Have you finished sticking sequins to your feather headdress yet? It’s Carnival again, with a million people taking to the streets of Notting Hill over two days of the bank holiday to blow whistles, eat jerk chicken and shake some serious booty.
We’re all familiar with the steel bands and outrageously colourful floats that will journey through Ladbroke Grove. One of the other Carnival institutions is the static sound system, 36 gigantic speaker set-ups that fire out anything from hard techno to roots reggae from their sites on the streets all day long. Some of them have been in their spots for decades, including Jim Angell and Matt Brown, aka Sancho Panza, two Holland Park-educated locals who have been entertaining festival-goers for 20 years.
Who better to advise on the sound-system experience than two fortysomethings who’ve been coming to Carnival together, first as fans, then as DJs, since their teens? They’ve put their heads together and come up with some pointers:
Appreciate the work that’s gone in
It’s a bit like planning a wedding, but with loads and loads of brides and grooms. It’s a year-round production, we’re always thinking about it. We try to tweak it every year one way or another. It’s a tropical theme this year — we have a workshop that we’ve been in, repainting and reglittering some old stuff and putting together a big new order of bamboo and palm trees. We build the sets ourselves, which is very much part of the joy of it for us. We love getting our hands dirty.
We’re also working with Funktion-One, who make the speakers for a lot of the big dance clubs. We’ve got some kit coming down this year that has never been seen or heard before, which should sound amazing. I always play on the Sunday [as Jimmy K-Tel], which is traditionally Children’s Day so it’s a bit more disco leaning, funkier house music without being cheesy. Matt plays on the Monday, which is more techy, a bit harder. We’ll get about 10,000 people a day at our spot.
The DJs love it too
Normally we keep our line-up a secret, but I can tell you we’ve got Crazy P doing a semi-live thing with a brilliant singer, Craig Richards (the music director of Fabric), and Horse Meat Disco, which has become a bit of an institution. Nobody gets paid for playing at Carnival as it’s a free event, so it’s a real honour to have these people who normally command great fees.
When we call people to ask if they fancy playing, they bite your hand off. It’s really special, so different from being hidden in a nightclub DJ booth in the dark. This is hopefully blazing sunlight, everyone can see your face and you can see everyone’s face, it’s just a brilliant vibe. In the past we’ve had people like Sasha or James Lavelle … They all come off the decks at Carnival just going, “Wow. That’s my gig of the year.” That’s what keeps them coming back.
Take in the variety
It’s amazing to be able to wander the streets and hear lots of different music with no idea what’s going to be playing around the next corner. We have Norman Jay’s Good Times near us [Southern Row/West Row] — it’s great to have him back after his year off as he’s part of the furniture around here. He still does that rare groove thing but also plays house, dubstep, drum and bass, so you will get contemporary music with him but the old school stuff as well.
Our other favourites are Aba Shanti-I [East Row, junction with Southern Row], proper roots reggae all day with real old-style sound-system men who’ve built the boxes themselves. Is that the true Carnival vibe? I think the true vibe has always been an eclectic mix. The beauty of it is that it isn’t one pure thing. It has to be a mix in London — that’s what this city is.
Just be aware while you’re there — and if you’re going to get drunk, carry on being aware! When we first started, we were dealing a lot more with Notting Hill Carnival Ltd but now we work directly with the council and the police. It’s much better organised now in terms of health and safety, risk assessments and so on. Our “sector commander” with the police is brilliant, he wants to make our party rock. We could work with him all day. What we all want is a fantastic, mad celebratory event but we also want it to be safe.
All the talk of Carnival moving to Hyde Park has died down now, thankfully. A beautiful part of it is that it’s in the streets. In the past there were areas in Carnival that you probably didn’t want to go. It’s not like that now and that’s a reflection of the change in Notting Hill overall. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when the statistics that are printed are always about the number of arrests. What about the number of people making costumes, how many people spent nine months building something incredible?”
Fancy a top up?
Our Carnival Top Up is on Sunday evening [Regent pub on Regent Street, NW10, 7.30pm-3am], and Norman Jay’s doing a Carnival warm-up on Saturday night [The SoulBrew at a “secret” Shoreditch location, 10pm-4am, address on booking at normanjay.com]. There are so many Carnival spin-offs now. When we started, some people were scared of Carnival. Local pubs might not even open. Now any bar, pub or club in the footprint of Carnival and beyond is doing a party with DJs. Some people go to Carnival over the two days and don’t even go to bed in between.
We used to do an afters on the Monday night as well, but there is a point where the batteries just run flat. At one time, we were doing Hammersmith Palais, Shepherds Bush Empire, these huge events, but in the end we thought there’s nothing better than the free outdoor celebration that is Carnival, so we made a conscious decision to start doing something small and local in a pub. You can’t ever match what goes on in the day.