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Wireless Festival's New 'No Swearing' Restrictions Are So Shallow

A neighbourhood group wanted the London festival moved to another location, but the compromise they've reached instead is ridiculous.

by Tshepo Mokoena
26 October 2018, 1:36am

Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, at Wireless 2018 (All photos by Jordan Hughes via PR)

In this week’s latest ‘hahaha we are surely living in a simulation’ news, one of London’s city councils hopes Wireless Festival performers won’t “sing or play any vulgar, obscene or banned songs” during their sets. But Wireless is basically a rap festival. And rap, as even your local “rap? More like c-rap!” racist knows, is partial to quite a bit of profanity. So I’m afraid this condition – one of many that Live Nation agreed to, after a local group campaigned to have the festival location moved out of their neighbourhood entirely – is absolutely not going to be met.

Here’s what we know so far. Late on Tuesday night, the Evening Standard reported that Wireless would be allowed to stay in north London’s Finsbury Park for another year. Only, to do so, Live Nation and its UK-specific promotion subsidiary Festival Republic, had to agree to a load of frankly incredible conditions. Haringey Council, who license the festival, have set out that in 2019, Wireless Festival “shall reasonably request that performers do not:

– sing or play any vulgar, obscene or banned songs;

– carry out indecent acts;

– make any vulgar gestures, actions or remarks during the performance, or at any point whilst using an amplification device, including the use of expletives.”

Also, the festival had agreed to “ensure that the attire of the performers do not offend the general public, for example attire which exposes the groin, private parts, buttock or female breast(s).” More reasonably, the document also added that “the Licensee” – ie: Wireless – “shall reasonably request that the songs/acts performed do not offend or denigrate any race or religion, demean, humiliate or insult the dignity of any section of the community.”

It is with deep regret that I now find myself… feeling sympathy… for Wireless, a festival where a 17-year-old once enjoyed what looked like their first-ever joint while trying to chirpse my then-24-year-old friend both in person and then on Instagram?? We’re talking about a festival that, like so many others, caters to a “VIP experience.” In past years, the bulk of paying customers have squished themselves behind a barrier that creates a yawning distance between them and the main stage. “Down by the front” is now called a “viewing area,” for people willing to pay extra for it. And yet. Even taking all of this into account, I don’t think it’s totally ridiculous to pause, squint a little and consider that maybe treating a festival like an insolent teen isn’t the solution to the root problems here. I’m going to say something that The Friends of Finsbury Park, who’ve been campaigning to have Wireless moved from its current site for years, might find controversial: teens will be teens. Moving a festival won’t suddenly make the societal root causes of your complaints disappear.

On this very site, two years ago, we wrote about how The Friends of Finsbury Park wanted us to go back to the good old Victorian days and do away with Wireless. “The Victorians passed legislation to form Finsbury Park for the health and enjoyment of the inhabitants of North London,” said the group’s solicitor at the time, “so it is ironic that in what might be thought of as a more civilised age, the Council is now seeking unlawfully to close large sections of the Park off in the high summer at just the time when green space-deprived Londoners would want to use the Park.” The festival went on anyway, that year, and for the two years after that. The Finsbury Park residents’ line received 70 complaints over the phone during last year’s three-day event, according to notes on the discussion that led to 2019’s new agreement.

Singer Mabel performing at Wireless festival 2018
Mabel, at Wireless 2018

And so this year, The Friends doubled down. They crowdfunded to cover the legal costs for an application calling on Haringey Council to revoke Wireless’ license (ie: their right to throw the festival in the north London park). As residents in the area, their main complaints revolved around stuff like the noise, “aggressive behaviour” (can anyone else hear that racial dogwhistle?), people drinking in the street during and after the festival and alleged drug dealing. One resident even gave the Standard a quite detailed description of someone pooing on their property after the festival, adding: “I love the diversity of Finsbury Park, I like it to be a bit edgy” – there’s a double dogwhistle for you there, too. “But it’s not pleasant when your street becomes a public toilet.”

So look, three issues are clashing head-on here. You have people wanting some peace and quiet in one of the biggest cities in the world, which is fair enough. That’s colliding with a weird censorship creep that smacks of Tipper Gore-era pearl-clutching and an attempt to moralise something as broad and amorphous as an entire festival line-up and every one of its 40,000+ attendees. The final strand is more subtle: a racial undertone, being couched in vague language. All three muddy an issue that, ultimately, doesn’t have a tidy solution. The first is the most reasonable. The second, which assumes children’s tender ears will be forever soiled by the distant wafting sound of Rae Sremmurd or whatever, is a bit more shaky. The third ought to just be said with people’s chests. Wireless is a very black event, with a rap, hip-hop and grime-heavy lineup. If people’s issues are ‘these negroes being loud and scary in my area,’ they should just be honest enough to say so and to then deal with the consequences of doing so.

But this is all superficial. Trying to stop artists from saying “bitch” or “nigga” won’t unpack why those words can be both harmful and affectionate, depending on the context. It won’t help those artists’ fans understand the line crossed between ‘just singing along’ and imbibing misogynistic ideas about women as objects. Banning “female breasts” won’t dig into why women’s bodies are so fundamentally sexualised and how much that constricts and damages us. It won’t even top extremely basic, Insta-white-feminism #freethenipple activism. And complaining about people allegedly selling drugs doesn’t tackle the mess of law enforcement, rather than our health services, being on the frontline of a so-called war on drugs.

The Friends of Finsbury Park have legitimate concerns (I mean, besides stuff like ‘you can’t give the finger on stage’) but have to go deeper if they want to make a long-lasting, positive impact on their community. Because getting rid of Wireless festival won’t magically delete systemic problems with deprivation or wanting to drink so much you black out or women being reduced to inherently sinful body parts or language wielded as a weapon against marginalised communities. Anyway, I’d better go see what other delights the news cycle has dredged up in the time it’s taken to write this. There’ll surely be something even more absurd breaking at any moment.

You can find Tshepo on Twitter, where she just learned about that American woman who shot a goat in Scotland – that's the new news now.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.