My Prague – Jakub Kaifosz

Jakub Kaifosz at Výstaviště

Jakub Kaifosz is one of the Czech Republic’s most notable and original independent musicians and performs under the name Lazer Viking. His latest album, Tunnel Vision, is due out in September. Kaifosz has a very close attachment to Prague’s Letná district, where our tour of “his Prague” begins in the spacious bar of the Bio Oko arthouse cinema.

“I’m from Prague 7, I’m from Letná, which is where we’re at now.

“I was actually born into a flat that is right by Letenské náměstí, basically between Letenské náměstí and the National Technical Museum, which is where I spent most of pre-teen life.

“When I was 11 we moved to the States. I lived in New Jersey for almost two years, then we came back here.

Strossmayerovo náměstí | Photo: Chmee2,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“I think the first place I moved when I moved away from my parents was to Korunovační, which is also in Letná.

“Now I live by Strossmayerovo náměstí, which is technically still kind of Letná – definitely Prague 7 and Holešovice.

“I think there were two maybe two years when I lived in Žižkov, near Jiřího z Poděbrad; back when I had the band Wild Tides we had a band flat where the whole band lived.”

Like the Monkees.

“Exactly. We were exactly like the Monkees [laughs].”

Why have you taken us to Bio Oko as part of our tour of “your Prague”?

“I don’t go out much, really. Not because of Covid or whatever, I just generally don’t gout much, for the past eight years, maybe.

“I like to stay home, as R. Stevie Moore sings in one of my favourite songs.

“But when I do go out I’m a giant movie nerd, so this is where I come for fun, just to see whatever movies are out.

“There were times where I would come here for like a full day, where I would catch the first screening at 10 am and I would stay here till midnight, seeing whatever the movies were on.

“And it just stayed with me like a place of comfort, a place where I feel at home, in a way.

“This is also the cinema where I saw my first movies as a kid. My dad used to take me here.

“I think the first movies I saw here were Beverly Hills Cop, Jurassic Park and Highlander.

“Now thinking back to it, it formed me definitely when I was six, because I’m still basically a combo of those movies.”

In recent years this cinema has been run by the same people who run Kino Aero and Světozor; it’s a kind of arthouse mini chain. What was it like before that?

“Before it got kind of, let’s say, saved by Aerofilms and people who run it now it used to be very much kind of a rundown thing of the past.

“People wouldn’t come here a lot.

The arthouse cinema Bio Oko | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“The bar wasn’t downstairs. It used to be upstairs and it was just a place to get beer or chips to go with your movie.

“Sometimes there were days when I would have to buy three tickets for them to show the movie, because that was the minimum of people, but there weren’t three people to watch a movie.

“Back then especially, around my early 20s, whenever I was depressed I would just go here because I knew that I would be here alone and I could just watch movies and get slightly inebriated while doing that, and then be sad with my friends on the screen [laughs].”

You say that you don’t like going out too much, but if you do go out, what bars or cafés do you favour in Prague, apart from here?

“Yeah, none. Because I don’t drink, so I don’t go out at all.

“Mostly when you want to see me you either make a house call at my place, or we meet here.

“But I guess it would be wrong not to mention Café v lese, which as a venue is basically my second home.

“Whenever I’m doing a show in Prague, I want to do it there.

“Because of the people, the sound, the space – it’s a perfect setup for what I do.

“And although it might seem small, like I could probably push to elevate myself as an artist to play bigger spaces, I don’t really feel like it, because I know what to expect there in terms of the quality the space offers, which offers me the space to perform at my best.

“So I guess that would be the only second place you can find me – but only when I’m playing.”

Where do you think is the best venue for watching music in Prague? Or what are some of the best venues?

“As a kid, I grew up at 007 [at Strahov], club-wise.

Klub 007 Strahov | Photo: archive of Klub 007 Strahov

“It was really, really scary to me then, because when I was 15 and 16 and going there, seeing all the tattooed hardcore guys – because was kind of the scene that I wanted to be a part of, the music that I loved – was scary to me as a little tiny kid who was, you know, wide-eyed.

“But it was very formative for me, especially seeing the shows that I’ve seen there, because you could get to see bands which now are huge and would be playing stadiums and playing some of the biggest festivals – you would see them there in front of 50 or 30 people.

“I remember some shows that were totally unforgettable.

“The first time Future Islands came to Prague they were at 007 and there was nobody there, but it was basically exactly the same show as the one that later made them insanely huge.

“So that’s sadly kind of a memory of a space that I love. Although the space still exists, I think the let’s call ‘alternative scene’ has gravitated somewhere else throughout the years while that place kind of stayed a hardcore club, which I guess is a scene that I’m no longer that close with, so I don’t really go there that much.

Klub 007 Strahov | Photo: archive of Klub 007 Strahov

“But for me the best place in Prague will always be the 007. It’s just the combination of the lowest ceiling you can ever find anywhere with just like the crammed space and the fact that it’s an old student club and it’s still run that way.

“Also the people who run it are absolute darlings – it just has the vibe that you want when you go see music.

“You feel like you’re in the place where you’re supposed to be.

“And as I’ve said, I’ve seen some insane shows.

“I think when The Locust played in Prague there was around 600 people at the 007, which if you’ve been to the 007, you probably cannot imagine what that looks like.

“That was fun. If you wanted to move you had to perform swim moves to just get through people anywhere.

Klub 007 Strahov | Photo: archive of Klub 007 Strahov

“So yeah, I think that to me will always be the place which I wish would again become the place to go, although I think it’s impossible.”

Keeping it very local indeed, Kaifosz next takes me to a perhaps unlikely spot: a hardware shop whose windows are bare except for “closing down” signs.

“You wanted me to take you to a district and with me it’s not going to be a lot of walking or travelling, because I’m very much a cliché local to my district.

“So right now we’re, what, 200 metres from where we were before, from Bio Oko.

Bio Oko | Photo: ŠJů,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“We’re by Kamenická in front of what until maybe last week used to be the only hardware store in Letná, which is also one of the last places that have been here longer than I have.

“So over the 37 years that I’ve basically lived here or around here, that was one of the places that has been here since I could remember.

“Most of them have gone, not that I’m trying to say that in a cheesy, nostalgic way like, Oh, the district is changing for the worse.

“I think the district is changing as every district should, to accommodate to the people who live here now.

“But I’m kind of sad that [laughs] we’re getting rid of this hardware store because it was very close to me.

“Anything you ever needed you could get there – from kitchen utensils to nails to glue – which is always great to have close by.

Everything must go | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“It was also very much a mom and pop shop, so it had that vibe of, You’re always going to see the same people there and you’re going to grow old with them, which is nice.

“Also to kind of bring this back around to music, with the new record that I’m releasing now I had to build a completely new live set up for it, with all the synthesisers and drum machines, and this hardware store played an epic role in it, because [laughs] all the double-sided stick tape and all the Velcro and everything that I used to build the thing that I play with now is from here.

“I would sometimes be here maybe three times a day because I’d be missing something.

“They were making fun of me, because I bought out all their corks at one point.

“So I guess this a nice way for me to say goodbye to this place.”

Outside the hardware store | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

You talk about the area changing as every area should, but how has it changed, say in the last 10 years or so?

“I think in the last 10 years there hasn’t been anything radical that you could really point out.

“I think it’s just trying to do its best to accommodate to… half of Letná is young families, I would say, and it’s middle class, upper middle class a lot.

“So there are a lot more places, maybe too many places, to go to get whatever kind of coffee or tonic you’d like, and a lot of places to go to just hang out.

Letná | Photo: Damian Cornette,  Radio Prague International

“I think that’s kind of been the biggest change, in a way.

“It’s lost any aspects of proverbial danger [laughs] which you could find here and has just become very homely.

“Which in a way is the way this district has always been, especially this left side here, which is closer to the river, more than the one closer to Stromovka.

“When I was a kid I remember the Stromovka side of Letná would be like the ‘dangerous’ part, because that’s where the dangerous bars were [laughs] and I would be scared to cross over there.

“Or in my teenager years that was where you would to illegally drink.”

For somebody who doesn’t know Prague, how would you characterise the Letná district?

“I’m trying to think back to all the ways that Letná has been characterised to me.

“There was even a certain time when somebody was like, Well this is like the East Village of Prague, which is absurd.

“I’ve also heard people say that this is the Brno in Prague, which is even more absurd [laughs].

“I think it doesn’t really matter what district it is – I think it’s the experiences you live through there.

Stromovka | Photo: Jolana Nováková,  Czech Radio

“And this being a place where I lived through 99 percent of my life, I think the one word that pops into my head when I think about Letná is comfort.

“It’s like a full comfort zone, inside Prague.

“I think it’s always been that way, especially since it’s a district that is separated from everything else by two parks.

“You’re basically in the centre – you’re five minutes from it, or it’s 10 minutes walking distance, if you’ve got a pep to your step.

“It’s like a little safe haven of comfort to me – and hopefully it stays that way.”

The final stop on our short tour of “Jakub Kaifosz’s Prague” is the nearby Výstaviště, a sprawling exhibition ground at one end of Stromovka Park that houses the Industrial Palace and a number of recreation venues.

“We’re at, what do you call it in English, the Prague fairgrounds?

“Yes, the infamous Prague fairgrounds, which used to be home, and are still home, to the Matějská pouť and the beautiful singing fountain, which I’ve never heard sing.

I guess the Matějská pouť was Prague’s biggest funfair.

“Yes. It still is. But now it only happens in, like, two weeks, in April I think.

Matějská pouť | Photo: Klára Stejskalová,  Radio Prague International

“I think we just missed it.

“But in ye olden days, the fair would stay here; half of the attractions would come from Germany and the rest would always be here.

“So you could go all year round, if you wanted to get you fair vibes on.

“But now it’s not here.”

You were telling me that you had a particular fondness for the rollercoaster that used to be there.

“Yes, that’s kind of the reason I guess I brought you here – because that used to be my favourite place.

Cyclone | Photo: Jirka.h23,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“I think as we talked in Bio Oko about it being some kind of a comfort zone to hide out in, I think during my life every time I was at my lowest I would come here and go to the rollercoaster that’s no longer here.

“It used be called Cyclone. I think it was the oldest rollercoaster in Central Europe.”

It felt like it. It was scary as hell to me.

“Especially if you noticed the duct tape [laughs] that was holding it together. That was always the best part.

“But it wasn’t very high. I’m afraid of heights, so it was good for me.

“Also it was owned by the third generation of the same family and there was something magical about it.

“You would walk all the way back here from the city and suddenly you would be in front of almost a mythical, weird, duct-taped together rollercoaster.

“I used to love it and I would make a point of riding it at least once a year, since I was five maybe.

“So every year I would come here and I can’t now – it’s dismantled now and I think it’s resting in a field.”

Also right by us here is a place [large round wooden structure] where you told me your dad lied to you about, saying it was wall of death for motorcycles.

Spirála Theatre at Výstaviště | Photo: Vyva,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“Well it looks like a wall of death for motorcycles.

“I don’t know it’s going to be now, because it’s also under construction, as we just found out.

“I think it used to be a theatre.”

Was that the “Prague Globe”?

“I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.

“The only time I was ever inside was in high school, because I went to see some play there – I think it was about The Beatles – inside what I was led to believe was the wall of death.

“We’re also next to the pyramid, which is now, what, Goya Music Hall, where you can go see the Phantom of the Opera for, I don’t know, maybe 30 years now [laughs]. It’s the only thing there.

“But one of my favourite memories is that when I was a kid, one of my favourite memories is they brought KITT from Knight Rider to Prague.

“You could come see the car and sit in it.

“It’s such a weird memory because you go into this glass pyramid to see this ‘car of the future’…

“I still have the photo from it – you’re free to see it upon request.”

Caption: This is the first track released from the Lazer Viking album Tunnel Vision, which is due out in September.