Niall Gooch

The problem with Kneecap – and the arts blob

(Photo: Kneecap)

When I was about 14 or 15, someone sent me a birthday card with the words: ‘Teenagers – tired of being harassed by your stupid parents? Act now! Move out, get a job, pay your own bills, while you still know everything.’ I don’t think it was personal, not least because I was fairly strait-laced, and I enjoyed the joke. I have never had much time for the idea of the teenager as heroic nonconformist, engaged in idealistic rebellion against the stultifying bourgeois conformity of suburbia. Even when I was in my teens – an alarmingly long time ago now – I found it all a bit self-aggrandising.

That birthday card came irresistibly to mind when I read that the Northern Irish rappers Kneecap were suing HM Government, after Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch vetoed a government grant of £15,000 which the group had been awarded. You may be surprised to hear that Belfast has a hip hop scene; personally, I was more surprised to hear of the current government actually showing some backbone.

Kneecap, as you might imagine from the name, have an aesthetic which is explicitly modelled on physical force republicanism. Publicity shots show them wearing balaclavas in the colour of the Irish tricolour and they regularly chant ‘Brits Out!’ at their live shows (the British army left Ulster more than a decade and a half ago). And yet, curiously, they have no compunction in coming cap in hand to the despised Westminster government, like a teenager who hates his reactionary parents for their middle-class hypocrisy, but still wants a lift to the cinema and a new smartphone.

It is perhaps worth noting that £15,000 is equivalent to about three times the median annual income tax bill for a British household.

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