Music at the Margins: Creativity in the wake of Gang Violence

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Ipswich, Suffolk.

Two rival groups of boys and young men engage in a “turf war”, in this case J-Block versus Neno. They start trading insults and, before long, the exchanges become violent.

On 2 June last year this culminates in the death of 17-year-old Tavis Spencer-Aitkens. He was repeatedly stabbed in a group attack.

For those who followed the musical exploits of those involved on YouTube, the violent conclusion to this dispute cannot have been surprising.

The simmering rivalry had reached boiling point  in the music videos.

Stop Knife Crime Now
Stop Knife Crime Now

Those involved in the killing are well-known in Ipswich. To some, they remain music heroes. To others, a warning of where an art-life blur can turn fatal.

For a BBC piece by my colleague Kate Scotter, I was commissioned to photograph both the places in which these two rival gangs lived and the young people making music in Ipswich.

One of the most surprising aspects (for a man in his 40s) was the perception of music success. Music sales no longer matter. It is all about the views. Ten thousand music video views is ‘success’, regardless of whether people actually like the music itself.

And yet, the making of music remains central for a large number of young people in this reasonably sized Suffolk town.

At places like South Street Studios, young talent is nurtured and harnessed into creativity, the finding of one’s voice.


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