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Central Europe’s CBGB

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It’s easy to feel out of place at first at Klub 007 Strahov, where the bartender knows what the regulars drink. The club’s interior looks like a shabby living room, eclectically decorated in bamboo and stickers and posters put up in a frenzy. Formal greetings are unnecessary; everyone seems to know everyone else. It’s a rare sort of intimacy. It’s not unusual for the night’s band to dine at the bar before soundcheck, get trashed with whoever is around afterwards and, in between, perform on what could be the least pretentious stage in Prague: a shin-high platform. “It’s all about personal contact: The guys in the band carry their own gear, fart in the same toilets as the audience,” said Ivo Kučera, who has managed this den on top of Strahov hill since 1987.

The club’s aura embraces dedication to noncommercial ways. It has brought a few generations of bands and audiences up to Strahov in its 40 years. The stage has moved a few times, and the entrance, too, but the now middle-aged club’s atmosphere still hovers unchanged – and uncooled by climate control – inside the cellar of university dormitory building No 7. “It’s always been its own self, showcasing bands who wouldn’t get to play elsewhere otherwise,” Petr Hošek, the singer and guitarist of the veteran punk band Plexis, said while squatting with a bottle of beer on a concrete staircase outside of 007. Together with the UK’s Lurkers, Plexis tooted the birthday horns for Strahov that night. It’s been 27 years since Plexis’s first gig at 007, and Hošek – though unable to recall much of the early 80s thanks to a formidable drug habit – remembers the early days, when the barren plaza in front of the entrance would fill completely with folks awaiting the night’s gig.

As did clubs 001 and 011, also housed in the basements of the dormitory complex’s paneláks, 007 opened as a student initiative in 1969 and was under the administration of the Czech Technical University in Prague and city officials. The clubs each had their specialties: 001 leaned toward folk, 011 went rock, and 007 was “darker-disco-ish”, as Kučera put it.

“The cultural politics of the time were strict, and jack shit was happening in the clubs,” Visací zámek frontman Jan Haubert said, recalling the early 80s, when he used to live in block No 7. “The gigs in 007 happened on Wednesdays, I think – usually wholly uninteresting events. If someone decent was playing, we’d have to wait out the degrading hourlong queue in the bars. Beer and other alcoholic beverages weren’t sold in clubs then, so we preferred going to pubs.” Haubert dismisses the 80s. Visací zámek’s first 007 gig was in 1982, and it involved more soldering of the state-owned sound system than actual playing. In the 90s, though, he’d regularly join in the cosy 007 atmosphere.

Hardcore punk heritage
The club’s current vibe, though, owes as much to 1989 as it does to 1969. At the beginning of a new era in Prague, the crew of the Strahov radio station, which had taken 007 over in 1987, did away with the club’s tame and sanitised programme. “After the revolution, the borders opened up and mainly hardcore and punk bands started coming here,” said Pavel “Kuře” Hejč, a longtime soundman at 007. “They were looking for a place where this scene could thrive, and the producers who staged these gigs, I think, saw 007 as the right venue, maybe because it was so homey, which hardcore bands appreciate.” Hejč brought in the initial bunch of hardcore bands such as Kritická situace and Akutní otrava in the early 90s.

As old-school punk and hardcore were replaced by post-HC, metalcore, emo, rock’n’roll, ska and electronic, the club’s programme increased the variety of its alternative acts, creating a name for itself within the subculture sphere. “Because I also promote concerts, I often hear from bands who specifically want to play at 007,” said Filip Vondrášek, aka Fido of Fast Food Orchestra, who labels the club as “central Europe’s CBGB”, in reference to the legendary New York venue that helped launch the careers of bands such as the Ramones. Vondrášek’s band got its start at 007, and Fast Food Orchestra’s three records were recorded at Hejč’s studio. He calls Strahov’s adherents “one large interconnected circle”.

With a distinct musical menu, 007 attracts particular visitors willing to make the climb to the secluded spot. “Most people come here for music that they know well and with certain expectations. Only rarely does anyone come without planning it beforehand,” Hejč said, dismissing the notion that 007 might be a student club. First-years try it out, but they rarely return, he added. So, naturally, in times of distress, such as after a fire in 2001 and noise complaints that threatened to shut the club down in 2007, the management turns to its aficionados: the audience and the bands. Through benefit gigs, the club raised enough money for its reconstruction in 2001 and soundproofing in 2007. “No one subsidises us, so we had to make the money ourselves, which is amazing” Hejč said.

Still, sometimes not even half of the room will fill up and, these days, thanks to a noise curfew, the live rock ends rather than starts at 10pm, but, as Hošek reassures, 007 is still a great place for post-gig drinking and then perhaps a starlit walk down the hill.

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