Radical marching band, radical noise
What’s there to do if you’re a radical populist dismayed with the anti-worker, pro-rich people direction your state government is taking? Some protest. Some march. Some play music and sing songs. Or, if you’re the Milwaukee Molotov Marchers, you do it all at once.
Andrew Anastasia and Ben Iberle were spurred to start the Molotov Marchers, a “radical street marching band,” as a direct response to the activity in Madison, from Walker’s introduction of his controversial budget repair bill in February to the massive protests that followed. “I was thinking about starting a radical street marching band several years ago and had a number of meetings on the south side when I lived there, and nothing much came of it,” says Anastasia, who moved to Milwaukee from Illinois in 2006.
“I spent a lot of time in Madison and was the vice president of grievances with the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants’ Association at UWM, and we were meeting and someone said, ‘Hey, how’s that marching band idea of yours going? It seems like the time.’ And I said ‘Oh! I’ll get on it,’ and called an organizational meeting a few days after and had several people show up who were interested in getting together to make some noise.”
Meanwhile, Iberle, a Portland transplant and friend of Anastasia’s, had long been inspired by the “honk band” movement which has generated radical, punk marching bands across the country. “My brother and my parents have played in this group in Seattle called the Anti-Fascist Marching Band; they’ve been around a long time. They played the WTO protests. I think there are a lot of groups that have been doing stuff like that in the U.S. for a while and it’s been getting more popular. One of the groups that I really am inspired by is the March 4th Marching Brigade in Portland.”
In the Midwest, though, unconventional marching bands aren’t exactly known for their radical politics. Perhaps the best-known Midwestern ensemble of their kind, Chicago’s Mucca Pazza, aren’t exactly passing around Socialist literature at their shows. Both Anastasia and Iberle agree that the approach of every marching/honk band is different.
“This idea was really formed from a specific situation in the state of Wisconsin, so we want to honor that point of inception,” says Anastasia. “But people also really want to have fun and be funky and radical. I’m kind of inspired by some of the queer art movements and flash mob movements where folks just show up and are absolutely absurd. There’s a lot of situationist and absurdist influence in my thinking, combined with real material, political means of disrupting space. So it might be kind of a combination of performance and really serious…I really don’t want to make too heavy a distinction between serious political work and performance, because they’re not mutually exclusive at all, and I think we’re trying to figure that out.”
So how politically charged are the tunes? It’s early in the MMM’s existence, so Iberle and Anastasia have been focusing on arrangements of popular songs—a little sugar to go with the substance of their message.
“I worked out an arrangement of ‘Beat It,’ thinking about ways that people might connect with a new band,” says Anastasia. “It’s a way to draw people in that isn’t too tense right off the bat. A lot of people have been a little wary of the name because it’s radical and has those connotations. We’re playing with some of the lyrics and playing with some of the conventions of a marching band where you stop time and then you kind of address an audience by having a vocal section and shouting. So that’s one of the ideals we’ve had is to add some chants, vocals, and unconventional marching band ways to address the audience.”
Sounds good. The Milwaukee Molotov Marchers have yet to play an actual show, however. What’s the holdup? Staffing, basically.
“I feel like we’re ready to hit the streets, but we don’t have any drummers!” says Anastasia. “It’s funny because I’ve been in contact with folks from the What Cheer Brigade and they said to keep at it, stick with it, it took us a little over a year to get going, and when I told them we were short on drummers they just laughed and said ‘Oh my god, I wish we had that problem.’”
Consider that a hint, local drummers. Wanna make some noise outside of your conventional four-piece ensemble setup? The MMM have an opening for you. Several openings, in fact. “I dunno if people are reticent, because they think, ‘I don’t have the setup to do marching band kind of drums,’ but it’s not necessary,” says Iberle. “I mean, you can find anything to bang on—we just need people to do it.”
Interested? Andrew Anastasia can be reached at andrewgabriel at me dot com, so drop him a line and let him know that you’re ready to make some radical noise. How can you resist his pitch?
“Drummers, if you’re out there…we’re not just a Molotov marching band, we’re also a pleasure society, so we’re looking to have fun and…drink…so, yeah. (laughs)”