Who... Are... We?

RMO - by J. Bell

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra is a 30-odd-piece New York City radical marching band and dance troupe. Through our music and performance, we strive to support people and communities working for social justice. We play protests, demonstrations, direct actions, picket lines, marches, benefits and events for good causes. We function as a democratic collective through consensus-based decision-making and we do not discriminate on the basis of musical ability. We formed in the spring of 2004 for the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. and solidified to support people protesting the Republican National Convention in New York. We were a motley mix of rusty players that hadn’t picked up a horn since high school and longtime street bandistas on leave from Hungry March Band or the Infernal Noise Brigade, blowing sour notes at the invading greedheads and serenading the rabble.

Since then, we’ve tripled our numbers and made strides in our sound, but we remain a band of mostly amateurs rediscovering and reinterpreting the music we played as pimply adolescent band geeks. (Our dance troupe, Tactical Spectacle, is another story. They’re professionals.) Over the years, we have, regrettably, played more antiwar marches than we can count. We’ve played protesting union-busters and tip-garnishers, gentrifiers and privatizers, xenophobes, homophobes, and a host of other big uglies. We’ve worked with groups like Time’s Up, the Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the War Resisters League. We’ve played community events around town and beyond, like the Queens Pride Parade, the Mermaid Parade, the East Village Roving Garden Party, Philadelphia’s Spiral Q Peoplehood Parade, and Boston’s HONK! Festival.

Our repertoire includes a mix of folk songs from cultures spanning the globe, as well as some more contemporary numbers and a bunch of originals. A typical set might include a spritz of klezmer, some Balkan and Brazilian notes, plenty of funk, some Latin beats, a little jazz and a Le Tigre cover, all of it served up with a patina of punk. We don’t do Sousa marches, though we love his phone. We typically turn out anywhere from 10-25 performers to a show, though we’ve been known to swell suddenly and without warning into The Green Monster, a billowing cloud of brass, ‘tude and glitter, according to some occult confluence of the tides and the stars.

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra is a New York City-based radical marching band. We exist in order to serve the efforts of progressive and radical groups and causes, including: feminism and women’s rights, immigrant rights, queer rights, labor, the environment, peace, community self-determination, and racial, social, and economic justice. We pledge to fight racism, sexism, homophobia, war and violence in all its forms. Through our music, we strive to bring joy and inspiration to these communities and to bring new people into radical causes. Internally, we work towards being a safe, welcoming place for all genders and gender identities, ages, races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, disabilities and musical skill levels. Through our musical selections, we pay tribute to the world’s cultures and the revolutionary role music has played throughout history.