Interview: Luke Heiken of Drone Not Drones


Early 2013 found Luke Heiken, Twin Cities music fixture, messing around with an industrial sticker maker his friend had gifted to him. Inspired by an anti-drone tweet from Low’s Alan Sparhawk, Heiken came up with the now ubiquitous phrase “Drone Not Drones,” and put it on a sticker. He shared his work with Sparhawk, who liked the phrase so much that three days later, after filling an entire 27-minute set at Rock the Garden with an expanded, lyric-less rendition of the 1996 song “Do You Know How to Waltz,” stepped up to the mic to offer an explanation of sorts: “Drone Not Drones.” And then Sparhawk, and the rest of Low, left the stage.

This event catapulted Heiken and his message to center stage. In a July 2013 interview with The Walker, Heiken said he was “inspired by people caring about the message and wanted to strike while the iron was hot.” He wanted to utilize the phrase and the attention it was receiving to support the populations affected by drone strikes. At first, he was selling only t-shirts, but soon he was able to pull together a benefit concert, bringing musicians together for a live 28-hour show, with proceeds going to support Doctors Without Borders. Four years later, The Cedar is set to once again hold the 4th Annual Drone Not Drones on February 24th through 25th. The lineup includes over 40 musicians, local and national, uniting artists from across genres against drones and the military industrial complex.

We spoke to Heiken in advance of the show. 

Q: There are countless people affected by American drone strikes, and many great organizations working with those same populations. When you were choosing a group to support, why Doctors Without Borders?

A: I chose Doctors Without Borders because of how much good they will do with the money. They use most of their money for helping people instead of advertising their “brand” and are willing to go into war zones and places other aid groups don’t.

Q: This is a huge event for local musicians, many have jumped at the opportunity to participate each year for four years running. In addition, every year you try to get one or two bigger names on board. What do you look for when finding musicians? What is important to you?

A: Variety is important to me. Everything from classical Indian raga to blistering space rock to robotic musicians. And I am a sucker for any line-up with a cello.

Q: This year you were able to get Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth to participate. Ranaldo has done some remarkable stuff in the past, obviously with Sonic Youth, but he has also done a lot of solo work. Do you have any spoilers about what he is going to be performing at the 4th Annual Drone Not Drones?

A: Lee will be hanging his guitar from the ceiling and using the swinging guitar to play the acoustics of the room. It’ll be part dance.

Q: Over the past four years this event has amassed a sizable following. What makes this event successful year after year?

A: I think what makes this successful is the event being even more than the sum of its parts. In addition to a unique concert full of truly original experimentalism it overlaps with activism and charity. All this makes the concert feel like it’s own little community.

Q: Drone Not Drones is a wonderful example of the power music has to unite people for a cause. What are your thoughts on the potential role music could play in politics over the next few years?

A: These days it’s harder and harder to a feel a deep connection with other people. Music can be the solution. When you feel connected you have more power to change things.

Q: Going on four years of this event, drones are still a massive issue. Do you have any hopes for change in the next four years?

A: I have no hope for positive change in the next four years. Obama handed the So-Called Ruler of the United States (SCROTUS) a very lot of very powerful weapons including this drone program. The Obama administration spent a lot of effort building legal and bureaucratic infrastructure for this program and protecting themselves from any oversight by the courts. The SCROTUS has been given the power to ramp up this program and I don’t see him using any restraint or valuing the human cost of doing so.

The 4th Annual Drone Not Drones will take place from Friday February 24 at The Cedar at 7:00pm until Saturday, February 25th at 11:00pm. Tickets are $20 in advance/ $30 at the door. Check for more information and the most up-to-date lineup of bands.

Brenna Tierney – Spring Intern