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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Friday, 29 August 2014

Dread, beat and mud - London's sodden bank holiday weekend of music

Revellers undeterred by non-stop rain at London's 2014 Notting Hill Carnival
Far from dampening spirits, the non-stop rain on Monday seemed to make Notting Hill Carnivalists all the more exuberant. As one DJ, "Rain a bad thing? Don't you know Jamaican girls love the rain?"
The scars of last weekend's dance music festival on Clapham Common are still there for all to see; in fact it looks like a World War  One battlefield, except that instead of empty brass cartridge cases, the ground is littered with tiny shiny silver nitrous oxide gas cylinders, used by the young ravers for a quick-hit legal high.

In fact, the weather was dry for the whole of the SW4 Festival (Saturday and Sunday only). The heavens opened soon after the last fireworks on Sunday night, and it rained for 24 hours.
Clapham Common  becomes a mudbath as trucks move
 in to clear up after the weekend's SW4 Festival
of dance music

All those muddy furrows were caused, not by 20,000 whigged-out young ravers jumping about to DeadMau5, but by the big trucks that went in on monday and Tuesday to dismantle and carry away the giant stages and other structures, including several hundred portable toilets.

Laughing gas has been used by ravers for at least the past ten years, but I have never seen more empty canisters or burst balloon fragments on the ground, especially in the gutters of side roads along the north side of the Common.

Across the river in the W10/W11 districts things got going in glorious sunshine on the Sunday. But 4pm it seemed to me as packed as any other Notting Hill Carnival - and this was only the so-called "Children's Day".

I had my Carnival highlight very early on. Coming down an empty street from Chepstow Road toward Ledbury Road I heard the metallic crackle of a sound system just firing up, and then the first bars of Pressure Drop began ringing off the walls and spearing me to the pavement with a sport of instant flodd of emotion. It was in fact the Pineapple dance music system, just warming up - probably the nicest thing they played all Carnival. But I have to thank them deeply because they flicked my mood switch so perfectly - from god, so tired, why bother? to a sort of helpless, gormless joy and love of everything in sight.

Stayed in the area for over  four hours, did two complete circuits of the route, hardly spoke to a soul - yet  eye contacts during Carnival confirm a very different atmosphere to normal London street crawling.

But the big day - Monday - started with torrential rain and continued with torrential rain. It looked like about a quarter of the normal crowd lining the streets of the Carnival procession, but the big popular sound systems such as Rampage and Channel One were as busy as ever.

There was a bit of blitz spirit in the air - if the performers, often in next-to-no-clothing, could cope with the rain and the cold, then so could we. The idea that water could quench carnival spirit was again proved to be crazy - these people seemed barely to notice the weather, they were so high on music, booze, love, and similar drugs.
No laughing matter? Everyone seemed to be getting high on
party balloons filled with nitrous oxide out these shiny little
fizzy drinks cylinders.

It was definitely quieter, and the good thing was the lack of causal tourists: most there were hard-core revellers. Felt sorry for many of the food and drink sellers - things are definitely bad when one of the bars in Portobello Road was offering four cans of Red Stripe for a fiver.

A fair bit of bad violence was reported, and there were definitely some very aggressive, boozed-up kids around, looking for trouble. But at least there was usually enough space to avoid them - unlike  in the years of the steamers.

So, in a Bank Holiday that was cold and wet even by London Bank Holiday standards, a good million or so souls were able to bath their battered psyches in the music of their choice, and get taken out of themselves by the collective energy of crowds all flying on the same aerobatic drum and bass-line.

Thank god. 

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