Charles Bridge, Prague. Featured in the film, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Photo by Mike Long.
Do you revel in all things dark and theatrical? Are you a fan of slasher-flicks and haunted houses? Then the city of Prague, located in the Czech Republic, just might be the place for you. With enough spooky thrills to support a Halloween-like vibe year-round, Prague is a city that never stops surprising you.
I quickly found that exploring Prague’s musical and aesthetic sensibilities is like going to a death-obsessed nihilist’s birthday party: It might feel and look like a party, but it gives a spooky vibe that will have you on edge days after you visit.
Kampa Museum sculptures. Photo by Mike Long.
Prague is a city with an affection for revelry, and this is clear as soon as you enter the city. There are hundreds of places in which to party or simply pass the time, and most of them have a particular eerie bent. There are nightmare-themed bars, large baby statues with no faces and torture museums to keep tourists and locals entertained.
The first band I encountered in my travels to the capital of the Czech Republic was Die Blaue Trottel Parade at Klubovna, a strange, artsy place near some warehouses outside of the city center. Perched on the roof at the entrance to the venue was a asked doll watching the entrance like a gargoyle. Such alarming displays turned out to be par for the course for Prague.
Die Blaue Trottel Parade @ Klubovna. Photo by Mike Long.
The band tore through an amazing set of post-punk, spoken-word, free-jazz, psychedelic math, blues and various other forms of music. To echo this collision of styles, band members wore outfits that looked like a combination of Mad Max and Waterworld.One member wore a giant, red tentacled gas-mask, and stage props included such items as a hatchet. The vibe was that of a nightmarish carnival. In talking with the band after the show, I found out that the focus of many of the songs was personal and political, with references to recent communist history. There was definitely a message being shared amongst the strange setup.
A few nights later, I was out walking and saw a bar that had been recommended to me called “Cafe V Lese,” Wandering in, I found a rickety staircase in the back leading to a stony underground cavern. It looked like a cigarette smoke-filled cistern. Upon turning the corner into a cramped room, I saw a man on-stage with a black bag over his head, playing a guitar made out of an old gasoline can. It seemed the entire city of Prague enjoyed wearing costumes and getting weird.
Kittchen @ Cafe V Lese, Prague. Photo by Mike Long.
Kittchen, as he dubbed his project, had a disturbing, lonesome presence on stage. The theatricality was present in his appearance and the music. While not gothic in aesthetic, it was distorted and dissonant--perhaps even a little malicious. Atmospherically, the venue complimented the feeling of the show with its aged, wooden posts threatening to allow the old stone ceiling to crash at any moment.
Despite the strange feeling the Kittchen project gave me, the venue didn’t disappoint overall. A few nights later, I saw an amazingly talented and good-natured Balkan band, The Free Balkan Quintet, play in the same space. This time the audience was highly energized, dancing
enthusiastically to the music. The band played a variety of instruments, including the accordion, fiddle, double bass, bassoon, banjo and a strangely-assembled drum set that included features such as bikes and bells. The fast-paced music made for a thoroughly entertaining show.
Exploring Prague. Photo by Mike Long.
The people of Prague enjoy getting strange and theatrical, with a wide variety of music that is sure to entertain those who enjoy a darker aesthetic. For travelers seeking the musical equivalent of a Bohemian Horror film, welcome to Prague.
Nitcho Reinhardt Trio at Jazz Dock
Note on the artist: By far the musical highlight of Prague was seeing the Nitcho Reinhardt Trio at Jazz Dock. The trio performed as part of the Khamoro Festival which is a celebration of Roma art/music. Nitcho and his players self-describe as "Gypsy Jazz", which a lot of players use. Nitcho was inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt who developed the "hot jazz" style. This show was some of the most expressive, nimble, and exciting guitar playing I've ever seen.
For more of Mike's journey around Europe visit our Acoustic Cities blog.