Brad Charles wants you to know there's more to rez music than metal.
Charles and his partner, Hansen Ashley, make up the Navajo Nation-based post-punk duo Discotays. Formed in 2008, the band is named for “disquotays,” a group of drag queens in South Central Los Angeles in the '60s. Fueled by ethics as well as aesthetics, Discotays works to increase queer visibility on the reservation. “Through a band, we get it out there. There are a lot of queer kids on the rez who are into punk and heavy metal,” says Charles by phone from his Sanostee home.
He says the band dealt with homophobia in the beginning—some poked fun by calling them Queertays or Discogays. “We used to start off all punk rock—real aggressive and as loud as we could be,” he explains. “That gave [the audience] a new idea, like, OK, these guys are gay, but they're in this kind of band that I like. It gave them a different outlook on things.”
But queer activism is only one facet of Discotays' mission. Charles is also a genre visibility activist. Dissatisfied with performance opportunities on the reservation for indie and electronic music, Charles organized a showcase to coincide with the 100th annual Northern Navajo Nation Fair. “This is a festival celebrating diverse music, because the music that comes out of the rez that's known is country music, rap and heavy metal,” he says. “Every family has somebody that was in a metal band. The kids playing this festival come from metal backgrounds, but they're not specifically wanting to do that in their music anymore.”
The only cost to see the all-ages fest is a $3 entrance fee. Each act will perform for 20 minutes—with the exception of Brooklyn-based Dærk, Gallup-based Ryan Dennison and Albuquerque-based Alchemical Burn, who will perform in a “versus” format. Attendees will take in a cross-section of postmodern music from Arizona, New Mexico, New York and Washington. Only two of 11 acts—Houck, Ariz.-based rockabilly band ShitOuttaLuck and Shiprock-based ska-punk band Lo-Cash Ninjas—are conventionally structured bands. Charles says 80 to 85 percent of the performers are Native American. “A different generation of Native American kids are taking their culture and reworking it so it fits in with their ideals and the kind of music they play,” says Hansen Ashley of Discotays by phone. “They're not like our older brothers' metal bands or rock groups or our parents' country groups. It's a new wave of music coming through.” The evening will conclude with a dance party scored by Sweetwater, Ariz.-based DJ Cedro and Tsaile, Ariz.-based DJ skoobAbeats.
Charles is quick to point out that while he's the main organizer, the fest is a community effort. In addition to Ashley—who runs microlabel Teenage Sewage—he collaborated with Ryan Dennison, Golizhe Productions and Rethink Diné Power. Dennison is an artist on Albuquerque-based Sicksicksick Distro label, but he also runs his own microlabel, Deadrezkids Records. Golizhe Productions, a Diné company run by DJ Cedro, is providing the P.A. and other equipment. Rethink Diné Power, a community activism group that works to engage Shiprock youth, is helping with promotion.
Saturday's event offers exposure to new musical forms in the midst of the very traditional Northern Navajo Nation Fair. “What we're trying to do is probably the most modern thing that will happen there,” says Charles. “A lot of the bands that are playing never get to play regular festivals, because most of the festivals out here are metal-driven or all country bands and maybe one obscure rock band. It's never electronic music. So this is really exciting.”