For the second year running, Boiler Room will be broadcasting from Notting Hill Carnival. This is an overt attempt to commodify and profit from a celebration of the culture and heritage of the British West Indian community, cynically promoted as a project to “help develop Carnival’s sustainable future.” Boiler Room’s recently awarded grant of £300K highlights how discriminatory the funding for the Arts is in this country, as the Carnival organising committee remain criminally underfunded.
While it debatable what effect Boiler Room has had on club culture (the benefits of increased media focus and investment into dance music versus the cost of commodifying and caging a culture that at its core holds the power for deep and radical self-liberation; subverting this power for profit), its shift from operating in private club spaces, where people can opt-in to being filmed, to the public space of Notting Hill Carnival is a step too far.
Started by the anti-imperialist and anti-racist campaigner Claudia Jones, Carnival’s origins lie in a response to establishment media racism, especially in the wake of the Notting Hill riots of August 1958. However, in a recent episode, Boiler Room have shown their lack of willingness to take an anti-racist stand, when they edited out the phrase “white men” from a recent film of DJ Sarra Wild for fear of “all sorts of political repercussions”. Boiler Room’s presence is a direct affront to Notting Hill Carnival’s radical origins.
As police scale up their surveillance activity, this year employing the use of facial recognition software that civil rights groups claim has no basis in law, and as armed soldiers will be operating under-cover throughout the crowds as an anti-terror deterrent, Boiler Room’s video coverage of Carnival is yet another intrusion of the corporate state into our private lives.
Typically Boiler Room events happen in private spaces, whereby attendees are implicitly opting-in to be filmed. However, Carnival is a free and public event, with many attendees probably oblivious to the fact that they will be streamed across the internet. Filming last year proved to be much more intrusive than typical Boiler Room events where the camera normally only faces the DJ. In a society that is over-worked, Carnival serves a much needed space for London to let off steam. At moments where you would rather no one is looking, you have no idea who is tuning in. Compromising footage could quite feasibly be obtained which could have significant personal implications.
What’s more problematic is that Boiler Room have been given £297,298 of public money, by the Arts Council England, but the event organisers have to make do with only £100,000, and individual soundsystems have to pay in order keep their presence at Carnival. While the money comes with the supposedly laudable aim “to shine a light on the under-celebrated sound system culture”, from this pot, only 11% (£32,000) is being given to the soundsystems (via the British Association of Sound Systems). The rest is being kept by Boiler Room in order to “change the media perception of Carnival” and “to create a high quality, accurate visual record of Carnival, balancing … its portrayal in traditional coverage”
While Notting Hill Carnival does suffer routine negative coverage in the press, every year nearly 2 million people still choose attend. The people already know that Carnival is sick ! The complaining cohort of Evening Standard/Daily Mail/Tory MPs are not going to tune into the live coverage or watch whatever documentary film Boiler Room manufacture afterwards.
The fundamental problem is with the state and the local council who continue to show contempt and a lack of respect to the local afro-caribbean community. Let’s be clear, we are talking about the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, the same borough whose gross negligence lead to the Grenfell tower fire. These people do not and will never care for soundsystem culture or the black community.
Ultimately such coverage performs little to no public good, and will not stop the yearly conspiracy to shut down Carnival. Instead this coverage feeds into Boiler Room’s PR campaign, whitewashing black culture into a palatable consumer product and creating lucrative marketing opportunities for brands to infiltrate Carnival on a much larger scale than seen previously. All this is innocuously worded in their press release as “working to generate stable revenue streams for Carnival”.
What’s more, this corporate sponsorship will no doubt pass through Boiler Room’s hands, giving them a huge financial leverage over the organising committee. After decades of work creating and sustaining Carnival, they will have to sit and watch as it becomes corporatized and sanitised.
Boiler Room operating as a middleman for state funds, keeping 89% of the money for their own projects, and levering open Carnival to corporate sponsorship, all the while posing as the saviors of carnival is beyond farce.
Don’t fall for the PR spin.
Boiler Room are not welcome at carnival.
Edit: The previous funding figures, from the council to the carnival organisation trust, have been corrected (£100,000 instead of £52,000)