The Drum & Bass feast: Let It Roll Open Air & Beats Evolution Conference 2016
I suck at headlines. No kidding, I really do. And another thing - don’t expect me to somehow cover the whole last week(end) with this piece. It’s merely a reflection of what’s been going down on multiple fronts during the last 5 days, meaning Let It Roll Open Air festival as well as Beats Evolution Conference. But I’ll get to that later. First of, let me just start with some basic information as some of you might not be familiar with any (who am I kidding, everybody knows Let It Roll, right?).
So yeah, Let It Roll originally started as quite a niche open air festival representing (at least by back then) a fringe genre of music (or even electronic music, when you take the country in which it’s being held into account). Over the last decade, many of the locals could have watched a rise of a new phenomenon (because, let’s face it, foreigners didn’t and quite frankly couldn’t give a shit back then). Sure, the festival itself owes a lot to the fact the genre became more spread out and even made it to the charts over in the UK, but, and this might sound a bit shocking/heretic to some, the genre might owe a lot to the festival as well. Or, maybe let me rephrase that - drum & bass might owe a lot to the people behind Let It Roll, Beat Promotion. Again, I’ll explain in the following paragraphs.
This year might have as well been the first in the festival’s history in which the amount of foreign visitors topped the amount of locals being present. It might not sound like too much of a big deal to some, especially to those living in the Western Europe, but I would dare to say that’s the first time ever for Czech Republic to witness something like that. It also peaked at over 25,000 drum & bass heads attending, which is an absolutely insane number for a music genre that still lacks a massive local following, not even mentioning the fact basically every other festival held in Czech Republic is having a hard time not losing the numbers they were used to, let alone topping the previous records. Let It Roll, on the other hand, still does. And not by dumping the ticket prices nor playing it safe. You can tell just by the sheer amount of stages and performers over the 3 nights. Yes, you can get to a bigger festival and hear drum & bass being dropped, but at no other place in the world right now you can meet with that many people who are there for drum & bass, and drum & bass only.
If this doesn’t convince you of whether it’s worth attending (at least once), you can also add all the extras you get to the equation. For one, a massive opening show, which is getting more and more ridiculous each year. This year’s one peaked at almost 20 minutes of lenght, the music for it was exclusively scored by June Miller and it all took place at the biggest festival stage ever built in Czech Republic. It was a feast for all the senses. But maybe you’re not interested in all the tinsel and you’re there really because of the music. In that case you still must have been feeling like you’re in the seventh heaven itself.
For me personally, it was all about Noisia premiering their „Outer Edges“ live performance. For those who know very little about my personal tastes in music, I have to confess. I used to be a big Noisia fan when I’ve started to listen to drum & bass, but in the last few years I’ve grown out of being fond of their output as I’m mostly partial to the deep and melodic stuff drum & bass has to offer. BUT, even then, I’ve felt like the show was absolutely epic. In every aspect of the word. Be it the insane visuals which almost looked as if they were created specifically for the mammoth main stage or sort of funny kinda astronaut looking costumes with lit up hoodies that were changing colours during the performance. But most of all, the music itself of course. I mean what the actual hell?! The immense goosebumps from most of the pieces being played definitely owe to the great soundsystem taking care of the main stage, but still, it’s all about the creativity of those 3 geniuses when it comes to the music which they’ve chosen to communicate through with us. Even though it’s mostly really hard hitting, technical stuff, the level of experimentation and idea deployment, as well as the flood of emotion being present in even the loudest bits is something every artist (not only musicians per se) has been trying to achieve. To put this in three simple words – NEXT LEVEL SHIT. And though I mean no disrespect to every and any one else in the game, with this the mighty Dutch trio has proven yet again by just how much they are ahead of the rest of the field, be it sonically or idea-wise. The execution is as close to perfection as human beings can really get, so I’d strongly advise anyone who can to go experience it. Granted, some people didn’t really get it as they were expecting mundane neurofunk blast for the whole hour, but instead, they‘ve got a full front extra-terrestial experience seamlessly floating throughout tempos and genres, being connected only by the immaculate production sounds. On top of the bits from the new album we could have heard some recent stuff (Running Blind, Stamp Out, Dustup, Friendly Intensions) as well as different takes on their own „classics“ (Diplodocus, Program, Dead Limit). Simply amazing.
And even if you’re sure you wouldn’t appreciate that, you could have just wander through the whole festival area to get to hear music all around the spectrum, be it to some extent leftfield sounds of Exit Records, soothing melodics and experiments from Med School, classic vibe-y liquid funk from Fokuz Recordings, heavy underground blasts from the likes of NeurofunkGrid or Rough Tempo, oldschool vibes from Bass Beast night, full on neurofunk from Eatbrain, Blackout and Noisia Invites and most prominent sounds of the genre from no one else than Hospital, RAM and Viper Recordings. Plus every essential act taking over the mainstage. Plus a live stage, featuring for example Riya and her amazing vocal live show for one. When they say it’s the whole scene coming together, they are not lying one bit. It’s every DJ, MC and their cats all over the place, quite literally. Many people were asking about the purpose of the „Bus Parties“ or Red Bull Saurus car. Apart from all being the part of the fun, when you actually witness the bus ride as it's passing by during the daytime, it's full of cheerful faces of people partying and you get to see the same facial expression by the few DJs crowding behind the mix, you just feel this is well worth it.
Another thing that deserves a mention is stage design. Putting the aforementioned main stage colossus aside, Factory stage looked like the last year, but worked somehow better this time. Madhouse stage was different and breathtaking. Even the smaller stages were amazing, the thing that this year finally connected all of them was perfect soundsystem at all of them. Last year, some of the smaller stages experienced some problems soundwise, but this year it was all perfect. Clean, crisp, warm sound took over the crowd during every single performance. There were of course some cons present (just read the event wall if you wanna see the details), but many of the complaints are (as every year) misdirected, some of them are probably just plain mean and stupid and some of them need to be adressed in the future. But it’s a human creation after all and it’s really hard to nail everything, especially the things that are out of your reach. Despite that, I still feel like the festival has come a long way in terms of treating its visitors and most of the things are as good as possible. Not even mentioning the way they treat their guests – DJs. Even though there are many people working their ass off to take care of everything from driving the DJs to sort out the hospitality for them as well as sorting out security issues or visitor complaints, they always find a moment to say hi and their smiles are real. But then they are again quickly on their way to respond to up to date issues. So yeah, you can see the stress, you can see the buzz as well, but it also looks well organized and not at all chaotic. It’s simply professional, yet still personal as well.
All of this should give you a very good idea of why I’m gonna say the next few sentences. Let It Roll is an essential event to attend if you’re a drum & bass fan. And it’s not about how big it is or how shiny it looks on the photos and videos. It’s about the hard work of the people behind the festival who obviously love the music that much that they’ve been over the years able to build such a monument to it. I must say I do honestly think this part gets more than often overlooked by many of the locals, be it the die-hard fans or even the DJs themselves. The hard work of theirs then translate to the omnipresent feeling of connection and basically just good vibes all around the place. Seeing those thousands of people coming together and enjoying their stay is quite a spectacular thing to watch, let me tell you. Even more so when the sun is coming down and people on the mainstage are vibing to guys like Madface, Marky, LSB or Fabio (this should give you an idea how well the festival represents the newcomers and veterans in the game, too). And in those moments, it doesn’t matter whether your T-shirt logo reads Eatbrain, Blackout, Hospital, Fokuz or Exit. You just stand there in awe, watching all this going down in the very moment, suddenly you can’t stop your feet moving, hips shaking, hands going up in the air, whistling, clapping and singing along to them anthems like The View. And for that, I think the Let It Roll guys (meaning every single one of them) deserve a one big THANK YOU. But wait, we’re not done yet!
There’s also the second part of the story, which took place right before this year’s festival. It was for the first time ever the people from across the drum & bass scene coming together to share and discuss their views and opions on the music and everything related to it. And let me tell you one thing straight, right here at the beginning. This was as essential an event to attend as the festival is (and based on what you’re up to in the scene, arguably even more important so). I’m not kidding, because even if you are a part of the drum & bass movement in any way for some time already, you still have a lot to learn. This might mean funny stories as well as valuable informations. And it doesn’t really matter whether you’re an avid fan or an upcoming producer, DJ, promoter, label owner…
But, to keep some structure, some basic informations first would be nice, wouldn’t they? So, on Wednesday and Thursday (meaning just before the festival) you could have gone to one of the most famous club spaces in Prague – Roxy/Nod – to meet with various representatives of the genre’s community. From the label owners over promoters of the biggest events to the most famous producers and DJs, hailing from the various corners of the world, all of those people were discussing interesting topics the world of music currently puts in front of them (and all of us). I’ve tried my best to attend as much discussion panels as possible, but there were also production master classes, demo listening sessions, Q&A sessions as well as label teams showcases, so if you are a bit of a music scene geek like me, you would have had another Christmas coming.
And it wasn’t just any names on the list, the keynote speech was given by none other than The Executioner himself, Andy C, who then also sat through an one hour Q&A session. You got to see master classes from guys like June Miller, The Prototypes or Neonlight as far as production goes, but then you also got to see A.M.C talking about DJing and Kryptomedic with Nuklear taught us some basics about MCing as well. You could have sent your demos and then be given feedback from the label teams like Eatbrain, Titan, Viper or Hospital to name just a few. Or, like me, you could have been interested to hear what key figures of the genre like Scott Bourne and Chris Goss or producers/DJs like Jade and Icicle think about the music and its various surroundings.
To list all the interesting thoughts that have been shared here as well as the names giving them would take another few paragraphs, so I’m not gonna go in too much detail here. The most important thing is that the conference was trying to cover all the important angles, be it breaking into the scene as a newcomer, promoting nights, as well as the never-ending debate about „commercial“ vs „non-commercial“ or the introduction to the fairly new challenges like music streaming. All of the panels were full of people who did and still do their fair share of work thus they know the problematics inside out and have really insightful approach to solving any possible problem in the way. And it was really refreshing I must add, because as a DJ/promoter myself, I basically only get in touch with DJ and their agents. It’s really interesting to learn about all these people who work in the business as well and to realize how much they really do. Case in point, Hospital Records. Chris Goss have mentioned they now have 21 (twenty-one) people working full time for the label. That’s f*cking insane if you ask me. And they certainly do a terrific job, once you realize the full scale of their operations, which is something you suddenly get a very good picture of while attending a conference like that, whereas before you might have just thought some complete and utter bullsh*t, being disconnected from the reality of things. And, if you’re a bit like me, at all, you must be thinking, is this all really good for the music itself? Is it really necesarry to have so many people working on something like that? See, but you get it now, because that’s basically all about, you’re given some proper exciting as well as exact informations you can then work with, think about them critically, as well as hearing other people discussing them, too. Which is the most important thing in the end and should suffice as a reason as to why should you spend 2 days of your life at an event like this.Now we’re getting back to the very beginning of this article as the conference itself is the best testament to what I‘ve said earlier about the drum & bass scene owing a lot to the Let It Roll festival (Beat Promotion guys) as well. Maybe the number of visitors didn’t fully reflect it, but this idea might very well be another step to the unknown future of this music as well as the final step in making the scene really global (which was also a topic for discussion there). And I, for one, am very proud to be around when those guys are making the history, even though all those years ago when Let It Roll first started, no one would have guessed it and maybe even themselves didn’t really think nor believe they could (and would) make it that far. And it’s so much more of an accomplishment for a group of guys who are all from a small country in the very heart of Europe. It’s all a bit unreal, really, to see it all work so well. But when you think about it, it’s not really much of a surprise. Those people were dedicated since the day one and through their tireless effort they’ve managed to become one of the driving forces for the whole drum & bass scene over the years. What once used to be a „trendsetter“ for the local scene has now grown to a global dimension, and, I think it’s fair to say that at least to a certain extent, their work is now setting trends to the rest of the drum & bass world around. And no one can really say a single damn thing against that, because they didn’t manage to get where they are now by jumping on some bandwagon. They created it. And it has its own face, even though robots are not my thing to be completely honest here. So I say ladies and gentlemen, well done. I’m now tired as f*ck, but it was all worth it. Here’s to another succesful year(s) of Let It Roll as well as Beats Evolution Conference. Again, a big THANK YOU and see you next year!