Where's the party? Anywhere but Boiler Room HQ.
What's wrong with the boiler? The club culture live-stream giants have come under fire for their increased involvement in Notting Hill Carnival – in particular the funding they receive to cover it.
Last year Boiler Room partnered with Guinness in order to broadcast live-streams of eight different sound systems. This year they increased the number, as well as creating a series of short videos in the lead up to the event. With their influence over the event expanding, many feel they are cynically profiting from Caribbean culture, as well as corporatising the event in ultimately destructive ways. The growing resentment even made it into some graffiti.
Tensions first flared up last week, after it was revealed Boiler Room had received a £297,298 Ambition For Excellence grant from the Arts Council England for next year's event. Given that the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises Trust (LNHCET) receives a much smaller £100,000 from Kensington and Chelsea council to run the entire event, many have been left scratching their heads as to why the money has been distributed in this way.
That said, the concerns go beyond the money. Critics have also taken issue with the intrusion of live-streams – constantly documenting people as they get loose, without their clear consent. It's one thing going to a Boiler Room event and spotting your face bobbing about at the back of a crowd, but Carnival is a two-day party, during which some 2 million people take to the streets. Nobody wants a internet broadcast of their face 36 hours into the rave.
An anonymously-penned article titled Babylon Room was published on Saturday crystallising many of these arguments, making the case in no uncertain terms that Boiler Room were "whitewashing black culture into a palatable consumer product". The conclusion? "Boiler Room are not welcome at carnival."
Boiler Room have responded to criticisms, detailing in an extensive statement a full account of where the money is going to be spent. Broadly, they define their aims as changing negative perceptions of Notting Hill Carnival in the media, creating a visual record of the weekend and securing a sustainable future for the carnival. Included in their plans are allocated funds for training and mentorship programmes around Carnival, as well as £54,000 earmarked for BASS (British Association of Sound Systems). Boiler Room also pledge to offer consultancy to various sound systems in order to help them secure brand sponsorship and public funding.
As to why the money has gone to them instead of the Carnival, Boiler Room had the following to say: "Boiler Room understands it cannot solve the funding issues that surround Carnival: we can't apply for funding on behalf of LNHCET or the individual productions that make up Carnival. What we can do, and what this grant is specifically designed for, is to play a role in campaigning against negative media perceptions of Carnival and to help workshop and consult the main organisations of Carnival to secure public and brand funding."
Plenty of other people have come to Boiler Room's defence, arguing that this isn't that deep. Carnival is, they say, a major cultural event in the UK. As such, having Boiler Room there to stream proceedings is no different than any other music festival. Yet the statement hasn't done much to contain the situation.
There is still confusion as to how Boiler Room can affect media perceptions among the demographic who actually believe negative stereotyping about Carnival – chiefly, suburban-dwelling Daily Mail readers. There are also many who feel facilitating brand sponsorship will ultimately take control away from the community. In response to this concern, Boiler Room have said: "Brand sponsors have been present at NHC for years, but we believe that the way we are facilitating brand involvement with the event has more purpose, commitment, and carries more benefit to Carnival…"
Ultimately, this goes bigger than Boiler Room's intentions. Their grant raises troubling questions about the future of the party. Even if their desire to enrich the carnival is completely altruistic, it doesn't answer why an exterior media company has ended up with so much financial influence and cultural authority. Given that Notting Hill Carnival has been increasingly in danger of cancellation in recent years – largely as a result of an infamously unsupportive local council and an onslaught of defamatory press – it's fair to say many of the problems diagnosed in their grant application are very real.
The question that remains is whether Boiler Room are the people to solve them.