The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event that has taken place every August on the streets of London. In 2004 Brian David Stevens worked on ‘Notting Hill Sound Systems’, a project where he capture the towering speaker rigs and sound systems of the carnival before the crowds arrived.

Why did you decide to work on a project about this?

I paid for university by working as a roadie, so I ended up with a love for speaker stacks! The ones you saw at the carnival were hand built, beautiful looking systems. By shooting very early you removed the context of the sound system and could see them as sculptural forms in their own right, imposing in the empty streets, alien and sometimes threatening, but always interesting. Modern monoliths, new henges, places of worship.

Can you tell us how you have developed this project?

When I first shot it I took it to one of the national newspapers, I was really pleased with it, but they absolutely hated it! I lost a bit of confidence with the project and it ended up in a drawer for a couple of years. On getting a new film scanner I dug the project out and showed it to Jeff Barrett from Heavenly Records who loved it, put it on his website and we had a show at The Social, Heavenly’s club/bar/clubhouse in central London, which was great.

Did you have any references or sources of inspiration while working on it?

Not hugely, I always like ‘series’ of pictures, bodies of work always interest and move me more. I guess Bernd and Hila Becher’s Watertower series may have been a subconscious influence.

In 2014 you made a limited edition photo book/zine with the England based editor Café Royal books. Could you tell us something about this collaboration?

I’d done a couple of previous books with Café Royal Books (Tyburn Hemp and Mayday) so was keen to work with Craig again. The first edition sold out in two days so we decided to do a second edition straight away, we changed the cover on the second edition to differentiate between them. The second edition sold out in a few days too, we toyed with a third edition but thought things were getting silly! After that I produced a set of boxed screen prints with a company called Tartaruga (
The series was also featured heavily in the media, Mixmag and The Financial Times both ran double-page spreads and it was featured on many websites including a photo editor and a curator. Editioned prints were produced that were bought by museums and collectors also

You will publish ‘Notting Hill Sound Systems 2’ a new book/zine also edited by Café Royal books. Could you tell us something more about this new project?

This year I was shooting some speakers for a book project about British bass culture with the writer Joe Muggs. Due to the rain many of the systems were covered by tarpaulins I thought it would be great to reprise the series showing both covered and uncovered systems to really emphasise the sculptural qualities and shapes. All apologises to Christo!
There will be the Cafe Royal book which will be followed by a box set of two colour screen prints again from Tartaruga. Hopefully we will do a very limited boxset together with The Photographer Gallery Bookshop with different colourways, busy times!

What is the difference between these two projects?

It’s a reprise but pushed slightly further. It is all about form, but there’s humour there too…

What are your influences, photographic or otherwise?

Oddly I was thinking about British painter Paul Nash when I was doing these, maybe there’s a hint of surrealism in there…

Notting Hill Sound Systems by Brian David Stevens is published by Café Royal Books, 2014.
Photo courtesy of Brian David Stevens.