Notting Hill Carnival's Top Sound Systems

Chris Lockie
By Chris Lockie Last edited 93 months ago
Notting Hill Carnival's Top Sound Systems

Image by ntalka via the Londonist Flickr pool

The Notting Hill Carnival is back with us for its 49th run-out, and the weather forecast is currently looking 'changeable', as it tends to be in this country. You may need sunglasses and a brolly for the two-day street party that kicks off from 9am on Sunday (24 August). Whatever the weather, at least you'll have this handy Londonist guide to the best sound systems, to save you standing about feeling confused.

These sound systems are reckoned to be among the best the Carnival has to offer, though it's a good idea to get to these early as the crowds can get pretty hefty. It's also advisable to try one or two and stick there, rather than trying to take them all in — when it gets busy, the police tend to close down overcrowded areas to new entrants, making it tricky to get about.

Here's our pick of the 40-odd sound systems you have to choose from:

Saxon Sound

With famous DJs and touring acts from the UK and Jamaica regularly gracing their decks, Saxon Sound are chief among the reggae sound systems at every year's festival. Their greatest public recognition may have come in winning the title of Number One Sound System in the World at the World Cup Clash 21 years ago (in Milton Keynes, of all places), but they've hardly been resting on their laurels since and are sure to have St Lawrence Terrace leaping like loons with their exceptional reggae selections and superb mixing skills.


One of the most respected sound systems at the festival, these guys are purveyors of everything from 70s funk to 90s acid jazz, classic soul to old-school hip hop, and Stevie Wonder to Justin Timberlake. Their team of DJs is fronted by the Master MC, with crew members DJ Ricky and DJ Lady Misstify spinning most of the tunes. But in their 30th year at the Carnival, Rapattack are promising celebrity guests including 'a top US recording artist', so expect the crowds to be heaving on All Saints Road.

Here are a few Rapattack highlights from the 2012 Carnival:


The award-winning Rampage Sound System are at Colville Square this year, following star-studded shows in the past from the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Ms Dynamite and Tinie Tempah. They're aiming for 14 whole hours of garage and rave over the two days, and if you can survive that long you'll deserve an award or two yourself. They're keeping this year's guests close to their chest but it's fair to say if it's going to go off anywhere at Carnival, it's going to be at Rampage.

Pineapple Tribe

Having notched up more than a decade of appearances at Carnival, Pineapple Tribe will once again be bringing their upbeat techno sounds to Notting Hill, at the east end of Lonsdale Road. They've become favourites among the London party crowd in the last few years, having turned out fine events such as last year at Brixton Jamm, and their buoyant beats include everything in the breakbeat, techno and electronic realms. Expect the bass to be deep at this one.

Channel One

In the news lately as one of three sound systems threatened with licensing grief by Westminster Council, Channel One has been forced to embark on a crowdfunding drive to cover the additional costs forced upon them after an impressive 31 previous appearances at the festival. Thankfully, fans of Mikey Dread, Ras Kayleb, Jah T, Rachel Bevan and their top reggae and roots sounds have been quick to chip-in and they'll be booming away on Westbourne Park Road as usual this year.

And here's what you can expect from a Channel One set, taken from last year's Carnival:

CMC Matrix

If all that reggae feels a bit too laid back, it's time for some CMC Matrix. This is the prime sound system for drum ’n’ bass at this year's Carnival — as it has been for nearly three decades — with the stage set to be hammered by everything from oldskool jungle to the likes of Porter Robinson and Black Sun Empire. If you're looking for the best place to hear that Tarantula song that gets crowds so fantastically fired-up, you may well want to be heading to the north end of All Saints Road.

Red Bull Music Academy

With Basement Jaxx headlining its line-up at this year's Carnival there's no denying Red Bull is once again pulling out all the stops in its bid to claim the most high-profile sound system of the weekend. Having said that, you do need a ticket to get in and they were dished out by ballot some time ago, so unless you have the luck of Charlie Bucket you're better off looking elsewhere, or at least practising your blagging skills.

I-Spy Soundsystem

New kids on the block — wait, don't get the wrong idea, they won't be playing New Kids on the Block — these fresh faces are taking over the Good Times spot from Norman Jay as the venerable DJ has a year off. More reggae can be expected at their patch just south of Kensal Road, but they're likely to want to throw a few surprises into the mix if they want to capture a few loyal fans from the more established sound systems. I-Spy impressed at last year's Brixton Splash, so maybe give them a shot — every new sound system has to start their Carnival career somewhere after all.

Last Updated 20 August 2014