There’s A Problem With Music Journalism That Needs To Be Addressed

Words: Jesse Bernard

Resident Advisor, arguably the biggest hub for electronic music globally, was recently caught up in a storm regarding a review written about Enzo Siragusa’s set at Gottwood Festival earlier this month. The festival, which celebrated its tenth year, is held annually at the plush Carreglwyd Estate in Wales—a far cry from the usual abodes of jungle music. The issue in question was over a statement made about Siragusa’s set, which the writer said “felt like an authentic revival of jungle’s rowdy energy, albeit without the annoying MCs or threat of being mugged on the way back to the tube station.” 🚩🚩🚩

While there’s a lot to unpack with that statement alone, it reveals a widespread issue about the nature of underground music and how British media reports and documents these scenes. More importantly, it reignites the conversation regarding who gets to tell these stories. There was a time when subcultures and tribes were much more clearly defined, separated by fashion, music tastes and where one spent their Friday nights. The rudeboys would most likely be in their tracksuits all stood around one phone, taking it in turns to attempt their best sixteen bar before passing the baton off to the next man. The emos were straightening their hair and wearing thick eyeliner while Paramore played in the background.

It wasn’t as easy to dip in and out of these subcultures due to the practices, language and rituals that one would have to be fluent in before gaining entry. Of course, an indie kid likely would’ve been interested in grime but the chances are it was from afar, meaning that they would often miss out on the intricacies and nuances of the culture that aren’t often seen but felt. In recent years, since the rise of social media and the homogenisation of fashion and music cultures, niche interests and tribes have become far less entrenched. We have accessibility and technology to thank, but as popular music in the UK has been led by UK rap, grime and Afro-centric sounds, tribes have been replaced by brands, making it much more difficult to see where those lines have been drawn.

In a recent interview with Nylon, Ivie Ani, Okayplayer’s music editor, said: “Speaking the same cultural language as someone is not mandatory, but it is important, because things get lost in translation and it’s easier to document the story of someone who is from your culture.” The RA review failed to recognise the importance of emcees in jungle and the integral role they play in the MC-DJ tandem of sound system culture. The loaded, racist statement that followed which suggested that the resurgence of jungle meant that you were less likely to get mugged leaving a rave also presents the space as an inherently violent one—considering jungle is a black-led genre.

The suggestion that jungle was experiencing a resurgence, much like grime a few years ago, erases and ignores the efforts made by those deeply entrenched in the underground spaces to keep these scenes alive. As much as black British culture rests in the underground, one cannot simply dip in and out, handpicking what they feel is worthy of being documented. That is far from an honest and accurate portrayal of a scene and instead reinforces subjective opinions based on the lens through which a sound like jungle, grime or even drill is observed.

It goes much deeper than just hiring more black writers to tell these stories but those who are fluent in the cultural language of said scene. It requires years of being deeply engrossed in all elements and levels of a subculture like jungle, and it’s part of the reason why British music media often gets it wrong about underground scenes. When they first emerged, they were documented in ways that felt more like an observation of a social experiment, but eventually the majority moved one while others stayed the course, hoping to see what new horizons they’d stumble upon. If you missed what was happening during grime between 2008-2014, you have to ask yourself whether you are the best person to document this culture. But in a time where opportunities in music media are becoming increasingly scarce, not many are afforded the privilege to pass on those opportunities. However, it creates a lasting effect on how these cultures are perceived, particularly if a reload is misinterpreted as a technical error.

You don’t have to have been there to document, but what is required when writing about a subculture that’s integral to the identity of a marginalised group, is a level of care, research and understanding of cultural norms and traditions. A safe barometer to use would be that if you have to use Urban Dictionary to find out what a word means—especially in 2019—then perhaps you’re just not right for the job.

Posted on June 19, 2019