Belfast’s Kneecap make statement after UK government “blocks” them from receiving significant funding

The Belfast rap group have accused the UK government of attempting to “silence” them, releasing a statement across social media.

Rap trio, Kneecap, have accused the UK government of attempting to “silence” them after they blocked a British Phonographic Industry (BPI) funding award.

Releasing a statement across social media, the group captioned their post: “We’ve been blocked from receiving significant music funding because a Tory Minister doesn’t like our art. F*ck the Tories.”

The decision to release a statement containing these accusations has placed the Belfast group at the centre of a controversy around freedom of artistic expression, censorship, and arts funding.

The funding Kneecap had applied for is an award under the Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS) to support the expansion of bands in global markets.

The award had allegedly been signed off on by the BPI’s independent selection board.

In the body of their statement, Kneecap described the funding as “significant”.

The trio relayed to followers that they were informed their application “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 p***ed off the Tories. Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from West Belfast – once again it will fail!”

The group concluded their statement with the message: “fight censorship” – also congratulating the artists who received funding under the scheme.

A British government spokesperson said it was “hardly surprising” it put a stop to the award, given the group’s political opposition to the United Kingdom. 

The scheme is funded by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), with additional investment from the UK recorded music industry.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Business and Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, 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.”

The group replied to Badenoch’s statement, saying: “It should be remembered that we must pay taxes to the tory government even though we oppose their presence in Ireland. Removing artists from funding due to their political beliefs…..classic coloniser stuff.”

The BPI has expressed its “disappointment” at the decision to block funding to the artists.

Organisers of the BRIT Awards, the Mercury Prize, and co-owners of the UK Official Charts, BPI has revealed under its latest Music Export Growth Scheme that 67 artists were awarded funding totalling £1.6 million – the largest annual amount of funding since the scheme launched a decade ago.

According to an article by the Irish Times, a spokesperson for the BPI confirmed that the band was selected for funding. “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 statement released to the Irish Times said.

“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 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 government how any decisions involving potentially controversial matters will be handled in future.”

The application, which aimed to support the band through costs related to touring and live stage production in North America, was assisted by Kneecap’s label, Heavenly Recordings.

Most recently, the rap trio were notably awarded the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival for their Irish-language self-titled film, a semi-fictionalised film about themselves starring Hollywood A-lister Michael Fassbender.

The film’s funding source was heavily criticised by Unionists across Northern Ireland and the UK. The biopic was part-funded by the National Lottery via the British Film Institute (BFI) – who provided £810,000 – alongside Northern Ireland Screen, who awarded £805,000 in funding. 

The group are set to begin their tour of the US and Canada next month, following a sold out North American tour last autumn.

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