It’s been a pretty bruising few years for British underground culture. Half of British clubs have closed, and new scenes have been stultified by a combination of intense media glare and a lack of spaces in which to even cultivate. Music popular with black audiences has been unfairly targeted by the police via the use of "Form 696", which has just been updated to ask promoters to include photos of performers. Yeah, there has been spectacular new music, there always is, but increasingly fewer places it can call home.
Notting Hill Carnival stands directly in contrast with this upsetting trend, and for that reason, it’s survival is always something worth celebrating. This is the only place where the music of Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Lucia and Barbados sits alongside the sounds of the UK underground - a cultural diaspora of a century of immigration, restaged in two days of Red Stripes, winding and curried goat. Every city has some kind of carnival, but nowhere else do this year’s soca king hits sit alongside classic rocksteady reggae, the bleeding edge of UK bass culture and turn of the century garage classics. How brilliant and bizarre that Singing Sweet’s “When I See You Smile”, Mr. Vegas’s “I Am Blessed”, Ms. Dynamite’s “Boo” and Lethal Bizzle’s “Pow!” all have equal claim to be Carnival anthems.
In recent years there’s been some controversy over whether Carnival should be so embracing of new sounds, and if it will lose its place as a celebration of Caribbean culture. Already this year, the increase in Afrobeats soundsystems has already caused rifts amongst those who think it will dilute the original meaning of the event. The truth is, this is an event that cannot be artificially directed to focus on one music more than another; it always has, and always will be, a mirror image of the current culture and music sweeping through the UK. As each new wave joins, so the old sounds continue, which is why Channel One is just as popular as Rampage which is just as popular as the Rinse x Rough But Sweet soundsystem, the latter which Noisey will be supporting hard this year.
Six months from now, on some of the same streets as Carnival, London will see the New Year’s Day parade. American and British marching bands in military garb will shuffle down the streets and ride on vintage cars as watched by people who had so little going on the night before they were able to get up at 10am to get a good spot. To me, Notting Hill Carnival is not just a party, but a riposte to parades like that. When over a million people descend on West London it vibrantly substantiates that this city’s heart is one of multiculturalism and subculturalism. That our special relationship is with the countries of immigrant communities not our geo-political allies.
And that’s important, because the UK can be a really fucking shit place to live sometimes if you don’t hunt out the joy, when you’re trudging along some faceless highstreet, looking at the blood-stool coloured Costa, getting a tasteless Tesco’s Meal Deal just so you have enough sustenance to not die. Because of all that, it’s worth celebrating the few things that make living here so damn spectacular.
So that’s exactly what we’ll be doing over the next two weeks. Rinse will be partnering with Noisey, Thump, VICE and Munchies to bring you the stories behind Notting Hill Carnival’s music, food, culture and politics. Check back here to find everything we’re doing.