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How the world's biggest drum 'n' bass festival happened safely this summer

Layla Marino travelled to the Czech Republic in July to find out how Let It Roll's Renegade festival took place during the pandemic

  • Words: Layla Marino | Images: Jakub Dolezal
  • 16 October 2020

It took work, positive thinking and a lot of luck for Beatworx, the Czech promotions team that manages Let It Roll – what they call the world's biggest drum 'n' bass festival – to pull off Renegade, a scaled-down weekender that took place instead of their usual massive summer event.

Renegade was a mini fest that took place on the same dates as Let It Roll (31 July – 2 August) at Beach Park Mlékojedech, about 30 minutes from Prague. Per Czech gathering regulations at the time, Renegade was able to have a thousand attendees, a small camping ground and three modified stages. Given that there was also a killer international d'n'b line-up, it was a pretty impressive move in the middle of a global health crisis.

"The event was run in close cooperation with local public health authorities and we made sure all the hygienic rules and regulations were met," organisers told Mixmag. "We are not aware of any COVID-19 case arising from the Renegade festival. In summer all the mass events [in Czech Republic] were under close scrutiny and we are sure we would get immediate feedback from the authorities if this happened."

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Black Sun Empire, Phace, Netsky, A-Cray and Camo & Crooked all made it in from the continent and even Koven and AMC were able to grace the stage from the UK. They joined an impeccable line-up of local Czech talent including Rido, Forbidden Society, Madface, Bifidus Aktif and Ripple to put on a show that, while scaled way back from the original Let It Roll, was still a rave in every sense of the word.

The Czech Republic was able to somehow get ahead of the COVID curve and relax restrictions progressively after only two months of country-wide quarantine. At the time Czech Republic had among the lowest per capita cases in Europe with a recovery rate of over 70 per cent and a death rate of only 2.1 per cent.

The events industry, not surprisingly, was initially among the most regulated in Czech Republic but over the course of June and July, event capacity limits were slowly raised to allow for outdoor parties and, eventually, small festivals. Beatworkx proprietor Soucek (Suki) Zdenek and his Let It Roll team followed the restrictions closely through the spring because, of course, Let It Roll’s fate hung in the balance. They were one of the last festivals to announce their rescheduling but also one of the first to be able to create the smaller Renegade Fest on the same dates.

For the Beatworx team, having no festival at all was never an option. "For us there was never a question of doing nothing," said Suki after the Renedage dust had settled, "we were sure we would do something on the date of the original festival. Even before we rescheduled Let It Roll, we were coming up with options to do something this year."

Scouting a good venue for the newly branded mini fest was the next hurdle, and in Beach Park Mlékojedech they found a real gem. Set on a big lake about 35 kilometers from the Prague city centre, the park had plenty of open space but wasn’t too far to travel. The team also set up twice daily shuttles to take partiers to and from the site. A campground was also set up in a shady area for people to stay on-site.

Suki said the festival came together pretty quickly after they secured the venue. "We found the venue about six weeks before the festival. We booked people and got the setup done quite quickly. We usually deal with much bigger events so even though it seemed like we didn’t have a lot of time, the team were ready for it." That’s certainly true, as Let It Roll usually entertains upwards of 30,000 ravers each year.

Both organisers and artist managers were also concerned about safety. "We had a lot of questions from the artists’ agents about safety of course," said Suki. "They asked for the equipment to be disinfected between acts and to ensure there were barriers with the crowd and not to allow too many people backstage. We wanted to make sure everyone felt safe."

So how was it to actually be at Renegade Festival? In a word, chill. Despite one of the heaviest drum 'n' bass line-ups all summer, the relaxed and relieved vibe could be felt all over. On entering the area of Mlékojedech, a forest just outside a small village in the Czech countryside, the hot summer air was immediately about three degrees cooler. One could hear the party before it was visible so the bass showed drivers where to go. There were both a pre-paid parking lot across the street from the beach and on-street parking along the forest. Entry was also quite simple. Once wristbands were in place, fans were free to come and go as they pleased.

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From the entry point, the beach park space opened up into a sort of bespoke courtyard with food stalls, a bar, picnic tables and benches arranged around the circular area. A central building was straight ahead from the entrance with clear signs pointing towards the main stage. Said building would also become the closed stage in the evening, as it housed a bar and a DJ booth. From there the lake spread out before the whole scene, giving fans killer views and a chance to take a dip and cool off if the party got too hot. The campground was smartly placed in the area with the most shade, on the opposite side of the grounds from the main stage.

Upon seeing said main/daytime stage, Immortalz would know without a doubt that they were at a Let It Roll event: a massive covered dancefloor stretched out over the edge of the lake with a stage containing a huge audio setup, LED display and, of course, a huge LIR-style statue the team called ‘The Renegade’. In this space, it was like nothing had changed from the regular festival season as artist after artist blasted the crowd with bass.

On both the Friday and the Saturday, artists played sets on the main stage from two pm until ten, with Netsky and Camo & Krooked closing it down, respectively. Due to noise regulations in the area, after ten the main stage converted into a silent disco with sanitized headphones given to anyone who wanted to participate. Local DJs played there until two am. The indoor stage with its sand floor also opened up at ten and rocked until five am. This was the only area in the festival that required masks. The likes of A-Cray, Forbidden Society, Madface, Akira and X-Morph kept the all-night vibes going for those partiers hearty enough to stay awake until the beautiful sunrise over the lake each morning. During the day on Saturday, there were also two industry forums: a Q&A with Katie Koven and James Rush, and a panel discussion about how COVID has affected the music industry.

Speaking to some of the artists appearing from other countries, there was a bit of apprehension coming to an almost completely unmasked festival at first but once they played, the excitement to finally be on a live stage took over and the vibe could be felt all the way back to Prague.

"You know, I’m coming from Germany where everyone is still in masks and there are lots of restrictions," said Neosignal co-head Phace, after elbow-bumping a number people instead of hugging or shaking hands, "it’s a different world in the rest of Europe, but once I got onstage it was just so fun to finally play live. I totally let loose with my set and played a bunch of crazy stuff just because I was so happy to be playing."

It was a sentiment that was shared by many of the artists in attendance, as well as the fans. There was also a great sense of relief that something in the scene could finally be semi-normal. "In these strange times, to get out here to this beautiful location, playing for these energetic and happy people was really awesome, as well as catching up with friends backstage," said Rene from Black Sun Empire, "I hope these things can happen safely in other places soon."

Local artists also revelled in the chance to be out in the sun playing once again. "Renegade Festival was such a fresh breath of air," said the nature-loving Rido, "I loved the location and vibe and it (the main stage) had a great sound!’ Local up-and-coming darkstep duo Ripple mirrored those sentiments. ‘It was amazing to feel the Let It Roll vibe after such a crazy year. Big up the Let It Roll family!"

For this mini festival and its organisers at Beatworks, that ‘Let It Roll vibe’ was really what it was all about. As so much is still uncertain in the world and many people saying the west may never get back to ‘normal,’ the Beatworx/Let It Roll team provided a little respite. As one of just a handful of promoters who managed to pull off a festival this summer, that was really their only goal. To quote the indomitable Suki once more, "What was most important for me was to show the world that normalcy can still exist and we will come back to it. I really believe that and I’ll never stop believing it," nor should anyone else. Music and art have always found a way through all the darkest parts of history, and 2020 is no different. Whether it’s virtual sets, massive amounts of releases or mini-festivals like Renegade, artists and music lovers will always find a way.

Layla Marino is a freelance journalist, follow her on Twitter

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