Singing and playing music at protests has long been a way of bringing people together and galvanising the struggles against oppression. If you have attended a protest in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane recently, you likely will have experienced the music and colour of the Riff Raff Radical Marching Band.
Riff Raff was started in New South Wales in 2010 by a group of activists and musicians who wanted to support movements for social and environmental justice. Sully, a member of the Melbourne chapter, told Green Left Radio the founding members felt “there could be more colour and music added [to rallies] to really support the activism and make … a more positive and creative space”.
The Melbourne chapter has been heavily involved in a range of activist movements, from refugee rights to transport justice and disability justice. It recently performed at protests to build accessible tram stops on Sydney Road, Brunswick.
Sully said the group decides on events to focus on based on the issues members of the band are committed to and activist requests.
The band performs their own lyrics to songs ranging from classics like “Down by the Riverside” to pop songs by Salt-N-Pepa and Lady Gaga. Sully is excited that the band will debut “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine, which they recently adapted.
The band hands out lyric sheets at protests, so everyone can sing along.
Riff Raff stands out at protests due to their bright costumes. Members wear red and black with gold and funny hats — a satire of marching band attire. For Sully, the deliberate choice to wear costumes, rather than uniforms, is designed to “take the piss out of that kind of outfit”.
Riff Raff will next be performing at the Refugee Action Collective’s “10 years too long: Permanent visas for all now” protest, which will be held at the State Library of Victoria on July 22.
Sully strongly encourages people of all musical skill levels to join their local Riff Raff chapter. More information on the Melbourne chapter’s rehearsal schedule and upcoming protests can be found on their Facebook page or by subscribing to their mailing list (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).