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At Living Traditions Festival, Neon Nativez remixes traditional tribal beats and electronic dance music

Posted at 1:03 PM, May 17, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — It's a new twist on a traditional sound.

Neon Nativez is blending Native American tribal beats with electronic dance music for crowds.

"When I was growing up on the rez, just the powwow beats of 'boom, boom, boom,' like, in my head," Krieg Benally, the artist known as Neon Nativez, said in an interview with FOX 13 News. "Then my brain does this thing where if I listen to traditional songs, my brain will start creating sounds around it. I just started hearing EDM beats."

The Navajo and San Carlos Apache EDM DJ will perform Friday night at the annual Living Traditions Festival at Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City. The three-day festival highlights food, arts, music and performances by members of Utah's multicultural communities.

Growing up in the southeastern Utah town of Bluff, Neon Nativez said he would participate in traditional song and dancing. But he then started mixing it with EDM.

"In the beginning, there was a lot of people that were like 'No, that’s not traditional music. Don’t do that. You're messing up the old ways,'" he recalled. "No, this is bridging the gap between generations. When I did it in front of a young crowd, they responded and reacted to it so positively. They were jumping up and down, having a good time because it was something new, something old and something familiar."

Some of Neon Nativez's music videos offer social commentary, mixing pop culture references with the lived experiences of Native American people. One popular remix samples the iconic Thanksgiving play scene in "Adams Family Values" where the character Wednesday Addams declares: "For all these reasons and more, I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground!" as a beat drops. Another video contrasts footage of Native American demonstrations at Standing Rock with the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

"It’s really to give people perspective through an Indigenous lens. Because nobody hears about these stories we go through as Indigenous people," Neon Nativez said.

Neon Nativez's music is getting more attention. A remix of the song "Greasy Fry Bread" by Sten Joddi, performed on the FX television show "Reservation Dogs," was noticed and promoted by Joddi himself. Neon Nativez said he is currently working on beats for a Grammy award winning artist (he wasn't ready to say who quite yet), and plans to release another album.

"Neon Nativez is so cool," said Emily Faber, an organizer of the Living Traditions Festival. "I saw him last year for the first time. It was amazing."

Neon Nativez said he is thrilled to play the festival again. He is a popular repeat performer.

"They just come in and start dancing," he said of crowds at his performances. "As soon as they start popping out their phones and recording? That’s when I know I’ve had some type of impact."