The theme of the event, we gathered, was apes and spacemen, in honor (obviously) of 2001, and the parade was heading to an unspecified location where a monolith filled with fireworks was going to burn at midnight. When the parade took off down Broadway, my friends and I debated for about 10 seconds and then chucked our list of parties and joined the crowd. We marched up and down Broadway, and then down Pine Street toward the water. As we passed the Paramount, the drumming and yelling reached a fever pitch, as if to drown out the Kenny G concert inside. When we arrived at First and Pike, someone announced that the monolith wasn't coming--the police had gotten hold of it--so we made a bonfire instead. As the flames leapt, midnight came and went. The drumbeats rose to the sky. People kissed like the war had ended.
Traditionally, I hate New Year's Eve, with its passive clock-watching and maudlin drunkenness. Its transformation into something more participatory and infinitely more fun seemed nothing short of miraculous, so what I wanted to know, when the flames died down, was who were these people? I couldn't find out who was responsible for the monolith--it was as if the movement was driven strangely underground--but a few phone calls led me to Greyg Filastine, a member of the Infernal Noise Brigade. I met Greyg, along with George and I-Ching, two other members, at a parking lot next to the train yard where the Brigade often practices. As we talked, the noise of the containers being loaded bore down on us with its own insistent percussion. There I learned that the Infernal Noise Brigade came together over a year ago with the intent of providing a musical backdrop for the WTO demonstrations.
"Protests are boring," Greyg told me. "No one wants to go, but we feel like we should. We wanted to make it something more intense and beautiful." The Brigade's politics are not strictly anarchist (although it is widely known as an anarchist marching band), but its appearances over the past year certainly align it quite firmly with anti-corporate causes. At a rally last spring for the Washington Shoe Building (which was developed at the cost of over 50 artist studios), the INB marched not on the street but through the building itself. It was also a very visible (and audible, one imagines) presence at the International Monetary Fund/World Bank conference in Prague in September, and crashed a recent Seattle Police pep rally as well ("One of the most frightening things we've done," George said). But the INB is emphatically not the dour, humorless sort of activist group: A recent installation in Westlake Center consisted of a stack of "genuine anarchist windows," which the public was invited to break in penance for the violence visited on storefronts during the WTO protests.
The INB is hard to slot into one performance category. There is the tapestry of its specific musical influences (Pakistani and Balkan, for example, learned directly from teachers in those countries where members have traveled). There is the idea of the spectacle, preceded by a long tradition of street theater or happening or mummery; Greyg harked back even to medieval warfare in Turkey and Mongolia, to the martial bands that accompanied the Mughals as they conquistadorially marched east. There is an overall subversive co-opting of military techniques and strategies that tweaks the aggressiveness of a police presence at events, even at something as flat-out fun as a New Year's Eve parade. The idea is to create an experience unmediated by promoters or managers or any form of capitalism; the result, I think, is not only liberating for the band, but also something more raw for the audience, something truly interactive. I thought of myself dancing down Broadway in silver pants. Who needs more proof?