Written by Geoff Tyson
The Czech Underground Art Culture
How does one quantify the essence of any culture? History may look back upon the deeds of rich and powerful men, but this does not really describe anything about the feelings of the people in their day-to-day struggles.
There is a natural historic movement in every culture in the world. It is represented by the art that the people create. The day-to-day artists who, by the nature of their existence, express themselves with painting, music, dance and performance. It is this essence that brings one back to what it must have been like to be them. It is history without the editing of old, biased men.
As expats, we are all striving to make sense of this new culture we have immersed ourselves in. But with the intensity that a new country and new language beats down upon us, we tend to draw inward, looking for the familiar, for the comfort of our expats family. It is this tendency that will keep us away from experiencing what truly is Czech culture.
This culture is freshly out from under the boot of Communism, the people are free and they have something to say. But they will only say it in a Czech way. They won´t scream it loudly from the mountaintops; you have to dig around to find it. We are fortunate to be able to experience this blossoming music and art scene before someone figures out how to mass produce it and put it on the side of a McDonald´s cup.
Now to be clear, I am not referring to the Led Zeppelin cover bands, the bar bands playing Latin favorites, or the London-style DJ´s that litter the beaten path. I am talking about pure Czech sub-culture. You won´t find this stuff at M1, the Roxy or at Radost FX.
It is in this spirit that I would like to introduce you to some Czech music scenes that you probably haven´t heard much about. This will be the first in a series of articles about the clubs, bands and scenes that will tantalize and amaze those brave enough to adventure into the unknown.
Climbing & Music Club
Žižkov, Praha 3
The Bunkr is built in Žižkov which was originally a district and community designed and built for the worker class. It has the highest concentration of clubs and pubs in Prague and is still relatively untouched by the Western gentrification occurring around Prague. Since the rents are low, Žižkov has attracted many artists and musicians and it has become an artistic Mecca of the under-culture in Prague. It is in this spirit that the Bunkr Parukářka was created.
To get there, go to the Olšanské náměstí station in Prague 3, close to Flóra. You can get there by trams 5, 9 or 26 or by bus 136 (a bus from Florenc or Flóra metro). From the Olšanské náměstí station, walk over the main crossroad which leads you down the hill to Žižkov. Walk up the park hill on the right side and take the bridge and the stairs. Between two staircases, there is a little square with a graffiti wall and the entrance to the Bunkr. The entrance fee is usually 50 CZK.
Built 5 flights underground in a real bomb shelter, this club is unlike anything you are likely to have experienced before.
The shelter is a catacomb of concrete rooms and passageways separated by immense steel doors. The owner, Miki, has created a haven for underground bands, rock climbers, cutting edge DJs, and music worshipers from all over the world.
Brush up on your Czech or bring your favorite Czech-mate because there is little English spoken here.
I sat down with the owner and founder, Miki and had this conversation through the thumping and gyrating Czech DJ sounds
Geoff: How did you happen to turn this bomb shelter into a music club?
Miki: First I had a club up the hill from here. But there was tremendous pressure from the Prague 3 city government to shut it down. There was a massive community effort on my behalf where 5000 people signed a petition to keep the club alive but I was still forced out. I moved it down the hill into the shelter but the battle with the government continues. They have been trying to close me down since I have been in business and so far, we have been able to keep them off of our backs.
Geoff: So it is really a classic battle between the artists and the politicians
Miki: Yes! They see only money. They do not care about art. They have put tremendous financial pressure on me to try to bully me out.
I´m an avid rock climber. When I saw this place I got really inspired. The spiral staircase entrance to the club was perfect for me to build this 13-meter climbing wall. The climbing is another of my great passions.
It is very much a place for and of the community.
Geoff: What kind of music do you have here?
Miki: We have everything from live rock bands, to acoustic folk to jazz-fusion to new wave to cutting edge DJs from all over the world.
Geoff: It reminds me of the underground music scene in San Francisco in the 1980´s. It was a sub-culture of people doing music for the sake of art and community. It touched the people so dramatically because it was a movement of the people. The DJ´s I heard tonight were so fresh, new and avante garde. They were not concerned with the status quo and so they were not afraid to take chances. They weren´t concerned with entertaining a stag party full of drunken American college students so no one was playing any pop music. I heard some truly innovative things tonight that I have never heard in any dance club anywhere.
Miki: Yes, the 21st century in the Czech Republic is like California in the 1980´s (laughs). And then next week we might have an acoustic folk artist, or a Ramones cover band. We´re all over the map here.
But you know City Hall doesn´t like the Under-Culture. They do everything to make it difficult for us.
Geoff: That´s what makes this battle so significant. Your club is a labor of love and passion, at war with the special interest of government.
Miki: And we´ve been going since 1987. And then on November 17, 1989, there was the Revolution. We were born from the same spirit and continue to operate to this day.
Geoff: So you have a big anniversary coming up! Do you have an event planned?
Miki: We have several! November 1st is the grand opening evening of the climbing wall. The evening will be a huge event and the proceeds will be donated to a charity for a local girl who is handicapped and needs hospital care.
And then on the 17th, we will have a huge festival event to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution.
Many other events are listed on our website.
Geoff: Power to the people and to Miki and the Bunkr Parukářka!
One thing that can unite two cultures is music. When you are shaking your ass with a room full of sound worshipers, there is no difference between us and it is easier to open your hearts to one other. Come open your heart at Bunkr Parukářka!