How Government Policy Killed The British Music Economy For A Decade

By Sumit Rehal

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The last year has seen a massive breakthrough for the British grime and rap scene. The likes of Skepta and Giggs have seen success in world tours and collaborations with Drake and A$AP Mob while Stormzy saw his album peak at #1 on the UK chart.

The emergence of grime into pop culture has been covered by both mainstream and niche media across the globe, with even VOX creating a great summary of the genre for those previously unfamiliar with it.

As a Londoner who started secondary school in 2001, the same year that Grime’s seed was planted, this music has accompanied me on my own growth so I’ve seen the changes that the music has gone through to make it where it is now. So if I first heard the basis of grime music when I was 11 years old, why did it take 15 years for it to become popular?

With grime being an electronic based genre birthed out of the estates of inner suburban London, we can draw parallels with another genre that was birthed in USA’s most populous city, New York in hip hop. Despite being two different genres in their own right, stemming from different paths, the two can be compared for their cultural impact on their respective cities.

Hip hop’s first recorded hit, Rappers Delight by The Sugarhill Gang peaked at #36 on the Billboard hot 100 in 1979. When hearing this song, you can notice that it was still mostly a disco based track, with the Good Times beat and was still transitioning into a raw hip hop sound. We can compare this with 21 Seconds by So Solid Crew, which is a mainly 2-step garage influenced track that peaked at #1 in the UK chart. So Solid Crew paved the way for UK MCs to prevail in the charts i the years to come and transitioned from Garage to a new, raw sound.

When Oi by More Fire Crew came out in 2002, my whole school was chanting the catchy hook during every playtime for the whole term. I’d say this was the first time that I could fully differentiate this music from the dance vibed garage sounds that preceded the UK urban scene.

Dizzee Rascal then emerged and took the MC game by storm with his gritty vocals. It wasn’t until Wiley came out in 2004 with Wot Do U Call It where people started to label this new speedy yet dark sound. Then Lethal Bizzle launched Pow, which fully defined Grime as a genre and became the youth’s national anthem.

Grandmaster Flash’s The Message in 1982 can be classed as hip hop’s Pow, with it being the prototype of what the genre was to base itself on for the years to come. Run DMC soon became the first hip hop group to become platinum in 1986 with Raising Hell and hip hop then went on to become not only a mainstay in pop culture but arguably the most influential worldwide genre in history.

In comparison, despite seeing immediate local and chart success, grime disappeared from the limelight just as quickly as it emerged after the mid 2000s. Imagine there were no charted hip hop songs after Walk This Way? There would have been no Public Enemy, no Beastie Boys and no NWA to follow. So what the hell happened to grime music?

At the time, I noticed that I hadn’t heard a mainstream grime song in a while and I hadn’t seen any local gigs advertised in London. I just felt perhaps artists were in the middle of producing an album. Those artists that were still prevalent had however stopped making grime tracks in favour of summer dance anthems. Dizzee came out with Dance Wiv Me, followed by Bonkers and Roll Deep came out with Green Light.

I didn’t really question their motives and just felt that they felt it was easier to make a dance hit rather than a grime hit. But looking at the records, if Oi peaked at #7 on the UK chart, there was no reason why they couldn’t monetise grime over dance. Only now I realise the true cause of the imprisonment of grime. The UK government.

The London Metropolitan Police introduced Form 696 in the middle of the previous decade. This is a risk assessment form that requests promoters and licensees of events to complete and submit 14 days in advance of an event in 21 London boroughs. Non compliance with this may result in police opposition to event licenses being granted. The hosts are obligated to inform the police on the demographic make up of those attending, including race, age and the style of music being played. The form explicitly requests to know if the event is using a backing track…meaning if it’s not a live band then it’s suspicious.

A majority of the grime events that were planned in London were therefore shut down before they were even started because the police deemed it dangerous. JME previously presented a documentary showing how hard it was for his comrades to put on a show.

UK rap has also seen the same fate with rapper Giggs only just this year headlining his first tour after 10 years in the game due to his previous shows getting banned from the police.

The police argue that these events ignite violence. However in hindsight, these movements have not reduced crime within those demographics at all and actual has hindered their ecosystem further.

Music has been proven to be an escape for the youth away from broken environments. The music of choice for many of London’s youth has been grime and rap but they have been discouraged from these avenues as it’s practically been made illegal to profit from it. In the digital age, the largest profits from music don’t come from sales of albums but from physical tours but the police have blocked this homegrown money from developing.

By taking away a child’s art, culture and community you have forced him into roadblocks and harder challenges. If they couldn’t find a sanctuary in their passion then they may be pushed into gang culture.

Culture minister, Matt Hancock has recently supported that grime artists have been unfairly targeted. He said that the form is “stifling young artists” and damaging the UK capital’s vibrant music scene, Hancock wrote in a letter to the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.

There was controversy last year when police in Croydon were accused of trying to ban bashment, a Jamaican music genre for “Inciting violence”. From my experience I’ve never seen anyone get violent with basement unless it’s with their aggressive hip thrusts…

This has been a huge blow to the UK music industry and thus the British economy. Two of the biggest singers in the world over the last 5 years have been British in the form of Ed Sheeran and Adele. We could have seen the emergence of a whole heap more of UK superstars if they were allowed to develop on their growing art. Sister genres that have birthed in London such as dubstep from Croydon have gone on to influence global sounds, many other styles would have joined if it was allowed to progress.

All of these targeted genres have been music from the streets. Imagine if jazz was squashed before Miles Davis, if rock was silenced before Jimi Hendrix, if hip hop was banned before 2Pac. The whole landscape of music would be in another dimension. With the UK scene now emerging again, with a new wave of settings in grime, drill, rap, trap and even garage; we are yet to see the renaissance of modern British urban music.

This assessment form is still in place but is seeming to slowly get more relaxed. It is our duty to keep an eye on how it is affecting the culture and economy of our local life otherwise our music will also be McDonaldised.


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