With Czech D&B festival Let It Roll about to host their first full-scale UK event, we talk to festival founder Suki to get the story so far
If you’ve so much as come within shoe-throwing distance of a junglist in the last few years, you'll no doubt know all about Let It Roll. As one of the longest-running, and certainly largest, events on the currently thriving drum & bass festival menu, it’s a towering, 200+ artist, sci-fi splattered beacon. For diehard fans of the genre, Let It Roll has achieved Boomtown or Glastonbury levels of ‘can’t miss’ loyalty.
That’s 25,000 diehard fans to be precise. Fans who, over the last 10 years, have gradually become more and more of a vibrant international mix, with ravers from almost 70 countries attending in the last few years, all eager to experience its now-famous hedonistic vibe, the healthy range of pioneers and next-gen talent on its line-ups, and its extraordinary production, stage concepts and sci-fi themed opening show.
Monolithic robots, massive mainstage space shuttles and temples made of cyborg carcasses are regular sights at the festival, giving it a character and ‘alternate reality’ feel that’s unlike any other event. You can add epic interdimensional portals to that I-spy list, too – such as the humungous one they’re bringing to Brixton O2 Academy on 25 October.
Having teased us with their own arena at Hospitality In The Park for a few years, the Czech crew are set to level up with their first-ever full UK rave. And they’re not doing it by halves. Flipping the historic south London venue into a space gateway to other universes with massive décor from the summer festival (plus more being made specifically for this event), the likes of Sub Focus, Calyx & Teebee, Randall, Breakage, Harriet Jaxxon, Data 3, Kumarachi and many more will be stepping through the portal and playing a role in one of the most pivotal events in Let It Roll history. For Let It Roll’s founder Suki, this isn’t just a rave, but much more of musical homecoming, as they get to celebrate the music that’s inspired their events since 2001 in the city it came from.
With roots going back to the mid-90s and Prague’s famously wild post-independence party scene, and a long tenure as a reggae promoter and soundsystem builder, Suki is one of the key figures in the Czech Republic’s thriving drum & bass scene and was the first promoter to invite international acts to the country. Let It Roll’s debut UK rave is yet another significant moment for a man who’s been neck-deep in rave culture since he left school, yet still feels as inspired and excited by it as he did 20 years ago…
Take us back to your first ever drum & bass experience…
"I don’t remember the name of the record, but I do remember the first time I heard drum & bass. It was an underground techno party, in the second stage ‘chill out’ area, and a DJ was playing some old-school jungle. All those chopped-up beats. I was like, ‘Hey, what’s this!?’ I went to a record shop as soon as could and asked for some jungle, and I remember one of these records being a Ganja Kru EP."
When was that?
"It was exactly 1997: the year I finished high school, started buying vinyl and grew my dreadlocks. I was also a big follower of reggae."
You put on reggae festivals for many years, right? Did Prague have a strong reggae scene?
"It was strong, yes. It wasn’t big, but the people involved were very passionate. So I organised reggae festivals. One, called Reggae Meeting, I did every year from 2001 for 10 years. We did a lot of concerts as well. Any of the big stars from Jamaica and Europe. Luciano, Max Romeo, all these guys would play when they came over."
Legends! You were a proper soundsystem man, then?
"For sure! I built them and was the technician. In high school I studied as an electrician, so I would be fixing things if they went wrong. My first soundsystem in 2000 was actually techno, though. I went through a lot of genres of music in a very short space of time, but by 2004 my heart was in drum & bass. But it was all part of a journey – reggae, breakbeat, techno all came as part of that."
When you first got into parties it was all relatively early on during Czech’s independence. What was the vibe like?
"It was four or five years after the revolution and it was so different to everything else I’d seen before. I loved the atmosphere. There was such a strong connection between everyone. People were sharing everything – beers, cigarettes. Just happy and very hopeful. It was very inspiring."
So did that inspire you to focus on being a promoter? I know you’re a DJ as well but promoting is definitely your primary job…
"I guess it did. When I first discovered it, I was going to the parties for two years but after that I was like, ‘I can’t just be a visitor, I need to be involved’ So first it was as a DJ, collecting all kinds of music. I played my first public shows in small techno clubs in Prague and I got deeper and deeper into it. No one knew me as a DJ, so I started organising my own gigs and I found it was fun to organise the parties. I enjoyed rushing around and making sure the night was going well and solving problems, so I carried on doing more events. It’s addictive."
How about exploring scenes beyond Czech Republic? When was your first trip to London?
"I can’t remember the year, maybe 2005/6? I knew Nicky Blackmarket because I’d booked him for a party here, so I came over for two days around then. I actually came by bus, which took about 16 hours! Nicky took me to Fabric and Mass in Brixton, the converted church. It was an inspiring experience to visit the UK and hear the music where it was made."
Could you have possibly imagined hosting a massive rave there 15 years later?
"Never at all. For a long time I could never imagine going out of Prague or out of Czech Republic. It wasn’t until things got really big years later and I made strong connections with agents and managers and promoters. Back then I was just happy to be there and experience it."
When did you notice Let It Roll visitors becoming more international?
"2014, when we changed the venue to Milovice, which is much closer to Prague. Within two years it was about 50/50 international/domestic. Last year we had people coming from 67 countries."
That’s a third of the world's countries representing!
"It’s very surprising and quite crazy when we see ticket orders from Nepal or Uzbekistan and it’s like, ‘Wow, you’re coming all the way to see us?’ I could not have imagined that years before."
You got a reputation now: people enjoy the production and spectacle you create and want to come and see it for real. Are you bringing that massive portal to the UK? It’s huge!
"Yes we are. We have a few different portals to fit different venues but Brixton Academy has a great high ceiling, so we will definitely bring the main portal people saw at this summer’s Let It Roll. And we’re bringing other stuff as well which we haven’t used before."
Taking a huge set like that across Europe must be a logistical challenge?
"I have a great team. We’ve been doing these big events for a long time so they know what they’re doing – it’s very smooth. It’s a long journey and a new experience for us, but that’s exciting."
Production is very important to you isn’t it?
"Yes it is. I want to create something that no one else has. Something unique. The line-up, the production and decoration. So even on the first festival we did some special stage design. Nothing like we have now but something different. Then in 2014 when we moved, we did more themes and decoration and the reaction of the people was great – it helped spread the word, we were the only drum & bass festival in this territory and we looked very different. Not just a standard festival."
Was the sci-fi theme your own idea?
"Yes, that was my idea. We started implementing it in 2013. I’ve always been a massive sci-fi fan and we’ve been developing the story with the robots for the opening show since then. It's become bigger and bigger every year with many artists making songs for the show. It’s been very satisfying to develop and, for me, it makes everything more connected."
The festival did feel more connected this year to be honest. The arrangement of the site, detail on stages, just little tweaks. It was definitely the best Let It Roll I’d been to.
"Me too! I’m very happy about this. The year before was very hard and we had a lot of problems. It was very hot and we had issues getting water to people. We’re always ready for rain, but not for a heatwave. We had a lot of things to fix and improve, but we listened to the feedback of the crowd and it worked."
That’s how you develop, isn’t it?
"Yes, it has to be. After so many years, we’re always learning. My team hates me because they say I have too many ideas, I’m too innovative, but I can’t help it – I want to keep making Let It Roll as good as it possibly can be. Not just in Prague but when we come to London too. I hope to see you there!"
Words: Dave Jenkins
Let It Roll take over Brixton 02 Academy on 25 October
Tags: Let It Roll, Suki, Czech Republic, Prague, Milovice, festivals, D&B, drum & bass, DnB, drum n bass, D+B, jungle, techno, reggae, Brixton Academy, 02 Academy, Ganja Kru, Sub Focus, Calyx & Teebee, Randall, Breakage, Harriet Jaxxon, Data 3, Kumarachi