"Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from West Belfast – once again it will fail!": Rising hip-hop stars Kneecap accuse the British government of trying to "silence" them after having funding blocked

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Belfast hip-hop trio Kneecap have accused the British government of attempting to "silence" them, after funding awarded to the group under the Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS) was blocked at the 11th hour. 

Having received considerable critical acclaim for their upcoming semi-fictional biopic, Kneecap, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month, and features celebrated Irish actor Michael Fassbender, the trio had applied for the grant, funded by the UK's Department for Business and Trade and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, with support from the British Phonographic Industry, in order to offset the costs involved in extending their touring plans in the US. 

However, in a statement on their social media channels, the band, who rap in Irish, say that, having had their application rubber-stamped, the grant was vetoed by direct intervention from the Conservative government.

“We’ve been blocked from receiving significant music funding because a Tory Minister doesn’t like our art,” the band - comprised of Mo Chara (Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh), Móglaí Bap (Naoise Ó Cairealláin) and DJ Próvaí (JJ Ó Dochartaigh) - say in a statement. “F*ck 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. 

“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!”

Responding to the claim in the Irish Times, a British government spokesperson said it was “hardly surprising” it had stopped the award given the group’s stated opposition to the United Kingdom.

Kemi Badenoch, speaking for the UK’s Business and Trade Secretary, says: “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.”

The BPI has told the Irish Times that they are "disappointed" by the intervention, stating, “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.

“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.

“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.”

Kneecap kick off their North American tour on March 18 and will play various European festivals, including Reading and Leeds, this summer.

The band, who take their name from the Provisional IRA's traditional punishment of shooting those accused of drug dealing or 'anti-social behaviour' in the knee, have attracted a certain amount of controversy since their inception, not least when they unveiled a mural depicting a PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) Land Rover in flames in 2022, alongside a slogan stating that the police are not welcome in west Belfast.

The trio will release their debut album on Heavenly Records this year.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.