If you want to carve out a career in drum & bass, Prague’s Beats Evolution Conference is the ideal place to start. We headed to their third summer session to Czech it out
There’s never been a better time than now to get a leg-up in the music game. More conferences are popping up around the world, more industry sages are offering advice on all aspects of the business from creative skills to legalese, more labels are hungry to identify unique new talent, and more specialist roles are required, from coding to videography. If you know where to look, the doors are so open right now they’re falling off the hinges. Yes, even the doors of drum & bass - a scene that, until relatively recently, has been famously guarded and prone to keeping its trade secrets as tightly stush as its dubplates.
To coin a phrase used by producer-turned-teacher Amit, who we interviewed on this site earlier this year - no more secrets! After years of undercover ops, drum & bass has become one of the most open genres in terms of its artists running their own audio schools and classes (from Philth to Turno to Heist), artists from all generations and subgenres collaborating, and even its own conference… Beats Evolution Conference (BEC)
Hosted by Let It Roll, the largest and longest-running D&B festival on planet earth, the BEC premise is simple: to bring like-minded D&B souls together and push the genre forward. Over the course of four days, the conference offered a smorgasbord of masterclasses, demo listening sessions, panels, talks and tutorials from artists of all levels and industry professionals of all flavours, from bookers to label managers to royalty specialists to massive festival organisers to engineers. With a genuinely unique dynamic of experts all together on one level and looking to learn and connect, even before the programme of events kicks off, this is a networking goldmine for anyone aspiring to get into the industry.
The programme itself was just as unique, as it took place across two sites. The first day was held in the NOD Café, an art space above Prague’s famous art deco club The Roxy, while the remaining three were held on an abandoned airfield 30 miles northeast of the city at the Let It Roll festival itself. It's a daring dynamic, and a first for the three-year-old conference, as BEC took its educational, industry-focused activities into the heart of a massive 170 BPM rave... in the gruelling near 40°C heat Czechia has experienced this summer. The move worked remarkably well.
But first, the opening day in the city: the most intense, panel-pummelled day of the event that tackled the more serious industry topics, complex matters and guidance for aspiring artists. The conference was launched in style by Hospital Records co-founder Tony Colman, AKA London Elektricity, who dramatically jumped down off the stage and asked everyone in the audience to show their best bass faces. Instantly engaging the small but clued-up gathering of delegates, artists and panellists which included major players such as Radio 1 D&B ambassador Rene LaVice and Eatbrain bossman Jade, he extolled the fact that D&B has remained independent, never needed major label support and offers a tight community that’s unlike any other genre.
Setting a positive tone for the event, his talk set the stage for masterclasses with Technimatic and Nomine, and panels and discussions on issues such as how to maintain a healthy life/work balance, how to make the most of your revenue streams as an artist, how to get signed by labels and how to work with the press.
The day climaxed with an intense debate about the loudness wars. An issue that’s been rife in music since jukeboxes were invented, the loudness war has been especially rife in drum & bass since first Dillinja, then Pendulum and Noisia emerged onto the scene. The panel was held with renowned mixdown overlords Calyx & TeeBee, soul man London Elektricity and Nomine, who has said on this very site "fuck the loudness wars". With such a broad range of approaches, the discussion could have been very divisive, but instead the focus was on the vitality of dynamics (no matter how much you redline certain frequencies) and the most important message for any aspiring artist: don’t even try and emulate the pros, just focus on your craft and writing music. The details will fall into place.
The base switch
As did the following three days at BEC at Let It Roll Festival. While this combination of shindig and schooling is far from new (It’s been Sonar’s schtick forever, Outlook’s Sound Studio has offered workshops and talks for some years now and it’s always been a characteristic of more traditional festivals such as Glastonbury and Green Man), BEC’s presence at the event did feel like refreshing, positive statement.
At its core, Let It Roll is an unforgettable, unapologetic rave. It has eye-popping production on every stage and a hedonistic atmosphere that runs riot from sundown to sun-up, with the genre’s most exciting and forward-thinking artists who know they can dig deeper here than at most other festivals because they’re performing to a crowd that doesn’t need pandering with well-known hits. In drum & bass, an event this niche at this level is unparalleled and attracts card-carrying junglists from every corner of the globe, and perhaps that's why the conference worked slap bang in the middle of a rave.
Many of the festivalgoers were artists, promoters, DJs and label owners within the genre themselves, and more than happy to spend the quieter daytime hours of the event at panels such as Is Bass Music A Boy’s Club? or How To Run Your Own Club Night, get involved in the discussion and learn. The perfect foil to the mania of the festival’s night schedule, if anything, BEC vindicated the craziness of Let It Roll. Knowledge is power, after all! And with more power comes more raving stamina. It’s basic science.
One of BEC’s most prominent successes during the festival, however, was the range of interactive artist interviews. Instant tent-fillers, deep conversational Q&As where fans would ask any question they like were held daily with some of the line-up’s 300+ artists. Thursday’s highlight saw the arena fill with Aussie revellers showing support for rising duo Ekko & Sidetrack, who announced their signing to Viper and shared their thoughts on breaking into the international game. Friday saw the currently unavoidable SASASAS analyse the last 30 years of MC culture and give away a pizza to the best question, while Saturday, the final day of the event, scheduled two high profile interview sessions: The Prototypes broke down their roles composing the music for the festival’s spectacular opening show and answered an array of technical questions, while the final session of this year’s conference saw Camo & Krooked go under the mic.
Headliners at Let It Roll, they discussed the negatives and positives of the drum & bass scene, the lack of dubplate culture, the delicate art of the album and the development of their live show to a packed tent with an audience that spilled out of the entrance. With high profile new-gen artists such as Signal in the front row asking questions only pro producers could ask, the Austrian duo ensured BEC closed with the energy and enthusiasm for the craft that inspired the conference and Let It Roll in the first place.
It’s true that there’s never been a better time than now to get a leg-up in the music game. It’s true that there are more conferences popping up around the world than ever. But few, if any, manage the balance between chaos and classroom quite like Beats Evolution Conference. A chance to learn from industry sages, meet some of the genre’s most influential labels and sit with them as they hear your demo and a chance to experience the biggest D&B festival on the planet? If you want to work in drum & bass there's no other place like this. To keep this stush would be criminal.
Words: Dave Jenkins Pics: Sophie Harbinson