Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ghetts at the Barbican Centre, Secret Cinema's Secret Gig.

Last week the Met unceremoniously cancelled the Barbican Centre's Just Jam grime festival because they don't trust young black Londoners not to stab or shoot each other. Something had to be done. Someone had to step up to the plate. Someone had to take a stand and show everyone that the Barbican isn't just the preserve of middle-class, white Guardian readers.  And that someone was.... Secret Cinema?!

Yes, Secret Cinema, purveyors of cinema 'events' that currently cost £53 a head to wander around a tarted up Central London ruin and pay over the odds for rubbish cocktails and suspicious smelling schnitzel.  Oh well, I suppose you take your revolutionaries where you can find them. An email went out on Sunday evening from them promising their first 'Secret Gig' at, as is their wont, a location to be determined. Secret Cinema aren't exactly the most urban youth orientated organisation, so I expected some morose looking dude on a stool with an acoustic guitar, or perhaps a willowy pale girl straight out of Cambridge singing melancholy rubbish.

What they actually served us up with Ghetts, a young south London grime artist with a bevvy of tunes about fucking over various institutions, angrily rapped over a booming bass beat.  The secret location?  Right in the middle of the Barbican complex, sandwiched between the pond and St Giles-without-Cripplegate. I turned up early when there were more police than spectators, three cops engaged in a  tense conversation with Secret Cinema's organiser, Fabian Riggal.

You can't do this, it's going to be mayhem!” the officer sternly told Fabien. “You just can't turn up in a residential area and hold a concert without authorisation!"  Fabien justified himself by saying that the London youth deserve an opportunity to hear their own music in what purports to be an inclusive cultural centre, and that this was a protest against the cancellation of the festival.  The police, looking faintly dumbfounded that he was even trying to do this, demanded to know how many people were going to show up.  To be fair it's a good question, stuff like this spreads like wildfire on social media, and Secret Cinema's things are usually popular.  Fabien dodged the question, probably terrified that thousands might show up.

An Inspector was called and as the red-scarfed crowd trickled in so did more police in Land Rovers and on bicycles.  The atmosphere was pretty tense.  But with a promise that the sound would be kept low Ghetts took the stage. “Let's make some fucking noise!” he yelled, before launching into the first of the four-ish songs he managed to play. Although Ghetts is clearly on board with the maxim “fuck tha police”, I don't think he'd ever played a gig before where he might actually be dragged off stage by the burly, scowling men of the MET.

His eyes darted from the side to side as the police massed off to stage left, as did the Secret Cinema staff, who're probably more accustomed to serving twats in top hats champagne cocktails than getting a truncheon wrapped around their heads and eyes pumped full of pepper spray.

All that excitement added up to a nicely dangerous and rebellious atmosphere (which was slightly punctured whenever Ghetts' album was plugged).  The bass thumped around the concrete courtyard, reverberating around this old, dignified Brutalist utopia. Residents, clearly not particular happy, began to poke their heads from windows, their Earl Grey teas vibrating like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park was about, their snoozy Sunday evening in front of The Musketeers unexpectedly disrupted by an angry rapper loudly spitting epithets in their general direction.

Soon behind the decks there was some very restrained commotion.  A grey-haired man in sweatpants and a grey t-shirt was angrily remonstrating with the DJ, Phil (who really needs to work on his moniker if he's going to make it).  The guy, presumably an upset Barbican resident, was making a face like someone had taken a shit in his favourite hat, and with a petulant flourish he yanked the power cable out, cutting Ghetts off in mid-flow.

To be honest, Ghetts looked a tiny bit relieved that someone who wasn't the police had ended the gig. It would have been one hell of a climax to end a show with the performer being bundled into the back of a police van, but in the long term probably for the best for Ghetts that this didn't happen. 

As the crowd dispersed I saw the upset residents angrily remonstrating with the police. One of them urgently pressed a flyer into a cop's hand, - “nice work Sir, with this piece of evidence we can close the case” the cop didn't say. At what point in your life does the joy drain out of you to such an extent that you're eager for young musicians to be punished for expressing themselves, even if it does disturb a peaceful Sunday?

I chatted to one of these annoyed residents afterwards. He explained that it certainly wasn't that he disliked hip-hop, but there's a time and a place for concerts and protests, and a Sunday evening in the Barbican isn't it. He argued that they should have gotten permission, I pointed out that they wouldn't have gotten permission – and anyway the fact that the Barbican was prepared to host a grime festival in the first place means that they kinda sorta maybe tacitly approve of this kind of thing.  Then he told me if I wanted to change the world I should join the Labour Party (lol).

I like the Barbican.  It's a nice place to hang out, the staff are friendly, they hold interesting free events and their scones are second to none. But a cultural centre like this has got to cater for every Londoner, not just those who ask “ooh, could you put a bit of soya in that latte?”.  To give them every credit they tried to put something on for the London youth and were stopped by the fuzz. But they couldn't stop this bandit gig tonight – and it was all the more fun for its illegality.  Well done Secret Cinema, and well done Ghetts.

Nuts to those who had 20 minutes of their life marginally inconvenienced by a bit of music.  I hope they take a long look in the mirror and realise that they've become everything they once despised.

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