In a dark corner of an old social realist building, one of Prague’s most happening night spots once lived. Neone was part of a burgeoning Czech techno revival in the 2010s, and I have many a fond memory of late nights spent there.
For a wide-eyed Australian recently relocated to Europe, it was a revelation. To have such a free and open environment right next to a busy highway with little to no security was unheard of. The sound system was nauseatingly loud and drinks were flowing at absurdly low prices. Yet no police or trouble found us (this despite the police station being literally 20 steps away at Vltavska’s metro entrance).
Similarly, the local Aussie music scene I grew up with revolved around bands, and friends of friends dragging you along to shows. The artist was the main attraction. However, this clubbing scene was quite different altogether. In many ways, the venue was the main act. A certain trust was built around a name like Neone; just turn up any given night, and you would be guaranteed a quality act.
Thus began my foray into the world of underground techno clubs.
Much is said (and parodied) about the Berlin ästhetisch – art kids wearing all black, with too many €€€ to burn, bouncing between dimly lit techno clubs fuelled by MDMA and ketamine. Was this Czech scene merely aping a more well-known Deutsche night scene? Well yes, and no. While Berlin always has an influence on these parties, the unique Eastern European atmosphere associated with the Czech Republic gave my Neone experience a more raw and authentic feel.
Clubbing in Berlin feels like you are a visitor in a world that has already happened. Just due to the sheer size and scale of a city like Berlin and its history is overwhelming. Going to these kinds of events in Prague in the 2010s? It felt like you were a pioneer, in on a secret of something currently happening. It was truly exciting.
The Bubenská building in which the original Neone was housed has since been swept away by the tides of gentrification. The complex now houses uninspiring office space lit by lifeless fluorescent tubes. Neone’s moment in the spotlight (or lack thereof, given techno’s penchant for dim lighting and smoke) was all too brief. Their doors officially closed in 2017.
In 2022, almost a decade since the club first opened, Neone has undergone a revival. All of this past November, a mini festival was hosted under the Lunchmeat umbrella. Rather poetically, this all happened not far from the original site, in the recently refurbished Prague Markets (Pražská Tržnice). In the unassuming Hala 17, a cafe/bar was available for all to visit during the day, with parties running well into the night.
The cafe/bar had a welcoming atmosphere and was a stark contrast to the raves of days past. It was deliberately family-friendly and even had kid-oriented workshops on its program. In this way, those of us who have grown older since Neone’s origins (started families and whatnot) could still feel a connection to club culture. It was truly a hidden gem with a serene vibe. Included on the calendar were hosting acoustic events, vinyl swaps, record label exchanges, workshops and more. It was a surprising oasis crammed in between the decay and renewal associated with urban gentrification projects.
This experiment with the space of the Prague Markets comes at another crossroads of the city’s history. The area around Prague 7, north of the river, is gentrifying rapidly. Investments are rolling in as trendy residential apartments and Lidls shoot up. Even a prestigious philharmonic is planned in the future. Such is the natural life cycle of urban areas.
As rent prices go up, the organic club scene pioneered by places like Neone get pushed farther and farther out of their original radii. It is perhaps inevitable. There is a perpetual flirtation with the border of maintaining the underground cool factor versus financial viability and mainstream appeal. It is a fine balancing act exemplified by this particular instalment of Neone.
It may very well be the last time such an event takes place in Pražská Tržnice. As the pedestrian bridge to Karlin supposedly nears completion this winter, this part of the city will all of a sudden be connected to the ‘mainland’. And once the major tramline reconstruction is completed (another unfortunate timing for the Neone team who lost all their footpath activity), the crowds will flood the streets once more.
I’m not one to conclude on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. It is merely that, a thing that happens. Creatives will always find a way to blossom and push the boundaries of public and private space. As Neone did it since their closing in 2017, I’m sure they will do it again very soon in the future.
As for me and the next generation of creatures of the night, we will keep searching for those blissful moments in the dark. The strobing lights and clinking of glass, booming bass and smells of marijuana, tobacco and liquor in the air will have to find another home yet again.