Conservative politics is driving Britain’s youth culture into the ground

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For years, London’s relationship with youth culture has been fraught with battles between the state and active-minded young individuals, fighting to protect their right to creativity. From graffiti artists to jazz musicians, from feminist campaigners to party promoters, each and every strand of youth culture has suffered at the hands of political reshuffle. With funding quickly dropping away, a major destruction of a whole host of community programs, looking to animate, educate and engage young people, is under way.

Recently, VICE paid homage to the world of grime with a documentary looking into the police’s role in instating risk assessments via Form 696 on a number of urban events throughout the UK. Just Jam was cancelled only hours before artists were set to take the stage; it’s not only promoters suffering at the hands of Form 696, but also fans and musicians. Giggs is someone who’s felt the brunt of this. As a rapper, he’s had a number of tours cancelled based on the anticipation of danger to performers and audiences – but the Met Police does not offer any true kind of clarification into the reasoning behind it.

As the battle for space in London grows, its youth culture especially is finding itself targeted.

After the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, many promoters were forced into finding legislated premises to put together nights, but with this legislation came a troubling relationship between politics and place. The pitiful thing about London today is the landlord and property developers don’t see culture as such, or if they do, that does not constitute an obstacle for them to remove it and sell the space to the highest buyer.

It’s this constant battle that many promoters today have to face: on the one hand, there is the risk of being troubled by the police; and on the other, many promoters and clubs are suffering at the hands of property developers and corporate franchises. As the battle for space in London grows, its youth culture especially is finding itself targeted.

Before starting university, I worked at Cable in London Bridge – a worldwide renowned club, promoting all different kinds of electronic music. It was a unique space for young people of all different backgrounds to promote their sub-culture to audiences and help artists make money from their work.

Cable started as a project with Network Rail to negotiate the re-use of a series of abandoned tunnels. Through Cable’s redevelopment, the tunnels could become spaces for tenants to start a series of creative enterprises.

Often youth culture and landlords can work together to create culture in a space – to integrate fringes of the community and channel incredible development in music, art and culture. But too often this view isn’t put into practice.

On 1st May 2013, a two-year legal battle with Network Rail ended with bailiffs taking occupation of the presence under warrant from a compulsory purchase order. After plans for proposed developments to London Bridge were submitted, Southwark council chose Cable out of five possible options as a place to fit an emergency staircase – demolishing the space, and the community it had created.

It’s this story that’s happening across many of London’s social spaces; with the Turnmills in 200, The End and London Astoria in 2009, and Madame Jojo’s, The Joiners Arms, The Blind Tiger and The Basement Club all in 2014. 

I want a London that is integrated with its youth culture – recognising its possibilities and its lust to help bring individuals out of their bedrooms and into social spaces where they can find and develop passions that might turn into artistic careers. 

As the negotiation for space in our cities get tougher, so too does the battle not to loose the cultural cornerstones that have made this city what it is over the last 50 years. Just as we wouldn’t do away with The Beatles’ old gig venues, neither should we want to remove the cultural hotspots for those groups that are just finding their feet in Britain today. It’s youth culture that has been at the helm of the British identity for years, from punk, right through to acid house; and it is music that dictates youth culture’s societal relationship with politics.

Ryan Bassil, a journalist for Vice’s music channel Noisey, recognises that “London is heaving with young artists that refuse conventional wisdom and the cyclical churn of genre and style. For the first time in ages, it feels as if British music is not a competition between private school kids to see who can sign a 6-figure deal with Universal first, but bristling with exciting scenes on suburban streets.”

But if we shut down these developments, how are we ever to recognise the power and ability of young people to make something good from relatively nothing?

One organisation recognising just this is Steez, a community based organisation in South-East London, bringing together and integrating musicians, illustrators and other creative individuals. Through a series of nights, and other projects, Steez has been able to build a framework of musicians that support it, but it’s these kinds of models that have to be put in place by young people, with very scarce resources, because of an absence of recognition from elsewhere.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that “a high-concentration of artists in a small area breeds creativity,” especially when young individuals are using it to make a critical comment on the politics of their local environment. “The future is a mirage, but music is a way to switch tracks away from the grim determinism of youth ennui,” says Ryan.

So how do we integrate youth culture into the wider society? There’s no way of denying that London is struggling from a housing shortage – but if we close, wreck, destroy and abandon all the projects looking to make London’s neighbourhoods more exciting and inventive in the process, then what will become of neighbourhoods?

I don’t want London’s high streets to become washed up centres of commercial businesses and gentrified bars where a gin and tonic is the same price as the hourly working wage. I want a London that is integrated with its youth culture – recognising its possibilities and its lust to help bring individuals out of their bedrooms and into social spaces where they can find and develop passions that might turn into artistic careers. The political class’ constant refusal to tackle the issue only adds to any sense of distance and disillusion already being felt in our local neighbourhoods.

Surely there are better models for town planning rather than the homogenised neighbourhoods currently being produced by property developers? If we work together with politicians, youth workers, local councils and youth organisations, couldn’t we be sitting on a goldmine of undiscovered talent and an innovative way of harbouring opportunities in our local community?

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