Posted on August 31, 2009

Calls Grow to Scrap ‘Potentially Racist’ Form 696 As Music Industry Suffers

Awaiting a Western Renaissance, August 2009

Police say it has curbed gun crime at clubs and played a role in reducing serious violence on the London music scene. But musicians, politicians and figures from the entertainment industry have now called on the government’s equalities watchdog to intervene in the controversy over the Metropolitan police’s Form 696, which they claim is “potentially racist”. Opponents fear that the Met scheme will be adopted by forces nationwide.

Form 696 asks venues to provide the name, address and contact telephone numbers for artists and promoters. When the layer of red tape was introduced, it also asked for details of which ethnic group was likely to attend the proposed event.

That requirement was dropped last year after widespread criticism, but the form still asks promoters to say what style of music is to be played and gives “bashment, R&B, garage” as examples–all of which are styles of music popular with black and Asian fans.

“To me it is quite remarkable that anyone could have thought this level of intrusion was a good idea,” said Feargal Sharkey, the former lead singer of the Undertones and now chief executive of UK Music, who is one of the signatories of a letter to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), asking it to intervene.

“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 organiser of the appeal to the EHRC, journalist Sunny Hundal, said that although the form was “voluntary”, many events had applications for licences turned down after refusing to fill it in.

“There is a deep sense of unease among many within the music scene that it is being used to target events by black or Asian organisers,” he said. “With live events being an integral part of the music scene, this only makes life harder for everyone and denies the people of London a diverse range of entertainment.”

The letter, which has more than 50 signatories, states: “We are deeply concerned that Form 696 has the potential to be misused by the police to discriminate against ethnic minorities. . . . There is now a danger that police across the country will adopt this measure and further entrench this illiberal and potentially racist practice.”

Police have defended their use of the form, saying it has helped reduce violence at certain London music events and “played its part” in an 11% drop in serious violence at venues in 2008.

However, a report by the Commons culture media and sport select committee, published in April, said: “Such a form goes well beyond the requirements of the licensing act and has a detrimental effect on the performance of live music. We recommend that Form 696 should be scrapped.”

The Met said the form was still being used but was under review, and a decision about its future would be made next month.

A Met police statement said: “Following concerns expressed by various groups about the form, it is right that we consider whether it meets the requirements of all those involved in the risk assessment process.”

However, campaigners and music promoters remain unconvinced.

Rahul Verma, a journalist specialising in urban music, said whole genres were under threat: “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.”

Hundal, who is the editor of the political blog Liberal Conspiracy, said police assurances that the form was being reviewed did not inspire confidence.

“Unless the Met withdraw this needless layer of bureaucracy, we can’t simply accept their assurances that it’s under review–they’ve been saying that for ages.”

Singling out beats of bashment, R&B and garage

Bashment, R&B and garage–the three styles of music explicitly singled out in the Metropolitan police’s Form 696–are all dance genres associated with a predominantly young, black audience. Bashment, also known as dancehall, updates traditional reggae with digital beats and faster tempos; thanks to the influence of the British Jamaican community, one of the world’s largest overseas Jamaican populations, it has historically had a strong cultural presence and core fanbase in the UK.

At its most club-oriented, bashment combines rowdy rhythms with often sexually explicit lyrics. Aimed squarely at getting dancefloors moving, the genre is known for the dance crazes that periodically sweep it, among them the Gully Creeper performed by the sprinter Usain Bolt following his 2008 Olympic victories. Current artists of stature within the genre include Mavado, Busy Signal and Ce’cile.

The constantly evolving UK garage scene has taken many forms over the past decade, ranging across a wide aesthetic spectrum. Two-step, a smooth, melodic R&B-influenced sound, dominated around the turn of this century, with producers such as MJ Cole and The Artful Dodger finding chart success. By contrast, grime boasted harsher beats, metallic textures and a focus on MCs who dealt with the realities of inner-city life in uncompromising, often aggressive terms; recently, artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder have found mainstream success with lyrics about partying and relationships. Though grime’s relationship with the law has always been somewhat uneasy, with the scene growing through illegal raves and pirate radio stations, its reputation for violence was overstated.