A Tribe Called Red prove there are still as-yet-unheard genres of music to be invented. Their own, singular style of “electric pow wow” mixes Aboriginal pow wow music (drum circles and chanting vocals) with EDM and dubstep, accenting the rhythmic intensity of the former and bringing out beauty and nuance in the latter. It's a pairing so perfect, TCR member Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau is surprised it hadn't been tried before.

TCR consists of three DJs — Campeau, Dan "DJ Shub" General and Bear Witness — who first mixed Aboriginal and modern dance music for a series of club shows in Ottawa. These shows proved so popular the trio soon became a recording entity, with their second album Nation II Nation released this past spring.

We recently spoke with Campeau about the origins of the group and their connection to traditional Aboriginal culture.

When I first heard your stuff, I was surprised at how much Aboriginal music is kept within it — you don’t just “sample,” you build new songs around the chanting and drumming.

For sure. We definitely build songs around the pow wow samples. We didn’t record that stuff ourselves, it was pre-recorded; we struck a deal with (label) Tribal Spirit to have their catalogue opened to us for remixing. In return, whichever artists we sampled would get to use our remixes on their own albums. We also asked them to make some (more elaborate) recordings, because typically pow wows are recorded with just one boom mic. We asked them to record backup singers, like women who don’t typically stand out in the mix.

It must have been fascinating to take apart the elements of music that is, as you said, typically recorded without multi-tracking.

Yeah, exactly. Our track “Sisters” utilized that, and “Red Riddim,” specifically.

Is professional recording of pow wow music a relatively new thing?

No, it’s been happening for decades and decades. Canyon Records, out of Arizona, has been distributing Native American music since the 1950s.

So you could draw from a very broad range of samples.

The stuff we typically use isn’t older than, say, 15 years.

What are some popular / common subjects in pow wow songs?

All kinds of stuff. A lot of songs about lost love ... now, you may even hear lyrics referencing Facebook and Twitter, because that stuff has become part of our culture.

What is the Electric Pow Pow? This is a party that brought TCR together?

Yeah, everything we do stems from it. It started in 2007 and is now put on monthly at a club called Babylon in Ottawa. Way before the group formed or we had any idea of producing our own music, we just wanted to put on a party geared toward the Aboriginal community in the city. All we did was put up flyers at universities, and our first show was a huge hit. It sold out, which we were not expecting. It was mostly young Aboriginal people, students who had come from communities up North.

Have your crowds gotten steadily more diverse?

Now there are tons of groups represented (at our shows), from the gay and lesbian community, hip hop crews, all kinds.

One of the common talking points of modern music criticism is how much originality matters anymore, considering that doing something completely “new” gets harder every year. With that I think you are the first group, in several years at least, to actually do something totally new in pop music.

After we figured it out, we realized we were just mashing up dance music with dance music — pow wow is meant to inspire dance, so it wasn’t that far of a stretch. It seemed a little weird that it hadn’t been done before.

Who are some of your influences outside Aboriginal music?

I’m a music fan through and through, from country to punk. In terms of production, we were inspired by Jokers of the Scene, Diplo, Dave Nada / Nadastrom.

How has your music been received by older Aboriginal generations?

It's been fantastic — an overwhelming response. Even those that don't "like" the music understand the message and what we're trying to do. I've gotten emails from people my age saying, "I was dancing to your music with my daughter, my mom, and my grandmother." It's very inter-generational, I think. The message translates even better than the music.

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