“Drone Not Drones” is a phrase that became locally infamous when Alan Sparhawk spoke it after his band Low played a single, droning song—”Do You Know How to Waltz?”—for their entire 28-minute set at 2013’s Rock the Garden. The phrase was coined by Luke Heiken, who stopped by the Current’s studios to talk with Steve Seel about drone, drones, and an epic charity concert being planned at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Hear the conversation here, and read an edited version below.
STEVE SEEL: Take us back before Rock the Garden, when Low performed their now-infamous droning half-hour and Alan Sparhawk spoke those now-infamous words at the end of that song. Where did the phrase “drone, not drones” come from, and what’s the story behind it?
LUKE HEIKEN: I have an industrial sticker-maker. It’s for putting [stickers] on big machinery and stuff, like, keep your hands out of here. I was playing with that, and then I just came up with [the phrase]. I printed [a sticker] that said, “drone, not drones.” So that’s how I came up with it, and it was just this sticker I had. That night, Alan Sparhawk tweeted something about drones, and I responded to him, “drone, not drones.” He responded, and he liked it. He mentioned to me that he wanted a sticker, so I gave him a few stickers. That’s the starting point of it, there.
When you came up with the phrase, were you specifically thinking, drone music over aerial drones that are used to kill people?
Yeah, right. I was probably just listening to some drone music and I was like, “Oh, what could be a drone sticker? Drone, not drones!” I just tried to think of a cliché sticker that I could attach “drone” to.
Could you describe for people who have not heard it—I know it’s kind of hard to do—but what is drone music, for the uninitiated?
The easiest way I can explain it is that Kranky Records out of Chicago has a t-shirt that says, “Going nowhere, slowly.” That’s kind of how I see drone music. It’s repetitive, it’s something that kind of gets you out of your head. The best kind of drone music, you kind of stop thinking.
There are a lot of artists who either fully practice drone music or in some capacity incorporate it into their music. They’re not the kind of bands that, in many cases, you hear on the radio, because drone is typically not radio-friendly music, but there’s a whole subculture around it. I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m a huge fan. Low does it to a certain degree in some of their earlier music. So we’ve got drone music set up as to what it is. It can be quiet, it can be loud…it’s just very slow and sort of massive-sounding.
Right, and drone is also an important part of traditional Indian music. Drone is as important to them as melody is to Western music.
Exactly. When you hear Indian classical music, you think of the tambora, that’s the drone. So, okay, flash forward to Rock the Garden. This must have been a very pivotal point, because it was suddenly very public in a big way when Alan uttered your phrase.
And I wasn’t even there. People just started sending me messages like, “What’s going on?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” and I saw they were talking about Low at Rock the Garden, and I’m examining Twitter…it didn’t take me long to figure out what had happened.
So you’ve got things that are going to the next level at this point. This is not just a slogan that’s on t-shirts.
That’s the thing. I was hoping, like, I should do a concert or a record with this phrase and then have the benefits go to helping people who are the victims of this. Once Alan said that and everyone was talking about it, I was like, [well], now I’ve got to do it.
So what’s happening? There’s going to be a “Drone, Not Drones” concert event and it benefits a specific cause. Tell us the who, what, when, where, why!
It’s at the Cedar Cultural Center. It’s going to be February 7th through the 8th. It’s going to be 28 hours starting at 7:00 p.m.
Of course it is. 28 hours, so, nonstop drone as covered by this tremendous list of people, of course it has to be that long. So that’s this Friday, starting this Friday and going all through the night and going on into a giant chunk of Saturday.
Yep, 11:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Give us just a sampling of who’s going to be performing at this.
Low is playing on Friday night. Paul Metzger is playing. There’s Flavor Crystals, Magic Castles, Marijuana Deathsquads, Thunderbolt Pagoda, lots of local musicians. Tim Kaiser from up in the Duluth area who does experimental electronics. I’m really excited to see what he does with it.
In this case, it’s not necessarily musicians who are playing their standard fare, but playing music appropriate for the evening?
Exactly. That’s the whole thing. I’ve told everyone I want a nonstop drone, but for the most part I’ve left it up to everyone to interpret the phrase how they will and then give their interpretation of drone music and then see where it goes. It should be interesting. It’s going to be a piece with lots of movements.
Are people sitting in chairs for this? Coming and going? Sleeping on the floor?
We’re going to have chairs on part of the floor for people who want to sit and then rope off part of the floor—or mop it off, because it’s wintertime—and say, no shoes beyond this point, and that’s where people can put pillows or blankets, you know, get comfortable there on the floor of the Cedar and stay all night if they want.
And this is a fundraiser for a cause. What is this a fundraiser for?
Doctors Without Borders. They do some great work. They go into war zones, they go into these places that are too dangerous for other groups to go into.