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KNEECAP accuse UK government of “silencing” them by last-minute funding block

A Belfast rap trio called KNEECAP have accused the UK government of attempting to “silence” them after a last-minute funding block.

The accusation against the UK government comes after they blocked the group from receiving British Phonographic Industry (BPI) funding award – issued under the Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS) to support the expansion of bands in global markets.

According to the group, the decision may have been due to their provocative 2019 tour poster, which they allege “pissed off the Tories”.

“We’ve just been informed that our application to the ‘Music Export Growth Scheme’ (MEGS) was independently approved and signed off by the selection board. It was then blocked directly by the British Government who overruled the independent selection board,” KNEECAP shared on X/Twitter.

“We’re told that our 2019 Farewell to the Union poster pissed off the Tories. Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from West Belfast – once again it will fail!”

The scheme is funded by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), with investment from the UK recorded music industry. The trio applied with the aim of receiving support for the costs related to touring and live stage production in the US.

Responding to the block, a British government spokesperson said it was “hardly surprising” it had blocked the award given the group’s political opposition to the United Kingdom (via Irish Times).

Similarly, Kemi Badenoch, a spokesperson for the UK’s Business and Trade Secretary, said: “We fully support freedom of speech, but it’s hardly surprising that we don’t want to hand out UK taxpayers’ money to people that oppose the United Kingdom itself.”

However, the BPI – which represents the UK recorded music industry, organises the BRIT Awards and the Mercury Prize, and co-owns the UK Official Charts – has expressed its “disappointment” in the government’s decision.

“As the delivery partner of MEGS on behalf of the UK music industry, the BPI is disappointed at the government’s decision not to approve a grant to the band Kneecap after our independent selection board had voted for it as part of the latest round of funding applications,” a spokesperson told Irish Times.

Kneecap pose for a photo during their tour. CREDIT: Conor Kinahan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

“The public funding element of the scheme makes it appropriate for colleagues in government to have a say on any grants awarded by the MEGS Board, and it has been their decision alone to decline the application made by Kneecap’s representatives,” the statement added.

“While it is for the government to speak to its rationale for making this particular decision, we firmly believe in the importance of freedom of expression, including artistic expression, and look forward to discussing further with the government how any decisions involving potentially controversial matters will be handled in future.”

Next month, KNEECAP will embark on a North American tour following a run of sold-out shows in the US and Canada last autumn. You can find remaining tickets here.

The controversy surrounding the lyrics used by the Belfast rap trio comes in light of the ongoing Art Not Evidence campaign, which calls for legislation restricting the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials. It has been backed by the likes of IDLES, Annie Mac and more.

At a House of Commons panel attended by NME, Art Not Evidence founder Elli Brazzill said the criminalisation of drill music in particular can impede up-and-coming rappers. Giggs also spoke out against the police in a statement urging fans to support the campaign. “Evidence in court should be 100 per cent facts,” he said.

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