Club with a history fights for survival

By Ian Willoughby In the last ten years the nightclub Roxy on Prague's Dlouha street - around five minutes from Old Town Square - has become one of the most popular clubs in the city. Now however it could be closed down The reason - noise.

Roxy, which is owned by Prague's Jewish community, began life as a cinema in the 1920s. During World War II the Germans used Roxy as a place to assemble Jews before putting them on transports to concentration camps. In the 1950s the FAMU film school had a training TV studio there. By the beginning of the 1990s the building had fallen into terrible disrepair. A decade ago the Linhart Foundation - a group of independent artists and architects founded in 1987, at the tail end of the communist era - began holding events at the venue. Jan Mayer is the head of the Linhart Foundation.

"We first stepped in in 92, I think. We used it just like an atelier for the preparation of our festivals because it was a very damp place full of water - it was impossible to use it. And afterwards we started to do let's say two concerts a month or something like that - hardcore concerts because the space was very hardcore."

Over the last ten years the Linhart Foundation has taken that run-down "hardcore" space and turned it into one of the top nightclubs in Prague. However, the success of Roxy is not welcomed by all. Many people who live nearby say they have trouble sleeping, such is the noise from the club. Jan Buergermeister is the mayor of Prague 1 - he says Roxy just isn't a suitable place for music.

"The club Roxy started up spontaneously in a residential area - nothing can be done about that. They cause problems for us when they start holding discos and concerts until the morning. From the building and sound point of view the space hasn't been adapted. It's not possible to silence such events in an area where people live. Our problem is to limit the holding of events until midnight, events where the Roxy exceeds set attendance limits."

Whatever about attendance limits, Jan Mayer from the Linhart Foundation says Roxy has spent a lot of money on noise controls.

"We invested 700,000 crowns just in the acoustics. Things which we were ordered to do. We did it. We had a professional company do acoustic measuring. We asked for what we call an 'exchange of views' and they haven't answered for more than twenty months. And by law they have to do so in one month, two months if it's a complicated case."

And therein lies the crux of the issue. Roxy says it has made necessary changes which haven't been acknowledged by the local authorities. Prague 1 meanwhile took the club to court just before Christmas and successfully argued that the club had breached noise regulations. Roxy was fined half a million crowns. That hefty fine could eventually see the club go out of buisness. Does Prague 1 mayor Jan Buergermeister want to see Roxy closed?

"Absolutely not. But we ask the foundation which runs the club to be a bit reasonable and not put on discos. They only put on discos so as to make 10 million a year. We just can't agree with somebody making money at the cost of other people not being able to sleep."

But is Roxy really making so much money? Jan Mayer says the club has yet to break even.

"Till now we're still not on the level of profit because we had a lot of investment into the space - we've already invested about 20 million crowns. We're now slowly getting to the zero point. We're always looking forward. We've had a lot of donors and we've invested our own money into the space. But now we're getting to the zero point and we're running a daily programme which is completely non-profit, it's just a gallery and a theatre space and a cafe. We built Roxy from the beginning like a future source of money."

Roxy makes some money when bands play there, but makes a lot more when top djs play at the club. Unsurprisingly the artists who play at Roxy support the club in their dispute with the authorities. John Pandit of the British group Asian Dub Foundation has played at the club three times.

"You've got to have respect for residents but the other side is you need venues, and you need venues where local artists can perform. You can put them out of town but then people don't have access - and that's what they've done in France. You can have sound limiters or you can make the place close at 10, but people don't live those hours. If it closes at 10 nobody will come - it's a way of stopping the music altogether. Just because it makes a bit of noise...factories make noise and nobody says close the factories down. Look at it that way."

British dj Mr C used to be the rapper in the dance group the Shamen. You may remember their big hit in praise of the drug extasy - Es are good, Es are good, he's Ebeneezer Goode. As somebody who djs all over Europe Mr C rates Roxy highly and says noise levels there are not so high.

"I think the locals should come and party more. When I was standing outside it didn't seem so noisy to me. It's a great space. I like the design - it was obviously a theatre before. It attracts a very, very good crowd of really nice people. It's a great club, and the reputation of the Roxy now is famous all around Europe. Youth culture is inspired by dancing. If you take away the venues for people to dance then you're going to take away a lot of creativity from the young artists of Prague. To close down such an establishment would be a crime."

Roxy say that the person trying hardest to close the club down is the deputy mayor of Prague 1, Jana Prihodova.

"She is like crazy. She is attracting the neighbours to sign the papers, she is initiating it, but she is kind of honest because she really hates young people and young culture."

Mrs Prihodova was unavailable for comment last week, but she has in the past often denied stirring up the local residents or leading their campaign against the club. Mayor Jan Buergermeister is also quick to reject such allegations.

"Please - personifying the problem is inappropriate. Mrs Prihodova could say that people from the club are to blame, that are unreasonable and hold discos when they know that they are keeping people awake and bothering people. They should try being kept awake from midnight till four in the morning and not being able to sleep."

Roxy of course is not the only nightspot in the centre stopping some people getting quality sleep. Jan Buergermeister says the Prague 1 town hall has trouble with several other places and that the town hall wants to keep people living in the city centre.

"We regularly fight in this way against 10 or 14 club operators who have gone wild. Of the 2,500 buildings in Prague 1 over 1,000 are residential buildings. We have to protect such residential zones. The number of residents is decreasing and preserving flat-dwelling in the centre is our top priority."

Roxy has different priorities. It wants to stay in business. The club has filed an appeal against the half-million-crown fine it received in December. What if that appeal fails? Mr Mayer of the Linhart Foundation again.

"If we have to pay we'll just appeal again because I think we are on the side of law, we are not criminals. They are making us criminals but they have criminal manners."

What if Roxy eventually does have to pay the fine - does Jan Mayer believe his club will close down?

"Roxy for sure will close if we're not allowed to do the music because otherwise everything loses its sense. Culture without music - we had it forty years under the communist regime, that music was forbidden. I don't even want to think about it."