Arts

DJ Shub on working with video, discovering his culture, and the future of Indigenous electronic music

As a member of A Tribe Called Red, DJ Shub says he mostly left live performance visuals to his bandmates, but as a solo artist, he’s taking charge of what his shows look like, and how he incorporates his Haudenosaunee culture into them

Juno nominated producer says going solo allowed him to explore new creative directions

DJ Shub, aka Dan General, has always been known for a kinetic, visually compelling live show. When he was a member of the genre-creating powwow-step group A Tribe Called Red — now known as The Halluci-Nation — every show was a multi-sensory experience. An average show for the group elaborate had video collages and at least one dance performance.

Now working as a solo artist, Shub — who is nominated for the Juno for contemporary Indigenous artist or group of the year — says he's more personally involved with the visual element of his work than ever before.

"When I was with A Tribe Called Red, [DJ and visuals producer] Bear Witness took care of all of this," he says. "He was the one who did all the visuals from the shows. So now it's kind of like I'm going to do double duty. I'm trying to figure this out. But, you know, the more I get into it, the more I'm loving it, and the more I'm seeing the possibilities."

That "double duty" has Shub taking a different approach to in-show visuals than he did with A Tribe Called Red. One of the things he's doing, which he says helps audiences to see him in a new way, is taking footage of the city he's playing in on the day he arrives, editing it together, and then playing it during the show that night.

"The day of, I go and ask 'Hey, is there any nice pieces of graffiti or some cool stuff in the area,'" he says. "Then I'll go take videos or snaps of that and incorporate right into my show that night. It gives it that something different. It's a cool idea my tour manager came up with."

Earlier this year, Shub and CBC Music released a visual performance of War Club with CBC Music. The 40-minute long video features performances by Shub, collaborators like Phoenix Pagliacci, Boogat, and Snotty Nosed Rez Kids, as well as a cast of traditional dancers. Shub says the video was a long time coming, due to COVID-related production delays. Thankfully, Shub says he was able to use the time to his advantage. The result is a fast moving, visually dynamic production that combines Shub's turntablism and production with breathtaking dance performances and well-thought out visual storytelling.

"We had time to think," he says. "To work out a storyboard with the help of a solid production. We scouted a few locations and found a beautiful piece of land near the Oneida reserve. Once we knew the story we all had great ideas on how to present it. Amazing team work."

Shub says his solo work has allowed him to showcase his culture in a way that he couldn't always in Tribe. He says that Tribe often drew from the sounds of the Plains people, doing things like working with the Northern Cree Singers and incorporating the sound of the big drum, which, he says "isn't really rooted in where I'm from."

"I'm Haudenosaunee," he says. "I'm Mohawk. I'm from the Six Nations Reserve, and our people from this piece of land, we have our own regalia. We have our own way of dancing. One thing that I really wanted to stress in this album and going out and playing live is, is showing people where I'm from and my traditions."'

He adds that working as a solo artist is not only giving him the chance to share his traditions, but also the opportunity to learn more about them himself. He says that he's still "very much a student" of his own culture, and that growing up off-reserve, it was something that he "sort of took for granted." He didn't start to fully appreciate it until he became a musician himself. 

"Culture finds you when you're ready to find it," he says. "It took me a while to appreciate the power of that culture, and mixing it with my [electronic] music."

When he combines the two, the result is something that he says is on a different level from most club music. 

"There's always something you can take away from it," he says. 

He adds that, while it took him a while to figure out how to marry his Haudenosaunee culture with the music he grew up listening to, there is a young generation of Indigenous producers out there for whom it's second nature.

"I get inspired by this next generation of producers, these young producers that are learning from what we did" he says. "My son is picking it up now. And if you think what I'm doing now is good, wait and see in 10 years or 20 years from now where it's going to be."

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