Suggested by Anthony: EDM… with a mission.
Anthony Easton: I’m white, and so you have to be careful about tourism and colonial creep, but indigenous re-working of culture and the appropriation therein has been incredibly vital to me in the last few years. It is deadly serious (of course, a response to genocide), but often deeply funny and also generous/smart about how it constructs meaning from the shards of other cultures. (Just this year: Brian Jungen’s deer hunting video for the AGO, Sonny Assua’s visual remixes of Haida imagery and Emily Carr paintings or Nadia Myer’s bead-work rewriting of the Indian act, the magical realist fable of the pawn shop by Sherman Alexie in the New Yorker, the moral necessity of Thomas King’s An Inconvenient Indian, Frank Wain’s EP about the Keystone pipeline, Tanya Tagaq’s radical political refusal of oil graft in her Polaris winning album Animism or the Light in the Attic comp of First Nations rock and roll.) There are a number of things to note in this trend — that the aesthetic is radically different, that it concerns itself with the ongoing problems of technology and modernity, that they often use the cutural tools of the hegemony against itself, disproving Lorde’s line about the master’s house, but also a Pan-Indian mixing. It’s absurd to think that Inuit or Haida or Spokane or Caygua or Lakota can share anything, but what they have in common is functioning against the ongoing erasure of their cultures. One of the ways of returning from erasure is knowing what the culture is doing and being smart about the history of culture and returning it back. When I saw A Tribe Called Red this year in Montreal, this remix aesthetic of indigenous and Euro influences were heady, but also bodily, featuring reworks of Johnny Cash, Cher, and Buffy Saint-Marie into this perfect dance melange. That the show featured a filmic collage behind the band featuring both scenes from Addams Family Value, but some weird Cherokee in Space cartoon, Avatar, Nanook of the North, and dozens of westerns, and, on the front of the stage, a hoop dancer. ATCR knows that the only way to work culture in favour of themselves is to remix everything. It becomes a way of controlling the means of production, especially in this new culture that rests more on information than other more material qualities. This song for me, done on Thanksgiving, with the inclusion of a movie that is apparently beloved on reservation but in the middle of a profoundly well-constructed, hip hop infused EDM masterpiece; how it rises up to introduce Wednesday Addams; how they are in on the joke, but how it isn’t anywhere close to a joke, is prophetic and necessary. That Tribe released this on (American) Thanksgiving — and that they constantly release new music — suggests that this is part of a rolling discourse, constantly dipping in and out of the culture, working with it or at oblique angles to it as needed. This track is the sound of the year, and I cannot hear it outside of everything else they do, and I love it more for that.
Brad Shoup: I mean, they’re not wrong.
Maxwell Cavaseno: Overt infiltration is a tricky thing. Weird comparison, but look at Zach de la Rocha rearing his head again in recent years. When his Rage Against The Machine was in full-effect, many were dismissive of his attempts to use corporate money for noble intent and to commercialize late 80s-early 90s hardcore into nu-metal arena rock for goonbags. It seemed that no matter how informative he was, he’d ultimately be watering down, compromising, and serving the needs of huge crowds where many wouldn’t give a care (also unleashing some of the worst drumming ever via Brad Wilk, but that’s another story…). So I feel sad about A Tribe Called Red’s honorable attempts to politicize the goonier elements of EDM. Partly because I think they suck at making a genre I’m already kind of snobby about, but also when you’re trying to deal with anthemics, information, and that realm of mass media infiltration… can you truly pull it off?
Patrick St. Michel: So much EDM builds up only to drop down into cliche youth-is-great! sentiments or knucklehead anger. A Tribe Called Red grab the format and use it for time-bending political aims. It doubles as a great electronic song, but that it is a popular genre usually used to sell kids energy drinks reconstructed into something this pointed is fantastic.
Alfred Soto: With a gait as uncertain as this act’s name, this electronic track mixes spoken word doggerel that doesn’t rise to the level of agitprop and beats that change because its makers said so.
Sonia Yang: The Wednesday Addams sample is cleverly used, transformed from darkly humorous to something more sinister. This is because the context is exactly the same, except this time it’s not a TV show — horrible, real things happened (and are still happening) to real people. The build up takes the song from eerie to almost menacing and while one can’t literally scalp their oppressors and burn the village to the ground, they can do so to the white man’s romanticized view of colonialism.
Josh Langhoff: Surely this deserves a place on any self-respecting Thanksgiving playlist, but the anticlimactic monochromatic thwacking that follows Christina Ricci’s refreshingly goofy war declaration means once a year will suffice. Oh well — it’s not like I need to hear “Alice’s Restaurant” outside November either. “Slurf Song,” though, could play any day. I’m not sure whether that says anything about the self-satisfied privilege of American bohemianism.
Sabina Tang: I first became acquainted with Bear Witness in a gallery setting, via his humorous, thought-provoking video supercuts of aboriginal representation in popular media. My boring, academic instinct is to frame the ATCR crew as another facet of the art project: as if they weren’t great, populist DJs with the breadth of taste and confidence to mash up hip-hop/reggaeton/EDM with native chants or Buffy Saint-Marie, and keep a crowd moving regardless of whether its consciousness has been raised. ATCR’s live set focus, though, does mean their tracks are designed for functional mixing rather than as pop singles (the transcendental “Sisters” aside) — or as protest songs (cf. “Woodcarver”) — or, in this case, both. It’s not got a beginning or end or much in the way of non-linear development; download and listen to the rest of their work for context. Extra point because Wednesday Addams’ Thanksgiving skit just gets more real with time, like Agent J’s explanation for why little Tiffany had to die.
Edward Okulicz: Points for taking something that was hilarious in its original context (while being a stealth truth bomb at the same time) and making it sound like a real, not pantomime, polemic. No points for the flat EDM of its new context, alas.
Will Adams: I like this more for its mindfuck potential — that a throbbing EDM tune can unexpectedly take a turn for the political — than for what it actually does as a song. The first two acts augur a killer third, but it never comes.
Thomas Inskeep: It opens with a beat as turgid as Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” but does nothing with it other than lapse into some generic EDM. The lyric is politically important but works better as a monologue than as “lyrics.” The music here does a gross disservice to its words, and epitomizes the phrase “wasted potential.”
Madeleine Lee: I didn’t know what the sampled speech was the first time I listened to this. Reappropriation and recontextualization is an integral part of A Tribe Called Red’s aesthetic, but even without the added complexity of recognition this still sounds vital, and propulsive, and thrilling, and strong.