Words by Gabriel Myddleton, photos courtesy of the Heatwave crew
As we here in New York get suited up for North America’s largest and maddest carnival this weekend, checking in with UK friends who just weathered the Notting Hill storm provides a kind of a sneak preview of what we can expect–bashment-wise if not actual temperature-wise. Therefore we asked Gabriel Myddleton–along with Dan Bean, one half of the London-based Heatwave crew (and the evil genius behind our carnival kit of a few days ago)–to helm the next installment of our ongoing carnival coverage and provide us with the post-game highlights:
Although the official carnival is held on the streets of Notting Hill and many people only attend on the busiest day (Monday), carnival in London lasts all weekend and spreads across the entire city. Over a million people attend the carnival itself and countless Londoners spend the weekend pumping carnival anthems from car stereos, phones and open windows. On Friday afternoon I heard Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” blasting from cars twice in three minutes and knew that carnival weekend was underway. For The Heatwave, it’s carnival season all year round, so you can imagine that when everyone else is getting in the spirit we are even more hyped than usual!
This year things kicked off with Poison UK’s massive soca concert in east London, directly on the other side of town from the carnival site but still fully part of the celebrations. Jamaica’s Busy Signal and England’s Donaeo joined soca stars Faye Ann Lyons, Skinny Fabulous, Lil Rick, Tallpree, Shal Marshall and the KES Band for a winding and rag-waving jamboree.
Lil Rick, Skinny Fabulous and Faye Ann Lyons all employed crowd control techniques that I’ve never seen before: encouraging the massive to make space and move around as much as possible, causing waves to ripple through the audience. Skinny was the most impressive; he parted the crowd “like Moses” to clear a route through which he–and then followers–could charge up towards the back of the auditorium! He neglected to voice a lot of the accompanying tune “Duracell (Charge Up)” but his antics more than made up for the vocal silence.
Busy Signal was slick and technically very impressive, spitting out anthem after anthem with perfect diction, timing and stagecraft. But it was clear he was playing to a soca rather than a dancehall audience; the responses to his tunes with Machel Montano (“Push Bumper” and “Wooiiee Gal Wooiiee”) were much bigger than for any of his bashment hits. It was interesting to see Donaeo included on the line up: “Party Hard” has been a massive hit in the soca world this year–its inclusion on VP’s Soca Gold 2010 was a bit of a coup for a UK funky anthem! In fact the story of “Party Hard” kind of sums up the inclusive nature of UK carnival: North American dance music (Suges’ original instrumental) co-opted by a Londoner of African-Caribbean descent which goes on to become a hit in the Caribbean.
The distinctly London aspect of Notting Hill Carnival should not be ignored. This is never a strictly Caribbean affair; London’s vibrant music scene is also celebrated and many of the tunes on rotation from soundsystems and floats are homegrown hits. Probably the best example of that this year was the revival of Lethal B’s grime anthem “Pow!” Sticky dropped it on Monday and it got two rewinds; a soca remix with vocals from Destra Garcia also registered serious forwards.
So what was the biggest carnival anthem for 2010? Before the event, our money was split between “Hold Yuh” and “Clarks.” At the two gigs we played on Sunday night, Secousse in Notting Hill and Plan B in Brixton, we quizzed the crowd and they responded “Clarks” and “Hold Yuh,” respectively. And both tunes were massive. But in fact it was the monster soca hit “Palance” that caused some of the rowdiest moments of madness over the weekend.
Inie bust his head on the ceiling and Benjamin D‘s shoe went flying due to exuberant palancing on Sunday. I nearly knocked Dan Bean off the stage at Plan B the same night and Poirier and Face-T tore up the Red Bull/Major Lazer party with the tune on Monday. By 6pm on Monday evening I was so tired I could only manage rocking an on-the-spot shuffle when we dropped it at Oi You–and all hell broke loose.
If many of the tunes that carnival-goers had running round their heads come Tuesday were much older – from the 80s, 70s or even 60s – then David Rodigan was surely to blame. It’s been brilliant in recent years to see him get the wide recognition that he so deserves: it’s great that so many people are coming to see what Jamaicans and reggae fans worldwide have known for a while. He got some of the biggest forwards of the whole weekend at our roadblock dance in Brixton, with his usual enthusiasm and his deep box of dubs. We played before him and ended our set with an acapella special of YT’s “England Story” blended with jungle classic “The Lighter.” It was gratifying to see him respond by dropping his even more personalized version of YT’s tune, followed by a fully customized dub of Cham’s original “Ghetto Story.” Like a lion cuffing a cub!
I missed him at the Major Lazer party but by all accounts it was amazing, and it’s not like Rodigan ever flops, is it?! Me and Henry Heatwave once saw him play a friendly clash against Qualitex in Bristol in front of about ten people, but even then he was playing such hard tunes that it prompted Blackout JA to break a chair against the wall of the club!