The innovative movement of siren jams, and how its backlash is a proxy for prejudice
If you look back to the 1950s, many would have described Rock and Roll as obnoxious, loud, hypersexual, and the antithesis of “good white American values”. If you look back to the 1970s during the birth of Hip-hop, you’ll see many labeling it as sickening and distasteful, and go on to use anti-rap rhetoric as a proxy for their prejudice. Musical and expressive POC movements are usually met with repugnance from Pākehā and an overt police presence. Common factors of all these artistic and cultural phenomena were that they were created by young people of colour.
Sirening is a primarily Pasifika underground youth subculture that originated here in Tāmaki Makaurau. Being the cultural capital of this city, South Auckland is credited with its formation. The subculture has spawned an entire genre of music called Siren Jams, influenced by reggae and dembow as well as Pacific musical elements.
The idea that stereotypes can be used to legitimise prejudice and discrimination has been well established in social psychology. People often endorse stereotypes that justify existing social systems such that those who are victims within a system are stereotyped as being less capable and deserving than those whom the system benefits. It is a tactic used by the “state” or in this case, the crown, to proliferate negative stereotypes about our people, and in this case, a growing subculture. Unsurprisingly, the first instance of police reports to the media associated siren battles with gangs, no doubt in an effort to paint the subculture as dangerous and criminal. After this event, sireners began bringing receipts of their purchases to battles. By the end of 2016, police no longer could no longer make the argument against sireners and no longer considered the subculture associated with gang activity.
The NZ Herald comment section is a perfect arena to see the hatred towards the scene. It is not the first-time forthcoming movements have been accused of fomenting crime and youth violence, which leads to negative perceptions of people of colour. Some may find the noise of it obnoxious, which is understandable, but many use it as a proxy for their racism and fuel for hatred against our people.
Regardless of the ultimate aim of Siren music, the value that listeners derive from it cannot be understated. It is the use of music and sound as a medium to express something original and creative in a community that doesn’t often get the opportunity to do so.
For me, I saw it as hilarious. I see it as something original, something innovative. To make change, you have to disrupt, you have to ruffle feathers. Art is meant to unsettle. It is meant to disturb the status quo, whether that be individuals or the powers that be.
All these boys need is a space to be expressive. Instead, Auckland Council sought to create barriers by closing off Auckland Public Reserves during the night (which has been ineffective at stopping siren battles, unsurprisingly).
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.