The onward march of gentrification continues unabated in London, and another working class cultural tradition is under threat, as we hear the news that Channel One Sound System’s place at the Notting Hill Carnival is under threat. Channel One has been a defining influence on Club Soda Records, more in terms of vibe than sound, since our inception; indeed they were the subject of our very first blog post back in 2011. Of course the Carnival tradition precedes the flow of money into this area of west London by many years. Channel One have been at the Carnival for 32 of them, and performed at the bottom of Leamington Road Villas for the last 20, but complaints from the spectacularly wealthy residents about noise and mess mean that Westminster Council is reconsidering their license. As the Channel One crew point out in an interview with Red Bull (hardly ones to fly the flag for local, unbranded traditions – just ask fans of SV Austria Salzburg, but that’s another story), the 7pm curfew is always strictly observed and their area is far more harmonious and trouble-free than other parts of the Carnival. This, however, has done little to appease the objectors.
What makes the whole thing more troubling is that of the 6 soundsystems that fall within Westminster’s boundaries at Carnival, 3 are under threat – Channel One, Killawatt and Sir Lloyd – all soundsystems with a serious reggae heritage. the furore is reminiscent of the threats by Hackney Council some years back to close down Plastic People, former home of legendary dubstep night FWD. The use of drugs was cited by the authorities but anyone who had been there could tell you that there were few clubs in London where you were less likely to be offered drugs. The dancefloor was enshrouded in darkness and people flocked to FWD for one reason only, not to look good on the dancefloor, get smashed and pull/fight, but for the sound system and the killer bass tones. It was pointed out on this blog a couple of years back that carnival is becoming more like a festival each year, and if reggae and dub sound systems continue to be singled out (bassism, anyone?) this trend will only accelerate, until Carnival becomes an over-crowded school disco. As Mikey Dread points out, Carnival is “not about money or brands or house music”. And much as we love deep, dark house music here at Club Soda Records, he’s absolutely right. There are hundreds of clubs where you can find that vibe, but there’s only one Notting Hill Carnival.
Postscript: On Wed 6th August it was announced that Westminster Council had granted Channel One a license to play the carnival for the forseeable future. Great news and a good example of how a strong community response can win results for ordinary people.