Music: Sub Clubs

Sleazy livin’ at Prague’s dj bars

An evening in Prague’s club landscape circa 1995 used to look like something like this: You would start at The Chap, (Now Chateau) sort out your scoobie snacks, pound a few, see who was in town, then stumble off to the Bunkr. More bad behavior and general debauchery would follow, prompting the last 800-or-so meter tromp down Soukenická, across Revoluční and into the waiting arms of the always-accepting Roxy. That was about it. Only Mecca and Radost FX have joined the Dlouhá establishment, and in boring us senseless with the same uninspired house music we’ve been hearing for 8 years. So then, what the hell else is there?

My objective here is to show you that there’s more – quite a bit more, in fact. Bubbling up from the nether-regions of the music underground, a wealth of inspiring young djs and imaginative proprietors have recreated Prague’s standard club venue with irreverence and integrity. While these places are by no means new, they have spawned boatloads of fresh mixing talent and have played host to countless memorable free-for-alls for locals and visitors alike. What separates these clubs from the rest are their lack of pretension and their genuine, “neighborhood” vibe. Anyone with a little persistence and enough resolve can book a gig in these places. On any given night there is absolutely no guarantee as to what sort of event you may happen upon, although those most worthwhile tend to be one-off’s; birthdays and intimate gatherings of club land pro’s.

Beyond Karlín, across from Hotel Olympic, just off the main traffic artery, lies XT3 (Pod Plynojemem 5, P8) the granddaddy of Prague’s dj bars. Originally a one room venue with a viewing balcony surrounding a sizeable, square dance floor, the owner, Dominik Zíma, expanded it to include an enticing bar foyer, and a basement level club/gallery space with several game rooms tucked in the back. Ongoing litigation with the city and neighbors has caused some equipment to be neglected and sound complaints continue to be an issue, but all in all, a visit down here is a pleasant experience. The vinyl spun is predominately breaks, Drum & Bass and Jungle. No crowd-pleasing floor-fillers, just the distilled, refined goodness that is the underground.

Punto Azul (Kroftova 1, P5) has an even more laid-back vibe, where almost no one dances but heads bop in time to the Waxman at the helm. A larger, more spread out main room than at XT3 contributes to a cozy, dormitory basement feel. This is a decidedly hair-down crowd; no politics, no sneaker sunglass bs snobbery whatsoever. Once they know your name, you are family, so be prepared to help out and be genuine. Owner Ondřej Maršalák has fostered a real sense of purpose here by supporting the hugely popular, long-running Thursday night Hyperfunk parties. Koogi, Touchwood, I am Cyber, Gonzales and Sidecar round out a who’s who of Prague’s D&B elite. Monday’s host an exquisite series of downtempo sets by next year’s players. Pinball and foosball dominate the adjacent room, if you’re so inclined.

Wakata (Malířská 14, Prague 7) is down the side street opposite the dreaded Letná music park. It’s namesake, a fictional American Indian tribe popularized in the eponymous East-German “Western”, is in evidence only in the woodsy and well-worn interior. A myriad of mismatched furniture ideally matches the eclectic sounds on tap. Wakata is one of the premier dj bars in town. Anybody who has ever amounted to anything in Prague has played Wakata at least once. Part of the crew responsible for Malá Strana’s infamous Borat club, (now the slightly less infamous Újezd,) founders Pařba and Honza provide top-notch equipment and sound for their visiting dignitaries. A personal downtempo favorite of mine, Balthazar can often be heard here, along with the sublime Babe LN. The do-not-miss breakbeat dj team of Boschka and Pintlich is historic. This is fantastic music programming in a comfortable, social setting without the fishbowl glare.

Prague 3’s Žižkov neighborhood has more beer taps per square kilometer than any other neighborhood. So where are the decks? Sedm Vlků (Vlkova 7, P3) is a pub/club dj dream. This is an adrenaline kick unlike most to be found in our perfect ghetto. Perhaps you’ll encounter a visiting sound system on its way to Czechtek? Or maybe some rapid-fire techno in the cavernous sub-level dance space beneath the bar? Slam some Red Bulls and cut loose to the mean and fast beats of the mighty wolf - always a mind rattling delight.

On nearby Cimburkova, experience the polarity-shift dope haze of Zion (Cimburkova 14, P3). While this is a miniscule space, the beats are fat and the joints are fatter. Zion is a vinyl-only promised land of Reggae, Dub, Rock-steady and all of Reggae’s tendrillic deviations. You can bum skins from local Reggae luminaries McKary, Liquid A, Babylon Rocker and dj Burama (formally of the Hypnotix) for a peek through your harmonic third eye.
La Mirage (Lublaňská 11, P2) has just opened, a stone’s throw from the I.P. Pavlova tram stop. No guarantees at this two-room establishment, which accomodates about 100. Hip-Hop, Breaks, Reggae or Jungle, the staff seems committed to keeping the customers content and returning for more. Oddly enough, Jarda Krampol, the “man who made Mecca”, has just opened Central Lounge (Soukenická 8. P1) in the old Terminal Bar space on the aforementioned Soukenická street. After the costly, albeit timely, demise of Fru-Fru, patrons were recently treated to a weekend-long opening party packed with festival-guest overflow. Felix LeBand made a surprise appearance as well. The stripped- down space promises to be a hopeful venue for a mid-town rendezvous.

For club-crawlers in the advanced stages of their art, check out Le Clan, Naif and Studio 54 after daybreak. While the regulars at most of these venues may appear on the young side, keep an open mind and attitude and you’re sure to enjoy. Clubbing in Prague is not about oceans of ravers, overpriced drinks or pretty plastic smiles. It is about communication, interesting beats and innovative spaces. Prague’s super-clubs may be selling loads of tickets to invite-only events, but let’s not forget who’s really having fun.

Tim spins breaks, bossa and rare groove on the High-Fidelity broadcast every Friday from 8 to 11 pm on Radio One 91.9 FM.

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