This summer, Britain has been in a bizarre, but much needed, cultural crisis. Calais brought about an outpouring of support for those fleeing war-torn countries hoping to improve their lives by coming to Europe. Furthermore, the image of Aylun Kurdi provoked feelings of shame and prompted the largest march in solidarity with refugees that the United Kingdom has seen. But, perhaps more subtly, there has been an regular discussion happening in pop culture circles about culture: its exchange and appropriation.

At Notting Hill Carnival, a banner hung from a bridge. It read 'migrants made carnival'. It was extremely well placed by the smart activist who hung it as it framed the experience, raising questions about whether it is possible for cultures to come to co-exist through music and celebration. Whilst it must be stated that police presence and behaviour at Carnival demonstrates the racism that informs the behaviours of the force, there is also a hugely positive message to be taken from Notting Hill Carnival's popularity.

Despite the media focus on the violence, it is regarded as one of the United Kingdom's top attractions, which quite clearly shows that London can play host, enjoy and be made through other cultural traditions. And, of course, that what constitutes Britishness can, and should, develop and change. In other words, it is pretty good evidence that the conservative concern that other cultures cannot coexist and the multiculturalism is a problem lying dormant is just, well, totally wrong.

In order to chat about these things further, we caught up with the Heatwave. The MC and DJ duo sold out their carnival party and had some interesting insights into being 'two white guys who play Jamaican dancehall'.


Notting Hill Carnival

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about cultural appropriation in music, often in relation to white women such as Iggy Azalea. Your own music is influenced by Jamaican dancehall - do you think music can be a site of cultural exchange? How do you achieve that exchange as opposed to appropriation?

It's fundamentally problematic playing (for example) Jamaican or Caribbean music while being white, British, privileged and so on. There's no getting away from that: we have a social and economic advantage and I think the first step in trying to avoid cultural appropriation is to recognise that. I've always approached the music we play with awe and respect. When I started playing reggae and dancehall, I was on a year abroad in the middle of my degree and wasn't going to my regular classes. Instead, I spent the year learning to DJ - playing out four times a week - and basically studying reggae and dancehall, the music, the culture, the history.

For me this was never a fad or a fashion or something I pursued for economic gain, it's music I love and a cultural story I find endlessly fascinating. I think that makes a difference as a starting point, it means the way I approach the cultural exchange is as even as it can be. And yes, music is always a site of cultural exchange: in Spain a shared love for Jamaican music brought me together with Spanish, Italian, French and Greek people. Back in England, I started working with Jamaicans, black British people with Caribbean heritage, white English people, anyone and everyone who was into the music.

To an extent I will always feel like an outsider in relation to Jamaican music, but there was a big difference from Spain - when it was just me and the music, no connection to Jamaica or Jamaicans - to when I moved back to London and started working with people who grew up around dancehall and within the Caribbean community. I've learned more from those experiences and relationships than I could ever learn from second hand information, and I know I've brought my own musical background and ideas into the way I play reggae and dancehall.

Growing up in London, Jamaican influences were all around me: the cultural exchanges between second/third generation Jamaicans, Detroit/Chicago dance music and English ravers gave birth to acid and hardcore parties, the flyers for which I used to collect at secondary school. My early raving experiences were at jungle and garage nights, British music that would not have been possible without the Jamaican soundsystem culture imported to England by the Windrush generation. The UK rappers I listened to - Roots Manuva, Rodney P, Skeme, Tricky - were all using patois and dancehall lyrics in their rhymes.


Notting Hill Carnival

Do events like carnival have the potential to change what Britishness is stereotypically seen to mean?

Definitely, in fact I think carnival has already helped change a notion of Britishness. If you look at the Notting Hill riots in the '70s, the Caribbean population are portrayed as foreigners or outsiders, there's a sense of "them" being different to a British "us". But for many non-Caribbean Londoners today, carnival is "ours", something we've grown up going to and being part of. We know it has Caribbean roots but it's a London festival, something that tells a specifically British story about integration and multiculturalism, about people connecting and having a good time together.

Did either of you notice the "migrants made carnival sign?" If so, what did that make you both think / feel?

I didn't see it on the day but saw a photo online later and reposted it. So true, so simple. Migration made everything. People move around and share ideas: that's the history of humanity.


Notting Hill Carnival

What is the best thing about playing at carnival?

What I love about playing carnival is that we're on this wave all year - bashment bashment dancehall dancehall - and suddenly everyone in London is there too. Any tune we might run throughout the year and get a decent reaction suddenly makes people go MAD. What an experience.

What is your secret to selecting tunes that make people want to dance?

I guess I should keep that secret! It's a good question, I've never really thought about it to be honest. I've basically got to the point where I can't listen to music without automatically thinking "can I play this in a Heatwave set?".

I've played so many parties and seen so many tunes make people dance - and seen quite a few clear dancefloors too - that I guess I just get attuned to it. I'm not always that good at saying "this song will be a hit" but I'm very rarely wrong when I say "people will dance to this even if they don't know it".

Photos by Jade Jackman + Josh Rogers


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