Earlier this week I was reading about the Metropolitan Police force's controversial Form 696. For those who don't know, 696 is a risk assessment form which asks club promoters and licence holders to provide the names, addresses, and contact details of those artists performing at club nights and music events.
The reason for the controversy is that the form asks for a description of the types of music to be played at each venue*. Critics have argued that the form is potentially racist and will prevent promoters putting on music events which are likely to attract audiences from ethnic minorities.
The Metropolitan Police say that one of the reasons the form was introduced was to combat rising gun crime that would take place at certain music events in the Capital. The Met argue that since the introduction of the form violent crime has actually dropped.
I read a quote from the chief executive of UK Music, Fergal Sharkey in which he said:
“The form is clearly targeting styles of music that are popular with people from ethnic minority communities and that seems extraordinary in today’s modern, diverse multicultural London.”
The form is meant to be voluntary but apparently many events have had applications for licences turned down after refusing to fill the form in.
The main styles of music that are at issue here are those genres placed under the umbrella term of 'Urban' music. That means stuff like, Garage, Grime, Bashment, and RnB. Styles of music that will generally attract a young black audience.
Now I've thought about this and if you asked me, if I would personally go to a Grime or Garage night? The answer is no.
Why? Because I'm not into that sort of thing; but also it's because I believe those type of events attract a certain audience where the atmosphere and vibe isn't going to be one that I would particularly enjoy, and if I'm being honest I think the likelihood of a violent incident taking place would be greater at one of these events!
Now the police could argue the same point, in that they're carrying out a risk assessment based on the music being played and deciding that there is a a greater risk of trouble occurring at one particular music night more than another.
Am I discriminating against such nights? I suppose I am, but part of my decision is based on my own experience. Many years ago back in the 90s I used to listen to Garage. Garage back then was not part of the 'urban' music scene but was a style of House music associated with dance music culture.
The music began to evolve and change though when many people who had previously listened 'urban' styles like RnB, Hip Hop, and Jungle started getting into Garage. The music and atmosphere at club nights changed in quite a drastic way and people started associating the term Garage with trouble and violence, something that was unheard of a few years earlier.
A more aggressive attitude and culture had come into the music and scene which I didn't like and so I stopped listening and moved on. Since then Garage/UK Garage whatever you want to call it has never truly escaped that image problem!
Now although it's totally wrong to stop an event from taking place based purely on the ethnicity of the people attending, I think some of the critics of Form 696 and members of the UK Urban music scene need to be a little more honest with themselves and admit that some styles of music do attract certain violent criminal elements.
Reading about this topic on the Guardian online, a journalist by the name of Rahul Verma who specialises in urban music said whole genres were under threat from Form 696:
"It is very difficult to find a grime night in London now because of the use of this form. This is because it has been used to stereotype certain urban music events which are being unfairly associated with violence and trouble."
I don't think there is anything unfair about this association at all. There's a large element of truth in this!
There are lots of musical genres that have never had any association with violence and that includes many other Black forms of music. Genres like Grime and Garage have acquired a reputation for violence based on the fact that serious violent incidents have taken place at these events more so than at other music events.
Last week I wrote about the football violence between West Ham and Millwall fans. This is a fixture that is associated with violence and trouble, and there are many other fixtures in football like it. Most football fans wouldn't say violence and trouble is unfairly associated with West Ham and Millwall, it's just a fact!
The club promoters, artists, and fans of these musical styles need to take some responsibility and ownership over their own music scene, and not bury their heads in the sand and pretend there isn't any problem with violence when the evidence is there saying it is.
The Met police have said that the form is currently under review. Whether it will continue in its present form we'll have to wait and see. It may well need to be scrapped altogether, but I think the police are surely doing their job in identifying where potential risks are at certain musical events.
When violent crime escalates or affects certain groups disproportionately, people always want to know what the police are doing to prevent things. They start complaining if it's felt the police aren't doing enough or taking things seriously. The police need to be pro-active in ensuring that violence doesn't take place at particular music events.
Nobody wants to see people deprived of hearing their favourite music and artists and this is where club promoters and venues need to work closely with the police as well, to ensure that all of London's music fans are catered for regardless of their ethnicity and musical tastes.
*The Met. Police on Monday 7 September 2009 announced that the form will no longer ask for details of the music style to be played.