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MU and Black Lives In Music contact London mayor Sadiq Kahn over “Form 696 by stealth” concerns

By | Published on Monday 22 May 2023

Metropolitan Police

The UK’s Musicians’ Union and Black Lives In Music last week contacted London major Sadiq Kahn to express concerns about recent reports that police in the capital are putting pressure on venues to cancel shows based on the genre or ethnicity of the artist.

There has been criticism before, of course, that London’s Metropolitan Police have applied extra obligations on and unfairly discriminated against shows which feature certain genres or target certain audiences, with genres like grime and drill, and music fans from black communities, often the target.

That criticism previously centred on Form 696, a risk assessment document that venues and promoters were required to fill out for shows involving DJs and MCs. The original version of that form had specific questions about genre and the ethnicity of the anticipated audience which caused particular controversy. Those questions were removed in 2009, though the form continued to be used until 2017.

Under political pressure about its continued use of Form 696, the Metropolitan Police confirmed in 2017 that it would no longer use that document and instead it introduced a “voluntary partnership approach” to identify any risks or concerns associated with specific events.

However, in a recent report in The Guardian, one London club operator said that that voluntary approach was “696 by another name”.

The club is still expected to submit its own risk assessment and, where a show features artists from a certain genre, police will often informally tell the operator that they consider that show to be “high risk” and that if any incidents occur it might prompt a review of the venue’s licence. So while police aren’t actually blocking those shows, they are discouraging venues from staging them.

In the same article, an artist manager and promoter is quoted as saying: “You’re still required to fill in the form, they’ve just taken 696 off the top of it. They’ve taken away the ethnicity question, because that’s the thing they were really getting hammered for. But they’re doing it by stealth now: they know that these are black shows”.

The Guardian also put the spotlight on London shows from Digga and Fumez The Engineer that were allegedly cancelled after the intervention of the police, the latter just 20 minutes before the gig was due to start.

On his cancelled show, Fumez told the newspaper: “All I know is I was booked to perform, I was putting on a show, and I [was] told 20 minutes before that it [was] cancelled. And they haven’t given me a reason”.

“It’s like having the rug pulled from underneath your feet”, he added. “All the money that we’d spent making sure that the set was sick and everyone was there – we had people fly in from Ireland, Sweden – it was crazy. So when they just cancelled it on the spot, it was devastating”.

Confirming they had contacted Kahn about these reports, a statement from the MU and Black Lives In Music said last week: “In the past the MU have had constructive conversations about the use of Form 696 and were pleased to see the Met engage in a dialogue that ended the use of the form”.

“It’s therefore deeply concerning that claims of racial profiling of musicians have once again surfaced, and are being used to pressure venues into cancelling shows by predominantly black artists and artists who perform music of black origin”.

“Black artists still face enormous challenges, including racism and discrimination, whilst trying to pursue a career in the music industry”, the statement continued.

“Research from BLiM revealed that black music creators have experienced direct/indirect racism in the music industry, and more – 71% – have experienced racial microaggressions. 86% of all black music creators agree that there are barriers to progression. This number rises to 89% for black women and 91% for black creators who are disabled”.

“The music industry is working together to tackle these issues”, it went on, “and the recent reports about racial profiling are in direct opposition to the work that the music industry is engaged in. The MU and BLiM condemn all forms of racism, including the reductive act of racially profiling musicians and stereotyping musicians and audiences on the basis of genre”.

“Whilst we fully appreciate the Met’s role in ensuring the safety of the public”, it then stated, “the ‘voluntary partnership approach’ that was implemented to replace Form 696 is having a disproportionate and detrimental impact on the careers of black musicians and the music venues that programme these artists”.

“The MU and BLiM have asked that the current approach be revised and have requested dialogue with the mayor of London and the Met Police to a discuss an alternative approach that is fair, transparent, free from bias and does not disproportionally impact black musicians”.

Commenting on the decision to contact Kahn, MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “The MU will continue to act to tackle racism in all its forms and challenge reductive behaviours like those being perpetuated by the Met”.

“When we know that black musicians face such disproportionate barriers in live performance, as well as in their career progression, maintaining access to venues of all scales and sizes is crucial in creating development pathways”, she went on. “We are concerned that race and genre are being conflated in order to discriminate against musicians who already face significant barriers in their musical careers”.

Roger Wilson, Director Of Operations at Black Lives In Music, added: “Live music should not be used as a device for the police to criminalise the black community. Black Lives In Music are working in collaboration with the Musicians’ Union and the music industry to level the playing field of opportunity within the sector”.

He continued: “Our combined efforts to help enable black musical talent to take a step forward are under threat with the latest efforts by the Met to control promoters and venues while, effectively, placing a muzzle on the mouths of black artists. We ask the Met to review this aspect of its policing as a matter of urgency”.