“The Miner” is part one of Grey Filastine and Indonesian rapper Nova’s new visual album.
The World Trade Organization was coming to town and protestors needed a soundtrack.
That was the epiphany of activist musician Grey Filastine. Ahead of the Battle of Seattle, he started the Infernal Noise Brigade, a marching band that practiced clandestinely on a SODO loading dock before hitting the streets on those fateful days of November 1999.
The rest, as they say, is history – protestors shut down the summit, corporate storefronts were smashed, and environmentalists and the labor movement united in a rare moment of solidarity.
That galvanizing moment for the anti-globalization movement also helped launched Filastine’s career welding radical politics and experimental music into a potent Molotov cocktail of sound and visuals.
Grey, who now makes his home in Barcelona, is returning to Seattle for a late-night undisclosed-warehouse show this Saturday, May 21 – as well as an in-studio at KEXP on Monday, May 23. It’s the local debut of his latest incarnation as Filastine, a live audiovisual performance where he plays percussion and electronics alongside vocalist Nova, part of the Indonesian rap sensation Twin Sista.
“In the early ’90s, Seattle was a destination for anyone that wanted to make something different of their life up here in America’s most progressive corner,” Filastine says. After moving here, he fell in with ¡TchKung!, a band that blended guerrilla theatre, heavy drumming, didgeridoo, fire breathing, and a punk ethos to advance an environmental and social justice agenda. Though sometimes their riotous performances ended up in actual riots, like in the aftermath of their 1994 show at Bumbershoot.
When ¡TchKung! broke up in 1998, Grey turned his attention to his new project.
“Many of the indie-spirited small clubs had shut by that time, the city was getting expensive and increasingly corporate, and I, at least personally, didn’t see any meaningful way to continue to participate,” Filastine says. “I felt squeezed out of belonging here.”
Grey’s solution was a marching band because it doesn’t require a venue, a promoter, or permission.
He resuscitated that approach in a more technologically sophisticated way after his move to Europe when he formed Sound Swarm, a fleet of bikes outfitted with boomboxes and megaphones that broadcast a single audio track via pirate FM radio transmission.
Most recently, he blasted the sounds of melting glaciers, distressed birdsong, and animal cries onto the streets of Paris during last December’s UN climate change conference – then brought his live show to the Calais Jungle refugee camp, where thousands of refugees are mustered in hopes of crossing the English Channel the UK.
While the Battle of Seattle’s memory has been resurrected in recent months thanks to Sunil Yapa’s novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, set during the WTO protests, Filastine now sees the fin-de-millennium moment as a relic.
“The global uprisings of 2011 established a new ‘year zero’, a reset button for the radical imagination,” he explains.
“It’s a good thing, because the Battle of Seattle and the alter-globalization movement that followed were too conceptual, focused on arcane trade agreements,” Grey continues. “The movement born of 2011 expresses the generalized discontent, alienation, and misery that is the fabric of the global order… call it capitalism or neoliberalism or whatever you may.”
Grey and Nova have been expressing their discontent aesthetically this year on a number of fronts. For starters, they recorded a series of four thematic videos that each employ dance as liberation from demeaning work, part of their idea that electronic music can serve as anti-capitalist art.
“The Miner“, recorded in the mines of Borneo in Indonesia, came out in March as they toured Europe (including a Moscow show where Edward Snowden was rumored to be on the guest list). Next week “The Cleaner”, about an office janitor, will come out to coincide with the duo’s U.S. tour, Abandon.
They are calling this the Abandon tour for a number of reasons – for one, cutting ties with Seattle. Earlier this month, Grey sold the yellow taxicab medallion that has helped him pay the bills since the ’90s, finally admitting defeat against the capitalist forces of Uber that are endemic to a changing Seattle.
“While some areas are shockingly gentrified, other neighborhoods took zero notice of the new economy,” Grey observes. “The hub of my barrio is the intersection of 12th & Jackson, where the same indie businesses and crumbling low-rent architecture persist, while Amazon came and went from it’s perch at the nearby PacMed building. Proof that Vietnamese immigrants are more resilient than the brogrammers?”
Filastine says he’s flirting with the possibility of abandoning the carbon-spewing practice of global touring via airplane. In March, the duo spent a week on a traditional wooden ship with other musicians, sailing around Indonesia to perform and give workshops.
For grassroots artists who have no interest in reaching the commercial festival heights of Coachella, it was a revelation. Reflecting on the experience, Grey hinted that there might be more touring-by-sail in the group’s future.
It’s a long boat ride from Indonesia to Seattle, so catch him while you can this weekend for a night of dub techno, live visuals, and experimental music that may leave you believing that another world is possible.