Ten years ago, Bambii had an idea. A Jamaican-Canadian resident of Toronto at the start of her DJ career, she wanted to host a rave that celebrated the kinds of music that the city was either ignoring or actively hostile to, like dancehall, garage, and jungle. The party was called JERK, and the annual event soon grew into a symbol of resistance to the whitewashing of electronic music and a local bastion of progressive dancehall. It had been a minute since Toronto had fostered anything genuinely cool, so naturally, it was time for Bambii to head out on the road. Three years after JERK’s debut, she became the DJ for Mykki Blanco’s tour, a run that would help establish her as one of electronic music’s most vital talents. Not long after the Blanco tour wrapped, Bambii played some of the most storied electronic venues in the world, showing partygoers a different side of themselves with her genre-bending sets.
2019 saw the release of Bambii’s first solo production, “NITEVISION.” It was urgent, propulsive, and deliciously deviant, with deep, steely jungle synths. It was an ideal introduction to Bambii, who came off as both a student and prophet of dancehall, eager to spread the gospel with her own riddims. After COVID put the world on pause for two years, Bambii returned to releasing her own music, and was enlisted as a co-producer on Kelela’s long-awaited sophomore album Raven. But in 2023, she leveled up. The solo Bambi tracks that appeared in advance of her debut EP Infinity Club, due out August 4, tapped even further into the fearlessness that defined Bambii as an artist from the beginning, exploring new arenas and sounding at home in each of them. “One Touch” brought in airy jungle synths and pounding breakbeats; “Slip Slide” is a sex jam built on the rich history of U.K. rap; and “Hooked” is a late contender for pop song of the summer.
Two weeks before Infinity Club’s release, I spoke with Bambii about how DJing informed her music, gatekeeping in electronic music, and the pleasure of showing the world stylistic connections that are too often overlooked.
This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.
The FADER: “Slip Slide” dropped yesterday. How do you feel when you release new music?
Bambii: A bit more casual now. Because I have so many songs coming, I don’t feel so precious about each song, whereas before, when I had less music, I was fixated on the day and the time and the direction of the wind. I was so paranoid about what each song was gonna do. Now I’m operating with a bit more self-belief. As soon as I drop it, I’m already focused on the next single.
“Slip Slide” is a little weird because it’s the last song that made it on the project. It feels unrelated, like a B-side. I just loved it so much, it needed to be there.
“Slip Slide” is so emblematic of the way you curate features. The guest artists both elevate the songs and they add a new dimension through their own artistry. Ragz Originale’s verse in the context of that song… He sounds new, like a different artist. Do you start making the song with the idea of a collaboration, like, or does it come more naturally?
I definitely start with the idea of a collaboration. I don’t know who, but I can hear the cadence or the tone. I’ll know if it needs to be a male or female vocal, a low or a high voice. I already have that reference in my head, and as I get further, it becomes more specific.
Does that guide the production of the song — getting toward that idea?
It’s definitely how I think about song arrangement. Overall production choices will be driven by what I want it to do in the club. I try to stay away from this bad habit of, if I’m making something and I get excited about it, starting to think about the visuals. It doesn’t let [the song] breathe because I’m already jumping seven steps ahead. Sometimes, when you’re making music, you should stay in the abstract space as much as possible so it can go in whatever direction.
When you were assembling the songs that make up Infinity Club, did you have a broad, concrete idea of what you wanted to achieve?
Yeah. I made the songs during an artist residency in the Cayman Islands, so pretty much every song started when I was in the Caribbean, seaside. This was during [lockdown], and I was really isolated. I had COVID, and they locked me in the room for 13 days. I really hunkered down, like, “Okay, I’m gonna do two songs a day.” I could see people sauntering on the beach, eating food, playing games, while they wouldn’t even let me out for a walk. I pretty much created the whole project then.
I already knew I wanted to call it Infinity Club three years before, when I started making music. I already had this concept. The overall theme of everything I do has the same origin point — being Caribbean, my family, what I’ve experienced in Toronto — and it just stretches outward everywhere. It’s putting an emphasis on where I’m from, but also on my ability to jump genres, to create connections between sounds. It’s everywhere. It’s everything.
It’s one thing to dismiss genre conventions — a lot of artists do that — and another to connect different kinds of music that a lot of people would consider separate, which Infinity Club does really well. It has the spirit of a DJ mix, in the way it elides and shifts and combines. Do you feel like your career as a DJ put you in a stronger position as a producer to be able to identify these connections and put them into your own music?
100 percent. Even though I love being a producer, I still feel very much a DJ first in the way I get excited about music, the way that I research music, and the way I primarily want to be a platform for other artists. Wanting to discover and explore music is something that would make any producer stronger. Your reference points are gonna be automatically wider, and then you’ll have a very intimate understanding of what music makes people react and what people like on a cerebral level. I have so many hard, in-person years of watching that in a very visceral way, over and over again. So when I make music, I’m trying to achieve the thing that I witness pretty much every night.
Have there been moments while you’re DJing where you’ll try something new and different just to see where it goes, and it goes off in a way that you didn’t expect?
I can’t think of a specific song, but it’s surprising when you’re in a high-octane, high-adrenaline moment in the club, and you take a left turn and take it down to a slow and sensual and emotional place, how quickly people will pivot with you in a collective, communal way. That’s always shocking because, when you’re a DJ and you’re all the way up here, there’s an emphasis on staying there. You don’t ever wanna leave this place, but then everyone collectively wants to feel this other feeling together. It’s such a pleasant surprise. When I see DJs who are able to do that, it really separates who I think is an artist and a DJ versus just someone in nightlife, because not many people can really orchestrate those moments.
“People like to do this thing where they take Black culture and they make it pop culture, and they deracialize it in a very convenient way so they don’t have to pay homage.”
There are so many Caribbean communities in Toronto — places like Little Jamaica, which has been decimated by this ongoing construction. A lot of people know about Caribana [(The Toronto Caribbean Festival)], but I don’t think there’s a conscious appreciation of what the Caribbean community does for the city.
Absolutely not. I often make the comparison between Toronto and London. I don’t wanna romanticize London — it’s also a very imperfect place — but it’s an example of Caribbean culture that’s been incubated, that’s not only as esteemed but has been archived properly. I think the average person in London has a relationship with what’s happening, even on a very basic level — how the influence of Caribbean culture has spread over music in general there. In Toronto, there’s a lot of erasure. We don’t have the same media infrastructure that would help archive and formalize this narrative. Compare BBC and CBC, and the music programming that happens in the U.K. compared to here.
People like to do this thing where they take Black culture and they make it pop culture, and they deracialize it in a very convenient way so they don’t have to pay homage; they can stay clear of appropriation. To me, everything in Toronto is informed by Caribbean people coming here in the ’80s — music, slang, every single thing that’s created an imprint here. Everything that makes Toronto feel like a place that’s specific and not miscellaneous is because of the influx of Caribbean people. That’s undebatable to me.
We don’t have strong creative industries here, and that means we have a lack of storytelling. There was this whole Caribbean dance group era 10, 15 years ago. They had all these widespread competitions and it was a huge thing in our city that no one knows about. But if you go on YouTube, you can drum up a million videos of this culture that’s basically died off [but] was the thing that people were looking at in the city. This is one example.
This erasure happens everywhere. It happens in America with African American culture. It’s a thing people just like to do with Black culture period. But the way that it happens in Toronto is really sad and annoying, so it’s a point for me to center that, to put an emphasis on something that I think defines us.
“Pretension is codified racism.”
Your rave series, JERK, is a very Black-forward production. You’re embracing and publishing this music you play as Black music: house music, techno, jungle, dancehall, all of it. JERK doesn’t shy away from that, and that makes it impossible to deracialize because it’s so visible in the literature and how you present it. Would you say that forces it to remain an underground party?
I think it’s to its detriment and also the reason why it’s successful. I have a lot of trouble doing JERK on a logistical level because it’s hard to find a space, to find a sponsor, to sell it to brands or other entities. The emphasis on using particular language marginalizes its marketability. On the other side, I think it’s the reason it has such a cult following. It transcends being a party; it feels like a movement, the way that people are engaged. People are dialed in for that night in a really communal, participatory way that — not to toot my own horn — I don’t see at parties a lot. So it wins in that way, but in the other way, it’s very hard when it comes time to figure out who’s gonna pay for it.
Perhaps JERK is a space where, because there’s such a lack of pretension in the kinds of music that you play, people can release themselves in a way they can’t in other spaces in Toronto. How have you seen pretension materialize in dance music in ways that have affected you personally?
Like pretty much every single thing on this planet, music and the identities that we attach to it are very racialized. It’s not only about electronic music being appropriated but also the way it’s gatekept and seen as this higher, more intellectual art form that you have to be of a certain class or operating in a particular way culturally to participate in. It creates this cultural hierarchy and stratifies forms of music that are actually related.
When I started DJing and was looking for peers or comrades, it felt like I wasn’t white adjacent enough to participate, like I was labeled a normative Black person for being Jamaican and liking Black music. I wasn’t obscure enough. The language is coded, so I see it when people are [talking about] what we think is “basic,” what we think is “ghetto,” what we think is “cool,” what we think is “weird,” how we fragment Blackness. When people wanna be avant garde, they lean into white art forms and toward white artists. When we think of people as basic, we lean back towards Blackness and toward Black artists.
Pretension is codified racism. The reclamation is [showing that] “this belongs with these other things that you’re trying to separate it from.” Black people are complex. We’re not only the pioneers of all this shit; we participate. We don’t have to minimize these other parts of ourselves. It feels like to participate in dance music as a person of color, particularly a Black person, you have to make sure you don’t have any indicators of Blackness that feel unpalatable to white people. You have to be operating as the type of Black person who they’re gonna give you social permission to be. That’s what I’m pushing back against.
I think all parts of me are valuable. I’m not gonna essentialize myself or try to out-obscure or out-weird someone to participate in something I think belongs to me.
Infinity Club feels like an implicit pushback against that, in the way the songs stand out from each other. They feel like siblings, drawing from the same source materials but in different ways.
It’s a personal thing firstly, but it’s definitely a pushback on the rules we put on how electronic music should be in the presence of Black artists.
“Club music is like a one night stand: You wanna get someone’s attention for a second, and then you’re out
“Ride With Me” was a big sonic shift for you last year.
I’m obviously not a singer, so I’m a little bit embarrassed when people are like, “So, ‘Ride With Me,’ what were you…?” I’m like, “Ah! I was just trying something for a second!” It’s like one of my kids. I still love it, but [it gives me] a cringe moment sometimes.
When I listened to “Hooked” on the new project, “Ride With Me” made a lot more sense. Maybe you had to make “Ride With Me” to make “Hooked,” like, “OK, this is the Billboard Hot 100 proof-of-concept shit.” Can you talk about the way you explore pop in both “Ride With Me” and “Hooked,” and how your approach differed from when you made the other songs on this record?
When I’m doing pop, I want an anthem moment. I love pop music with a critical eye; I have a boundary, but I love pop music. I’m presenting it from my perspective of wanting people to feel like it’s something that they can easily engage with, that has playback value, but that also has elements that feel experimental and challenging production-wise, with the synths I use, the way I sample things, the choices I make with drums. Both songs are trying to do something that feels Caribbean, that feels R&B, but also feels like pop, because there aren’t so many songs that fall in all three categories.
Did either of those songs come out of your sessions with Kelela and for her record?
I feel like [they did] subconsciously — working with her, watching her arrange, being close to someone who’s so narrative based in their music in a way club music isn’t. Club music is like a one night stand: You wanna get someone’s attention for a second, and then you’re out. [When you’re working with] R&B — songs that have a start, middle, and ending — it’s different. Working with [Kelela] gave me a sense of building narratives in songs, which definitely carried over into “Ride With Me” and “Hooked.” I’m much more verse-hook-bridge focused than when I first started making music. Percussion was the first thing I was thinking about [back then] — hard-hitting drums.
“Nitevision” has the hardest hitting drums, I think, of any song you’ve released thus far. You dropped that song in November 2019 and then held off releasing new solo stuff until May 2021. In that time, you were trying out socially distanced raves. Did those occasions teach you anything about the music you’d go on to create?
One thing the pandemic did that was really good for Toronto was radicalize people musically. People were isolated, and a lot of people became despondent. This surge of socially distanced, illegal raves forced people to collaborate across cultural lines. I saw a lot of people creating social spaces that had nothing to do with who they were before or who they usually hung out with. They were just doing it for the act of doing it, and I was hearing songs I’d never [have heard otherwise]. It became a cult culture that reminded me of an era I [hadn’t even experienced]. The way people were following to see when the next one was and working together gave the feeling of true youth culture. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. That was the only music that felt how the world felt at the time.
It sounds like a very potent, if fleeting, catharsis. Do you feel like you’re still chasing it with the parties and the shows you’re doing now?
I’m always chasing catharsis, and I feel like the parties are better for it. I’m seeing all these new collectives popping up. The way people party has shifted, and it kind of feels like research. People are annoyed that everyone calls a party a rave now, and I guess it could be a misuse of the word, but I like using it because I feel like on a political level it’s more indicative of young, Black and queer people taking the space. I like that reclamation of the word because I think the political circumstances are still present, regardless of if we’re in a DIY venue or not.
Pre-pandemic, I don’t think people were dialed in like that. I didn’t see that physical release happening at parties. The level of dancing and physical exertion I’m seeing [now] is different than before. There’s definitely a moment happening here. I think it’s unique, or maybe it’s cyclical, but it’s a good moment.