In urban slang or MLE (mixed London English) as it’s come to be known the term Jankrowville means an undesirable or dangerous place, messed up or generally unpleasant. The term is used in the album ‘The Sagas Of…’ by the London rapper Darren Kandler, better known by his Stage name Klashnekoff,
“cats with pokers, pussy-os and posers, i’m seeing dead friends on posters, in Jankrowville,” Klashnekoff, ‘The Sagas Of’ 15 June 2004
It’s difficult to imagine that London with its impossibly expensive property and years of gentrification still has space for poverty and violence to exist inside its boarders but despite the best efforts of various councils, private developers and the policy of the recent right leaning government to ship people out to places like Luton and less obviously the north east, it does. These are spaces defined by private rental properties and council houses they are areas of great conflict not just between violent gangs but also between competing investors buying up land and building ‘affordable homes’ they are surely dangerous spaces, the people there are poor, educational facilities are stretched, the crime rate is higher than more economically well off areas.
This is the territory of the London riots and the seemingly endless news stories about knife crime, from this dystopic space a form of youth culture defined by Grime and Rap has managed through its unpalatable nature to retain its authentic edge while most other aspects of so called youth culture have become media culture I.E a commercially viable and safe practice which buoys up the status quo while offering a totally diluted alternative experience.
The patronising ‘softer tone’ of the previous Conservative government summed up by the cringe worthy ‘hug a hoodie’ speech by former prime minister David Cameron has given way to greater levels of indifference,
“We – the people in suits – often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters. But, for young people, hoodies are often more defensive than offensive,” taken from the text of Conservative leader David Cameron’s speech to the Centre for Social Justice founded by Iain Duncan Smith.
It’s worth pausing to analyse why this attitude is a problem, what Cameron seeks to undermine here is a naive and stereo-typical position, that being one which asserts all hooded young people especially black ones are criminal and something to be feared, feral youth or to put in in his terms ‘rebel gangsters’ The problem though is that he replaces this casting with an equally naive one, one where the feral youths become defensive, fretful, intimidated types hiding away from the dangerous world they inhabit.
The rhetoric is a kind of castration, it does not recognise that the voices of this culture are often angry and often nihilistic, that they play with this, celebrate this, but also that they are critical and angled they cultivate creative aggression and represent what is made out of a deeply inhospitable ‘Janky’ environment the question is not how do we massage out this kink so everything is safe again but what can this tell us about our society and what can be made out of it.
There is something dystopic about modern Britain the ways in which our wealthy society finds to justify its indifference to poverty and inequality and make hot air instead of political will is at least as insane as killing and fighting over postcodes. The problem is not as simple though as it seems, Rich indifferent people slowly excluding poor people from the capital and exploiting them economically this is the dark heart of right wing fantasies underneath the spin they like to see themselves as better survivors, superior types thriving in a world of wingers, no.
The production of culture is perhaps more valuable than simple labour and not only do the poor and dispossessed have to see themselves through the eyes of the ruling class as either monsters or victims equally limiting identities they must do so while the youth culture these dark spaces and marginal people create becomes the next resource mined for its value, Grime and Rap is when its good, raw, authentic, atavistic and energised it’s no surprise then that Grime artists such as Stormzy and Skepta are being courted by the mainstream there music going out on mainstream radio stations and they presence demanded at award ceremonies to add the genuine edge to otherwise lukewarm rebels.
It’s not that this desire is somehow connected to a conspiracy to co-opt authentic music but simply and perhaps worse that it will even without a Simon Cowell type to do it on purpose (although we might forgive cultural critics from feeling ‘Honey G’ may have been his attempt to do just that)
There is a desire for clean things, for safe spaces and inoffensive activities which is in a counter intuitive way ugly, consider the spikes built into the spaces of London which are meant to prevent homeless people staying there it’s as if the city has grown so indifferent that its literally developing callouses so it no longer has to feel the presence of inconvenient individuals this sort of phenomena is evidence of a deeply sick society treating people like pigeons one that might be trying collectively to prove Margaret Thatcher right when she said there is no such thing as society, I would have found it hard to imagine a building which could exist outside a society since buildings require so much co-operation and are themselves a response to the needs of communities however I now know that a building in a non-society would have spines and callouses and would probably be a response to the interests of private investors, investing in private property for the profit of private individuals.