The Halluci Nation and Fucked Up team up for Here’s The Unity: “This is a dream we’ve been building on for a while”

Published online and in the May 2023 print issue of the Georgia Straight

Damian Abraham was wearing a silver jacket. It’s the first thing the Halluci Nation’s Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas remembers about meeting the Fucked Up frontman, around a decade ago, at Diplo’s Mad Decent Block Party. Abraham had been there to interview Thomas’ group, then known as A Tribe Called Red. Soon after, discovering they shared interests and passions and a way of looking at the world, Thomas and Abraham became friends.

“When I think about our friendship, it’s one of the most naturally growing friendships I’ve had in my adult life,” Thomas tells the Straight, speaking over Zoom from his home in Ottawa. “I don’t think we really set out or pushed to be close, it just happened. We couldn’t avoid it.” 

“I think making friends as an adult is hard,” Abraham adds, on the call from Toronto. “So, making close friends like this—I feel very lucky that I got to meet these guys.”

This month, the Halluci Nation and Fucked Up will hit the road together on their Here’s The Unity Tour. There’s also new music, but more on that in a minute. Abraham describes the whole thing as the most organic collaboration there could ever be—and it’s one rooted in a beautiful connection that feels almost fated. As Thomas explains it, the show will be arranged as a spectacle, moving between the Halluci Nation’s fusion of electronic and First Nations dance music and Fucked Up’s hardcore genre-bend, with a live wrestling show as a centrepiece.

Wrestling adds another layer of significance to the tour, given the weight it holds to Thomas and Abraham, as well as the other half of the Halluci Nation, Tim “2oolman” Hill. Abraham hosted The Wrestlers, a documentary that explores wrestling subcultures around the world, while the Halluci Nation released a wrestling-themed EP, 2015’s Suplex. But it goes beyond the fandom.

For Thomas, there’s a deep cultural parallel. “There’ve been a lot of Native wrestlers, from the early days of wrestling,” he says. “So, it being a place where you could see representation—not always positive or real representation, but to see large Indigenous men on television was not something that you saw every day. And I think there was an automatic connection that way.”

While Thomas’ relationship to wrestling was nurtured since childhood—his uncle would take him to see matches at Madison Square Garden—Abraham didn’t really have the sport as a presence growing up, because his parents somewhat looked down on it. Still, he was drawn to it—particularly the transparency around deception.

“In a way, it’s kind of the most honest sport,” Abraham says, adding that he was likewise captivated by how it cuts across cultural lines and adapts to local culture. “It’s also, weirdly, a universal language, like jazz music … And that’s something, to me, that keeps me fascinated: how it exists as this art form … Because this is the opera of the people.”

Thomas and Abraham went back and forth trying to figure out who would make a good opening act for Here’s The Unity, someone that wouldn’t throw off the musical balance too far. They had also been spitballing other creative ideas to pursue together, including new ways to present wrestling.

“This was a dream that we’ve been building on for a while,” Thomas says. “And one of the things that came out of those conversations was the idea of, you know, can we bring wrestlers to a live show? How can we start weaving the stories that we tell as musicians and performers with the stories that wrestlers tell? And when we were looking to find the perfect opener for these two very different acts that we’re part of, it was just kind of like, well, maybe this is the chance.”

The underscoring of connection brings to mind “Remember 01,” the opening track to the Halluci Nation’s latest album, One More Saturday Night. It features a recording that Thomas took of late Indigenous poet and activist John Trudell who, introducing the duo before a show, speaks about how “everyone’s bringing their energy here in a way that’s really about celebrating and being good.” Trudell, and his message, is central to the Halluci Nation—the group changed its name due to its work with Trudell, who Thomas describes as a “massive influence,” not only politically, but also in the way he presented himself as a human being.

“Every time that we met with him, it was just a massive download of information. He sat us down and wanted to tell us everything that he could that could help us become more than we were. And to look back now and realize a pathway forward—that he had given us a roadmap—it was one of those life-shaking moments… It’s amazing to still feel his presence and his influence through what we’re doing today.” 

The group’s work is now accompanied by another level of responsibility and service, Thomas adds. He recalls one show in particular, in Portland when the city was rocked by protests, where the energy in the room was intense.

“People had come there with their fears, with their frustrations, with their anger, and they were able to dance it out and scream and cry. There was a moment I looked out and there was a person praying and there was a person laughing and there was a person crying, all in the same moment … We’ve always said, ‘We’ve created a safe space for Indigenous people to come, and everybody showed up because we had created that space.’ But the meaning of that has never become more apparent than in recent years when people are really coming with all of those energies and being able to let them out in a space where that’s what’s being allowed.”

Fucked Up also uses music as a tool to express and educate. On the band’s latest album, One Day, they talk about colonialism and corruption alongside celebrations of life and love. The dichotomy is a foundation of Fucked Up’s DNA.

“There’s not a lot of pretense to what we’re doing,” Abraham says. “And we talk about things that we think about in our songs. These are things that we actually are concerned about, especially now raising children. How do you try and end cycles? And how do you educate your children about colonialism and about the real history of not just Canada, but global history?”

He adds: “At the same time, talking about being a dad and being insecure every second of my life about, ‘Am I continuing trauma to my children that I suffered through my parents’ hands or that they suffered through their grandparents’ hands?’ As much as we kind of hid behind characters on different records and behind these concept walls, I think that’s always been the thing. It’s just this quest for understanding who we are and our place in this world and how to leave it a little bit better.” 

“That’s wild,” Thomas chimes in, with a grin. “I just realized that you have One Day and we have One More Saturday Night.”

“I know!” Abraham exclaims. “I was thinking about that too!”

The Halluci Nation and Fucked Up have been recording songs together. The first, “Electroshock,” is a cover of a track from Mexican punk band Dangerous Rhythm, and is expected to be released before the tour begins. “I haven’t been this excited for a Fucked Up record, like, ever,” Abraham enthuses. “It’s something so different sounding from anything we’ve ever done on every level that, yeah, I’m stoked for this thing.”

Thomas agrees. Having a full collaboration with a band has not only been exciting, it’s allowed him and Hill to explore different avenues of creativity. “I can’t stop listening to the song,” Thomas says. “It’s really rare that I do that with our own music. Usually, we end the session and I don’t listen to the music until the next session.”

“It is two musical directions meeting up with each other,” Abraham continues. “And neither one of us had really worked in each other’s genre in any sort of way before.”

It circles back to the nature of the relationship between Thomas and Abraham—one forged by values that align them as human beings, as friends, and, by extension, as artists.

“Watching the way that Damian treats the world is an inspiration to me,” Thomas says. “That’s why he’s one of my favourite people. Because I just look at the way that he operates—the way that he treats everything around him is so in line with the way that I feel about the world.”

Abraham is visibly humbled. “I wish we weren’t on video so you wouldn’t see me blush now,” he says, with a laugh. “I feel very inspired every time I sit down and hang out with Tim and Bear … And I think both groups are very open about who the groups are and what the groups are about … I do feel like both share a larger mission statement in what we want to do, and what we hope we can accomplish and bring to people: the idea of making honest music and expressing yourself honestly and being lucky enough to be there for people when they need it. And getting to provide that for people is an incredible gift.” 

Thomas nods. “I think openness was the perfect word to put on it,” he says. “’Cause that’s what I’ve always felt [with] Fucked Up, as a band: you feel that openness, you feel that open heart whenever you listen to their music. And I think we operate from that same place.”