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Christoph Benkeser

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Rave Scenes – Prague

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Rave Scenes – Prague

Imagine losing yourself to the music amidst fellow ravers, the club fully packed, you skanking your feet out on stage behind the DJ who’s just within your arm’s reach. The crowd is fully perceptive, vibing, and reacting to each tune as they’re being dropped. Even the balcony crew can’t contain themselves. This is Roxy Prague, an iconic Prague venue, a firm favourite of many international acts coming down here and a place on the bucket list of pretty much every local DJ, too.

The year is 2010 and it’s Netsky tearing the place down on his debut, fresh off of signing to Hospital Records. Just a couple of blocks up east, you go down the stairs and find yourself in the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by the pillars, the air full of omnipresent haze of cigarette smoke and people with dreadlocks dancing with their backpacks on. The club is called Matrix and just a couple of years down the road, it’s going to become Storm Club Prague. Walk some more, take the tube under the river and suddenly you’re standing right in front of a cyberpunk labyrinth that’s yet another infamous Prague venue, Cross Club. Fast forward to this day, this holy trinity of local clubs is still standing strong, drawing in thousands of hungry ravers week in, week out. A lot has changed over the years. The Czech scene in general is without a doubt one of the strongest on the continent, bringing in hundreds of international acts, with most of them performing in the above-mentioned clubs. But to fully understand the unique position of Prague on the drum & bass map, we need to go back to the late nineties/early noughties. Back then, with pioneers such as StanzimGhonzalesLiquid ATouchwood or Babe LN, only Roxy Prague was already a thing, having been established as early as 1992. And while the inception of the new clubs mentioned above in the early years of the new millennia has definitely been instrumental in the evolution of the local scene in the years to come, there’s one key moment that’s arguably just as important. 

Every raver worth his salt has at least heard of or, even better yet, visited Let It Roll. But the world’s leading drum & bass festival goes way back. Before becoming the “Drum & Bass Christmas”, as aptly coined by A.M.C, and even before becoming an open-air festival, it started as a club night back in 2002. The man behind it, Suki, is by far the most famous DnB name in Czechia. “Back then, there was no real ambition to do the biggest drum & bass festival, I just wanted to run a great event people would enjoy – I could never even dream of Let It Roll becoming the thing it is now”, he says, looking back at the incredible evolution of the brand. Apart from Let It Roll, he’s been involved in running one of the finest club nights at the time, the legendary Take Control, along with another important figure of the local drum & bass history, IM Cyber. He also bought Matrix Club in 2013 and re-opened it in October of the same year under a new name, Storm Club Prague. “We saw an opportunity to capitalise on the years of experience in the field as we already made a name for ourselves, so when we heard the club is for sale, it was a no-brainer, really”, he adds.

The early noughties also brought along the first local producer who managed to cross the borders with his music. Lukáš Turza, also known as Brooklyn as well as several monikers he prefers to keep under wraps, has managed to get his tunes signed by the likes of BCee and his Spearhead Records or TeeBee and his Subtitles Music to name but a few. He then decided to pursue a career outside of drum & Bass, but he eventually reconnected with the scene as he’s running Snap Mastering, nowadays working with and for the likes of Noisia/Vision RecordingsGlitch Mob and many more. “I’ve always had this OCD-like knack for reading manuals cover to cover, learning as much as I could about sound, and lived on a diet of engineering forums’ banter in my twenties. I suppose that combined with my background being a producer in a genre as technically competitive as d&b, as well as having the intimate and tangible experience of what music feels like on a proper club PA – all this snowballed into being asked to master music. I am still an active music producer, although mostly outside the so-called scene, composing a lot of site-specific music for galleries around the world, or doing some scoring for television”, he explains.

There were many more people involved in the scene, though, even back then. A very important group of individuals has formed into probably the longest-existing local crew, Shadowbox. Back in the day, Shadowbox started as a radio show of yet another pioneer, DJ Koogi, who’s often called a godfather of the genre in Czechia. It quickly evolved into a series of events and also an editorial/blog that has been one of the main sources of any drum & bass related information for local fans for years. Among other things, Shadowbox was also the only drum & Bass collective to ever hold a residency at Roxy Prague. Fast forward to 2023, and even though most of the original members find themselves in their forties, Shadowbox is still running some events as well as a bi-weekly 2-hour show at Radio 1. Over the years more members were joining its ranks, many of them being involved in multiple other projects, such as Bifidus Aktif. He is one of the prime examples of the Prague scene’s phenomena, which is luring people from all around the country and holding them in its clutches ever since. “I was initially going out in my hometown where I met Akira. He then began to take me along for his gigs in Prague and that’s where I met the Shadowbox crew. I started writing articles, reviews and reports which is how Suki noticed me and asked me to do PR for Take Control, later even for Let It Roll and eventually this transformed into me taking over the whole booking process for the festival and beyond”, he reminisces.

But it’s not just about the locals, Prague has historically been home to multiple ex-pats, even drum & bass-wise. Notable individuals that have taken refuge in the local cultural hub include the likes of South Africa’s finest Justin Scholtemeyer (one half of Counterstrike), the US-born and raised sonic scientist Hybris, or, for a brief period- recent drum & bass retiree, Icicle. And that’s just a couple of producers, as there’s also RXYZ, one of the most notable music photographers in Prague, originally hailing from the US, too, and also a member of the Shadowbox crew. Looking back at his 20+ years of experience with scenes over in Italy, the UK and Czechia, Francesco Oliveto (Promenade) mentions: “Starting as a local DJ in Italy, I was impressed with encountering some of the legendary people and places within the UK DnB scene. However, when I started spending time in Prague, I could sense something different: the DnB is widely popular here.” It’s one of the reasons he decided to relocate, running his BNCexpress label on top of his studio activities and DJing. In less than 8 years he offered a platform to more than 10 acts for their debut. “For me, Prague is the capital of DnB. Not because the scene would be bigger or more important than the one in London, but because the impact of this music on the city here is undoubtedly much stronger”, he concludes.

One person who’s been connected to Counterstrike and Hybris, in particular, is also one of the most successful Czech drum & bass producers, Rido. Over the years he’s released with some of the seminal labels and even got himself signed to Metalheadz“During the early days of my career, it was not that easy to get your music heard by the people from the labels. You either had to get their AIM name somehow or you had to meet up with them. But still, it was not guaranteed that they will respond to you. With Metalheadz, it was a surreal experience because they got back to me the next day I contacted them. And that was really rare”, he recalls his early experience with the scene. “We were talking about releasing a solo EP, but then there was this idea to make a collaboration EP with my friend Hybris. We both liked that idea and because Evan is an American who moved to Prague it made sense to call it ‘Prague Connection’. Because Prague and the music were the things that connected us”, he adds. He’s also worked with many other producers, but it was his collaboration with Counterstrike, a festival anthem for Let It Roll of the same name back in 2015, that has resonated the most with fans around the globe. By that time, he was already in touch with Black Sun Empire for some time which eventually led to him signing to Blackout Music and releasing his debut album ‘Rhythm of Life’ there in 2016. Fast forward to 2022 and he becomes the musical director of the Let It Roll festival’s infamous Opening Ceremony. On top of that, he’s also started his own label Plat:form a couple of years back. “I always wanted to support local producers and during the covid, it really felt strong to start up a label just for that. And I came up with an idea for Plat:form recordings. A platform where you could collaborate not only on the music but share your creative ideas and life approach in general. More and more it feels important to me to share experience and knowledge with people around me. There is so much we could all learn from one another if we open ourselves to it”, he explains.

Before we jump into the present, there are a few more avenues of the past left to explore. Hana Makovcová, known to the local old schoolers as Saiha. While her work is more of a backstage nature, there’s hardly anyone who’s had more experience with various aspects of the scene than her. She started as an editor back in the mid-noughties, interviewing the stars of drum & bass and beyond for outlets such as Shadowboxtechno.cz and more. At the same time, she picked up a camera and set the standard for the new generation of music and event photographers in years to come. After living in London for some time and working with labels such as Hospital Records and Shogun Audio, she came back to Prague, this time, she found herself doing marketing for Roxy Prague. After 3 and a half years, she was headhunted by none other than Sony Music to become the international product manager and is still the sole representative of this major label for Czechia and Slovakia. “It’s amazing how drum & bass has been with me throughout my career. Despite working for a major label, where I routinely deal with the world’s biggest superstars, I still have the opportunity to promote new or well-known artists in my favourite genre of electronic music. Whether it’s the acclaimed Rudimental or the newest discovery on the scene – Venbee, I’m happy to be able to work on such projects.”, she says.

For a couple of years, Prague also had its own forward-thinking label thanks to the DJ, producer and yet another member of Shadowbox crew, Panorama. His imprint Authentic Music offered a platform to local acts such as A-CrayTrilo and many more, but also featured music from established international acts such as ArpXPGerra & StoneSubwave and Sunchase to name but a few. “There was no world-class label in Czechia at the time and I wanted to change that. Doing it with ‘pocket money’ was a very slow and laborious process but the last few releases were close to my original vision. That might be one of the reasons why our stuff was often featured on Noisia Radio. You could also hear our music at Let It Roll, in the videogame Grip or the Fabriclive 76 mix by Calyx & Teebee, he replies when asked about why he started the label in the first place. “People should check out the last release called ‘Double Edged’. It’s still banging even after all those years”, he adds.

Meanwhile, the event scene landscape, vibrant as it is, has been constantly changing over the last 20+ years. With drum & bass at Roxy Prague nowadays being all about the biggest names and Storm Club Prague also majorly focusing on headline shows, Cross Club is the only one left still nurturing multiple regular drum & bass nights. Arguably the most successful one is Double Trouble, an event that’s been running more or less bi-monthly since 2013. The beauty of the night lies in its concept- two friendly, yet very different crews, are splitting the night. Drumbassterds and their guests occupy the main stage, while Liquid Drum & Bass Crew and company take over the basement. Back in 2013, the first edition of the night featured Dimension and Hybrid Minds as headliners of each stage, a feat that’s hardly imaginable by today’s standards. “I don’t really know what to say, we wanted to do an event where the ravers can choose between a softer and harder drum & bass and bring in some fresh names on top…and the rest is history”, says Volume Plus, one of the promoters behind the event and also the head of drum & bass events at Cross Club. 10 years down the road, it is still going strong, drawing in young and older ravers alike, constantly bringing over various cutting-edge names, many of them for their local debut.

More recently, a couple of new projects have taken over a significant part of the scene. In 2016, Darkshire and its collective emerged with a bold vision to redefine the landscape of drum & bass events. Since its inception, Darkshire has rapidly ascended to become a dominant force within the local scene. Their unique approach has led them to curate extraordinary events in diverse venues, such as monasteries, churches, forests, caves, factories, and even nuclear bunkers. Embracing the essence of creativity, Darkshire promises an unparalleled experience for all music enthusiasts. “I have come with a vision to revolutionize the perception of drum & bass events as a whole. In the past, these events all seemed to blend, dominated by excessive LED screens and light shows, completely lacking the true spirit”, says Tomáš Nezval, the centrepiece of the collective. “At Darkshire we have embraced a new perspective where music harmoniously merges with art, featuring innovative scenography and captivating theatrical performances. Moreover, Darkshire stands apart by granting its visitors unparalleled freedom compared to other festivals, as we deeply believe in fostering a strong sense of community”, he concludes.

Another unconventional drum & bass experience awaits the visitors of Zlomená Scéna. This is the place to go nowadays if you’re more into Deep and Liquid sounds. Chances are you will also meet just about everyone who’s been shaping up the scene in the noughties. It’s a drum & bass feast for the connoisseurs so to speak, a family gathering of sorts. “Zlomená scéna was born on the foundations of the legendary DNB Fever open airs we did with a bunch of other people. One day I got in touch with people from the venue asking us if we’d throw an event there and I knew KamCZa was the guy to do it with”, says Eska, one-half of the duo behind the event, which also brings in a much more balanced crowd than usual. An important factor of its success is the genius loci of the venue. The event takes place in the building of the New Scene of the National Theatre, Café NONANONA is a one-of-a-kind venue and plays a vital role in why the event is as successful as it is”, he confirms. A cosy open space with windows looking down both on the historical Národní street as well as the Vltava River, right in the heart of the city centre. “We’ve managed to find and reach out to the fanbase that appreciates our vision and we’re super grateful for that as not many others could afford to do this, even in Prague”, he adds.

For quite some time, the capital has also had its open-air festival, the Prague Drum & Bass Festival, or PDF if you will. Aiming to bring together the very finest of the local Deep, Liquid, Autonomic and Atmospheric scene along with rare guests, the festival is co-run by Cross Club and a collective of multiple other promoters including the people behind Zloména ScénaVPX party as well as the legendary Narovinu Zlomenej Podcast / NZP – probably the longest running one here in Czechia. PDF is sort of a final piece of the puzzle for us as a group of friends and like-minded promoters”, says AhZ, one of the people behind PDFVPX and NZP as well as a hidden treasure of Prague’s scene, the All Good Looking night focusing on the sounds of the 90’s drum & bass he’s been running for more than 15 years. “The goal was to bring together the locals and offer the Prague fans of mellow drum & bass an open-air experience, taking place during the day, too”, he adds. “With NZP in 2009, we started the whole thing because we felt like the scene here is lacking a DnB podcast. We always wanted to talk to our friends who are DJs, producers, promoters…and not to take ourselves nor themselves too seriously, either”, he laughs. He’s also responsible for nowadays a super rare feat locally – a physical release. That would be of course his Holan remixed project which is combining the sounds of the West, the East and Central Europe on a single record.

Recently, Prague also got a brand new drum & bass radio show Rave On Air. Broadcasting weekly on Monday evenings, the 2-hour long show brings together 4 people with close ties to Cross ClubLet It Roll and Storm Club Prague among other subjects – Candle SauceSofiqaSwitch and Voidsec“We’re following up on almost 20 years of Monday DnB show tradition on Dance Radio, focusing on contemporary sound but also venturing beyond the mainstream – especially into Jungle and Deep drum & bass…plus the usual news, giveaways, event invites, interviews, guest mixes and so on”, mentions the last named. Connecting the dots one by one, despite so many things happening all at once, Prague’s drum & bass scene is a single living organism, with each of its cells being connected in countless ways. Simply put, over the last 2 decades Prague has become a melting pot of industry professionals, many of them taking part in multiple projects and taking on multiple different roles. Being “just” a DJ doesn’t really cut it anymore. Yet again, there’s another expat community playing an important part in the mix. The Slovakians. Sharing the same country with Czechs up til the early nineties, many Slovakians are still coming to study and work in Czechia, with Prague being the obvious choice for a lot of them. A handful of the successful Slovakian DJs and producers alike are (or at some point were) based in Prague – including the likes of Absu_NTQLChanging FacesEntitaMatzetSimple Souls or one of the emerging voices of the scene, Val.

With the state of things being rather uncertain over the recent years and with so many established clubs, promoters, producers, DJs and crews alike already set in place, it’s arguably harder now more than ever to get noticed and make a name for yourself in these turbulent times. Yet it’s not entirely impossible, as seen in the example of multiple young individuals. The most notable one is a producer, who’s managed to not only take the local scene by storm but also successfully broke through internationally, Magenta“I wouldn’t necessarily think of it as breaking through”, he laughs. “I was just making tunes, submitting them to labels abroad – especially in the UK – and once I managed to get a couple of them signed, more people started to notice me and it all sort of rolled on from there I guess”, he adds. Then there’s also the underground club scene lurking in the shadows, patiently waiting for its turn to strike. And maybe the time has come now once again. A long-time raver herself, Mantis actually picked up DJing just recently. “I’ve been going out for years, but it wasn’t until covid when I’d started to miss the clubbing, so I tried to step behind the decks myself instead”, she says. After spending a few months under the guidance of her boyfriend, she’s already establishing herself as a club regular and now she’s just a couple of weeks away from throwing her very first night with an international headliner along with her BASSídka crew. But it doesn’t stop there for her. “I’m also hosting the DnB News feature for the local DNBTV, interviewing your favourite DJs at clubs and festivals”, she adds.

It’s the stories like these that bring reassurance that the local scene keeps on evolving, coming off strong now more than ever. What’s even more, it doesn’t really matter who you are or where you come from. Whatever your particular preference within drum & bass is, there’s plenty for you to choose from here. So if you love the genre, know that Prague is your oyster.

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