Photograph by Neil Van taken at Field Trip 2014.
It seems apt that one of the first and most prominent A Tribe Called Red singles was the intrusively catchy Electric pow wow drum. How better to describe the feeling of seeing them live? There was a chaotic energy arcing through the Danforth Music Hall that was undeniable. The tribal drumming swept the crowd into frenzied motion, almost coercing movement by some intangible force. The fusion of dancehall beats, hip hop swagger, electronic artefacts and traditional First Nations music blended the old and new into something that still felt cutting edge several years after its breakthrough.
DJs Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau, Tim “2oolman” Hill and Bear Witness have crafted something that picks a dance floor up by their collars and slams them back to the ground. Seeing them perform at a venue of the Danforth’s scale showed just how much they’ve grown. Weaving a milieu of tracks intertwined through a 90 minute DJ set, clap breakdowns, bassy synths, crunchy syncopated beats and spirited vocal percussion flowed in and out, driven by unrelenting drum circle pounding. There was a fluidity to the set, veering at times into an enticing dark grime that felt all too intentional. Hot, sweaty and addictively passionate, the band honed “the drop” to a science and wielded it like an art. Hell, it’s rare to see the photographers in the press pit erupt into dance themselves.
As an aside it’s worth noting that since I arrived here from New Zealand, I’ve felt like First Nations people have been the invisible minority. While Canada seems all too eager to appropriate the virtues of their aboriginal culture and its artistic merit, its peoples don’t seem to get the same respect. While I don’t possess enough context to make coherent political points, it’s a refreshing change here to visibly see First Nations citizens en masse actively supporting their culture and its diffusion to a new generation. At no point did the iconography or physical display of traditional art seem tacky or disingenuous. Between the stunningly talented hoop displays, communal crowd dance and keen vocal performances, the culture was embraced with an awed sincerity. The audience responded as they knew best: fevered raving.