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Drum & Bass and the politics of cycling

Still from Drum & Bass On The Bike – BRIGHTON YouTube video, with DJ Dom Whiting (centre) and Nick Sayers (right) wearing a hand-made disco ball helmet

How an apolitical drum and bass bike ride reminded me of the politics of cycling
by Nick Sayers

 

Over the summer, DJ Dom Whiting has been bringing his Drum & Bass On The Bike event to city streets across the UK and Europe. Dom started DJing on his bike during lockdown, and on 16 July 2023 he came to Brighton & Hove for the third year running.

For anyone who wasn’t there (it could be heard streets away!) this is a mass bike ride with Dom DJing drum and bass music from his electric-assist cargo trike bedecked with turntables, mixing desk, speakers, live-stream video camera, and a radio mast carrying the sound to other big speakers carried elsewhere in the crowd by support riders. His crew also carried confetti cannons and coloured smoke grenades, which they let off at key points on the route. About 500 people came to ride – and dance – along.

It was glorious mayhem!

I grew up cycling in Brighton in the Nineties, during the era of free raves, drum and bass, dance music, Brighton’s clubbing heyday, squatting, tribal drumming under the West Pier ruins, Critical Mass and Reclaim The Streets transport protests. I loved going to drum and bass club nights such as Meltdown, got involved with Critical Mass, and then organised Brighton Naked Bike Ride from 2006 to 2019.

Dom’s apolitical uniting of cyclists to the breakbeat of his music reminded me, unexpectedly, of the politics of cycling:

Cycling brings people together

Cycling with others is joyful and unifying, especially when dancing on your pedals to the same tune. Even everyday commuting next to other cyclists is sociable – you can chat while waiting at traffic lights, go on rides together, or make friends while locking up your bike. Being stuck in cars – especially taking part in traffic jams – is stressful, isolating and joyless. Most car journeys feel like a chore: you can’t relax your attention for a second, and you just want to get to your destination as quickly as possible. Your interaction with other road users is minimal, and what little there is is often accompanied by feelings of anger, frustration and road rage.

Nick Sayers at the end of Drum & Bass On The Bike, Hove Lawns, 16 July 2023
Photo © Adam Bronkhorst 2023

We all breathe the same air

Occasionally, the ride would stop for Dom to check directions or re-muster riders behind him. In these moments, there were often cars stopped waiting ahead, amongst or behind us. With their engines idling. Farting out pollution and engine noise. I only learned to drive in my late 40s – I mostly travelled on foot, bike or public transport before that – so it continues to baffle me that people aren’t more aware of the harmful effects of idling. An idle engine can produce up to twice as much exhaust emissions as one in motion, with the UK government stating that air pollution is the ‘largest environmental risk to public health’. Why don’t people turn off their car engine when they’re not moving, waiting at lights, or parked? Why should people outside cars have to breathe in exhaust and listen to engine noise when it’s not in use? Outside a car, people are constantly exposed to low-level stress – negotiating around car traffic, breathing in fumes, hearing the rumble of tyres on tarmac, and the constant growl of engines.

The way we travel is a political choice

There were a few drivers who didn’t enjoy being “held up” by the rave-on-wheels passing them by (others, to their credit, responded enthusiastically to Dom’s call for “Where’s the horn?! Where’s the horn?!”). It reminded me that daily traffic jams are at heart the same as occasional mass bike protests/disruptions. Both are a political choice. However, one is active, progressive, uniting, and only happens once in a while. The other is passive, complicit, apathetic, and happens every single day, 24/7. One is the cause of annoyance to some car-dependent drivers, the other is met with shrugging indifference to what is business as usual.

What can we do about this?

Get involved! Get active! Take action to spread the joy of cycling!

 

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