In many ways, the 007 music club is a unique piece of Prague's cultural heritage. Situated in block seven of a row of concrete panelled buildings, which comprised the athletes' village constructed for the communist games in the 1960s, it has been a venue for alternative, underground music for nearly 20 years.
In the late 1980s it became a focal point for many young political dissenters and fans of alternative music. Many public readings and concerts by banned music groups were held at the venue and it quickly gained a name for itself as a hotbed of counter-culture.
Even after the revolution in 1989, the club maintained its edgy, cutting-edge reputation by hosting concerts from leading punk and techno ensembles who had been banned by the communist regime. The club would have provided many young Czechs with their first live experience of these types of music.
In the early 1990s, the club also garnered a reputation for nurturing young, up and coming bands. Many major groups today - such as Ecstasy of St Theresa and Dunaj - would have played some of their earliest gigs at 007. It's a tradition that continues to this day and the venue is still a favourite haunt for popular young bands like Clou and The Nihilists.
Now, however, the venue is threatened with closure. The campus of buildings where it is located currently comprises student halls of residence for the Czech Technical University. The university has warned the club that the noise emanating from it is causing too much of a disturbance and that it will have to rectify the situation by March. In order to do this the club will have to spend money it can barely afford on expensive renovations. Consequently, 007 has organised a week of benefit concerts in order to raise funds for the refurbishment. Monika Cerna is the club's production manager:
"The problem is with soundproofing, which is not in accordance with legal requirements. So we now have to make it absolutely perfect to satisfy the authorities. As a result we have to build a whole new floor for the club. This is very expensive, which is why we have to raise money somehow. That's why we're having these benefit concerts."
Ecstasy of St Theresa were just one of the many leading Czech bands who agreed to play the benefit gigs free of charge. Considering that 007 was the place which gave the band their start in the music business by hosting their very first gig here sixteen years ago, band member Jan P. Muchow says that there was no question about the group devoting their time to help the club survive.
"I think it's a must for us. We had a chance to play here as a starting band. It's a club that gives a chance to not so big bands or to groups who can't play in other places. Also even big bands from the States often choose to play at 007 when they have a choice, because of its unique atmosphere. 007 gave us a chance to play. I felt like we had to help the club survive because it was an important part in my life."
007 hopes that the concerts will raise half the money needed for the soundproofing and that it will take out a loan for the remainder. Nevertheless, despite the club's determination to meet its soundproofing requirements, Monika Cerna says it still might not be enough:
"The reconstruction will happen. Regardless of how things look with money, we are going to get it done. Afterwards, if the officials come and find out that the sound insulation is fine, we shall continue as before. If the insulation is still not enough, then it's going to be a problem. But we'll see after the reconstruction, which will happen in February."
If the authorities are not satisfied with the new soundproofing, it is likely that the club will have to close down. In the twenty years since it first established itself as an alternative music club, plenty of other nightspots have cropped up in Prague, which means that the closure won't be as big a blow to the city's club scene as it might have been a decade ago.
Nevertheless, Jan P. Muchow believes the club still has a lot to offer as an important venue for cutting-edge alternative acts:
"I think there still is a place for 007. I would say the range of styles that are played here is much wider now. It's now quite an important place for the hip-hop scene and hard core scene as well as other styles of music. Of course there are now other clubs where all those bands could play but there is nowhere like 007. I don't see any reason why it should close down. It's surrounded by young people. Why can't they have a club where they can see some interesting stuff."
With all the benefit concerts being sold out almost immediately, it seems that there is a huge reservoir of goodwill in Prague towards 007 and that the club won't close its doors without a fight.
One of the people in the audience on the night we visited was cultural journalist Ondrej Formanek. He told me why he thought 007 had such a special place in the hearts of many Prague music fans and club-goers.
"This is one of the clubs - if not the club - where the whole Prague club scene started. When I was about seventeen I came here for my first club concert, which was in 1990 or 1991. It was a band called Vanessa del Rio. At that time the stage was here where we are standing right now. There was a burned out car over there. It was like magic for me. I think the atmosphere that was there, which really gripped me that time, is still here because this is the only club I know where the stage is at the same level as the audience. It gives you some kind of idea of equality. The band is equal to you. There are no stars in here."
Like everyone attending the benefit concerts Ondrej Formanek is confident that the club will manage to survive and can't imagine Prague without it. If 007 were to shut down, he feels the city would not only say goodbye to a major cultural landmark, it would also be losing a little bit of its soul:
"The idea that every night you come here is a kind of miracle in
own right: Something is being born here. Something unique is happening.
It's not going to be some concert that you've got tickets for. You're not
going to just enjoy a professional show. It's a concert where you never
know what's going to happen. This a club which still retains these kinds
qualities and that's why I like it and if this club dies I think something
symbolic will die in Prague's club and cultural scene."
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