Words by André Larnyoh. Photography by Luke Alland, using Leica's Q2 Reporter.
I didn’t really have a lot planned for this summer; my overall aim was to get some much-needed rest after what had been an already busy year. However, London is not about resting. There are summer screenings outside King's Cross; Towpath Cafe finally reopens; and there are countless invitations to get a pint in the sun—it's an endless cycle of socialising and drinking which ultimately results in you (and your wallet) feeling spent. And then there's work the next day.
It's safe to say that the concept of rest had well and truly eluded me. However, instead of wallowing, I looked forward to the idea of release. Notting Hill Carnival had been circled in my calendar since January. For those that may not know, it is the glorious bank holiday weekend in August where any Londoner worth their salt chooses to stay in the city and, for two whole days, forgets about leadership races, failed summer romances and rising energy bills. Instead, they surrender themselves to a Bacchanalian atmosphere of rum, curry goat and whining that'd break down even the clingiest of wallflowers (chances are those walls will be covered in someone else's piss anyway). For most, it marks the climax of the summer.
On my way over to Westbourne Park station from Baker Street, the platform waiting for the
train that would take carnival-goers to the promised land was buzzing with energy. The resulting roar from the crowd when it finally pulled in was the kind you only hear during a World Cup match.
Walking down Ladbroke Grove, on both days I was greeted by that all-too-familiar sight. A mass
of bodies and flags marching down towards the madness. Horns and whistles in full volume, flags of most West Indian and African nations flying in the air, and stacks of garbage already piled high. I sniffed the air and quipped to my friend, “I love the smell of Carnival in the morning.”
If you ask me how it was, I’ll tell you that it was a movie. Following Soca trucks for miles and whooping with delight, dancing in ecstasy to Jungle and Dancehall, all the while necking Magnum tonic wine and Wray & Nephew. I bumped into a record number of people that I knew—something which rarely happens due to the infamous lack of phone service. There was
the inevitable hunt across Notting Hill for a suitable afterparty, but so many DJs end up
promising people onto non-existent guestlists that after 8pm, it just becomes a chore.
By the time I woke up on Tuesday morning, August 30th, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. My
muscles were stiff, I couldn’t feel my toes, my core was tight and I had a slight headache. I
couldn’t help but smile. After a two-year absence, my return to Notting Hill Carnival was a
successful one. However, having lamented on it all, it was also a little bittersweet. As much as I had fun and found that release I mentioned earlier, the question that had to be asked was whether this year remained true to the spirit and origins of Notting Hill Carnival. It felt more like one giant street party, which, on the one hand it is, but, it’s supposed to specifically be a celebration of West Indian and Caribbean culture.
Without going into a full-on history lesson, its origins lie in the marginalised communities of West London during the '50s and '60s, and their overarching desire to have a time and space to celebrate what they knew as home, at the forefront. Over the years this has grown and shifted alongside the landscape of London itself. Therein lies the tricky balance because as much as Carnival's roots lie, and are derived from, Caribbean culture, it has also always been—to some extent—reflective of London, too.
Usually these roots are respected, however—and maybe this was due to the two-year absence
and the strong general need of the populace to get rowdy—the balance shifted too far in the
other direction. I remember coming across a sound system that was playing Disco and immediately feeling the urge to chuck my Magnum at it in anger. Yet how could I? I was getting hyped in a pit jamming to Baby Keem the day before, and you can hear that in any club across town. The point was to indulge in hearing the sounds I rarely hear in most mainstream places.
This year I found myself so caught up in the desire to have a good time that even I lost sight of what makes Notting Hill Carnival so unique. Missing the chance to finally see Channel One and Aba Shanti-I—two iconic selectors for Dub and Roots—was a definite sore spot.
I’ve heard multiple rumblings from friends in the West Indian and Caribbean communities that
say similar: it felt too busy; it was gentrifying; the spirit of what it is meant to be simply wasn’t there. Stories of people interrupting the floats to dance with the performers, or getting too drunk and spoiling the good time. And this is before the usual gripe about the media's portrayal of the day, which always focuses on the minor negatives that come out of any given event or festival.
Despite all of this, the energy this year was still one for the books. The chance to indulge in
something so Black and so intrinsically London is not an opportunity that comes around all that often. I can only hope that next year, with as much chaos and fun as will surely be present, that we remember to focus on what the spirit of the event truly is.