Local Current Blog

Drone Not Drones to return to the Cedar with Alan Sparhawk, P.O.S., and rolling robots

P.O.S. performs with Marijuana Deathsquads at Mill City Nights in 2013. Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR.

When Luke Heiken, the mastermind behind Drone Not Drones, says that there will be a solid 28 hours of drone, he means it. Beginning Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. and wrapping up 28 hours later on Jan. 31 at 11 p.m., an estimated 55 bands are set to perform at the Cedar Cultural Center as part of the Drone not Drones charity concert.

The second annual event will raise money and awareness for Doctors Without Borders, a group that delivers emergency medical aid to those affected by armed conflict and other disasters. The plural drones referred to in the event’s title are the remote aerial devices that have been used in military operations by countries including the United States.

The drone music will continue uninterrupted for the entire 28 hours, as musicians will overlap and transition on and off stage. To appreciate the concert in entirety, Heiken says that blankets, pillows, and comfort objects are encouraged: there will be seating and a designated floor space for lounging. The concert features musicians playing many types of drone—from soft to loud, to spiritual to psychedelic.

As Heiken told Steve Seel last year, Drone Not Drones originated as a slogan Heiken devised; after the slogan was repeated by Alan Sparhawk during Low’s much-discussed single-song set at Rock the Garden in 2013, Heiken organized an inaugural Drone Not Drones charity concert to build on the movement’s momentum.

On our Local Current stream, we’ll be broadcasting last year’s Drone Not Drones concert starting at 12:00 a.m. on Jan. 28, running through 4 a.m. on Jan. 29. (Here are more details on what to expect in that broadcast.)

This year’s event is expected to start out with a trio from International Novelty Gamelan, known for their use of unique instruments. “They are solid percussion, with xylophones and stuff,” said Heiken. “They do a lot of Indonesian music, but I’m not exactly sure what they will be doing this year. It will be a surprise for me too.”

Other percussion-based groups are Noise Quean Ant, which Heiken says includes “percussive drone and other aural explorations.” Heiken is looking forward to hearing Traditional Species. “Kevin Cosgrove of Transitional Species uses contact mics to amplify vibration. He uses Tibetan singing bowls, and he bows the rim and spoke of a bicycle.”

Low performed at the concert last year. “This wouldn’t have happened without them,” acknowledges Heiken. While Low will not play as an entire band this year, Low’s guitarist and vocalist Alan Sparhawk will perform solo, and Heiken expects him to play “the drone we need, not the drone we want.”

Local hip-hop artist P.O.S. will also be contributing to the drone. “The plan this year was to appeal to drone fans but also other audiences, so P.O.S. may be a little surprising in a drone set, but he [Stefon Alexander] does a lot of different things, so he will be performing a drone set,” said Heiken.

Robots will also be playing and grooving to drone this year, via an act called Robot Rickshaw. “Troy Rogers is a guy who has these expressive machines, so he has robots on rickshaw carts that will wheel out and then wheel away,” said Heiken. “They are programmed robots that play instruments, so that’ll be fun.”

Heiken explained that the concert celebrates drone through influences of various genres and cultures. The bands Solar Pawn and Paris 1919 explore the prettier and softer side of drone with electronics, guitars, and cello; while some bands, like The Hand and the Jet Legs, drone more loudly. Old Moon, Moss Folk, and Dead Gurus have psychedelic sounds, and Brokeback brings the jazzy rock to drone. Jesse Petersen and Jeremy Ylvisaker will be playing drone sets on guitar; like Heiken says, “Sometimes all you need is guitar.”

Folk instruments and sounds even have a place in drone. Heiken said that Paul Metzger’s set will consist of raga-like improvisations on a modified banjo. “He is a secret treasure of the Twin Cities. His sound has a transcendental quality to it,” said Heiken. Members from bands Trampled by Turtles and Dead Man Winter have a side project, Drone Man Winter, which Heiken describes as country-rock-meets-drone.

Some artists, including Sarah Larsson and Sagitta Gone, will contribute vocals to the drone. Heiken described Sagitta Gone as a “post-monarchy reclamation built on vocals and dreams.” StoLyette is another group that uses vocals. “StoLyette will probably be layers of sound including vocals in Russian and French. Dramatic, moving and memorable,” said Heiken.

“The cool thing about this event is that there are so many different sounds and like-minded people. Musicians that don’t usually play drone are getting together to play drone,” said Heiken. “On the grand scale, we are not changing the country’s international policies—but we can stand up, enjoy some drone, and say this is not okay.”

Anna Segner is a student at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.