As an Erasmus student, it sometimes seems that all you hear about is Erasmus parties. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them: they serve an undeniable function of bringing Erasmus people together; but to allow them to consume your entire social life is to limit your experience in a city where the culture extends well beyond the Gothic architecture to encompass such a rich and diverse music scene and some top alternative clubs. So to anyone out there who feels that there’s more to nights out in Prague than high drink prices and awful music, I hope that the following will serve as a useful overview.
No matter what you’re into, whether it’s classic rock or gypsy swing (yes I did make that one up but I’m sure it exists), you’re bound to find a live music venue in Prague that will cater to your needs. Nowhere epitomizes this more than the Palac Akropolis in Zizkov, which is perhaps the most diverse of Prague’s live music venues, with bands playing daily. You can find anything here, from world music to jazz, to thumping hip hop nights with break-dancers, beat-boxers and rap battles, and showcases of a variety of independent local bands and interesting artists from around Europe.
Another great place to suss out independent local bands includes the Rock Cafe near Narodni Trida, where you can regularly catch bands of the jazz, rock and ska variety, often for free! Then there is the Lucerna Music Bar just off Wenceslas Square that hosts a range of local and foreign acts, as well as throwing cheesy 80’s nights on the weekends. For a complete contrast you can find Klub 007 under the dorm blocks in Strahov, which is a central venue for the hardcore, punk and ska communities in Prague.
If these don’t take your fancy, maybe you’re the type of person who’d rather be sweating it out in front of an unhealthily loud sound system until the early hours or maybe you’re just slow to get ready and all too often miss the early evening action. Well fear not, because Prague’s alternative club scene is at least as abundant its live music scene. For starters you have Chapelle Rouge, which can’t be beaten for its convenience (located just a stones throw away from Old Town Square); variety (it has two floors which host live bands, DJs, MCs, the lot); and consistency (there is generally something going on any night of the week). Then you have Roxy, found just down the road. This converted theatre is probably the best venue in the centre of Prague and attracts big name DJs from all over the world, a point which is reinforced by the size of both the DJ platform and the sound-system.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, venture out to the Cross Club in the industrial area of Holesoivice. Part industrial-sculpture part-nightclub, the Cross Club is a hub for all music alternative and largely electronic. Each night of the week you’ll find DJs or sometimes bands spinning something different, from techno to psy-trance to reggae to name a few. Or, if you want wilder still, and lucky enough to catch it open on one of its bigger nights, you can have a mad bender at the Bunkr Parukarka in Zizkov, so called because of its rather unorthodox setting, 50m underground in a nuclear bunker. On its bigger nights the music can vary but it’s consistently something hard and electronic; a perfect accompaniment to its claustrophobic interior.
Some other places that deserve a mention include the Klub Ujezt in Stratna Mala, supposedly the oldest post-communist club in Prague, today more of a grungy alternative bar, with surreal decor and DJs downstairs usually spinning something suitably trippy. Also the Wakata may be inconveniently out of the way in Holesoivice, but it comes well recommended as an intimate venue for DJs and live bands.
Just as you begin to think you’ve seen it all in Prague, something will jump out of nowhere and knock you off your feet, making you realize that you’ve only scratched the surface of this diverse city. At least that’s how I felt after my recent visit to the Meet Factory to see DJ Wax Tailor live in concert.
The Meet Factory describes itself as a ‘centre of arts’, and is located in Smichov, Praha 5. Translated, it is best described as an all-in-one hub for contemporary art, where one can find exhibitions of fine art, photography, theatre, dance and live music concerts. On December 6th they hosted Wax Tailor, a french DJ who has made a name for himself internationally by using instrumental samples to create his own unique brand of hip hop, often incorporating elements of jazz and at its most powerful resembling the trip hop music of bands such as Portishead or DJ Shadow. Maybe to the traditionalists all of this just sounds like a whirlwind of ambivalence, but for anyone familiar with the trend of experimental hip hip that has emerged over the last decade, this was surely a must see. So on a Tuesday evening I diverted from my routine of a few mid-week beers at some well known watering-hole, and took the tram to Smitchovske Nadrazi, for something that promised to be little bit different. And it certainly didn’t disappoint!
As a live concert venue at least, the Meet Factory avails itself to the contemporary Prague of the 21st century. The concert hall itself is both spacious and glittered with a few curiously surreal features, such as upside-down theatre seats on the ceiling, spinning disco balls on the walls and a red florescent bar. A quirky club maybe, but the exhibition hall opposite is a stark reminder that this is more than just a bar or a club, or even an ordinary gallery for that matter. I’m yet to experience anywhere else where you can saunter around an art exhibition, soaking up the pictures and videos, with a drink in one hand and a roll of exotic tobacco in the other, just killing time before a gig. The exhibition itself was on journalist photography, and to be honest was far less impressive than the novelty of the situation. But it marked the perfect setting for a night of experimental live music. And so, leaving the Meet Factory for the slums of Hostivar, I felt that I had really experienced the best of the city. It finally hit home how lucky I am to be here in Prague, a magnet for the weird and wonderful creations of the international arts scene.
The above is not intended to be an exhaustive list, rather a general overview derived from experience, hearsay and research, aimed to show that partying in Prague doesn’t have to be exclusively about getting wasted or shacking up with some other sexually-frustrated youth; there’s a whole city of unique venues and clubs that represent a large part of the city’s modern culture. All you’ve got to do is mix it up a bit.