Posted by: pascoesabido | September 7, 2008

Notting Hill Carnival ’08 – Madness Strikes Again…

Notting Hill Carnival, W8, London 24&25-08-08

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Notting Hill Carnival is, without a doubt, the glimmering jewel in London’s summer crown. Every year we’re spoilt for choice with festivals galore – boutique, family, or all-out commercial – but at which can you wonder through streets of sound systems chomping on jerk chicken, Red Stripe in one hand and a bifta in the other? And with the Police right there to keep you safe! The media can’t help but highlight the negatives, but to us Londoners, it’s paradise. No matter where you’re from or what you look like, as long as you’re prepared to shake your booty in keeping with the Carnival’s Caribbean roots, you’re welcome. It’s stupid not to expect a crowd – a million bodies in a residential area – but it’s not about running around like an ADD kid on crack; it’s about soaking it up without the stress. And why bother when you got two days? Any dreadlocked Rasta lurking by a subwoofer will tell you – they’ve been doing it for 44 years. Squeezing in some 38 official – and a heap more unofficial – sound systems and a lively parade is the talk of a crazy man: two days, one rather large site that runs between Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park, and no desire to get squeezed between a fat man’s sweat-patch and a Caribbean bingo wing; gonna leave the craziness of the Good Times sound system and the carnival route proper for the Monday to allow Sunday relaxation on the “kids’ day”.



Sunday

Arrival comes via a packed and sweaty tube train, but despite the stench you can’t help but get excited – it’s infectious (not that kind). Horns and (fucking) whistles – preferably not in my ear – crank up the carnival spirit. Even my hatred of whistles is put to one side – none of that negativity today young man, it’s ‘kids’ day” Sunday.

The sun’s shining – ish – and the heaving crowds and slightly-peeved police appear elsewhere. Instead, people are smiling at you, even those you bump in to. The kids’ parade saunters down Great Western Road, parents and other supporters hoisting their Jamaican, Antiguan, and various West Indian flags; but do a 180º and you can already feel it: the sound systems creeping in through your trainers (or flip-flops for those with leather toes). What begins as a twitch of the leg ends up as a swing of the hips the moment the first sound system is within ear-shot.

Sir Lloyd’s on Leamington Road Villas is spanking out everything from old-school garage to electro and reggae – there’s even some crazy girl doing headstands on the tarmac. At the opposite end, the legendary Channel One Sound System, on its 25th year at carnival, dubs up the crowds with some rib-crushing bass-lines that have kept them so popular down the years. Walking through Westbourne Park, it’s as if a sound system has sprouted on every corner – every time you step away from one, whack, another wave of sound hits you.

On Talbot Road the mad-hatter Gaz Mayall – complete in tails and top-hat for his 33rd carnival performance – shanks out classic ska and New Orleans R&B from his ‘Around The World In 80 days’-themed sound system. An appearance from 80-year-old legend DJ Duke Vin only helps to deify this area, known as Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues (after Mayall’s long-running weekly club night in Soho). Rampage is another with a big crowd, but mainly girls who could floor you with one hand behind their back if provoked – don’t step on their toes.

Just a few streets away on All Saints Road, Rapattack sucks you in. The sweet scent of jerk chicken and sensimilia waft around to provide icing on an already scrumptious cake: there’s good music (some funky old Miami house with Phili roots and reggae), enough space to lift the knees, a full appearance from the beloved sun,  and the right sort of people. Even the meanest looking blokes have kids dangling from their shoulders. Parp go the horns, shrill go the whistles, and the MC demands more volume – obviously no-one’s informed him of my aversion to whistles. We even get a bit of drama as an old, grizzly, substance-sozzled pirate dances precariously on a second floor window sill, only to be dragged off in the name of health and safety: what parent wants to explain the resulting mess on the floor to their kids? And then it hits: the first day’s already gone.

For those with a plan – or with an ear to the ground – there are a few parties: raves in car parks on both sides of London, one needing ‘orangey porridge’ to be uttered for entry into a land of deep house. The Mason’s Arms, a ticketed pub, delivers Bushwacka! with a ridiculous bleached cross-scalp mohican and a few good tunes, but early feels late and tomorrow’s another day – via a quick house party.

Monday

The tone of the day is already different: Kings Cross Station and Westbourne Park are littered by groups of youths being thoroughly searched by the police, the bottoms of their trainers closely examined for any cleverly concealed pebbles or Kalashnikovs.

But still, you gotta love the August Bank Holiday – how often do you find yourself dancing in the street to wicked music on a Monday afternoon? Bring on the good times. A quick shimmy along the procession route brings the colours and feathers that protrude from the shaking behinds of the dancers, their speaker-laden lorries laying waste to the lethargy. An army of drummers stomp on by, and a chance happening alongside the MTV Base bus allows us to catch a live PA from Kano, such is the carnival, but the big red Good Times bus is round the corner. Getting within spitting distance deserves a break – although it hadn’t actually been too difficult – and it’d be plain rude to walk past the 4 Play system without sharing a dance with the cheeky-chappy hosts: the consummate jokers float out some delicious house and garage, warming up the cockles for another classic Monday – and I can practically see Norman Jay.

But wait – the once-so-friendly police force turn villainous, forming a human-barrier on the very path that Monday has been leading to. They turn away all bar the girl who’s unconscious, vomiting all over herself and the poor policewoman carrying her – maybe she’s on to something?! Perhaps not, but one sneaky side street later reveals the beauty of their treacherous decision: space! Gone is the dreaded-but-tolerated ‘Notting Hill Shuffle’: there’s now actual room – perhaps not to swing my proverbial cat (the real one died), but enough. Life is good – and as if by magic, cold beers arrive in wheelie bins to lubricate the throat whilst Norman Jay soothes the ears with his timeless set of old and new and fucking brilliant.

There’s a small part of me that says “go to Sancho Panza, stop being lazy, get to Abashanti” – but you can’t when you got the tunes and the space. Roy Ayers croons to the crowd that Love Can Bring Us Back Together, whilst Origin Unknown’s Valley Of Shadows brings the biggest boooooo of the day. Just when you think it’s winding down, some dirty techno raises its filthy head, soon followed by Laurent Garnier’s Man With The Red Face, whose subtle trumpets waft over the crowd.

As if God was nodding in approval, the sun finds a clear corner through the grey, maintaining the Good Times’ claim to sunshine at every carnival – so what do you play to celebrate this fact? Eric Prydz’ Pjanoo. A bit cheesy, but on a system that would flatten a herd of elephants, the crowd can’t get enough of it. It works, and between you and me, it’s still a pretty fat tune.

After missing last year’s Monday through TDK-induced stupidity, this is definitely the way to make up for it. Next year – same time, same place.


Photos by Ben Davis

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