Pin It

It’s no surprise that drill reflects young black men’s reality

GAIKA is Dazed political editor-at-large – in an essay called Savages he looks at the Met Police’s futile drill ban in a global context


In a legal first, the police have obtained a court order effectively banning drill music being made without their permission. This is a nonsensical act of censorship that once again seeks to weaponise, criminalise and ultimately sensationalise black expression. This action is not about community or the prevention of violence, it is an attempt to demonstrate control played purely for the tabloid headlines. It is futile in the face of a systematic hypocrisy no one wants to discuss.

The naked truth is that in the western political subconscious, the non-white people of the world are dispensable. We must be stopped searched and contained. We must be civilised by force for our own safety or parted from our resources indefinitely. We must be identified as “savages” and destroyed if it is convenient to do so. Urban youth violence is reported in the popular right wing press with the hazy detail and zeal of a heady war report.

The media language used to describe the actors in gang-related conflicts is strikingly similar to that used to describe and dehumanise enemy combatants, as if their behaviour is rootless, random and beyond solution. Again, the public imagination is manipulated to service neoliberal interests. Serious considerations of economic and historic factors are quickly swept aside for a deliberately glib focus on surface expressions of pain found in music, because it’s convenient for the powerful to do so from a safe distance. The gradient of blame runs inverse to gradient of power.

It makes for salacious point and clickery, but is victim-blaming at its most shameful. It drives profit for these newspapers, adds a layer of justification for gentrification, and supports an anti-immigration narrative that has been used to buttress conservative power for the last 50 years. It’s true, young people are killing and dying on our streets for nothing, but sensationalised reportage and kneejerk responses do nothing to address the underlying problem – the lack of coherent functional social contract between young urban males living at the fringes, and those that hope to successfully govern them. Ethnic or class-based self-interest is ultimately futile, there is no validity in the choice to ignore or vilify the nihilism expressed in drill (or any) music while simultaneously and supporting the mass murder of civilians, in war for profit.

“It’s true, young people are killing and dying on our streets for nothing, but sensationalised reportage and kneejerk responses do nothing”

Both here and in the United States, black males are perceived to be more likely to be the victims of violent crime and the perpetrators of violent crime than any other group. It’s no surprise that our art often reflects that sentiment directly. We may view ourselves as warriors but there are no spoils of war visibly within our reach, and there never were. This deliberate and constant cycle of conflict, starting with the scramble for Africa, enriches a few and impoverishes many. It has the precise purpose of propagating our subjugation through calculated division. It is part of larger class struggle which only deepens as wealth disparity grows whose subtleties when applied to us acutely, have many names; Jim Crow, redlining, high-density housing, acute unemployment, the war on drugs, police brutality, unfair sentencing, juvenile criminalisation, apartheid, slavery. As that trauma travels it makes landfall in our lived reality. It is exacerbated by the alienation experienced by all people living on the other side of the tracks.

The examination of imperialism as “the method of competition between state capitalist trusts” is as true today as it was in the 1920s. Hydra-like conflicts driven by a toxic sludge of thinly veiled corporate interest and unilateralist foreign policy engulf the world in cycles of arms trading, war, regime change, terror and counter terror. Images of which are beamed into our consciousness 24 hours a day. Gunboat diplomacy goes hand in hand with neoliberal economic policy. Ultimately greed and selfishness have lead to wealth disparity so wide that it renders the notion of a coherent national interest in which every citizen has an equal stake entirely false.

“We survive and wear the scars in our art with a perverse pride that makes a man feel momentarily secure”

Public behaviour and the culture that springs from it is in thrall to the policy that is thrust upon it, and this is felt most acutely by those who perceive themselves as having the least amount of security. Corruption at the top leads to destruction at the bottom.

With no functioning social contract in place, many young men (of all races) participate in this circus of destruction in mimic of its creators. We survive and wear the scars in our art with a perverse pride that makes a man feel momentarily secure. Drill is the product of a looted world that wasn’t designed with us in mind, the result of much more than just a few angry kids on estates, it’s the result of centuries of reality.

Read GAIKA’s Spectacular Empire here.