In The Moment: Debbie Chats Backstage At All Points East

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Debbie is one of the most-tipped voices in British music, but she’s taking it all in her stride. A starring moment on Stormzy’s ‘Firebabe’ caused a ruckus, with her voice illuminating a truly special moment from the British icon. Her own work is hard to ignore, too – collaborating with BERWYN and Lucky Daye, she’s an old soul in a young body, reinterpreting divine R&B tropes from a 2k23 perspective.

Seated backstage at All Points East, Clash chats to Debbie ahead of the event’s formal launch. Stormzy is curating an entire day, and she’ll be on the Main Stage in front of thousands of people. She’s remaining calm, though – Debbie actually worked on-site at the festival bar before her music career took off, so she’s used to the energy All Points East crowds can bring. “It’s so weird – I worked here three years ago, on one of the bars! It was my first ever bar job, too. Stressful, but it went alright. I was so bad at pouring pints! (laughs)”

The show is part of a hectic schedule, with Debbie spending summer bringing her music to crowds across Europe and beyond. “It’s been good,” she grins. “Shows, living… my 20s!”

Her all-too-relatable R&B hymns come straight from the heart, with Debbie putting her life down on record. “I guess I have to be telling my own story,” she says. “I have to have something to say in the studio. An experience has to stick with me, in order for a song to emerge.”

Right now she’s in live mode – “I’m not a very good multi-tasker” she laughs – but Debbie can’t wait to get back into the studio. It’s an arena she thrives in, capable of holding her own with some true greats. “When you first hear about it – like, you’re going into the studio with Lucky Daye or Stormzy – at first you’re like… oh my God! But at the end of the day, it’s just people. It’s just people and it’s just music lovers connecting with each other. So any nervousness or ego goes out the window, and it becomes all about the music.”

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Indeed, she gives as good as she gets in the studio – Debbie is already a vocal dynamo. “I feel like the studio is the only place I’m assertive because I know exactly what I want to hear,” she points out.

In the distance, the final touches on the bright orange scenery for the Main Stage are being put in place. Stormzy has curated an entire day for All Points East, and his spirit seems to linger on the park. “His energy is contagious,” says Debbie. “He gives a calm aura, and that forces you – in the best way – to be calm, too. Which means that any shyness or hesitation goes out the window. You’re just adding to the vibe, or adding to the song.”

It’s been an incredible few months for Debbie, but she isn’t about to get carried away – her roots go deep, and that’s what tethers her. “I’m quite an introvert,” she points out. “I always know how to find peace in the storm, or find a bit of quiet in noise. I never really get stressed out… because I’m such an introvert. That’s how I stay grounded.”

Indeed, the studio is one of the few places where Debbie can be fully expressive. There’s a cathartic nature to her soulful lyricism, but it’s something she’d had to work hard to develop. “It’s getting healthier,” she notes. “When I was younger, I wasn’t very good at expressing emotions. I would express emotion in a song, but I’d still feel a bit uneasy. And performing the song would be even harder, as it would make me feel uneasy. As I get older, I’ve learned to process emotions… it’s painful! (laughs) But it’s worth it. And it’s become cathartic now, as a result.”

Looking ahead, she’s longing for some warm weather – “we didn’t really get summer, to be honest!” – as she plots her next move. Looking at the line-up, Debbie shouts out UK vocalist Sampha and R&B powerhouse Kehlani as must-sees on the All Points East line-up, “and obviously Stormz!”

Taking each day as it comes, Debbie is the calming presence UK R&B needs right now. “I don’t like to think too far ahead,” she says. “Maybe that’s silly, but I like to be present, and in the moment. You have a tendency to jump the gun and forget what you’re actually doing right here, right now. I want to focus on today – and tomorrow’s problem can be tomorrow’s problem.”

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Catch Debbie at All Points East later today (August 18th).