Features

Why did the City Of London Police cancel the Just Jam event at the Barbican?

By Josh Hall

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This afternoon East London photographers and web TV hosts Tim And Barry announced the cancellation of their highly anticipated Just Jam event following “concerns raised by the City of London police". Noisey was the media partner of this event.

The pair, noted for their work with grime artists, had curated an extraordinary lineup for the show, including Syrian dabke singer Omar Souleyman, a grime set from JME, Big Narstie, and Preditah, Mount Kimbie, and an appearance from footwork pioneer RP Boo.

But the Barbican, the venue where the event was due to be held this Saturday, said that they had decided to cancel the show “on the grounds of public safety following dialogue with the City of London police.” A spokesperson said: “As a responsible public venue we have to take police advice seriously and consider the safety of audience members, artists, and our staff.”

The Barbican’s statement sounds remarkably like the one that the City of London Police gave me over the phone. “It’s a decision made by The Barbican as a responsible venue,” the spokesperson told me. “We did raise concerns with them about public safety, and that’s one of the reasons why they’ve cancelled it.” The spokesperson wouldn’t specify what those concerns were and, several phone calls later, they haven’t been able to provide anyone with knowledge of the event for comment.

Tim And Barry, meanwhile, seem baffled by the cancellation. “We wanted to put on an evening celebrating a diverse range of electronic music and art,” they said, “and we are very disappointed that concerns raised by the City of London Police mean that the event has been called off.

“We’re struggling to understand why this has happened and will try to start a dialogue with the police so we can discuss whatever issues they have with Just Jam at The Barbican.”

Nobody quite seems to know what the reasons for the cancellation are. According to a tweet from JME, the police said: “We have intelligence to assume a major incident was planned to take place at the event that was a risk to public safety.” The City of London Police didn’t have anyone available for comment by the time this article was published, and their spokesperson seemed confused as to where that quote might have come from, but they did release a statement in which they cited the fact that “alcohol would be on sale at an event which would be allowing entry to anyone aged 16 or over” along with “worries about the lack of adequate measures in place to address potential issues that might arise, including overcrowding if more people decide to attend than the venue could cater for.”

Needless to say, the police don’t seem to be concerned about these issues at the Barbican on any other night of the year. There are no age limits on attendance at Friday’s show, for example, at which violinist Maxim Vengerov will perform Beethoven – and the bar will presumably be serving alcohol then, as it does every other night. Nor are they worried about the hundreds of 16+ gigs that go on across central London every week. As for overcrowding, the Barbican is a well-established venue that deals with sold out crowds on a weekly basis. There were still tickets available for the Just Jam event when it was cancelled.

But London authorities have a long history of forcing the cancellation of events featuring grime artists. Towards the end of 2007 the Metropolitan Police began rolling out Form 696, a now-notorious ‘risk assessment’ document that requires promoters to provide details of their events to the police at least two weeks before an event goes ahead. The form drew particular criticism for demanding a breakdown of the ethnic groups expected to attend – a move that many saw as an attempt on the part of the Met to ethnically profile clubbers.

Form 696 is widely considered to be one of the key factors in the restriction of grime nights in the capital. The Met came under pressure from groups including musicians’ rights organisation UK Music, whose head Feargal Sharkey gave evidence in opposition to Form 696 to a group of MPs in 2008, and the requirement for an ethnic breakdown was eventually removed. David Isles, a Detective Superintendent at the Met’s Clubs and Vice unit, told the BBC that Form 696 was not about targeting promoters. The Met, he said, wants to work with promoters, agents, and venues “to come up with solutions, not to shut events down. That is the last resort, and we would only ever do that when the threat level is so high that no means of intervention could prevent someone from becoming a victim of violence.”

Are we to assume, then, that there was an immediate threat of violence at the Barbican this Saturday? Either way, Form 696 is still in use, and there remain concerns that it is being used to single out predominantly black and Asian genres. In 2012, for example, the Guardian reported that 18 performers, along with a group of young charity work experience students, had been searched for weapons at a “major urban event at a mainstream live venue.” On other occasions promoters have been told that they must lay on extra security at their own cost or their events may be cancelled.

Souleyman, meanwhile, was the victim of similar circumstances in August last year, when he was forced to cancel an appearance at the Stockholm Music & Arts Festival after Swedish authorities denied him a visa. According to a statement from Way Out West, another Swedish festival at which Souleyman did eventually appear, the artist was refused entry “on the grounds that Sweden does not admit Syrian citizens to the country at the moment. The reason behind this was that they believed the risk of him applying for a residence permit in Sweden was too high.”

It seems unlikely that the City of London Police were concerned about Souleyman’s wedding songs starting a riot in the Barbican Hall. Similarly, Mount Kimbie aren’t really known for causing public order situations. Just Jam’s cancellation seems to be the latest victim of the police’s mistrust of black and Asian music – a mistrust that many will read as a form of institutionalised racism. Just Jam’s cancellation seems to be evidence that, however the Met spin things like Form 696, the police are still limiting black and Asian artists’ access to venues – even when those venues are as firmly established as the Barbican.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshAJHall