitely isn’t what is mainstream for jazz right now. But I guess we’ve just never seen that as an issue.”

Talent like DOMi and JD’s doesn’t stay out of the limelight for long: in April, they became the first signing to Apeshit INC, a new label directed by Anderson .Paak. As an imprint of Blue Note Records, the most esteemed jazz label of all time, DOMi and JD have also benefited from the tutelage of genre icon Herbie Hancock, setting the tone for their experimental debut single ‘Smile’. “Herbie is so funny; he’ll tell you stories for like six hours, and we are never going to be mad at that,” says DOMi. “He’s a living legend.”

“But all the stories he tells have purpose,” adds JD. “It’s like when your parents give you advice as a kid and it just doesn’t register, but you get older and you’re like, ‘Holy shit’. There’s a lot that’s been registering for us recently: we finally have an actual song out, we’ve finished an album.”

With ‘Smile’ closing in on 600,000 Spotify streams, the duo talk to NME about their musical history, eclectic interests and working with Silk Sonic.

NME: For two young musicians, you’ve both been honing your instruments for some time. When did you first realise that music was your thing?

JD: “I’ve always just played a mess of whatever I like. We had a piano in the house and I remember asking my mom about it when I was really young, before I got into drums. I’m lucky: nobody in my family plays music, but my parents were really open-minded.”

DOMi: “Nobody plays in my family except me and my brother either, but my dad really wanted us to have artistic jobs. We started on drums at two years old, and then switched to piano around three. I went to my local music conservatory in France around five or six, but I was home-schooled all my life: theory and piano in the mornings, and then other schoolwork in the afternoon. That was my whole entire life for a while, but we knew that you needed to get hours of work to get good.”

Having built your name online through some seriously impressive covers — Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, MF Doom — the word ‘prodigy’ is often thrown around in reviews of your performances. Is it tough to write original music under that kind of pressure?

JD: “We’re so insecure that no matter how high the compliment, it doesn’t really register. We’re extremely hard on ourselves; we were before we met, and now working together, it’s insane. Everything on the record is very on purpose, even the small random details. But our live stuff is more based on improvisation and just following each other’s lead. It’s really hard, but it’s fun!”

“We both like to play fast stuff with a lot of energy, and that definitely isn’t what is mainstream for jazz right now”

All of your work has a real pace and energy to it. Outside of jazz, what inspires you?

JD: “I think a lot of old-school video game soundtracks definitely inspired us without us really realising it. I love Final Fantasy, Minecraft and arcade games like Sonic. Recently we’ve been listening to Earth Wind & Fire, Deerhoof, Bartok. If we’re in the car with people who aren’t our really close friends, we can’t play any of our Spotify playlists ‘cos they’re just like, ‘What the fuck is this mix?’”

Your genre-melding style caught the eye of Anderson .Paak, who made you the first signing to his new label. How did you first meet, and what has he been like to work with?

DOMi: “We discovered each other on Instagram and then finally met in New Orleans in 2019 when we were touring in Thundercat‘s band. Somebody like Andy is really rare to find in the music business: he’s always such a mom with us, always making sure that we’re good, he’s just so sweet. So when he told us about the label, we were like, ‘Fuck yeah!’”

JD: “He made a lot of music that inspired us when we were coming up, and to have someone like that show you things about yourself that you didn’t know, it was seriously crazy. When we signed to the label, he sat us down with a whiteboard and was like, ‘What do you want your album to feel like, what do you want to accomplish, and who do you want on it?’. He just made everything happen.”

Anderson .Paak with DOMi & JD Beck
Anderson .Paak with DOMi & JD Beck (Picture: Tehillah De Castro / Press)

Outside of your own album, you also co-wrote ‘Skate’ for ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’. What was it like to work on a song for somebody else?

DOMi: “We literally wrote it in like 20 minutes. We had the parts, it worked with the lyrics that they had, they did their thing and it came out great. It was a really rewarding thing to be part of – thank you Andy!”

JD: “It was kind of funny, because Bruno [Mars] and Andy would come over and they would make jokes, like, ‘Can y’all do something simple?’. We’ve written with a few other artists before, but this was our first try at something really catchy and dance-y. When you think of Bruno Mars, he has literally billions of plays on a single song alone. It’s really hard writing a song that you think a lot of people will like! It definitely makes us respect the pop songwriters who can pull it off so consistently.”

In the video for ‘Smile’, you throw a birthday party for grumpy jazz musician McBriare Lanyon, played by Mac DeMarco. How did that come about?

JD: “I was on the toilet! I’m not kidding. I came up with the main melody line on the toilet, just sat there singing, and then ran to DOMi like, ‘Please, help me! Get chords! Get a bass!’. DOMi started harmonising and made it really pretty, and we worked it out in this really weird time signature. I guess all of our songs are kind of sad, but then also almost a little too happy, too? I mean, I was on the toilet when I wrote it, so I guess I was like literally letting my emotions out.”

DOMi: “Andy wrote the video treatment and we got to have all our friends there, which was amazing. If we have to do a music video, we’re going to do the best we can and make short films with a real story. With Andy as director, the most creative brain ever, we can just have fun together.”

What’s next for the two of you? 

DOMi: “We’re touring! I guess that’s the musician cycle – you write, you put the album out, you tour your ass off, and then you go back to writing.”

JD: “I feel bad for all the people who we already told our album was coming, but we really thought it was! It’s been an insanely long journey, but it’s for the best. Our songs come out fuller now, because we’ve got a way bigger picture of what we want. I hope the second record is easier! If it isn’t, maybe we will actually have to become sheep investigators…”