Rampage Sound is Bringing the Notting Hill Carnival to the Barbican

London’s Notting Hill Carnival returns in eight weeks and Rampage Sound – one the festival’s great, if not greatest, sound systems – is celebrating its 30th anniversary by bringing Carnival Classics to the Barbican.

Debuting at the carnival in 1993, Rampage Sound quickly went on to become the reason to be there and over the years has hosted weekend-defining appearances by Ms Dynamite, Stormzy, Sean Paul, Mos Def and Mark Ronson to name a few. The sound system has become such an important part of the carnival weekend that it’s said festival-goers often only ask three things: “Where are the toilets? Where is the tube? Where is Rampage?!”

The DJ collective has been at the forefront of Black music in the UK for three decades, championing both homegrown and international talent while helping to define the sound of the summer. Colville Gardens, the usually quiet corner of Notting Hill the sound system calls home for carnival weekend, is a guaranteed roadblock year in, year out with festival-goers descending upon it in droves.

For their show at Barbican Hall, Rampage Sound has enlisted the support of the Jules Buckley Orchestra for an evening of collaborative orchestral renditions that promises to redefine three decades of iconic carnival anthems. Buckley, a Grammy Award-winning conductor, arranger, and composer, is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to traditional expectations of what an orchestra should sound like. The performance will also feature live appearances by Egypt, Donaeo, Kele Le Roc, Mr Vegas, Omar and more, with special guests expected.

On an unusually grey day in an otherwise sunny June, Hypebeast caught up Rampage Sound DJs Maurice and Treble T at their south-west London studio to talk about the UK music scene, Notting Hill Carnival, and what to expect from the event at the Barbican.

Hypebeast: How did the Barbican partnership come about?

Maurice: We saw Spoony do it. His manager at the time was one of my friends. I asked him to connect us to Chris Sharp, who’s the promoter and the Barbican. We pitched the idea, gave him a tracklist. They loved it. They wanted to do it, and they contacted Jules Buckley who was looking for something similar, and, I mean, it took nearly two years to actually happen in terms of when Jules was free, and when they had a space in the calendar. So yeah, we just asked basically.

So the Barbican brought you together, you and Jules?

Maurice: Yeah, they introduced us. Helped curate the whole thing in terms of, we brought the music, they brought the band, obviously Jules is transcribing all the music, he’s bringing his team on and stuff like that.

What’s it like working with Jules? Have you ever done something similar?

Treble T: It’s kind of weird because, obviously, we work in the industry so we’re used to working with busy and quite well-known people. But he’s, umm… you can tell that he’s super busy. Like halfway through our prep, he had to go off and arrange strings for Quincy Jones and stuff! So it’s quite weird because, you know, you have to work within peoples’ schedules. It’s interesting.

You’ve brought together some incredible talent. What are you most excited about?

Treble T: I don’t think we’ve ever had a soca rendition with an orchestra before. So I’m interested to hear what the soca sounds like rendered by an orchestra.

Has that ever happened?

Treble T: I don’t… I don’t think so. And even in soca music, soca music isn’t really big on strings. You don’t get big string arrangements in soca music. So I’m interested to hear that a lot just to see what the difference is. And with stuff like the percussion, there won’t be steel drums but there’ll be percussionists who a lot of the time will use things like violin plucks and stuff like that to substitute [the drums], so you’ll hear the melody. It’ll be like a Vivaldi-type rendition of soca, I really wanna hear that.

Maurice: I think what I’m actually most excited about is… obviously a lot of the artists are our friends, and they’re super excited because they’re like, “I’ve never done this before.” So seeing their reaction to how their music sounds with a 30-piece orchestra, I’m really excited for that. And for the audience, like a lot of our friends and family are coming, a lot of people like my mum and dad are coming – they’ve never been to one of my gigs before. I’m excited to see the audience’s reaction to the whole show. We have people messaging us all the time saying, “I can’t wait!”

Treble T: And also for the dynamic. Because I didn’t think that doing wheel-ups and stuff would be possible, but Jules is like, “Yeah, we’ve got a sign.” And he’s actually got a Wakanda sign that he does for the orchestra when he’s conducting, and that means “pull up” you get me?!

So what can people expect? How are the artists going to work with the orchestra?

Maurice: Where we could, we got the stems of the original tunes. So the band will put together the bulk of the music using the original stems or, you know, they’ll reprogram it and put the strings on top, then the artists come out and do their thing. We’ve got they’ve got backing singers as well. So, you know, it sounds fat!

How did you curate the lineup?

Treble T: I mean, you want to try and represent music that has been really important, and really resonated with us and the culture at carnival. To be honest with you, you can never you really do the culture justice in any single lineup. Because you go back and you think there are so many other artists and people that aren’t on the lineup, you know. I mean, really and truly, we’ve tried to pick at least one record from every genre that has been important to us. Obviously, there are quite a few big artists I would love to have, like a Wretch 32 or a Kano. But maybe for something in the future. Every record and every artist comes from an era or genre that is of massive relevance to either Carnival or Rampage. Everything has a real memory and a real meaning.

What’s been the general reaction when you’ve reached out to say you’re gonna play with an orchestra?

Treble T: I mean, even the people who couldn’t do it, the people who couldn’t make it, are saying “Oh man, I’m gonna try to do it!” Like General Levy, “Oh man, got another booking, but I’m going to try!” Everyone says it sounds amazing. The general reaction for everyone is that it’s something they want to do. And, like Maurice said, for a lot of the artists, no one’s ever worked with a 30-piece plus orchestra. So, for a lot of them, it’s a brand new opportunity at whatever stage it is in their career.

Can we expect any special guests?

Treble T: …you can! (Laughs)

Pivoting away from the show for a minute. UK music is having a bit of a moment. Do you feel like it has ever had the recognition it deserves?

Maurice: I think it is now. Like, in terms of when we play out, 20 years ago you were pretty much playing American and Jamaican music. And now, for us, we’re probably playing Jamaican and British music. We’re not playing loads of American stuff because it doesn’t hit in the same way that the Hus’, the Giggs, the Kojo Funds and everyone else in between. We’re playing a lot of African music as well. I think that they [UK artists] have just got the formula now and I think the kids accept it. Back in the day, no one was asking for [UK rap] in the club. Whereas now a kid will come and say “can you play the new J Hus record? Can you play the new Central Cee?” or whatever it is.

Treble T: We’ve never had it so good. When I was coming up, if you didn’t rap with an American accent you wouldn’t get through. At that time, people who were into hip-hop didn’t necessarily like UK hip-hop, they’d say “that’s not really hip-hop.” Now, my nephew brought his daughter to my house, and I asked her, “What do you think about Drake?”. “I’m not really into it.” “Who’s your favorite artist?” And it was a UK artist, someone like J Hus or someone like that. He was her number one artist, and [the American artist] was number four. I’d never seen that before. This latest generation, they see no difference between an artist from London or Brighton. In a lot of cases, the UK is actually more important to them, which is phenomenal, brilliant.

Which artists are you feeling right now?

Maurice: I love Hus’ new record. There’s an R’n’B group called No Guidnce who we play quite a lot on the show. I love Jorga Smith’s new tune, which I’m sure they were listening to Wookie when they made that! (Laughs)

Treble T: I like Little Sims, she’s hard.

Last question. Any carnival outfit traditions?

Maurice: I’m a Jordan 1 guy. But you never wear the fresh ones to carnival. (Laughs)

Treble T: I will look at my current trainer collection and decipher which are the most comfortable ones. And if they’re the most battered ones in the collection, like last year, I’m wearing them! Like £45 Nike Air jogging trainers. Literally just jogging trainers. I know I’m gonna be on my feet for 10 hours, 12 hours, so I don’t care what you say. This is what’s on my feet!

Tickets for Rampage: Carnival Classics with Jules Buckley Orchestra at the Barbican are available now starting at £35. You can also catch Rampage weekly every Sunday on BBC 1Xtra.

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