Does UK Drill music cause violence?

Does drill music cause or encourage more violence on the streets of Britain? This is an important question posed by the Metropolitan Police with discussion on the BBC and mainstream media. This blog develops a theory about the relationship between urban violence and drill music.

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To begin with, I want to pinch to terms and concepts from anthropologist Richard Geertz. That is the idea that cultural symbols do two things, they provide a model of reality and a model for reality. In these terms, and in the first instance, UK Drill music models reality. What UK Drill does is represent a social environment to external audiences. Aspects of the cultural environment would include council housing estates, economic inefficiencies (litter, broken facilities, graffiti) slang, fashion, violence, crime, patrolling police officers, knives, guns and so on. Drill music can be understood as a form of artistic realism; it ‘keeps it real’, offering a real representation of life on the streets to audiences tuned in. This is one side of the coupling.

At the same time, UK Drill music is also a model for reality. It represents what is there on the streets of some of Britain’s toughest ghettos and presents it – or ‘re-presents’ it – in such a way that it becomes a model for reality; to some extent it determines life or ways of living. That is to say that Drill creates a new culture or sub-culture. It shows people life on the mean streets of London, represents it as realistically as possible, which then inspires some people to not only represent this lifestyle but compete to represent it more authentically in their own lifeworlds. Those listing to the violence represented by Drill artists may then be influenced or intimidated into crime, knife or gun violence as part of this cultural movement. Those listening to British Drill music who are not from poor social and economic backgrounds, do not sell drugs or commit crime, – perhaps white teenagers from working-class or middle-class facilities – might then buy into or be inspired by these artistic representations to live, act, behave in certain ways portrayed. A template is extracted from the streets of London and transported around neighborhoods of the UK, in the same way that a model of Drill culture was extracted from Chicago and exported to London, England.

Taken in these terms, if we ask the question, does Drill music encourage violence on the streets of Britain, then the answer would be “yes, but only to some extent”. As a “model of and for reality” then Drill music not only carries on but amplifies the kind of violence and gun culture that has always been found on the streets of London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Liverpool, etc. And lower-cost technologies are very much the cause of the amplification. It is very much the case that with new and more affordable technologies youngsters are able to generate and broadcast their own media and lower cost to potentially wider audiences – politicians may blame the media content but they would never blame the technologies themselves.

Politicians pinning the blame for gang murders and knife crime on Drill music are pointing their fingers at the effects but not the causes. In Marxist terms the ideological superstructure (musical expression) is the outcome of a deeper-rooted, social and economic base-structure. The causes should be quite clear and should have more to do with the social and economic environments, lack or wealth and resources, within which Drill music is produced rather than the music itself. At it has always been the case with Jungle Music, D&B, Hip Hop, UK Garage and Grime – genres that all contain violent language – that concerned, middle-class parents or politicians point their fingers at the music culture that the people produce rather than addressing the issues that plague most ghetto districts of Britain (low education, poor community facilities, lack of council funding, low societal esteem and high levels of drug demand, and so on). Banning UK Drill music on YouTube or stopping groups such as 67 from performing live concerts is an economic strategy and the aim is not “to stop the message getting out” but to draw this cultural movement to a halt by stunting financial prosperity and potential economic growth.

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