volume 1, issue 2
Part 2: Music for an Angry Mob
Grey Filastine Interviewed by Lex BhagatGrey: It's too effective. I think America is not a place to be doing street protest right now. We need to change our tactics, because they learn quickly. The state has people doing studies on the way we do demonstrations. They have think-tanks figuring it out, they have cross-trainings. The FBI is going into cities in advance of demonstrations, showing films about previous demonstrations to police department chiefs. They've figured out how to deal with us, which is very frustrating.
Lex: Do you have any reflections from N30, the day the WTO was shut down? How'd it go?
Grey: It went really wonderful. I don't know how else to summarize; just a wonderful day. It was one of the only times that I have ever felt like I lived in my city, like I had a place, that I was a citizen. I felt happy to be a citizen, because I was a citizen among 30,000 people that I agreed with. It was the first mass action where I didn't feel totally alienated. I should back up and qualify that citizen thing: I didn't feel like a citizen of America that day. Rather, I felt like I had a community that I had never known I had, that I was suddenly aware that I wasn't so alienated, that there were a lot of people sympathetic to the ideas that I had, and they all came out of the woodwork for this.
Lex: Where did this idea of creating a musical group to direct the energy of N30 come from?
Grey: Well, there was a legacy from Tchkung! of knowing some rhythms in common with a few other people, and even having some marching rigs, because we would do that. With that group, we would go down with the crowd and march around. Sometimes we took over streets near the club. We would leave the club and take over a street, start a bonfire.
Lex: So, you had been doing public space liberations before?
Grey: Yes, we had. The INB is a way of expanding, amplifying and professionalizing something we had done with Tchkung!, where we would kind of come up with a rhythm about an hour before the show and say 'What rhythm are we going to do in the street after the show?' Ok, you do this. Ok, you try that part. Ok, let's do that.”
Now we have practiced rhythms and songs, marches in step; we have uniforms, a majorette who moves us around via commands, scouts with radios, a whole infrastructure. At this point, only a small faction of the ensemble had anything to do with Tchkung!, so there are different philosophical ideas and operating procedures.
Lex: The ideas came from experience. What kind of conclusions had you drawn from directing groups?
Grey: When doing an action in the street, the State expects you to be disorganized, they expect that you are not going to have a structure in place that could really challenge them. If you put in even a minimal amount of work, into communications, into technique, and you practice, it isn't that difficult to challenge the State on the territory of the street. That’s what November 30th proved. It's a lesson they've learned, but there was a time in the past when it was pretty easy to outsmart 'em.
Lex: You feel you are raising a counter-power by creating this direction?
Grey: Yes. There's almost this situation of mutual intimidation: the police have never attacked the INB or grabbed anybody in it. They know who we are, we're always antagonizing them. They'll grab people on the periphery, other people around. They never touch us. I think they're afraid to touch us because we're in a uniform and we're marching in step, and we're a unit. How can you grab one of us without enraging all of us? It's like a hornet's nest. They know we’re all related. We're all colored the same. They don't want to get us mad. It's better to get the stragglers or the loose people. It creates this really powerful block, since people know that if they stay close, they’re safe.
Lex: What do you think of the relationship between the direction you provide and authority? Are you directing the energies that people have within them, or are you putting ideas and words into people's hearts and mouths through your rhythms and through your direction?
Grey: I always thought of it, to use New Age-speak, as facilitating the self-actualization of The Mob. If The Mob wants to tear down a McDonald's, if The Mob wants to sit peacefully in the street and block access, if The Mob wants to chant and sing, if The Mob wants to invade a bank lobby- it's about providing that extra kick of energy to whatever people want to do to make it the possible, and not the dream. I think mobs are underrated. They are an exciting and uncivilized manifestation of groupmind. Usually the best political protests are mob-like, the boring ones are the demos with prescribed routes, speakers, and schedules. A lot of bad things have been done by mobs in the course of history- we should "reclaim" the mob, just like everything else, from the right. Mobs are anarchic and antithetical to order; one of the ironies of the INB is that we march in a rigid formation within a mob, which creates an interesting duality.
Lex: How do you find out The Mob wants to do?
Grey: I think you just try to read the crowd energy and you try to play the right rhythm at the right time.
Lex: That's a lot like African music, then. Isn't the facilitation of a good social event considered the highest goal in African music? Virtuosity is secondary to making sure that a social event goes well.
Grey: Yeah, and about working together. It’s not about virtuosity, it doesn't matter how simple our rhythms are. The idea is to read the crowd, to be a social accelerant, a cultural accelerant, a street accelerant. To be that substance. It's not about impressing people with rhythms. Of course, it's good to use complex rhythms because they can create complex ideas. So you don't want to be pedestrian in the way you approach it.
Lex: So INB's work is very much part of a musical tradition, but it's not a Western musical tradition. It’s a tradition of rhythm and sociality.
Grey: Yes. I think it's traditional to most everywhere in the world. The first known marching band is a group called Mehter from Turkey. They were the musical ensemble of the Janissaries.
Lex: When was this?
Grey: This was hundreds of years ago, in the time of the Ottomans. This group was a special, elite, musical military corps, and the first known marching band. I went to Istanbul and saw them perform…
Lex: They're still around?
Grey: Yeah. They were banned for hundreds of years; then banned again by Attaturk, who wanted to modernize Turkey. He switched from the Arabic alphabet to the Roman alphabet, and he banned the fez and beards. He did many things to allegedly modernize Turkey; some good, some bad. And one thing he did was ban this group because they were like a militant Islamic body. Now they're nothing, just an historical group. They have their uniforms and they play old songs in the military museum once a day. They had these enormous kettle drums and they would transport their drums on animals. And they had a bunch of shannai, or raitas or zurnas. You know, the double reed flutes like we were playing tonight. The group's entire instrumentation is actually very similar to the INB actually - trumpets, voice, zurna, lots of drums. That's kind of coincidental, since I discovered Mehter long after the INB had arranged its instrumentation. But I think there's some kind of collective unconscious thing going on there.