Local Current Blog

‘A way to feel less hopeless’: Drone Not Drones returns for a fourth year

The Cedar Cultural Center is one of the most volunteer-friendly venues in the Twin Cities. Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt for MPR

The fourth annual Drone Not Drones event is happening tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

At 7 p.m. Friday, drone music will begin playing for 28 consecutive and uninterrupted hours as an estimated 67 musicians will overlap and transition on and off stage. Artists taking the stage for the first time will include Lee Ranaldo, Gaelynn Lea, and Robert Rickshaw’s DONEBOTS. They will join returning performers including Will Oldham and Alan Sparhawk in a long lineupCorrection: Will Oldham is not part of this year’s event.

Drone Not Drones got its start in 2013, when founder Luke Heiken came up with the slogan to protest the Obama administration’s use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles to kill suspected terrorists in the Middle East — attacks that also killed many innocent civilians.

Sparhawk repeated the phrase at the end of Low’s infamous single-song Rock the Garden set that year, and Heiken organized the first Drone Not Drones concert to build on the movement’s momentum. Low’s 28-minute set length inspired the 28-hour length of Heiken’s concert.

Drone music is a minimalist style of music that centers around a drone, created by using sustained and repetitive notes, sounds and tones. Inspired by Indian and classical music, drone music has been adapted by many musicians from across genres with well-known artists like Philip Glass, Radiohead, and Miles Davis incorporating drones into their craft.

Heiken says the main thing he is looking forward to the most this year is the mesh of sounds that happen when two bands overlap with each other.

“All this music coming together to form one continous song speaks to the connectedness between communities,” he said. “Fighting the feeling of hopelessness is going to make people stronger when they’re wanting to fight injustice.”

Now in its fourth year, the event continues to spread awareness about the deadly effects of drones in the Middle East and to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, a group that delivers emergency medical aid to those affected by armed conflict and other disasters.

After Donald Trump won the presidency, Heiken became more concerned about the drone program, as the Republican president has long promised to aggressively pursue terrorists in the Middle East.

“I started this program in the Obama Administration because I didn’t want someone like Trump to be handed this drone program,” Heiken said. “Obama was a Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning constitutional law professor and that’s how much he abused the drone program he had. So what Trump is going to do with it scares me.”

For Heiken, what drives him to continue Drone Not Drones every year is the sense of community it creates. He said the event attracts a wide range of people, including conservatives.

“This isn’t just like a progressive thing. Anyone who cares about the Constitution and the rule of law should want to be on this side of the issue,” Heiken said. “So it’s a way to feel less hopeless and less alone and realize you’re not crazy for thinking things are so messed up, and that other people feel the same way you do.”

To allow people to appreciate the concert in its entirety, there will be seating and a designated floor lounging space. Heineken recommends audience members bring blankets, pillows, and whatever else it takes to stay the whole 28 hours. But the event will also be streamed live on the event’s website for those who can’t make it to the Cedar or stay for the entire time.

“Activism doesn’t have to be lame,” Heiken said. “Even though this activism is fighting for something that’s dark and depressing, you can do it in a way that makes you feel more connected with people and with the world.”

Simone Cazares is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, majoring in communication and journalism. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.