OneFour And Drill Laws: How The NSW Police Imported Laws From The UK To Our Local Drill Scene

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Sydney drill group OneFour are back in the spotlight after a Daily Telegraph front page last week that was reporting on the supposed link between drill music posted online and gang violence in Sydney’s West.  

The authorities have been targeting the drill group over the past few years by pulling a range of different levers to stop the group from performing. 

The NSW Police have been importing similar mechanisms used by the UK Police that have attempted to dampen the drill scene in the UK, and there are similarities with how law enforcements have been exporting tactics to police this genre of music. 

Drill came out of Chicago in the early 2010s and in 2012 a sub-genre of UK drill emerged. Sonically drill is pulsing and visceral, and lyrically it often depicts street violence and postcode wars. 

Writer Mahmood Fazal describes drill as “lyrical warfare that plays out on the harsh reality of gang violence.” 

“It’s relentless, it’s base heavy, it’s melodic,” says Fazal. 

While the policing of music isn’t a new phenomenon, and the policing of rap music goes back to the origins of gangsta rap, drill artists are experiencing this at a level that hasn’t been seen before in Australia.

Professor Murray Lee from the University of Sydney has just published a paper titled This Is Not a Drill: Towards a Sonic and Sensorial Musicriminology, which looks at the ways drill artists, with a focus on OneFour, have had their lyrics transformed into tools to indict them.

This is a phenomenon Lee calls ‘musicriminology.’

Lee also looks at the way social licenses are given when telling stories through music, unpacking which artists are given permission by authorities to fictionalise violence in their lyrics. 

“Nick Cave made his name around a range of murder ballads that are very graphic in their depiction of murder, you know, dismemberment, and in some ways are much more graphic than the music of OneFour.”

“The interesting question arises, who is able to be fictionalised within their lyrics and who isn’t? Even in Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads there’s an assumption that those white artists are fictionalising, where we see similar sorts of violence be depicted by artists of colour and we often assume that these are real events that are being depicted,” says Lee. 

A key characteristic of drill music is that some of the lyrics do flirt with real life crimes and events, Mahmood Fazal says the thing that separates drill music from other genres is its explicit references to real gang violence between waring factions.

“It’s a very extreme form of rap, in that people are referencing to real murders, real stabbings.”

When it comes to policing drill artists, the UK Police started using lyrics as a common way to prosecute them, turning lyrics into pieces of evidence to try and criminalise or indict artists.

The UK Police have requested over 100 UK drill music videos to be removed by Youtube, censored lyrics and have stopped artists performing through court imposed civil orders.

In January 2019, the UK Police were unable to censor Skengdo and AM’s song Attempted 1.0, so instead the police waited for the artists to perform the track live and used a Criminal Behaviour Order to issue them with a 9 month suspended sentence for mentioning death, injury and rival drill crews in the song when played live.

While we don’t have the exact same laws here in Australia, the NSW Police have been importing similar tactics against artists like OneFour to try and censor and stop them performing.

“What I’ve heard from Ricky, their manager, and what I’ve reported on is that it doesn’t happen directly,” Fazal says.

“They don’t directly shut down the shows, but they pressure the venue, threaten to investigate licensing and past discrepancies.”

Lee noted that the NSW Police are also trying to use a range of other laws that were designed to be used for very serious criminal activity and have been repurposed to operate against musicians.   

The main reason behind the crackdown is that the NSW Police argue that drill music has the potential to incite violence when performed live, but there is limited evidence to suggest this will actually play out at live shows. 

“If the police were willing to show us a spike in those statistics and illustrate a correlation between what OneFour is doing or what drill music is doing more generally, if they can prove that correlation, we would love to see it.”

“But they haven’t been able to provide that or make those briefs public,” says Fazal.  

Fazal has been reporting on the drill scene in Australia as it’s been growing over the past 5 years and said “I don’t know of any violence occurring at either of [the OneFour] shows, but I think the police’s line is more so that [these groups] have incited violence on the street and that might play out in their concerts.”

“I don’t know if it’s broadly drill music or specifically OneFour, and the “postcode wars,” which even then I find problematic because the postcode wars have been going on for a very long time and that violence has always been there.”

That’s not to say that drill artists in the UK and here in Australia haven’t been involved in violent activity but it’s important to distinguish, is the music responsible for this? Or is the music simply documenting the lives experienced by these artists? 

Fazal says that “some of these boys experience growing up in disenfranchised urban environments which can be a really violent experience for people.”

“And so if it makes you feel uncomfortable, I think maybe you need to be paying attention to what else is going on because this is the product of a much larger discussion.”