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Making the Brand: Carnival Sounds

September 2020

Article

Leroy Harris

The global pandemic might have left a Notting Hill Carnival-shaped hole in the hearts of Londoners this year, but in a collaborative effort with paq works, a black-owned, London-based creative agency, and Ekua King on photography, Spotify’s Artist Marketing team was able to facilitate a digital experience that captured the true essence of Carnival. Here, Leroy Harris, Artist Marketing Lead at Spotify, shares the evolution of the project (from live event to digital experience), and how paq works’ vision for the campaign came to life.

Notting Hill Carnival in a Nutshell

For the uninitiated, Notting Hill Carnival is the UK’s most important event for black music and Caribbean culture – it’s also one of the largest street festivals in the world. Every August since 1966, around two million people visit West London. Across two packed days, the streets around Ladbroke Grove heave with crowds, costumes, incredible food, steel pans, and a vast array of music that pumps from 38 official sound systems spread throughout the area, as well as DJ’s that form part of the mas bands in the parade that loops Notting Hill.

Carnival Sounds microsite

From Live Event to Digital Takeover

When this project kicked-off in late 2019, it was a very different time - we assumed a partnership with Notting Hill Carnival would involve a live event in some form. 

It became clear pretty early on that Carnival, as we know it, wouldn’t be going ahead in 2020. The positive side of this was that we could really support the Carnival organization by helping them get to where they needed to be: in a digital space. 

The Concept: Carnival Sounds

The idea was to create a Carnival audio-visual experience, all hosted on a microsite. 

We had a wealth of music already available to us on the platform, but it was important that we highlight and celebrate the faces behind Carnival, and allow them to take control and curate that music in the same way they would live at the event. 

The majority of people involved in the festival each year are from the Caribbean diaspora and have lived in London for a long time. For many, Carnival is their biggest outlet of artistic expression throughout the year, be that through music, costume or dance. We wanted to make sure we were bringing that community to life on the site.

We curated a series of Carnival-related podcasts, as well as commissioning new ones. Episodes about everything from the music, sound system culture, and bass culture; we delved into Windrush stories, and the stories of the individuals behind Carnival as well.  

The result was a place digital-Carnival-goers could really delve deep into the music and what’s behind it, listen to playlists by the sound systems and DJ’s as well as high-profile artist takeovers, catch up on the history and culture, and check in on their favourite sound systems over Carnival week, via links to the main Notting Hill Carnival organization’s live-streams. 

Finally (and most importantly), as far as coming up with a creative vision for the site, we didn’t want this to be about us making it entirely ourselves. We wanted to bring together a team of creatives who are part of the community, who love Carnival, and have been raised with that experience – like the founding team of paq works.

Paq works’ Inspiration 

paq works is the London-based agency behind the Carnival Sounds creative direction. Agency founders, Chiamaka Ojechi, Joshua Allen, and Ebele Davis, primarily sought inspiration in one of Carnival’s key pillars: The sound systems.

London Creative Agency, paq works

The sound system concept influences all aspects of Carnival Sounds’ visual identity; the speakers are the centerpiece of good vibes. 

The site features playlists from all 42 sound systems & DJ legends, which are stacked on the page like the speakers themselves. The artwork pulses when the bass is turned all the way up, articulating the little spheres at the center of each playlist. It’s the life of the party throughout the design language. 

These pulsing spheres also inform the choice of typography, which features individual letters seemingly vibrating to the sounds.

Drawing from Carnival’s History

The team at paq works also drew inspiration from vintage event posters from the Caribbean – particularly Jamaican dancehall culture. The artwork for each playlist is entirely unique in the same way sound systems are personalized by their owners. 

The colorful boldness of Carnival culture is completed with the use of a vibrantly rich palette.

Highlights: “Pull up”

A favorite feature among the paq works team is the “Pull Up” button at the bottom of each sound system page. The link returns visitors back to the top, with a nod to sound system culture. 

Ekua King: Capturing the People of Carnival

The playlist covers incorporate Ekua King’s beautiful photography, adding continuity, while still maintaining the individual identity of each sound system.

Photography by Ekua King

Ekua King is the British-Jamaican photographer behind the representations of the people of Carnival. Usually a fashion photographer with work regularly appearing in publications like I-D, Paper, and Vogue Italia, her continued passion is creating works that celebrate the black male image.

Continuing the vintage motif, Ekua shot the portraits on film and used an old VHS camcorder to film footage of the people of each sound system, while interviews were conducted on voice notes.

We had the VHS digitized and edited into 20-40 second clips for each sound system and then overlaid the voice notes with the footage. The stories we captured add individual flavor to each of the sound systems, and help the viewer understand how deeply personal and significant being part of Carnival is to the people involved.

Given the sheer number of sound systems and crews involved, it was never intended for Ekua to be solely responsible for capturing all the photography - we anticipated using additional support, guided by Ekua’s style. However, her passion for the subjects and connections she formed with the crews meant she freed up several evenings and weekends and insisted she wanted to shoot every subject herself!

Carnival at Home

The paq works team, Ekua King, and Stink Studios’, the agency that built the site, combined efforts culminated in a microsite that captured Carnival’s essence, and gave people a chance to still experience this beloved festival at a time when it’s so important to stay home and keep safe. 

The site launched to an incredibly positive reception, particularly the attention to detail of the feel of the site. The design captured a vintage tenor in a nod to the heritage of the event and its participants, while also using entirely original photography and fresh design. The ability to dive in and out of each sound system’s page at will and explore at the viewers' own pace mirrored the experience of walking around Notting Hill on carnival weekend.

Credits

Leroy Harris

Artist Marketing Lead

Leroy is Artist Marketing Lead for the UK+IE music team. It’s his job to think creatively about how to bring music campaigns to life, then to make it happen.

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