Under a television sky

27-02-2004

It's probably too big a club to spend just any old night, but as a venue for large gatherings, hip-hop, drum n' base, or punk-based performances, Matrix, one of Prague's newest venues, is not a bad pick. Located in Zizkov, just under Vitkov Hill, it's easy to get to and represents a return to hard-edged industrial settings - unlike many polished and altogether far too compliant and comfortable clubs, which predominate today, having long lost their bite and teenage visceral thrill. (If they ever had it). The punk/industrial aesthetic lives on in several classic hold-outs scattered around Prague, but in Matrix it has resurfaced in a new package - the form of a gutted factory - a former meat-storage plant, ready to offer the public a wide range of musical styles.

Michal Tuma, in charge of production at Matrix, is an avid music fan: his aim is to offer the visiting public as much variety as possible:

"We are open to all kinds of music but we place an emphasis now on drum n' bass, techno, rock... there was metal, even hardcore, and dance music with bands. As well as Hip Hop, I have to mention. Then you can visit special theme nights like Gothic Night, or tattoo and piercing. We brought that to Prague, something you couldn't really see elsewhere."

This night only DJs are on hand spinning up a few 80s punk records - recalling the heyday of the indy alternative scene. It's not too bad at all. While the club lies in wait of coming visitors, I wonder if the only thing that will draw real crowds anymore are sensations like a piercing performance which took place at Matrix recently that apparently had visitors gushing at the brilliant excess. However, to each his own.

Meanwhile, it is not hard to envisage any manner of indy band spitting it on the venue's low stage under a surprisingly low ceiling. For a former meat-storage facility - and for Prague buildings - it has surprisingly low overhead - but there is an intimacy that allows one to connect with the band. The walls are sprayed with different shades of black and the occasional highlight: indeterminable silhouettes of apocalyptic structures such as a forgotten stonehenge, or the remainder of a city. And repeated square columns that both reinforce and break-up the space under an expansive floor. On all sides of the main room: enormous and soft vinyl booths. We haven't seen that kind of seating since Morpheus made his appearance in never-never land.

This night small groups sit around the room like vampires, the only bright-spot in the room the square light of the bar, full of illuminated bottles. Clearly the club - which is a year-old fledgling, still prospers more on live nights, under the surveillance of English sound master Colin Stewart, whose work production manager Michal Tuma says regularly contributes to giving Matrix an uncompromising edge:

"Colin came shortly after the breakpoint when the communists fell and has worked with such groups as the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. He did movies like 'Septej' (Whisper - director David Ondricek's original debut - ed. note) and many, many sound projects that are really famous. Usually he works all the live gigs and sometimes takes care of special parties. He's got lots of experience from England. He's not a sound master - he's a real sound engineer, and that's a big difference."

That is something to keep in mind for when you visit and to find out about Matrix's regular schedule consult matrixklub.cz for listings.

Now, it's almost time to go, time to walk through grungy Zizkov at night - the closest experience one can have in Prague to returning to the set of Blade Runner or the books of William Gibson. Here, some buildings are dirty with crumbling black windows, others are inhabited, shadows behind a tattered blind, and single light bulb.

At street level there are signs, some neon, some broken: passing by one gets glimpses of other lives: in local watering holes, small gambling joints, a 24-hour grocery, the dumb blank façade of a sex club lit red, and, inevitably, a pawn shop glowing with green fluorescent light, a metal cage, where the bald head of a proprietor stares at half-a dozen shows on a row of old TVs. The street; an industrial bridge. Traffic passes by and above it all, all along, sits the ghostly green statue of Jan Zizka, the medieval campaigner, on horseback, perpetually riding out under Zizkov's eerie TV sky.

27-02-2004