View From The Side: Why Are the Police Banning Music?


Last week Croydon bar owner Roy Seda leaked details of a strange communication he’d received from the Metropolitan Police. According to the Croydon Advertiser, Sgt Michael Emery had informed Seda via email that bashment (a Jamaican term that, interpreted loosely, can pretty much cover the majority of club music produced by the island in the last 30 years) is a genre that Croydon licensing board consider “unacceptable.” Sgt Emery was saddened to report that his “office has received information that you are not complying with acceptable forms of music.” He went on to point out that if Seda refused to ‘comply’, his license would be revoked. Seda, a former solicitor and ex-special constable, has reported that this is just one chapter in a long quest by Croydon police to ban bashment, a style they believe encourages anti-social behaviour. Seda has gone on to claim that he is not the only Croydon premise holder to be dealing with this clamp down, and that Her Majesties Finest have gone as far as sending in undercover rave squad to take surreptitious notes on what the DJs are spinning. The merest hint of Sean Paul and it’s curtains.

This is a ludicrous situation on so many fronts it’s hard to know where to start. The singling out of global pop star Sean Paul (mentioned specifically in minutes from a police meeting) as likely to cause a riot is bewildering. It’s tempting to assume the plod alighted on his name after running a Family Fortunes style poll of ‘Bashment Artists We Have Heard Of’. Sean Paul's hits include I'm Still In Love With You (he fancies a girl), Like Glue (he fancies lots of girls), Deport Them (he doesn't fancy some girls), Temperature (he fancies all the girls), recent Fuse ODG collaboration Dangerous Love (have a guess) and- bit naughty this – Give Me the Light (He's partial to jazz cigarettes). On a rabble rousing scale of one to ten, where one equals The Winifred Kids Choir singing Grandma I Love You and ten equals Tempa T dueting with GG Allin, I'm gonna give Sean Paul a solid 5; lively, but not likely to cause offense if played at your Aunt's wedding. What kind of maniac thinks that Sean Paul starts riots?   

Although that mohican is pretty criminal

I can only guess that it's the same kind of maniac who thinks that any group of Jamaicans gathering and enjoying themself to Jamaican music is, essentially a riot. Ruling that bashment causes anti-social behavior involves two major assumptions on the part of the police; 1) all bashment music is violent in nature and 2) violent music causes violence. Not only is point two debatable, it's entirely irrelevent because point one is wrong. The term bashment itself is remarkably nebulous. Aside from being colloquially interchangable with dancehall or ragga, it would take several West Indians, a musicologist and half a litre of rum to put together anything close to an accurate description of the genre. Roughly it means electronically produced Jamaican club music that draws it’s rhythm from reggae – but it can just as easily mean ‘a party’. Bashment’s roots go back to Sleng Teng, a track made by Prince Jammy in 1985 that is commonly considered to be the first entirely synthesised reggae track. Since then the term has grown to cover an infinite number of sounds; anything from the sweetest love tunes, to wry social commentary, to sunkissed party pop, to bass heavy badman tracks– outside of a shared language there's a sea of difference between these tunes. Lumping all of this together makes as much sense as saying The Smiths sound like Nickelback, then banning them both.

The punitive stance of the police seems to exist in convenient and belligerent cultural ignorance. As with ska, reggae and dub before it, bashment has a huge influence on British and American pop music. There are numerous songs on the Radio 1 playlist that explicitly draw on the sound's electronic pulse; Rihanna’s Work, AlunaGeorge’s I’m In Control, J Hus's Friendly and everything Major Lazer have ever put out (including their current chart botherer featuring Katy B) all contain bashment aesthetics. Justin Bieber’s recent global smash Sorry was produced by Skrillex, an artist who makes no bones about building a career from repurposing bashment rhythms and basslines. Sorry is a quintessential bashment jam, so theoretically the Met are banning Justin Bieber from being played in Croydon – maybe if they’d framed the ban this way they would have had far fewer objections…

Clearly the kind of tune that starts knife fights. 

But the Met clearly aren’t banning Bieber – they’re not banning him, because with the magical sleight of hand we know as white privilege, if you stick a Caucasian singer on a bashment rhythm, suddenly it’s not bashment anymore; it’s pop. This leads to the bizarre scenario where a bar over the road from Seda’s could play a set of Major Lazer tracks at full volume – and quite probably would, but if one of Seda's DJs put on a Jamaican original, the venue would be closed quicker than you can say Form 696. 

This brings us to the root of the problem – this move by the Met is part of a long narrative of racial profiling that considers huge swathes of black culture inherently criminal. From grime shows being cancelled at the last minute to performers having their tours banned, there has been a long, quietly run war of attrition between the constabulary and black British culture. It's all the more galling when the plod insist on doing that 'look we're a lorra lorra laughs' dance at every single Notting Hill Carnival. Maybe they want to bring a bit of that attitude into the day to day running of London?

For many people in the UK, the thought of authorities banning music seems like the plot of a particularly implausible episode of Dr Who, or the sort of thing we’d use to demonstrate ISIS barbarity. For black British people it’s been the norm since the Windrush landed. Considering the last major British musical export was dubstep – an export that has drummed up millions of quid in record sales, club shows and world tours – and considering that dubstep was largely created when Croydon based producers fused Jamaican space and bass with rave rhythms, a ban on playing Jamaican music in the borough is not just ethically bullshit, it's economically incompetent. For a group apparently committed to keeping the peace, the old bill appear to be going out of their way to stir up grievances. The fact is, they’re doing far more to kick off a riot than a Sean Paul song will ever manage.