Drilling in Australia: Music, Transgression, Marginalisation and Criminalisation

Prof. Murray Lee1, Dr Toby Martin1

1University Of Sydney Law School, Camperdown, Australia

The sprawling multicultural western suburbs of Australia’s largest city Sydney has become a fertile breading-ground for a wave of drill artists. While popular drill group Onefour kicked off the western Sydney scene, with their local take on a style of UK drill, other groups have emerged in their wake including Hook, YoungLipz, and Hooigan Hefs, part of a scene that is dynamic and growing. Drill music is by nature transgressive and confronting to mainstream culture – it’s meant to be. However, its transgressive nature has also seen attempts to criminalise and regulate artists – the police strike force attention given to OneFour which have been subject to a variety control orders and cancelled events, not to mention prison terms for unrelated crimes, being the most high-profile example. Moreover, mainstream media frequently represent drill musicians as criminals, their cultural and religious backgrounds are invariably mentioned in reportage. Groups like OneFour challenge the stereotypes of the western suburbs as a cultural wasteland, yet they are also criminalised and ethnicised. This article places Australian drill music in a socio-historical and cultural context and explores why drill has attracted such continuous attempts towards its censure in Australia in general, and western Sydney in particular. We suggest Australian drill encompasses something of the ‘weird’ and the ‘uncanny’ (Fisher 2016) in popular culture, representing a western Sydney as ‘other’, with its population both under-reprepsented (in terms or arts production) and overrepresented (in terms of criminality) (Ahamad 2013). The dark aesthetic and bleak violent lyrics of drill expose the underbelly of neo-liberalism and those groups economically excluded and socially marginalised. It tells stories that mainstream culture does not want to hear, and subsequently creates an atmosphere of geo-spatialialised and sonically-informed danger that extends from the street to the prison and back again.


Dr Murray Lee is Professor in Criminology and Associate Dean Research at the University of Sydney Law School. He is the author of Inventing Fear of Crime, co-author of Policing and Media, co-author of Sexting and Young People, co-editor of Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in an Age of Anxiety, and co-editor of The Routledge International Handbook on Fear of Crime. Murray’s research focuses broadly on representations and perceptions of crime and how these lead to processes of criminalisation. His recent work on the criminalisation of popular music combines his criminological background and ongoing practice as a songwriter and musician.


Dec 08 2021