Notting Hill Carnival: 'We're playing in Brixton this year'


Channel One Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival 2019

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Eddie Otchere / Museum of London

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The Channel One sound system has been at every single Notting Hill Carnival since 1983

For nearly 40 years, Mikey Dread has spent his August Bank Holiday on a corner of west London running one of Notting Hill Carnival’s most famous reggae sound systems – Channel One.

However, this year he’ll be south of the river in Brixton.

“We’re playing an outside thing at the Jamm. It’s without the sound system but I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Like so many events in 2020, Covid-19 has dramatically altered Europe’s largest carnival.

Rather than one million people dancing around Notting Hill, Westbourne Park and Kensington, revellers will have to watch streamed performances from the comfort of their own homes.

Sound System, Notting Hill Carnival 1989

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Adrian Boot / Urbanimage

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Carnival has been taking place for more than 50 years

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Dread, who forms half of Channel One with MC Ras Kayleb, is among those who will feature.

“We’ve done a recording already,” he explains. “We went in there, did an hour and that was it.”

Revellers at Notting Hill Carnival, Elkstone Road, 1991

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Peter Marshall / Museum of London

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The event usually takes place over the August Bank Holiday

Channel One have been playing their selection of “conscious reggae, exclusive dubplates and uplifting steppas” at Carnival since 1983, when Dread was in his 20s.

“In them days it was a free for all. All you had to do was get power and start playing,” he said.

“We got power from this lady who lived just round the corner from Portobello Market and it took off from there.”

They played there for a couple of years, then moved to another area with the help of a friendly caretaker who gave them access to electricity through a pillar box.

Two uniformed policemen dancing with two carnival goers at the Notting Hill Carnival, 1980s

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Sydney Orleans Harding / Museum of London

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Carnival has grown increasingly popular over the years and more than one million people normally attend

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For the last quarter of a century they’ve held the same spot near the junction where Leamington Road Villas meets Westbourne Park Road.

Indeed the duo have only failed to play on one day of carnival since then, when they decided to spend a Sunday taking in the sights and sounds with their children.

“After that I said if this is it, leave me out. It’s far too much walking,” he said.

While the DJ believes the lack of floats and dancers in Notting Hill this year will seem strange to many, he sees one definite advantage.

“I don’t miss all the paperwork you have to do. You can’t just turn up, get power and play these days.”

Channel One Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival 2019

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Eddie Otchere / Museum of London

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One stack from the Channel One sound system will be a central exhibit at the Museum of London

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The Channel One sound system may not be in Notting Hill in 2020, but one of the stacks will be appearing in a slightly more unusual setting as part of an exhibition at the Museum of London.

When it opens on 2 October, Dub London: Bassline of a City will allow visitors to explore the capital’s dub reggae music and culture.

Dread believes it’s “very heartening” that all their efforts over the years are being recognised and people will be able to “see what it’s all about”.

However, he still hopes the stack will be back on his corner of Notting Hill come this time next year.

“A lot of people look forward to it. It’s what we do,” he said.

Dread Broadcasting Corporation Reggae DJ Lepke, Notting Hill Carnival, 1981

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Adrian Boot / Urbanimage

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Power for the sound system was all that was needed in the 1980’s but now there’s a lot more form-filling

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Dub London: Bassline of a City will be free to visit but tickets must be booked in advance on the Museum of London website

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