Interview: Jan Mayer, Linhartova Nadace

The chairman of the foundation behind Roxy believes that the club will be back in action soon

Smart, bespectacled, and an architect by trade, 50-year-old Jan Mayer doesn't seem like the kind of person who runs a nightclub.

The Roxy, however, is no ordinary club.

Operated by the non-profit Linhartova nadace (Linhart Foundation), the Old Town space has long been a bastion of alternative culture in Prague, channeling the profits from Roxy's popular club nights and concerts into exhibitions, theatre performances, and a host of other experimental ventures.

Since April, though, the future of the Roxy - and the foundation that it funds - has been in doubt.

Under increasing pressure from Prague 1 district council, who have long complained that the noise from Roxy disturbs local residents, the Linhart Foundation decided to halt club nights at the venue and to end all other events at 10pm.

Losing around 300,000 CZK a week as a result of the decision, the foundation's future looked bleak.

Despite those problems, however, Mayer is now confident that Roxy club nights will return.

PTV caught up with him, one Sunday afternoon, upstairs at the Roxy cafe.

What are the problems that you have with your neighbors and with Prague 1?

Actually, the problem is a bit artificial.

Basically, the problem is with Prague 1. We haven't had any serious problems with the neighbors for, I think, two years now, because we invested a lot of effort and money into soundproofing, after the floods in 2002, so we don't disturb anybody with the noise from Roxy.

We probably cause a little disturbance with people coming in and out [of the club], but it's not just Roxy's problem.

I saw a complaint and it was the only complaint from the neighbors this year. It was not generally against Roxy but against everything - against cars, parking, against [speed bumps], against all the pubs here.

So what's the problem with Prague 1?

Well, basically Prague 1 has tried to stop our activities for many years, because I think some people there don't want these types of cultural activities in Prague 1.

Their argument was noise, but it got to the point where even they realized that noise wasn't a legal argument anymore, so they started to push the owner of the building to cancel the lease.

So the current situation is that we had a meeting, this past week, with the mayor of Prague 1 [Vladimír Vihan] and the deputy mayor of Prague 1 [Jana Příhodová], which [Příhodová] initiated.

And the last meeting, with the representatives of Prague 1, and the owners of the building, and us - the Linhart foundation - was surprisingly very open.

At the end of the meeting they recommended that we apply for a new kolaudace [occupancy] permit.

Basically they looked at the situation objectively and they agreed that it's probably not a question of the noise downstairs, so if we are able to prove that again, we can apply for a new kolaudace permit.

We've been closed down for two months now - it's a kind of economic blockade.

Last year they made us close this café, because of hygiene regulations. We had to install all this air conditioning here. We invested three million crowns into this space, in one year, and as soon as we reopened it - this year - they stopped us downstairs.

We were losing money for one year up here - but this place, it's not major. It was possible to survive. We were supporting the upstairs place with income from Roxy.

But downstairs [after the closure] we were losing 300,000 [crowns] every week so it was just a crazy situation.

So instead of having theatre holidays, like we have every year upstairs, we had to open here, which we found out was good - I'm happy about it!

We opened this café, to attract people, to let them know that there's something happening here upstairs.

And we've improvised a quick program for the summer to make it interesting for people to come in, which means we're showing movies here and we got together with some Prague street artists who decided to support us during the summer.

We're trying somehow to communicate that we're on the street again - that's the idea.

Who, in particular, is causing you problems in Prague 1?

It's the deputy mayor, Mrs. Příhodová.


Actually, I don't know.

She probably doesn't like the Roxy, because I tried to persuade her to come and have a look for four years now - inviting her to come and have a look at what we are actually doing here, because we're really one of the major cultural activities for young people in Prague 1 and music is just 20 percent of our cultural portfolio here.

What we're doing in Prague is, obviously, a lot of exhibitions, a lot of new media, and a lot of other things, like dance and cinema and internet, and we're running other places, like this Školská 28 communication center.

Last year we opened a residential space for foreign artists in Dolní Počernice for foreign artists, for exchanges.

So the parties are actually one-tenth of our activities and music, altogether, is 20 percent of our portfolio.

But it's 100 percent of our income.

It's also ridiculous that the only thing which they want to stop is the music. And on the other hand, all the young people are interested only in the music.

Even though we do all these exhibitions.

People come for the opening but they never come again, unless it's some really famous artist.

The same with the theatre - they're counting with 60 people or 100 people. But if you put on a good concert you have a thousand people - it depends on the space.

I'm a little bit older - I'm 50 - so I remember the Bolshevik regime very well. They also had a big problem with music.

Nothing changed - from '89 to '98 it was a little bit more liberal and we had some support.

And since that time, it's all the same - they're fighting the same way, with the same weapons.

We called the 70s and the 80s the time of normalization. This is post-normalization!

It was actually your decision to close Roxy, wasn't it?

It was our decision, under pressure from the owners of the building, who were under pressure from Prague 1.

Prague 1 started fining the owner of the building. They found out that they're not legally able to close us down so they started to pressure the owner of the building with penalties.

Because we have a good relationship with the owner of the building - we have to have, of course - we promised to stop the parties for a limited time, but we didn't actually know what to do after 10 o'clock, when we couldn't make music.

So we closed down for the summer and we're trying to use this situation to get this new kolaudace permit.

When do you expect to go back to a full Roxy schedule?

We were talking about that at that meeting with the mayor and the deputy mayor and we think three months.

And you're confident they'll say yes?

I'm not worried. We did all this soundproofing, on both floors.

So even on this floor, if we had 95 decibels inside, which is the legitimate norm, you couldn't hear anything on the next floor.

We already did some control measuring. It's really not a problem.

Why do the Roxy's live concerts end at 10pm?

We have really ridiculous regulations on sound.

We are probably the only country in the world, which has the limit - especially for music - of 25 decibels.

If you measure in, say, that flat or that flat, you shouldn't register 25 decibels after 10 o'clock. But 25 decibels is [the noise that a digital watch alarm makes.]

Live music has always stopped at 10 o'clock. We had to stop it at 10 o'clock. Because we can keep to this many decibels at parties but we couldn't do it with Asian Dub Foundation.

It's the policy of the city to ask neighbors to call them [and complain about the noise].

The Prague 1 newspaper, just after we closed down, ran a big thank you to all the neighbors that helped to close the Roxy. They have special lines that people can call, free, if something happens.

It's a big tradition in the Czech Republic! People like to make calls!

They're doing it because they think the city's going to be silent.

The deputy mayor, with some of the people of Prague 1, was fighting for some new law two years ago, where all the pubs in Prague 1 would have to close at 10 o'clock, so they don't disturb people's sleep.

I understand it. I also accept that people have to sleep and we're doing everything we can for it. I'm not one of these guys who says "fuck you."

I suppose Prague's unusual because so many people live in the centre.

This was a residential area, and it was the old nomenklatura [Communist Party officials] people living here, and they're still living here in these state flats, very cheaply, so of course they don't want to move.

And it was completely quiet here [before 1989]. It was a quiet city - it's not anymore, of course, especially Prague 1.

It's not going to help even two or three percent if they close down Roxy. It's going to be the same traffic on the streets and all the other pubs. You have Bombay and Lary Fary and all these places just in this street, playing music all night with doors open to the street.

Do you have anything else to add?

We were in panic for a while but now it's better. We've decided to survive.

We want to invite people here because many things are going to happen here over the summer.

And we strongly believe that we will open again in October, November at the latest.

And we're going to start putting concerts on again at the beginning of September, downstairs.

And we're probably going to do some music events, maybe some music afternoons, for younger people - finish at 10 or something like that.

And now we're focusing on this upstairs place because it's much easier, from the point of view of our kolaudace permit here, so we've opened here and we're going to open really fast downstairs.

We promise!

Because everybody's complaining. Not just young people but old people too. Everybody's pushing us to go against it because it's ridiculous.

If they close us now, they'll close Akropolis next week and it's just going to go like a chain, so I hope we are strong enough to survive.

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