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Rampage Sound System on 30 years at Notting Hill Carnival

To celebrate three decades of Rampage at Carnival, DJ Mag caught up with founder Mike Anthony to find out what the crew have in store, his favourite Notting Hill memories, and his hopes of Rampage receiving its well-earned flowers

Rampage has been part of Notting Hill Carnival’s sound since 1993, when DJ and founder Mike Anthony first took over London’s Colville Terrace, where he happened to be living at the time. Since then, it’s grown into Carnival’s largest static sound system, and a joyous hub of Black music culture. With a mighty roster of past performers including Stormzy, Sean Paul, Ms. Dynamite, Dizzee Rascal and more, Rampage has also become a hotbed for world-famous artists right in the heart of West London.

This August bank holiday weekend, like clockwork, some 20,000 dancers will descend on the sound system for three joyous days of hip-hop, R&B, dancehall, jungle, garage, and more, DJ’d by Rampage and their extended family. It’s a tradition that’s taken place for three decades, and has built the sound system into an institution.

As Rampage gears up to celebrate its 30th year at Notting Hill Carnival, DJ Mag’s Olivia Stock caught up with Mike to find out what the legendary crew have up their sleeves.

O: Hi Mike. What can fans expect from Rampage at this year’s Carnival?

M: “For those that regularly go to Rampage, they know they’re going to get all the genres of music that they love to hear – from hip-hop, R&B, garage, drum & bass, and jungle – they’re gonna get the complete spectrum. And what it is with carnival for us, is we have our friends join us. So you’ll have like Seani B, Super D, Pioneer, Master Steps, Heartless Crew, they’re our friends – we call them family.

So it’s Rampage and their family, 30th anniversary, and what’s also interesting is it’s hip-hop’s 50th birthday so we are gonna honour hip-hop quite a lot this year with some really nice hip-hop sets, proper old school. I’d say the hip-hop now isn’t the same and that’s where I sound a bit old – there is a couple of tracks out there that are great – but it’s like the nineties and the naughties where hip-hop was in complete domination. It’s kind of morphed into a kind of trap style, which is cool, but like I said, there will really be a bit for everyone but more heavy on the hip-hop this year.

We’ve got some big artists performing as well, another big artist confirmed today. We can’t announce the artist because, in the past, when word’s got out, we’ve had to then tell the artist no. So, Stormzy had been on our stage four or five years prior before he blew up, and then all of a sudden he was too big and the police was like, ‘if things get too big, we’re going to have to shut you down’. So, it literally has been a case of ‘Mum’s the word’ otherwise it becomes a problem.”

Rampage Sound System via Facebook

O: Congrats on 30 years at Carnival, what a milestone. What’s it like being at the helm of such an important institution like Rampage for this long?

M: “It’s been a situation where there have been years where I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I can’t’. Because, you know, when we were younger, and when the audience was much younger and more volatile, fights would break out and in the '90s, people would be throwing tear gas in the air. We’ve gone through the fads of it all. And now, touch wood, we’ve been incident free for the last seven, eight, nine years. Rampage always used to have that reputation, you know, people would say ‘Are you going to Rampage? Something’s going to happen’, and it’s been amazing to move away from that.

What’s helped is the things that we asked for in the beginning, we have now. In the '90s, we wanted cameras but we couldn’t get them. So, I went and bought fake cameras, put batteries in them so a red light would flash and stuck them everywhere, and then I actually went to the laminating machine in the office and printed in big letters ‘CCTV’ and hung it all around the street so the crowd thought they were being watched. Because we weren’t getting any help. We were more worried about our audience than the establishment was.

The music side, would you believe, is the easy part. For us, it’s more about health and safety now: working with the council, working with the police, would you believe, all the boring stuff that you don’t really think about is what we focus on more. We have meetings after meetings with the residents making sure they’re feeling secure and happy. When you get caught up in the moment of a show, you never realise it’s taken years of planning. The second carnival finishes, we have to plan for the next one!”

Rampage Sound System via Facebook

O: Do you have any standout memories from Rampage at Carnival over the years?

M: “The very first year we did it was unbelievable. For us, at that moment, the tide, the moon, the sunset, the stars, everything lined up. I remember coming home from a gig at 6am in the morning and putting my head down to sleep and all of a sudden, my windows started vibrating, rattling – someone had turned on a Sound System on my road. Back then I was actually living on Colville Terrace and I had a nice convertible sports car parked downstairs. So I was like ‘Holy shit!’ and ran down to move it, and then I obviously realised it was Jazzy and Soul II Soul.

The next year, they weren’t there anymore and I was like ‘hold on, obviously it didn’t work for them’. So I approached the carnival committee and said ‘I’m Rampage... we wanna be at Carnival’. I told them ‘Soul II Soul used to be there, that’s the open pitch and we want it’. So they had a meeting and they gave it to us. It was the perfect storm. So yeah, we set up at the top end and the only reason why is because I wanted it away from my house. Also, Westwood were playing at Carnival at the time, and I remembered that they faced their speakers down the street so I was like ‘we should probably do that, let’s face it towards Talbot Road’. So we set it up, aimed it down the street and 9,000 people turned up. I was really overwhelmed by the turnout, it was literally a roadblock.

Ms. Dynamite is another one. We had to change the barriers on our road because the crowd surge bent the barriers, to reinforced ones from the police! There’s so many of those little things you remember from over the years and you’re like ‘wow’. And you put it aside, and you move onto the next year.”

Rampage Sound System via Facebook

O: Rampage has an inimitable reputation for booking artists right before they blow up. What is it about emerging artists, and especially UK artists, that is so key to the Rampage sound?

M: “When Rampage first started, we had no legal station that played Black or urban music, which they called it back then. Rampage was going by choice, we were on a pirate radio station. So, everything’s kind of morphed along the way — it's completely organic.

"We had people like Skibadee on our stage as an MC, we embraced jungle which was UK music, we embraced garage, we were eventually on WNK as a legal station, and then we launched 1Xtra. By that point, we were at 60% UK music. But prior to garage, jungle, and all that music coming through, there wasn’t really enough music out there from UK artists to make it a majority. People were like ‘I wanna see Drake in concert. I wanna see Usher... Destiny’s Child’. All the way from the nineties it was all about US artists. All of sudden now, you’ve got your Stormzy’s, you’ve got your Pay As U Go, your So Solid’s, and so forth. So that organic shift in music that we embraced, music that we played, that radio show on 1Xtra that we were on, gave us that platform to help UK artists thrive.

"It’s really the culture of Carnival. The first time I ever DJ'd was on my uncle Master MC’s stage at Carnival, Rapattack. He let me and Richie P, when we were young, go and DJ on his set. Back in the day, I used to follow all the sounds and my mum and dad would take me there with my little brother, so we’re part of it. It’s our DNA. It’s something that I protect fiercely. Seani B has said it before, ‘we have nearly died for our culture’. Whether you’re in a stampede, or something’s gone wrong in a crowd, we’ve nearly died for our culture so we have to protect it as much as possible.

"Bashy said a very emotional thing to us recently. He grew up in West London and the day he first performed on our stage, he said on the microphone, ‘I used to be standing over there in the corner and here I am now in front of 15-20,000 people’, and that, for me, made Carnival worth doing every single year. Just to hear him say that, it’s worth it. Because now, I can fly from Florida to London and not play a single US artist, and we can DJ all day in front of 20,000 people with UK artists because we have our own culture now.”

Rampage Sound System via Facebook

O: We’ve heard Rampage are partnering with Amazon Music +44 to stream live from Carnival this year. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

M: “We’ve done streams before and it always goes down great, so it’s something we want to keep offering. For those that are watching online, it will kind of be like a television programme where we’ll cut away live to interviews and DJ sets, almost like a red button affair. So it’s not just looking at the crowd at the MCs and that, it’s a lot more going on. If there’s an act on stage, you might want to hear from them and what’s going on, so we’ve got some people interviewing and all that while we’re at the front of house.

"We’ve also got massive plans for next year’s Carnival, which will be something groundbreaking. We’re going to be experimenting with it around Christmas time with the whole streaming side of things, but it’ll be a lot more interactive. We’re also looking to do our own Rampage festival in the future, as well as another Carnival Classics next year!”

O: What are you most looking forward to and hoping for from 2023’s carnival?

M: “I’m hoping that, and this is going to sound really bizarre, I’m hoping that we actually get our flowers. And why I say that is Reading festival, Glastonbury, all these functions don’t have to look for a sponsor. They don’t have to negotiate. And after 30 years of doing this, investing 1.8 million over 30 years in a free party for our culture, I think companies and sponsors can actually step up and say, ‘this is something we need to do'. As opposed to just ‘this is the flavour of the moment, we need to get our brand out so let’s sponsor it for one year.

"You know, Rampage costs £80,000 to 90,000 every year to do, and those are the things going on behind the scenes that we do without batting an eyelid. So for me, just give us a bunch of flowers.”

[This conversation has been edited for length and clarity]

Plan your 2023 Carnival movements with this interactive map of 36 sound systems, three live stages, and more.

Want more? Read DJ Mag’s longread on the history of UK sound system culture here

Olivia Stock is DJ Mag’s digital staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @oliviast0ck