Here’s one from June 17th 1999, when I used to write for the City Hub newspaper in Sydney while on holidays from London, where I worked freelance for TNT magazine. It was a front page story.
In 1965 a group of infamous hippies called the Merry Pranksters embarked on an archetypal American odyssey in a purple bus that would later being immortalised in Tom Wolfe’s book ,’The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test’. Their mission was to take lots of drugs whilst expanding their consciousness and indeed that of the American nation then preoccupied with killing people in foreign countries in the name of preventing people from being killed in foreign countries
While not much has changed as far as America’s preoccupations go, the modem descendants of the pioneering Pranksters are alive and well and marauding aroundAustralia in their own bus. In their case its a graffiti drenched old state transit bus crewed by a gang of technoid doofers travelling under the banner of Ohms Not Bombs (ONB).
They’ve been staging impromptu dance parties at contentious environmental sites such as Goolongook (in the Gippsland forest), and the Jabiluka uranium mine camp and Timbarra. Indeed the bus has become a familiar site at protests and parties all over the country. Last time I saw them was at a Timbarra mine protest march in Sydney in February.
ONB trawled along Macquarie Street broadsiding doof beats from huge speakers poking out of the luggage bay like cannon from an eighteenth century galleon. Cops chaperoning the procession sniggered at the dB addled freaks. But in the austere offices of Parliament House the politicos must have thought they were about to undergo an alien invasion. And indeed the luminous techno travellers swarming around the bus and chanting fiercely might easily have been mistaken for stormtroopers spearheading a generations demands that deadly radioactive elements and cyanide mining by banned from their countries fragile ecosystems.
Pete Strong, an ONB stalwart, was aboard the bus. A platinum haired cheerful chap with an internationalists accent, he talks about ONB’s approach to protest politics.
Adding a Vibe
“Dancing is a good way of adding a different vibe to a protest. As you can see with Reclaim The Streets it’s a pretty unstoppable form of people power”. ONB is a collective of about twenty loosely knit individuals that evolved from an earlier mob known as the Vibe Tribe.
They were a hedonistic crew operating on the fringe of radical protest events, feeding on the zeitgeist and translating its energies into their wild trance acid beats and performing in a blaze of fluoro and dreadlocks and exotic piercings, riding the early waves of 90’s freak power.
Their illegal squat and street parties were attracting up to a thousand people at a time in the mid nineties they were attracting too much media and police interest and the collective split. Half of them went to Byron Bay and the other half stayed in Sydney and became ONB.
The ONB crew are no less radical, but they have pared back the energies and focused them on activism. They still attract a fair level of notoriety but Pete says it’s a cleaner act.
Going off on Guarana.
“With the Vibe Tribe there was a lot more drugs happening at the parties. Now we get more activists and its less drug oriented. I myself only have the odd joint these days. People are going off on herbal things like Guarana”.
Since doofing on the lawns of Parliament House through the 1995 protests against French testing in the Pacific, ONB have been cruising the country terrorising peaceful, uranium loving folk. Reactions to their brand of dance activism have been extreme.
“In ’95 there was a riot in Sydney Park when the police turned up to one of our events. We tried to negotiate to turn it down but they came in with dogs and batons and tried to carry off the generator and it became a full scale riot” (the writer of this article made a mistake accredited this Vibe Tribe event to Ohms Not Bombs)
Despite these wild scenes, ONB are definitely into NVA ( Non violent action).Pete espouses their credo.
ONB have been cruising the country terrorising peaceful, uranium loving folk
“We believe that people have gotta become autonomous, break away from the government. People have got to stand up against governments all over the world against militarism. Our aim is to form a convoy on the road that’s self sustaining, going on the road and making clothes and music.
“We’ve got sound systems, samplers, synths, drum machines, mixers. We run workshops as well. Kids in regional towns who have never come across this music before can come along and see how it’s done. We want to get more of that stuff happening, teaching people about the issues as well”.
He runs his own business making and selling techno clothing. Other people work in sound systems hire lighting and sound rigs”, says Pete, “some people work in clubs. I make my own electronic music with Organarchy Sound System crew. We just did a JJ mixup, mixing politics with the music, documentary style. You’ll have music, beats and loads of voice overs about an issue like Jabiluka. It’s like an alternative newscast”
ONB are based in a lot in Redfern known as the Graffiti Hall of Fame, it’s wall’s dominated by the spray can Da Vinci efforts of the local homies. It’s owned by Tony Spanos, a philanthropic businessman renowned for his generosity to community groups and fearless support of ONB’s activities.
Here they store the bus and sound systems and plan their tours. They have their own website and publish their own PR. Recently they put on ‘The Goodwill Festival’, an enormous dance weekend at the Warnervale Music Park on he central coast. Pete “The Goodwill Festival was a massive production, the techno stage was a huge spaceship that took hours to set up. This festival was the first time we’ve worked legally with the council and youth groups. It’s a big step for us, being accepted by the mainstream with our radical politics.”
Last year they packed their sound systems and techno baggage into the bus and embarked on a four month tour.
Soundtrack to Revolution
“We put on about 30 events all around the country from the cities to the desert right out near Alice Springs, the first open air Doof to be held at Uluru and right up to Darwin where we assisted the blockade at Jabiluka mine. On the big day of action where everybody got arrested with John Howard masks on we were playing Yothu Yindi’s “treaty” really loud as everyone got put in paddy wagons, so it was like the soundtrack to revolution.
“Next year we’re working towards a big convoy to head to Earthdream 2000, the Solstice. Everyone’s gonna get vehicles together and meet in Port Augusta in May and go all the way to Jabiluka via the red centre for a huge party that’s been talked about for about eight years in the international dance scene. We plan to have the internet on the bus so that we can do updates all the time and let the world know what’s going on out there.”
As you can see with Reclaim The Streets it’s a pretty unstoppable form of people power
The Pranksters’ brand of collective consciousness carousel might have run aground on the reef of ’70’s fashion-fiasco but right now saving the planet is definitely in fashion and ONB are riding that wave. Pete Strong reckons its a mutually beneficial fusion.
“The mixture of activism and dance party culture has been really positive y’know,’cos the dance party culture needed something to dance for, and the activists needed a bit for cavalry, the numbers you can get when you have a sound system somewhere