This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
It's a slippery slope, directly tying enjoying live music to violence. Unless you accidentally whack someone in the face while doing a furious propellor motion with your arms to Skrillex—in which case, people should probably move out your way and maybe not speak to you actually—it's generally accepted that music and violence are two separate entities that do not logically correlate. Lyrics directly inciting violence through hate speech may be just about the only exception, and even then the lines between a true call to arms versus artistic license blur constantly. Despite this, a five-page document to try and clamp down on crime at gigs, known as Form 696, was still rolled out by London's Metropolitan Police in 2005. More than a decade later, it still exists—and yeah it's still trash, for reasons we will get into shortly.
So, why are we bringing it up today? According to a Victoria Derbyshire program investigation, aired on the BBC on Monday morning, Tory Culture Minister Matt Hancock has raised concerns with Mayor Sadiq Khan about the use of the form in London—still used across 21 boroughs—in an effort to finally get it revoked. To that end, here's a rundown of what exactly it is, and why you should give a shit.
WHAT IS IT?
"Form 696" is a risk assessment form that was first launched in October 2005 in response to a series of violent incidents at garage gigs in the early 2000s. "Two people were shot at a 'So Solid Crew' party in central London in October 2001," reads the only review of the form's efficiency, published by the new-defunct Metropolitan Police Authority in 2009. "Two people were shot in Turnmills nightclub in central London at the end of April 2003. Club promoters were asking for armed police to patrol club nights due to the fear of violence at events." After four more incidents in 2004 and 2005, the form was introduced. It's supposed to "check" the supposed danger of violence at any event, requesting the names, private addresses and phone numbers of all promoters and artists be submitted at least two weeks in advance for live shows that "predominantly features DJs or MCs performing to a recorded backing track."
The form has garnered controversy over the years as many feel as though it targets predominantly black and Asian artists—an assertion bolstered by a section that specifically asked whether there would be any ethnic minorities in attendance, as well as asking about the "music style to be played/performed (eg bashment, R&B, garage)." Those sections were removed in 2009, but the form's continued existence remains a source of contention. And, according to Victoria Derbyshire, "some police forces outside of London still ask for the ethnic makeup of the audience attending."
Although the form is technically "voluntary," many events have had applications for licences turned down after refusing to fill it in. According to the Guardian, failure to send off the form could also result in six months jail time or a £20,000 fine. And the police are within their rights to shut down any gig if they decide, purely on the basis of the form's "information", that it's going to get violent.
WHAT IS IT MEANT TO DO?
According to a statement sent to Noisey from the Met Police, "The vast majority of these events take place in a safe and secure environment, however some events can be problematic and in some cases have resulted in serious violence and disorder… To assist in managing events of this type, the Metropolitan Police Service currently uses a system that allows premises and event owners who want to hold events, or use an outside promoter, to submit an event assessment form 696 to police."
On the question of whether Form 696 is a form of racial discrimination: "The form does not target any particular group nor does it ask for the genre of music, event type, age range or demographic of the customers who attend. The form is also not for live acts; as agreed during a review of the form in 2009 by the UK Live Music Industry."
They then added, "It is extremely rare for police to advise that an event be cancelled. This would only be done if there was significant current intelligence that a serious risk to the public existed. In all cases we will try to work together with venues to mitigate any risks." In the police's own 2009 review, they outlined how they used the form to piece together intelligence about alleged gang members who may have been planning to attend gigs. Some of the shows mentioned were cancelled, ruining the nights of potential punters. One Brent event in 2009 then "passed without incident" when the police say they bolstered the door security.
WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY DO?
Well, imagine if you had to fill out a meticulously detailed form two weeks in advance every time you wanted to to do your job. The form, which was eight pages when it was launched and was shortened to five in 2009, has made it extremely difficult for grime and garage MCs to perform over the years, with promoters having to fill it out—often without the artist's knowledge—sometimes leading to gigs being shut down at the last minute with little to no explanation.
Giggs, for instance, has repeatedly had his performances cancelled by the Met. In 2010, his entire UK tour was pulled, due to "concerns about potential risk to the event, if it took place." Similarly, in 2014, a Just Jam concert that was due to take place at the Barbican was cancelled "on the grounds of public safety following dialogue with the City of London Police." And these examples are just the tip of an iceberg that has been going on for years.
WHAT DO THE ARTISTS THEMSELVES THINK?
That it sucks, obviously. In 2014, we released a documentary called The Police Vs Grime Music about the impact the form was having on the grime scene in London. In the words of doc host and artist JME: "Where is the problem? What is the reason that shows get shut down? What do we have to do to keep shows going ahead? What do we know? How do we find out? Who the fuck do we speak to?"
A year prior, after another one of Giggs' London shows was cancelled, he released a video that directly addressed the police, saying, "I'm not even going to lie. Great work, man. Genius. Beautiful. Usually you don't even give it the go-ahead, you cut it off straight away, but actually making me think it was going to happen and cancelling it a few days before… loved it," he then added, "You're always going to slow me down, you've been slowing me down, but I'm still here."
Most recently, on Victoria Derbyshire, grime MC P Money spelled it out: "In my experience, when it's normally a night where there is predominantly black people, without fail, 696 comes out of nowhere and we have to do it. When I've done shows where it's not predominantly black people, I don't have to do the form… to me, it does feel like a race thing."
WHAT NOW? WHAT CAN WE ACTUALLY DO?
To kick things off, Culture Minister Hancock has written a letter to London Mayor Sadiq Khan calling for him to address Form 696. In the letter, he writes, "Through meetings my team have held with a range of music industry representatives, it is clear that the way in which the form is being used can single out certain genres of music and may be deterring the staging of some events."
He then goes on to describe the importance of grime to the community, likening it to early punk, before adding, "I would like to understand whether you think form 696 is serving a justified purpose and working well, or whether there is a case for changing the current system.￼"
But what can we do, specifically, other than wait around for Hancock to have a vague chat with Khan, in which they both agree Form 696 is "bad"? It's hard to tell, considering there are so many roadblocks, and if you ring the Mayor's Office For Policing and Crime (the body that ultimately decides whether the legislation can be revoked) you get directed to a number which then directs you to an email address that tells you they will respond in 20 days—but what then?
The last time Form 696 was reviewed in 2009, a group of music promoters, representatives from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Live Music Forum, and Musicians Union had a meeting with the City of London Police and the Trident IAG. With that in mind, moving forward, it would be best to write to DCMS, organization UK Music and the Musicians Union (particularly if you're a union member and musician), urging them to kickstart a brand new campaign. The police can keep people safe without seeming to only pick on a handful of genres in the process. It's time to end Form 696.
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