Since the tabloid press first whipped up a fuss about mods fighting rockers on the beaches of Brighton in the mid-1960s – the flames of which were fanned by headline hungry journalists – mass media has had its heart set on demonising youth culture. Along with the birth of the teenager came certain wings of the mainstream press all hopped up and ready to put the blame on music for causing violence amongst young people, rather than looking at the real causes of crime and disenfranchisement, such as lack of funding for youth services and a severe lack of interest from those in positions of power. Step forward Marilyn Manson’s music taking a hit for the Columbine killings, the outrage caused by Eminem’s first album, ‘Satanic’ heavy metal warping young minds in the 1980s or the Sex Pistols being held to account for leading the nation’s youth to a life of lust, drugs and fishnets in the late 1970s. Now it’s the turn of rowdy UK rap offshoot drill, a sound which has its roots in Chicago and which has made a name for itself in London through crews like 67 – pictured above – and 150. It’s a sound that the ever-considerate Daily Mail has branded “disturbing” and said is “blamed for the surge in gang killings”.
This morning Radio 4’s Today debated the subject live on air, with drill DJ Bempah and criminologist James Treadwell both eloquently denying that it was music behind the current tragic wave of murders and violence in London.
“Music itself can’t determine what you go out and do,” explains Bempah. “It can glamorise it, but it can’t force your hard to commit those actions.” Instead, he added, drill is about what hip-hop’s been about for the past 40 years; young people talking about their lives – when they’re great but also when they’re gritty. “You’re portraying what you see on your estate, what you saw at a party last week… it’s literally just telling a story.” Which is the job of an artist, is it not? I mean, nobody had a go at Graham Greene for writing about gang violence in Brighton Rock.
Criminologist Treadwell also nailed it when he was called upon for his opinion. “Is that really where the responsibility lies, is it with the musical artists? I don’t think so,” he said, before calling out government cuts on services vital to looking out for at risk young people as being more of an issue than some mixtapes. “I think perhaps we should be talking about the policy of austerity that’s had an especially large impact on young people.”
Treadwell also pointed out that the aggrandising tone of drill wasn’t entirely dissimilar to how many of those in the upper classes act. “There is a nihilistic, hedonistic overtone to drill music, it’s about self-interest, in some ways it’s about money and materialism – but then the top of society is as well, is it not?” he suggested. “They’re similar values to many in the political class, in the banker class.” But as we already know, if you’re a banker you’re allowed to get away with all manner of shadiness… right?