Musicism in Birmingham

Musicism in Birmingham

Darren Roberts is conducting research at the University of Birmingham as part of a PhD project on the music industry in Birmingham. He is  looking for participants to get involved in the project and offer their views and tales of their experiences, if anyone is interested in finding out more please feel free to contact Darren at

A condensed excerpt of his paper has been posted below.

HYPERLINK “” 2. Musicism
n. Discrimination against a person or a genre based on one’s unfavourable taste towards that genre of music. (

The demonization of certain groups and types of music within Britain is not new; in fact, it has provided a source of control for those in power since the middle-ages.

A more recent example, however, of an attempt by the British Government to enforce order based on discrimination against a particular genre of music was the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in 1994 – a section of which was entitled ‘Powers in relation to raves’ (S. 63).

The Bill was created by the, then Conservative, government in order to protect certain communities within rural areas of Britain from the supposed ‘destruction and distress’ caused by ravers and their music. The Bill defined a rave as an ‘open air gathering of 100 or more people at which amplified music is played during the night’ – a definition which, to be fair, could be applied to an outdoor church ceremony, except that the Bill conveniently also defines ‘music’ as ‘sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission [inclusion] of a succession of repetitive beats’ – a definition which in reality only covers dance music. Essentially, the Bill selects and discriminates against a particular type of music and a set of practices and makes them illegal in certain places. It did this in order to keep a specific set of people – middle-class, non-raving, rural, Tories – happy.

Just as the Government attempted to protect the rural idyll from the disruptive sounds of raves in the 90s, attempts are continually made within Birmingham and other British cities to maintain the social, economic and political order of the city from the possible disruptions caused by its inhabitants. One of the primary targets of attempts by Birmingham’s authorities to safeguard the order of the city is the urban gangs that exist across a number of the central wards. Since their emergence in the 1980s, urban gangs in Birmingham have been at the centre of a number of crises and controversies in which their alleged offences are perceived to threaten the delicate facade of harmony that exists in the city.

In November last year (2009) the hip-hop musical  HYPERLINK “” 1Day (directed by Penny Woolcock), which depicts a day in the life of a Birmingham drug dealer and the gang warfare that ensues when a deal goes wrong, was considered – on the basis of warnings from the local police – to pose such a serious threat to the security of Birmingham’s cinemas, that scheduled screenings were canceled and the film was banned across all major and independent cinemas not only in Birmingham but across the West Midlands region.

The film was released nationally and shown in cinemas across the country, but failed to reach audiences in Birmingham – the place of its inception and production.
Despite claiming that ‘no formal discussions have taken place about the film between West Midlands Police and the cinema companies’ (Channel4 News, 03/11/2009), action was taken by the police on a number of occasions to limit or prevent the film being shown.

These claims are contrary to a statement made by Jai Bhatia, General Manager at Birmingham’s Vue Cinema in a radio interview with BRMB.

“Vue Cinemas has made the decision to not screen 1 Day at Birmingham Star City.  Following discussions with The West Midlands Police it has become increasingly clear that there are potential security issues surrounding screening the film.  The safety of our staff and customers is of the utmost importance to us, which is why we have made this decision.” (BRMB online, 2009)

According to several reports, this advice was given to cinemas in Birmingham by an individual officer who was said to have done so because of ‘his own private concerns’. This so-called ‘rogue officer’ supposedly took it upon himself to ‘speak to the manager of the Odeon in Birmingham and advised him, in a personal capacity, against screening 1 Day’ (The Independent, 30/10/2009).

Crucially however, this advice was given whilst the officer was both in uniform and on duty. Following the police visit to the Odeon, ‘the manager took the advice, word spread and other multiplexes followed’.

The film was banned despite the fact that (1) it provided an excellent opportunity to highlight, develop and showcase the extraordinary abundance of talent within Birmingham’s black and urban music community (2) one local police officer actually said to the film’s director “Why don’t you film for six months, the crime rate went down when you were last here” (BBC News, 29/10/2009) and (3) the fact that the West Midlands police Superintendent, Suzzette Davenport admitted in a statement that:

“We did not feel and have no intelligence to suggest the film does or will increase gang-related tensions or pose a risk to the people of the West Midlands, whose safety and security will always be our priority.” (Channel4 News, 03/11/2009)

This is by no means an attempt to deny the real threat posed by gangs in Birmingham, however, the perceived association made by the city’s authorities between certain types of music and gangs has led to a situation where individuals from within the black and urban music scene are left without a regular, commercially viable or even safe platform for their music within the city.

Darren Roberts


One response to “Musicism in Birmingham

  1. Interesting article. Bloody Tories! Now they are back in we’re gonna see more of that bullshit. Nice job Darren – I look forward to reading more.

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