In a few hours time Europe’s largest Carnival will take to the streets of Notting Hill for the 45th time. However it’s not just the poor weather forecast that has worried people this year. Coming so soon after the UK riots, some local residents and businesses in Notting Hill are preparing for the worst by boarding up their houses and shop fronts.

They’re not the only ones who don’t want to get caught out. During the widespread looting that followed the riots, there was some criticism of the police for not keeping up with how rioters were using communication technology such as BlackBerry’s BBM network to coordinate attacks. This time around the police refuse to be caught napping and have already made preemptive arrests, based in part on their monitoring of social media.

While the Mayor Boris Johnson’s call for the Carnival to ‘help heal wounds’ caused by the riots was lampooned by some on Twitter, many of the comments last night were from people hoping that the event will pass off peacefully, or those too worried to attend because they feared trouble themselves.

Google turns to Grime

Meanwhile last week Google released an advert for its Chrome browser featuring Jamal Edwards, the just turned 21 year old rising star of the UK Grime scene who launched his own TV channel, SB.TV and has his sights set on becoming a future media mogul.

The ad, made by the London agency BBH, was apparently produced ‘way before the trouble’ started on the streets of Tottenham, but nonetheless it must have made a few Google Executives nervous given its focus on the UK’s black urban culture, which has been blamed for causing the riots, most notoriously by Historian David Starkey. In my view, Google’s potentially controversial choice of subject matter was no accident.

In Search of Street Cred

One of the loudest advocates for Google’s new social networking platform Google+ is the founder and former President of MySpace, Tom Anderson. In a recent article, he argues that Google+ is destined for success, and draws parallels between its launch and that of other social networks such as MySpace and Facebook.

Of Twitter he writes:

“When the 140 character wunderkind launched in 2006, it was only used by tech nerds. Just one community, that knew each other by name, if not in person. Then John Mayer signed up. Now there was two communities. The tech nerds, and the John Mayer fan club. Then there was Diddy. Suddenly Twitter was of interest to people who liked hiphop & rap. One celebrity at a time started to build sub-communities on Twitter. And make no mistake, Twitter went out and recruited them. Like Facebook, they realized that to gain scale in the social networking space and take mind share from others, they needed to target sub-communities.”   

It would seem that Google has learnt that lesson. By making a hero of a young, black, up and coming entrepreneur, they are following in the footsteps of brands like Nike and Adidas who have long understood the benefits to be gained by associating with urban cool.

Google+ “not broadcasted enuff for us cool kids”

I did a bit of digging around to try and try out what types of people have been joining Google+. Perhaps unsurprisingly the early adopters were largely male geeks from the US. There is an Urban Technorati Google+ group and the odd Hip-Hop celebrity (Snoop Dogg and the UK’s Tinie Tempah). But from what I could tell, the cool urban kids aren’t flocking to the service in droves just yet.

Using my own connections, I also did a bit of primary research via BBM to see how many young people on that network had opened a Google+ account. Only one person responded positively, suggesting that Google has some work to do.  Google+ is “not broadcasted enuff for us cool kids lol to no about it” was one response I received. If the latest advert for Chrome is anything to go by, it looks like Google plans to change that.

However, engaging with an urban audience can be tricky. As BlackBerry makers RIM discovered during the riots, being the brand of choice within this demographic could land you in hot water on occasion. But to ignore them is to risk being left out in the cold entirely.

As this year’s Notting Hill Carnival hits the streets, the eyes of the media will be watching closely to see whether urban youth culture is still too hot to handle.

31/08/11 UPDATE: Fortunately, this year’s Carnival came and went without a major outbreak of violence. The Guardian reports that arrests were only slightly up at 245 compared to 243 at last year’s event. Considering that around 1 million people were expected to attend the festival, this figure is remarkably low. For comparison, 138,000 attended this year’s Glastonbury music festival but there were 123 arrests made – a significantly higher ratio.

It seems that the massive police presence played a role in keeping the crime figures down. But the remarkable photograph of a youth fleeing the scene having stabbed someone in front of a line of police officers shows that for some, the threat of arrest is no deterrent.

This kind of behaviour is almost impossible to comprehend without understanding the mentality of some of the youths on the streets today. It is described in gripping detail in the book Hood Rat by Gavin Knight, and may well be the topic of a future post.

However, like many people, I’m relieved that the Carnival on the whole brought out the best of London.

Notting Hill Carnival 2011


One thought on “Notting Hill braces itself for the 2011 Carnival as Google turns to Grime

  1. My sister-in-law is taking part in the carnival today. Aside from the concerns you highlighted above I think it’s interesting to see how people view the carnival in a post-riots world.

    I remember talking to a guy years ago who spent 10 mins explaining how to use jewellery to fool weapon scans by police…

    I hope everything goes well and people remember what the carnival represents, as opposed to what it could be misappropriated for…

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