One might say that grime music has always been trouble. The problem child of late 90s UK garage, grime swapped the champagne dances and hyperspeed feminine R’n’B vocals for braggadocio, street tales and a willfully jarring sound palette thick with foreboding and menace.
Even as early luminaries like Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Logan Sama and Kano (later Lethal Bizzle and Skepta) packed venues and amassed sales, plaudits and prizes, the grime scene has continually been accused of providing a breeding ground for violence. In its 15 years, countless beefs and a small number of violent incidents in and around performance venues have only fanned the flames that the grime music and its parties harboured and glorified criminality.
Unsurprisingly, the state of the grime scene has not gone unnoticed by authorities. In 2008, The Metropolitan Police devised Form 696, a risk-assessment form that must be submitted by performance venues two weeks prior to an event in order to determine whether a licence should be granted (or revoked); failure to submit it can lead to a £20,000 fine or six months’ imprisonment. The form requests that licensees provide personal information about performers (stage name, real name, date of birth), and is specific to situations where:
“…you hold an event that is – promoted/advertised to the public at any time before the event, and predominantly features DJs or MCs performing to a recorded backing track, and runs anytime between the hours of 10pm and 4am, and is in a nightclub or a large public house.”
Metropolitan Police, Promotion Event Risk Assessment Form 696
Form 696 was revised from eight to four pages in 2008, the original having gone a step further, requesting the home addresses and phone numbers of all artists on the bill, and that details of ethnic groups likely to attend the performance be declared (these were removed as it was thought that they did not add value to the form).
The specificity of the above definition draws a uncomfortably tight border – one might say a noose – around black electronic music: techno, hiphop, dubstep, reggae, jungle and grime. Given the huge resurgence in grime music in the past five years, it is not surprising that the overtones of racial profiling have drawn criticism from prominent figures within the scene.
Released in 2014 and presented by JME, The Police vs Grime Music examines the effect of Form 696 on the grime scene and questions the lack of transparency in the process. Crucially, it asks why there has been no attempt made by the Metropolitan Police to engage in discourse with the scene’s promoters, artists and audiences on the issue of safety at grime events.
As the documentary notes, Form 696 (and by extension the police force) does not have the power to shut down an event, but it does place venues under huge pressure to pull out on the grounds of public safety. The explicit link with artists made on the form effectively chokes the scene, with venues fearful of losing their reputation and licences, and promoters less likely to host MCs and DJs who have been written up on 696s for cancelled events.
While it is disappointing that the Police themselves do not offer comment, The Police vs Grime Music remains a faithful illustration of the relationship between crime, media and culture. It exemplifies how, when a perception of threat is connected to ‘street’ music, that fear can severely damage the discourse between authorities and the social sub-groups it is identified with.
Barron, L. (2013). The sound of street corner society: UK grime music as ethnography. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 16(5), 531-547.
Hiscox, D. (2009). Public enemy no 696. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/jan/21/police-form-696-garage-music.
Ilan, J. (2012). ‘The industry’s the new road’: Crime, commodification and street cultural tropes in UK urban music. Crime, Media, Culture, 8(1), 39-55.
Metropolitan Police Service (2009). Promotion Event Risk Assessment Form 696. http://content.met.police.uk.
Thornton, S. (1995) Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.