The Cross Club – independent culture centre with a twist

15-02-2012

In this week’s Spotlight we take you to an independent culture centre decorated with an abstract array of industrial machine part artistry.

I’m standing in northern Prague in the Holešovice district on Plynární road right in front of a rather unusual red, multi-storey – one, two three four five-storey building that houses the Cross Club. Now, if I turn the corner into the car park we find an artistic structure that I’m sure that former Monty Python and renowned film director Terry Gilliam would consider a potentially wonderful location worthy of his rather distinct abstract style. Because in the car park area of the Cross Club is a structure consisting of metallic parts, industrial bits and pieces from factories – cogs and so on – and it all forms part of multi-storey outer balcony. It’s kind of a cross between New Orleans and Terry Gilliam and it was designed by an artist called František Chmelík.

I’m now going to talk to one of the people behind the Cross Club, which describes itself as an independent culture centre responsible for promoting independent music and various forms of independent art.

Tomáš KenzoTomáš Kenzo I’m just being met by Tomáš Kenzo, who is the co-owner and creative director of the Cross Club. Hello Tomáš.

“Hello and vítejte!”

Could you describe to me something about this outside structure here?

“Everything that is here in the club was built gradually. The whole thing began with no capital and us having no experience – we’ve been here roughly ten years now – and in the beginning we just rented part of the basement. František Chmelík, who is the creator of all of these structures here and the interiors inside too, used to have a printing business here and then friends started to gather in one of the spaces in the building and it grew from there. We envisaged the place as being an alternative centre for alternative culture and we always tried to make it affordable and accessible to ordinary people. But we started really with nothing and somehow a meeting place for friends grew into this club.”

Tell me a little more about František Chmelík. Is he a sculptor or a designer?

“He’s actually a fully-trained electrician, who used to make a living fixing printers. And then he found his calling here in the field of design, finding his creative spirit, and he developed alongside the club, just as we all did. Of course, Chmelík leaves behind a truly unique mark with the design work he has done here.”

Our discovery of the interior of this multi-storey building begins in the basement, which is equally full of metallic, industrial designs, with machine parts, variously lit with coloured gels – greens and oranges. We’re now walking past a bar area and there’s also a stage. Is that for live music?

“This stage is for DJs. Smaller concerts also take place here; for example, an acoustic set-up of two performers with a guitar or electric music with live performances. And in this place is where it really all began with a few friends really just getting together for drinks for want of a better description.”

I’ll let the audience listen to some of the sounds here of the metallic machinery that is spinning around slowly. [Clanging sounds] The entire place is wired for movement. You feel like you’re in a factory.

“When we started here it looked entirely different and reconstruction work was very gradual. Because we didn’t have any money, our designs would come from waste materials, so a lot of the things here are from the scrapheap or from disassembled computers or from printers – as we had access to them – so most of the décor is from recycled materials.”

So it’s basically junk. You’ve taken junk and you’ve turned it into art. Is that right?

“Yeah, you could say that. In the past it tended to be individual sculptures in various places; today, when we undertake reconstruction efforts, we try to have some kind of plan to work from so we know what we want and we now tend to collect more of the materials in advance and we even have some money to invest in the whole effort so it’s a much better process than it used to be.”

We’re now heading back up from the basement to the ground floor, which is also full of areas for people to sit and have drinks. There’s a mini buffet area so people who are dancing downstairs can come up here for a snack.

“Exactly.”

Wow! I’m now in complete darkness waiting for a light to come on. The fuse box is being turned on. [Whirring and hissing sounds]. That’s the sound of yet more machinery. A sort of spinning mechanical structure that’s full of whirling green and blue lights. And we’re in a room that’s a dance floor and it feels like something out of Ridley Scott’s 'Alien'. Tell me about this room…

“Here is the main stage and most concerts take place here; this is where our headliners perform.”

So now we are heading to the first floor – we’ve looked at the basement and the ground floor so now we are going to the first floor – which is designed very differently. The industrial design is gone and instead it’s sort of an Aztec, wooden, very light, very rustic aesthetic. Tell me about this room.

“This was the last floor to open to the public. We tried to create an atmosphere here evoking natural materials: wood and ceramics. We have a kitchen here, so this place functions as a restaurant also selling quality coffee, tea and so in. It’s ideal for a sit down and a chat during the day.”

Do you call this a kind of “chill-out” area?

“Yes.”

This is indeed a standard restaurant here and there’s another separate room here. Again, the design really shows an extraordinary use of colours. We have yellows and oranges; lots of small lights that reflect against the wood.

“Those are old radios from the 1930s. And this room is also used for various screenings because we have a free cinema here every Wednesday. We also have various lectures and presentations or we have them on Sundays on the main stage.”

Tell me a bit more about that because you’re not just a dance club. You’re a cultural centre too…

“We now have the entire building leased. So apart from the main club downstairs, which is also used for various theatrical performances and so on, we also have rehearsal rooms and art studios in the floors above us. There’s even a radio studio up there somewhere. Basically, each month we try to showcase someone – a young, upcoming or interesting artist. Sometimes it is tied in with some wider thematic presentation. So, for example, if we’re focusing on the Middle East, then we have an exhibition of photographs from this region here and so on.”

It must obviously cost a lot of money to put together something like this. Do you have a lot of customers? Is it easy on the economic side to make money?

“Well, it’s not easy because we decided to do it as deliberately alternative so the profits are smaller, sometimes approaching zero. Occasionally, we have some difficulties, but I have to touch wood that we have been doing pretty well. We started off and have continued the idea of mostly free entry or it is a student price and the bars aren’t expensive either. So it’s all pretty much working at the moment; the club has gained an enormous reputation, really across the world, with our relatively small stages enabling festival musicians to play here from all corners of the globe, so hopefully it will continue.”

[Knocking sound]

That’s the sound of someone touching wood! [Laughter]

15-02-2012