Just because their album is being released on November 24 doesn’t mean it’s finished. That’s what Daniel Ashley said over the phone from Montreal earlier this month, where he and his recording partners, the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers (DKD) were touring with From the North – a travelling show from the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut.
“We’re always looking to grow and improve on what we’re doing,” said Ashley, AKA DJ Dash. “It’s always something that’s evolving.”
And it’s something that was a learning process for the Whitehorse-based performers: an electronic musician and a Tlingit dance group.
Ashley said he and the DKD have had a relationship for a long time, playing shows alongside each other, but never really working directly with one another. That changed in 2016 when they made a commitment to collaborate on a record that would blend the past and the present by fusing Tlingit dance and song with electronic music.
Marilyn Jensen, with DKD, said the experience built their relationships and allowed them to express themselves in a beautiful and exciting new way.
“We talked about it for a long time and it sounded fun,” she said of the partnership. “It was another way to express out creative ideas and messages about Indigenous people and their realities.”
“It’s this idea of revitalizing your culture, really honouring your culture, and moving forward and trying new things,” Ashley said. “Of keeping it alive in a contemporary sense, but also honouring the past.”
Together, they performed some of that music at Ottawa’s Winterlude last February. They also took it on the road with the From the North collective this fall. The record, however, is something completely different.
Their new album is called Deconstruct/Reconstruct, and it is a double CD. The first CD contains new compositions, done in a traditional style (“They’re not traditional songs,” said Ashley. “They’re not clan songs.”), with the author of each song telling that song’s story.
The second CD consists of remixes.
Part of the album was recorded at Green Needle Records in Whitehorse and part of it was recorded at Ashley’s home studio.
He said the process was new for him, because each song on the record has a really strong message.
“That’s a powerful place to start shaping the music from,” he said, noting he learned the songs by drumming with DKD.
“I think what I learned was that when you’re in a creative partnership like that, having input all the way, going back and forth between all the writing partners is really valuable. It takes a bit more time, but it always makes for a stronger piece because everyone brings their own creative ideas to the table.”
The song “Spirit of Carving”, for example, is about the carving done by DKD dancer, composer and carver Blake Lepine. One day Lepine brought in the axe he used to carve the masks used in DKD performances. Ashley recorded Lepine chopping cedar, then used that beat as a layer in the track.
In “Killer Whale Hunt”, Ashley took water and orca sounds recorded by the Alaska state government and turned them into electronic elements for bass drops.
He said it taught him a lot about using the meaning behind the song to shape the sound design. It was challenging, but rewarding, and everyone is excited to share the record this month.
The album will be released on Friday, November 24 on Spotify and iTunes. The single Raven Strut is already out as a free download.
That same day they are celebrating the new album with a release party, taking place at the Yukon Arts Centre at 7:30 p.m. (on Friday, November 24). The event is pay what you can. Ashley said the recommended donation is $5, but they want to make it accessible for everyone. Paying $20 gets you in to the performance, as well as a copy of the CD.
Tickets can be reserved online at YukonTickets.com.