FEATURE: Language Barriers: Why a Swearing Ban for Wireless Festival Hides Bigger Issues That Need Addressing




Language Barriers


 IN THIS IMAGE: J. Cole (who was one of the headliners at this year’s Wireless Festival)/IMAGE CREDIT: SBM832  

Why a Swearing Ban for Wireless Festival Hides Bigger Issues That Need Addressing


IT seems a bit of a cheek to impose…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Stormzy (who was a headliner at this year’s Wireless Festival)/PHOTO CREDIT: Oliver Hadlee Pearch

a swearing band on any music festival. Wireless Festival is an annual event that attracts the more gritty and raw talent from the music spectrum. This year’s event, held back in July, saw Stormzy, Post Malone and J. Cole play and, for the most part, the event went well without much complaint. It would be horrible stereotypical to suggest a festival that supported Grime and Hip-Hop (and other genres) artists would have trouble follow it about. Even if you are not aware of what the likes of Stormzy are all about; one cannot be naïve enough to think they’re going to be calming walking the stage, acoustic guitar in hand and using the sort of language that would appeal to the most pious and delicate. I will bring a couple of artists in that have reacted to an announced swearing ban at Wireless. I am not sure whether the decree has been signed but it seems like, from now on, there is going to be an expletive-lite festival that does not offend ears. There have been complaints that children have been within ear shot of the festival and have heard the sort of language coming from the stage. The Finsbury Park-staged event does put out a lot of noise and it can be distracting for residents if you want a bit of silence.

Consider how many songs are played across the few days and how many of those contain swearing. One cannot imagine it a torrent of swearing is happening throughout the day and I wonder whether this rather absurd ban hides some deeper issues. Before I speculate as to what actually needs to happen; Suzanne Moore, writing in The Guardian, addressed the situation and asked whether swearing was really a huge issue:

Well, no. And Wireless isn’t for the likes of me, though I can hear it from where I live. Interestingly, the biggest sound I ever heard coming from Finsbury Park was when Madness played. The ground was shaking. The earth moved for the centrist dads that day.

Now Haringey council in its infinite wisdom has, after listening to protests, agreed that Wireless can continue, but performers have been told they must not swear, make obscene gestures or wear skimpy clothes on stage. They cannot “make any vulgar gestures actions or remarks during the performance, or at any point whilst using an amplification device, including the use of expletives”. To which the only thing you can say is two words made of asterisks”.

Reading those guidelines and proposals makes me scoff somewhat. I can understand the projected noise, if it contained incredibly vulgar and racist language, should be banned were it reaching the minds of children. I realise sound can travel a long distance but how many children and sensitive locals are going to be able to see rude hand gestures and hardly-clothed dancers?! Unless you are on the site and within a certain distance of the stage; this is not something that is going to affect you and people who attend Wireless know full well what they are in for! If you are bringing kids to the festival and then are offended; it is hardly the fault of the organisers, is it?!


 PHOTO CREDIT: @dkravchenko/Unsplash

Sound and noise pollution will always stir discontent and anger but for some but I feel music festivals, in terms of their language and acts, are not as controversial and troublesome as some of the second-hand smoke that is created. Should Wireless, rather than get precious about swearing, focus on the gender and range of acts it books?!

There are problems with Wireless, and Lily Allen and Annie Mac have pointed them out: the lack of diversity, with only three female acts booked over three days this year. But that is not what this is about. Instead it’s part of the clampdown on what is politely termed “urban” music. Everyone knows what that means, but they can’t bring themselves to say “black”. Under these new rules, the likes of Stormzy and Kanye West would be banned.

Locals have legitimate complaints: there aren’t enough toilets; there are drug dealers and the ever-present fear of gangs – but Haringey cannot boast of its multiculturalism and then come out with this ridiculous ban. It’s the latest in a long line of attempts by the police to stop certain gatherings, which included the infamous form 696, a risk assessment used to stop bashment etc. In my day the government tried to ban “repetitive beats”, which is as mad as it sounds”.

I feel a festival needs to look at the artists it is booking and whether there is enough diversity – rather than look at issues that are endemic with any music festival.

One of the ironies of this swearing band is the fact the Haringey district is not exactly known for censorship and its homogenisation. There are countless languages being spoken and people from all over the world walking the streets. On any given day leaving my flat, I will – almost instantaneously! – encounter someone spitting. I saw a man racially abuse someone the other day and there is severe emotional and psychological poverty. I am not sure about the surrounding neighbourhoods of Finsbury Park but where I live, Wood Green, there is so much disadvantage and lacking financial investment. I have lost count of those who I suspect are drug addicts; there are numerous homeless and most of the population live very close to the breadline. You have to take quite a few stops on the Piccadilly Line past Finsbury Park before you see things improve. Walk around the street and you will hear any number of cusses and expletives casually spat within listening distance of children. Many of the mothers you see pushing toddlers around do it and the problem with drugs and drink is hardly hidden. The smell of cannabis hovers in the air; many people I know have been offered drugs and propositioned; others have been abused and encountered aggression. There is minimum police presence – as you’d expect – and there is a feeling of disconnection and alienation when you live and move around the community. This is all known and stated and, in many ways, there is more safety and security inside Wireless than the neighbourhoods mere feet away!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Giggs photoed at Wireless Festival on 8th July, 2018/PHOTO CREDIT: Ashley Verse

How far does a swearing ban go?! I guess those at Glastonbury and Reading cannot object because there are few residents nearby and, for the most part, the artists keep it clean. The sort of artists we see at Wireless are telling it like it is and not idly throwing swear words around to shock and as part of their vocabulary. The likes of Stormzy use swearing as part of their music but it is there to project a reality that is all too clear in Haringey. Many of the people Stormzy talks about – those overlooked and living close to poverty – are the ones who will hear the swearing; the ones he is trying to speak to and speak for. One wonders whether the complaints have come from some of the more well-off residents and whether many of them are middle-class. I can see why families would be a bit sensitive to swearing if they lived in areas where things were very sanitised and clean – but that is not the reality we are dealing with here! Haringey is a diverse area of London and it can range from the well-off to the downright deprived. One of the reasons why people move there is because it is more affordable than many parts of London and there is multiculturalism. Part of putting so many different people from different nations together is to project a more united, diverse and cosmopolitan city; one that is not all the same and that sports a richness. Swearing and rude gestures happen all over the place. You can hear youths swearing on public transport and at pubs; business owners during their lunch breaks and older people doing it.


 IN THIS PHOTO: A couple pose for a selfie at this year’s Wireless Festival/PHOTO CREDIT: James Bridle

If you start asking artists to cut the swearing then where does that end?! Swearing is part of your freedom of speech and you could not tell someone on the street to quit swearing because it is a bit unpleasant. Do people like J. Cole get a pre-gig contract that states he is not allowed to get political or use any swearing; he must keep his dancers covered up and can absolutely not slag anyone off! Apply that to other festivals and you’d have people complaining in their droves! I wonder whether there is something quite discriminatory and bigoted about whom they are targeted. Whether it is racially inspired or censoring a type of music that is seen as provocative and controversial. You can ban musicians who are racist and extremist but you cannot go to every festival and ask artists if they wouldn’t mind keeping the bad language to a minimum! Another article from The Guardian shed more light on the problems Wireless carries with it:

In a complaint made to Haringey council, campaigners said the festival brought anti-social behaviour to the area, with open drug dealing, vomiting on streets and excrement on doorsteps seen in previous years.

Tom Palin, a director of Friends of Finsbury Park, said locals last year “could not get any peace” and he personally knew of 10 people who had moved out of the area as a result of the disruption each year…


PHOTO CREDIT: @lucasquintana/Unsplash 

“I remember last year when Travis Scott was performing and the windows at my friends’ house were shaking,” he said. “You could hear them jangling. The residents were adamant that something had to be done to stop the disturbance.”

The ban, which is likely to be difficult to enforce, was criticised on social media for effectively censoring music and introducing rules that might not be applied to indie and rock festivals.

Councillor Kirsten Hearn, Haringey’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “Wireless festival is a world-class urban event that helps to fund the park the whole year round and makes a major cultural contribution to Haringey. We will work to address these [concerns] with residents and partners at Finsbury Park”.

Although it is sad to see anyone forced to move because of threats or some other action; I wonder whether these events shroud a bigger problem. There are, to be fair, only a few residents who experience things like dog pooh left on their doorsteps and few who will come into contact with drug dealers. The reason I am aggrieved there is a swearing ban is because it is not a catalyst: people are not hearing the swearing from the stage, finding the most constipated dog and waiting for the thing to shed its load!

Drug dealers are not being brainwashed by artists to provoke trouble and throw up; the songs do not glamorise anti-social behaviour and urge people to strike fear into others! Wireless is the premier Urban festival in London and is designed to host artists who are speaking louder than politicians; those delivering potent and compelling messages that are deigned to make you think. In any case; I think fewer people object to swearing as they do the problem with drugs and degradation. Most of the punters who pass through Finsbury Park are law-abiding and do not want to cause any issues. They might have a couple of pints and be a bit loud but they are not hurting anyone and certainly not going as far to target residents! There is this small number who are bringing drugs to the site or dealing nearby. There are others who are drinking excessively and vomiting and generally being obnoxious. I can understand that objection but, as I say, I and many other people live in parts of London where that sort of thing happens every day! If there was a music festival right near me then it would exacerbate things but a lot of the anger aimed at Wireless is about a very small number of patrons. I feel the issue of drugs needs to be addressed and more stringent checks carried out.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Mabel (who is shown performing at this year’s Wireless Festival)/PHOTO CREDIT: Ashley Verse

There is the ongoing problem with rubbish and plastic and laws around what people could bring in would help; having recycling bins or fining those who litter. Maybe having extra security around the site and additional police during the festival would help ensure there were fewer incidents. I have spoken to a couple of people who live in and near Finsbury Park and the main issue is the additional numbers and noise. They are not so affected by swearing but the throng of people and how much more litter/noise there is. It is a time of the year when there is a more visible and obvious issue: a typical mass of festival-goers who are not respecting the locals are the areas as much as they should be. It is an issue at all major and smaller festivals but, for most of them, they are situated away from towns or there is a bit more protection. I think banning swearing is avoiding the real issue and not addressing the real threats. By banning swearing, organisers and the council will cure a very minor thing – so few I know have a problem with bad language – and they are turning a blind eye to the mess, litter and drugs. If more money were spent ensuring the site and surrounding areas were left cleaner and fewer disreputable characters were allowed entry then we might be onto something.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @thoughtcatalog/Unsplash

Even if Wireless’ majority are calm and well-behaved, there is always going to be sector that are loitering and want to stir something up. I think the hassle and intimidation that some offer locals is a much more harrowing and eye-opening concern! The artists who take to the Wireless stage would be the first to distance themselves from those who offer nothing but aggression, problems and disrespect. Wireless is not about stirring up a storm and not giving a damn about those around them. The artists are the ones who will be stifled and affected by the swearing band. Consider problems that hounded Wireless a few years back and one wonders whether these sorts of scenes are the ones that should be investigated first:

Campaigners are calling for a huge north London music festival to be axed after it was beset by rampaging gatecrashers last year.

Residents say the Wireless festival brought "scary" disorder to Finsbury Park in July 2015 and also left the green space in tatters, with the ground looking like a “desert” and strewn with laughing gas canisters and broken glass.

The festival was attended by 50,000 people each day and featured acts such as Drake, David Guetta and Nicki Minaj.

But it hit the headlines for the wrong reasons after large crowds of youths were filmed repeatedly trying to break into the event, with many successfully storming through fences.

One shocking video showed a lone police officer attempting to hold off a crowd of would-be gatecrashers with a baton.

At least eight people were arrested during the course of the event, including for knife possession and actual bodily harm”.

Rather than targeting the artists on the stage; look at those who are causing the real problems and find ways to stop that! Swearing is not the issue and never has been; residents and those who attend Wireless would much rather they avoid riots, violence and drugs than a bit of spicy language! Are members of the council, residents and organisers actually coming together to discuss problems not related to swearing and trying to do something about that?! I am not that sure but I do know Wireless tries to ensure there is public safety and take measures to protect people. One might say banning swearing is not a huge thing and how many people is it going to affect? If it helps make the residents happy and keeps them calm then what is the issue?! I agree with that but argue you get much more swearing on the street and wherever you go then you’ll ever get at Wireless. I have already explored drugs and noises and how is a swearing ban going to stop all of that?! It is not like artists cleaning up will magically whitewash the ongoing issues that come with the festival. It is a shame that certain people ruin it for everyone and there are very obvious things that need to be eradicated. A lot of Finsbury Park residents have had enough with Wireless because of the problems that have come and the extra noise it brings each year.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @paucasals/Unsplash

Before 2019’s event – if it is allowed back – there needs to be a lot done to, maybe, limit bad language but do a lot more when it comes to most more pressing and explicit problems! I do not think musicians can be censored and you cannot tell one specific festival that their talent should be clean and not offend. I return to the first article I quoted a passage that keeps coming back to my eyes:

I cannot imagine life without swearing, for swearing is life. Lately, football commentators have taken to apologising when microphones pick up the crowd’s chants or managers’ swearing. This is such a weird infantilising of the audience: we can hear swearing but are told we somehow shouldn’t have. It’s the equivalent of bleeping and asterisks, all of which bemuse me. Swearing can be dull and lazy and simply an exclamation mark, or it can be fantastically creative and funny. It is malleable, like all language, and when it is done in Portuguese by José Mourinho, who among us is truly offended? Indeed, it should be subtitled”.

Swearing is all around us and it is impossible to go anywhere without hearing someone saying something rude! It is not down to people to tell artists what they should say and whether they can use bad language. If you take away that right and speech then you are going to send a terrible message to the rest of the industry.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Lil Uzt Vert gets in among the crowd at this year’s Wireless Festival/PHOTO CREDIT: Ashley Verse

It seems like the pressure and circus of the festival, in general, is what residents are objecting to. If you move it to other parts of London then other people will have a problem; if you move it outside London then fewer people can get there and it means you will be brushing something away without compromise and consultation. Where does the censorship stop?! Do you ban alcohol or ensure people are strip-searched when they come in and out?! Every music festival is going to have problems because of the sheer mass of bodies coming through and you can never solve that. I am not sure what a quick fix will be but moving Wireless out of Finsbury Park is not a cure. There are plenty in the area that love having it on their doorstep and it is only the minority of those who attend Wireless that create problems. More needs to happen right now to ensure next year’s Wireless is as smooth and improved as possible. Get the residents on board and listen to their views; have a word with security and police to up the numbers and, maybe, speak with artists who can speak out themselves and direct a message against those who create trouble. A lot needs to be done but swearing, alas, is not the big elephant in the room. It is a slight problem but there are bigger ones that are being ignored. You cannot tell artists to stop swearing because they have a right and you get into some dangerous areas. It would be sad to see a more PG Wireless festival and how that affects who plays and which songs they get to perform. Nannying, controlling and editing those who take to the Wireless stage is a joke and those who feel all the problems and troubles around Wireless will simply disappear are…


IN THIS PHOTO: Post Malone (photoed playing at this year’s Wireless Festival)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jordan Hughes  

PLAIN fucking wrong!