The making of the scene
What makes a music scene, what creates and sustains it, and makes it thrive, is not only the music people, DJs, live performers, producers, record label owners, and event organizers, but also many other important actors, from party-goers who dance at events, and materially create the party space with their bodies and moves, and communicate with DJs, thus co-producing the musical event, to workers behind the scenes, bouncers, box office and cloak-room people, bartenders, stagehands, light design artists, and poster artists, also co-creating the musical event and the scene. This blog will therefore explore through interviews how all these actors make the local electronic dance music scene happen from dusk till dawn, from weekend to weekend. It will explore their roles in the scene, their cultural values and observations, their goals and motivations, their experiences and skills, their patterns of action and interaction, and the differences between them in terms of their social and cultural position. Each bi-monthly interview posted on this blog will be dedicated to one of these scene makers, alternating among them more or less equally: party-goers, workers behind the scenes, and music people.
Furthermore, the interviews will not only focus on Ankali club, but will cover the broader Prague electronic dance music scene. This is because the scene participants do not only use and operate within singular places and events, but traverse multiple ones, and the blog will do the same, by following them in their nightclubbing pursuits.
Part I. Alžběta and Tomáš: “We don’t have life, we have Ankali!”
David: Maybe you can start telling me when you started working in Ankali. Do you also work elsewhere
Alžběta: I work at Ankali from the first, unofficial party. So, I’m there from the beginning.
David: And you Tomáš, how long are you in Ankali, also from the beginning?
Tomáš: No, but almost. I started in August, and it opened in May.
David: What are the specifics of this work?
Alžběta: The most essential is the fact that the job is during the whole night, ’till late morning. Which for most people probably, they can’t really imagine that they could work like this, but I’m used to work behind the bar and in this kind of environment. Normal people just work during the day. I’m working during the night, and during the day I just sleep. People really cannot understand that this can work as well.
D: So it’s almost the other way around… and it’s only this thing, the night shift, or is it also maybe the intensity level of people coming to the bar that is making it stressful?
A: It’s just behind the bar, so … Every bar is stressful, because of the people, but this is way worse.
D: Can you compare it, how is this work in Ankali different from other ways of bartending, like Ankali vs bars vs warehouse techno parties, if you have an experience working there. You worked at warehouse parties also?
A: Yes, for example CUKR was the first techno party I ever worked at.
T: We both worked at the same CUKR party, but we didn’t know each other at that time yet. We realized that later. And it was our first techno party ever, at CUKR.
D: And you only worked there?
A: Yes, I never actually went on a techno party without actually working there. I would never probably do that. Not that I wouldn’t like it, but I have it connected with the intensity of work. So the techno actually suits well with the work.
D: So, for you it’s kind of fun to participate in a techno environment by working there?
A: Yes, always. I would never go as a participant, probably.
David: So, how would you compare working in a bar versus working in Ankali? Like, what are the main differences?
Alžběta: Opening hours, for sure. Bars work normally until 1-2am, the longest till 4am. And in Ankali, if it is really long, it is until 4, but pm [laughs].
D: That’s more at warehouse parties, or Ankali?
A: Regular party in Ankali is until 7-9 a.m., the longest one was probably until 11am. So, it was 11pm until 11am, just the music itself, then we still need to stay there to clean up the bar etc, usually 2-3 hours.
D: But also the way how customers interact with you is probably very different than how it is in a bar, let’s say? Because, they are high, and stuff…
A: Yes, probably. In normal bars, the customers are drunk, but they are not that stoned and high. So, it’s way worse.
D: It’s worse?
A: Well, when they are really drunk, it’s worse, actually, but those people [at techno parties] are … it’s not that they would be stupid, but they are… Usually, you have to explain things to them MANY times, really, again and again and again, and still, they might not get it.
D: Their comprehension level is a bit lower?
A: Ahah, yes.
D: Can you give some examples, some stories? What usually happens, what would be the dialog?
A: You know we have deposits for glasses and bottles?
D: Aha, that’s the main issue [laughs].
Tomáš: Sometimes, you have to explain it to them over and over again, 20 times, to the same person, in the same night.
D: They still come without the tokens?
A: Yes, ahah. They sometimes say that they never got it. But it was laying on the bar next to the drink, we explained what is the purpose of the token, but, still, they didn’t take it, it’s not my problem. We tried. But yes, that’s usual.
T: You know, sometimes people argue with you, but they are out of their minds. And it’s hard to talk to them in those situations.
A: The arguments are the best!
Alžbeta and Tomáš' notes to themselves: "Hm, interesting idea" - customer's commentary on glass deposits
D: Are there some other types of these dialogues? That are specific?
T: It’s totally random. You get surprised every night. To the point that you would think you get used to it, but you still get surprised, almost every night. It’s funny how people still can top the crazy things from previous nights.
A: That some situations can really be so difficult for some people. Everyday is a new day, oh yeah.
D: Can you give more examples, in the style of best and worst, top 5?
A: “Emergency exit only!” Sign on the doors next to the bar. As the sign says it is not a regular exit, but the people are just trying to go through all the time. Surprised that it is really not the same way they actually got to the club.
D: And they are just very lost probably?
A: They are lost, they usually don’t know how they got here at all.
T: They usually ask how to get up.
A: We have two or three floors sometimes [in customers’ imagination, but in fact it’s all on one floor].
D: Ahah, that’s interesting. Maybe they are used from other clubs, for example?
A: There are stairs, like two or three, so it’s kind of “up” for them. [all laugh]. Also, no photo policy is kind of a struggle for some people.
D: Also in the bar area?
T: Sometimes they ask me to take a photo of a group of people.
A: It’s fun sometimes.
"So let it heal nicely!"
David: What are your strategies in terms of how you deal with all-night shifts … Because the night is long, so you might get tired or bored? What strategies do you use to survive?
Alžběta: Really, you want to know? Club-Mate.
Tomáš: Energy drinks.
A: Yes, let’s just say energy drinks.
D: How many per night?
A: I don’t know, a lot of.
D: Like five?
A: Or more. How would you survive otherwise … Sometimes it’s just needed.
D: I also wanted to ask you if you ever go dancing. Not just you two, from all of you, bartenders, workers?
A: Yes, some of them are having fun. Not that we would not, but it’s just, I am having more fun behind the bar than I would have in front of it. I would feel really uncomfortable around those people. I have my own space behind the bar. And I can dance there. It’s good. But I would never go into the rave.
D: And in what ways is it fun for you? What kind of fun do you get out of it?
A: The people.
D: Observing people?
A: Aha! Sometimes it’s really good! Some situations are just perfect.
D: Because they are funny, or lost, or confused?
A: Usually a combination.
T: All kinds of things.
A: Sometimes, just the way they say things. Sometimes, it’s just the way they are asking for things, when they are really really high. It’s just so good…
D: They cannot talk anymore?
A: Sometimes they do, and that’s maybe even worse. When they are talking. Nah-ah.
D: Because, they are what … their egos come up? Or negative emotions?
T: It’s not the best idea, to talk to the bartenders about random shit, just out of boredom or something. Sometimes I like to have a talk, but I don’t enjoy having pointless conversations. It also depends on the person, for example, if it’s a nice guy, it’s fine.
A: Not the ego so much. It’s just the way they are presenting themselves. It’s hilarious sometimes.
D: It’s probably almost like a theater you are watching there?
A: Ahm, a zoo probably more. A circus.
David: And you say, you dance sometimes at the bar, how do you have fun at the bar, we didn’t continue in that direction. Do you also have fun between yourselves?
A: Yeah. We are trying to make it as pleasant for us as possible.
D; And probably you have more time for the interactions between yourselves toward the morning?
A: It’s actually even more fun if we are busy.
T: Yes, it’s better if it’s very busy. Because, when you have nothing to do, it drags. You think it’s been three days, but it’s like two hours.
A: But when it’s rush hour, it’s the best. I love it!
D: It gives you like an adrenaline kick?
T: No time for conflicts, and people quarrelling, because there is so many people. But sometimes, it’s also hard, when ten people are screaming at you at the same time. It’s like, how do you choose? Sometimes, I have problems with that. Sometimes, it just gets very confusing. This is what I don’t like, because people get angry, and how can you serve ten people at the same time? You know. Especially when everybody orders for friends.
-> A hell of a find under the bar <- Thank you <3
David: Any things that I didn’t ask you, but that you want to add? About your job in Ankali?
Alžběta: Sometimes, I really hate it, but I would never change it. I like working behind the bar, and Ankali has something, I don’t know what. But there is something special there.
A: I don’t know really what it is. I am still trying to find it, but there is something [laughs]. There is just something that makes me happy.
D (to Tomáš): And you feel the same?
T: Yeah. I wanted to leave many times, but I’m still there. Since I work in Ankali, I don’t work pretty much anywhere else. Sometimes, I try to start with some job, but then I return. Just like, I feel … I know the place so well.
D: So, it’s kind of a full-time part-time job?
T: If you count the hours, it’s almost like a regular job.
A: Yes, it’s true.
T: But some people think that when the party stops, we go home. But we go home at 12 or 1pm.
A: We are usually there two hours more. You have to restock the bar. And clean it. And you need to deal with the glass all over. And with the thing that I would never leave. For example, I am not working this Saturday. It will probably be the third time so far, and it’s just…
D: You already miss it?
A: Yes, I know I would. That’s my life.
T: And once I came to a party, but then I joined them at the bar.
A: I did the same, actually. The first time I wasn’t working behind the bar, I ended up working there anyway.
D: It’s kind of addictive.
A: I don’t know what to do in the club otherwise. I am having fun with the work, without it is just weird.
[after we end the first part of the interview, we start chatting without the recorder running, and they start telling me about the motto written on Ankali website, the part about “happy and sad,” and how they identify with it; I start recording again, and they explain it in the following way]
Alžběta: I am losing half of my week, and half of my life in Ankali, but it is making me happy. It makes my life miserable and happy at the same time.
David: Because it’s both hard and enjoyable at the same time?
A: Yeah, yeah. And people usually don’t get that it could be hard and really just intense, but for us, it’s the happiest part of the night. And when the party is really hard, I’m actually happy. When there is not much work, or not that much people even. Other bartenders start to go to the dancefloor. That’s happy time for them, because they do not have to serve people. But for us it’s the saddest part.
A: We also put small tiny notes with “happy and sad” motto written on them everywhere… and when you are really down, you can read them to feel better, at least for a moment.
Tomáš: I have it also on my table.
A: Yes, it’s also my wallpaper on my phone.
D: And it lifts you up in a way, when you look at it?
A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course. “Raised with love. Happy and sad.” This is how we describe our life right now. And it fits perfectly. It’s happy and sad. We don’t have life, we have Ankali. That’s it.
David: This is also related to your weekly schedule that we were talking before…
Tomáš: Usually we work 12 to 16 hours per night.
Alžběta: Then we sleep 6 or 5 hours, or no hours of sleep, or half an hour of sleep between Friday and Saturday shifts. And then, no proper Sunday. After I come back from Ankali on Sunday, I fall asleep, I don’t even know how usually. I wake up sometimes during Monday, but it’s really just when I have to pee. That’s it. Tuesday, it’s kind of, I’m waking up, but it’s still home. I would never go out! And Wednesday, it’s the day that I start to live. Probably you as well [to Tomáš]?
T: Yes, pretty much the same. It depends on how hard the weekend was.
A: Tuesday, or Wednesday is actually the first day that we are actually able to even … not think, but … I can’t really reply to messages, or even make a phone call … Because, social contact is really hard, and it’s because, working behind the bar would be the same in every place, during the night you have so many social interactions with people. It’s just you don’t want it during your own personal free space or whatever. I don’t go out even. When I have my days off, I do not go to mingle with people. Nah-ah! Yeah! So, Wednesday, Thursday, it’s our days off, usually, and then it’s the same again.
D: So it affects also your personal network, you said that they don’t really understand how it works?
A: Yes, I don’t have friends, I have him [points at Tomáš]. And a cat.
T: It affects everything. No one can imagine it. How many aspects of life it affects. But on the other hand, I like it because I only work over the weekend, and then I have a lot of free time to do things I really wanna do, which for me means making and recording music. And sometimes I even make and record music there, in Ankali, when it’s empty. Which is probably the biggest reward for me, to be able to do that.
A: And how it affects my life, even when I’m not working, I live during the night. I am kind of not available during the day, so I have it turned around in my head. So, for me, it’s normal to be awake at 3 or 4 am, because it’s my afternoon. And not many people have it.
D: Yes, it’s kind of an extreme type of work.
A: Yes, probably, we wouldn’t be able to do it very long.
D: Not whole life, of course.
A: Yeah, I hope so! I hope so! But I can see myself after 10 years, still the same. I would be dead probably by that time. But yeah, that’s our life. It’s not really interesting, but, “happy and sad.”
Part II. Lan and Pavel: “We set up a huge part of the mood at parties!”
David: Let’s start first with some general things. For how long are you already working in these kinds of techno scenes? How did you start?
Pavel: We were party goers before we started working at the bar. And just regular bartenders.
Lan: I started to go to techno parties when I finished high school. And it was my only joy at that time. Because I worked as a waitress in a restaurant, and it was pretty shitty.
P: CUKR started it all! [both laugh] One of my favorite parties in Prague.
L: So, I was going to those parties, to CUKR, Harmony, etc. And I told Pavel to come with me.
P: Yeah, she told me to come with her to one of the techno parties. So, we started going to parties together. I brought some of my friends from the bar. And then she left for Vietnam, for three months. And I kind of really liked partying and going to techno. It caught me so much! And I just went to all of them!
D: Every weekend?
P: Well, like three times a week [both laugh]. And, you know, she was in Vietnam. So, I didn’t have anyone to come with me at that time. And I’m kind of shy, if I have to meet new people. So, then I just started talking to the people that you see all the time, which is the staff, the bartenders, and the production people…
L: They can’t escape [teases him].
P: … the bouncers, at the cloak room. And I just started talking to them. I started to bring them sweets, at the party. And I kind of befriended all of them.
D: And where was this mainly happening?
P: Mainly in Ankali, and at the warehouse parties. And then one of the bar managers from Ankali asked me if I don’t want to work there. And so I started to work there, and at Stalin, and then she came back from Vietnam. So I hooked her up with the work at Stalin.
L: And I said yes.
P: And we are here now, two years later.
D: So, she brought you to techno, and then he brought you to techno bars.
P: Yes, to the staff behind the scene.
David: And then you started working where? And can you name all the parties and crews that you work for?
Lan: I work at Stalin, and then we worked this summer season in Stromovka, in Containall. And sometimes we work at the warehouse parties.
D: Like which ones? For which crews?
Pavel: I started in Ankali and Stalin pretty much at the same time. That’s what I wanted to say. The core of the scene, the people actually running it. There is not so many of them. You can count the groups on one hand, two hands max. And they pretty much all know each other, because the scene is not completely new. It’s been here for some time.
L: And it’s a small community. Quite small.
D: How big?
P: Like ten groups. By now, it grew a lot. Before it was four. And because I like to go to all of the venues, I befriended all of them, so I kind of worked with everybody by now. From like club places, Ankali, Fuchs2, last year Altenburg, Wildt, and then the recurring warehouse parties, CUKR, Harmony, nite vibes, Polygon, Wrong…
D: And you, do you also work for all these venues and crews?
L: No, not for all of them. But I go to those parties.
David: Because, to me, it was funny, when I started exploring this scene, to whichever party I went, it was always the same people working there.
P: Yes. Well, I actually said it incorrectly, because there are like ten groups that make these parties, but you actually still have only like four groups of bartenders. You know, four main people that run the bars. So, you have people from Ankali, that’s one group, a really big one. Then you have people from Altenburg, which was before Nákladové nádraží Žižkov, i.e, Pragotron. And then you have even smaller groups around as well. And if you go to all the parties, the set of bartenders is kind of the same.
L: Yes, we used to work together with …. I feel like we have kind of our own group, but it’s maybe my feeling, because Pavel kind of works for everybody.
D: And how big is your group?
P: Pretty much we are just friends, that all work at the bar. So, we try to … If there is like a warehouse venue, some pop-up thing, we try to get this group to work there. If it’s offered to me, to gather some people that can work there, I just ask my friends first. We have these 15 people of us friends. You know, they know us already. So, they know if they will ask me, or my friend, we are gonna ask this group first.
D: And then there is probably some overlap between these groups? Because, some of them work at all these places, right?
P: Yes, of course. Like me.
D: And some work at cloak rooms, and some go to work to the bars? Is this all the same group of people?
P: Well, with cloak room, it’s very different. This whole group that work at the cloak rooms is pretty much art students. No, really, 95% of them are art students! And, in Prague, you have like three or four art high schools, so they know each other, all of them. And that’s the group that works around in cloak rooms, or at the entrances.
D: And the bartenders come from a different environment?
P: Yes, yes. The guys from Altenburg, for instance, they are actually artists as well but also kind of punks—pankači [laughter], and as they needed bars at their parties, they started to do them themselves, and gathered a bunch of people around them.
D: And then who else?
P: The other big group, around the Ankali bar manager, that’s really a huge and diverse group. All of those people feel so different.
L: Their background is different, they just all come from various places.
P: Yes, and most of them have regular office jobs, in IT companies, etc.
David: And is it difficult, organizationally, to work as techno bartenders?
Lan: No, it’s much easier than running a regular bar, I would say. Because of the people, the customers that come. They are there for the music, not for the drinks. And the variety of drinks is limited, but it’s still …
Pavel: Yes, in a regular bar, you are there for the alcohol. Maybe some company. But if you go to the techno party, there is music. There are drugs. And then, third, comes the alcohol. That’s a relief, you know. And, you sell a fuck-ton of water, at a warehouse bar.
L: Yeah, non-alcoholic drinks. And at three or four o’clock, it breaks, and you sell only non-alcoholic drinks.
P: Yeah, and then it breaks again at six, and then it starts to shift again toward cocktails or small shots. And then at ten, you pour only shots.
L: But only small ones.
L: Because, it’s not very usual to drink small shots in a regular bar.
P: Interesting fact. Bartenders at the scene, drink so many shots during the night, that you just need to take the small ones. Because, otherwise, you couldn’t move. Sometimes, you can’t even move, even though you are only doing the small ones, because sometimes you drink 40 during the night. Even though you are running for ten hours around the fucking foggy club, you get drunk.
L: Also, it’s easier to avoid conflict at techno parties, because people don’t drink so much alcohol.
P: And the people on the scene are kind.
L: Yes, they are kind.
P: If you see someone who is acting like a dick, it’s usually a first-timer, or a random guy that wandered off from whatever place, or a tourist that completely doesn’t know… 90% of the time, people that are actually rude, or making some ruckus, are people like this. I think the scene overall is really kind.
L: That’s why we are working there. That’s why I spend time here, and I love it.
D: And you can still enjoy the parties.
L: Yeah, in comparison with other jobs that I have tried, yes, sure. It’s much easier to work here, because the people are nicer.
David: And the difference between working in a techno club, versus at a warehouse party?
Lan: The only thing that is important, at the warehouse party, is the speed. And I don’t mean drug. Speed, how fast can you pour the drinks. Because, the people don’t want to spend time at the bar, but on the dancefloor. And if you have to prepare it, the warehouse parties take so much more time. At the club, everything is pretty much prepared. You just need to clean it before you come.
D: You mentioned before that you sometimes start two days earlier already, to prepare a warehouse party?
P: Yes, depends where it is, how far from Prague, or how much you want to prepare, you know. But now we are talking about the bars, but you also need to bring … Imagine it is somewhere in Braník, by the bridge, or for CUKR, in Barrandov, in the pool. You have to bring all the lights, all the cables, the generators, all the speakers, and then tables for the bars, maybe fridges, if you have that. Then the beer tap, all the barrels, all the CO2 bombs, for the beers, if you have that. All the bottles. All the Club Mates and Matchas.
L: I think Pavel does the maintenance, before and during the event. The supplies.
David: And you also try to enjoy there, you don’t only work at those parties?
Lan: I go there to have fun, even behind the bar.
Pavel: Well, that’s the point of the party, to have fun. And even though you are working there, you should enjoy it. Even the organizers are trying to have fun. So, if you go there, yeah, you work, yeah, you can’t have as much fun, but well … you can, if you can handle it [both laugh].
D: And what makes it fun during work for you, at parties? Do you go dancing, do you chat with coworkers, or with customers?
P: All of it.
L: Malý panáky.
P: All of it, really. You know, you can help yourself with one malý panák.
D: And what do you drink, when you do malý panáky.
L & P [in one voice]: Vodka. We drink vodka.
P: We drink pretty much everything. That’s also one thing. You have a limited amount of things you can sell at the techno bar. Because, everybody wants mate, everybody wants matcha, everybody wants beer, vodka, and water. These few.
L: And hruška [pear]. Hruškovica [pear brandy].
P: Yes. So, those are like six things. You need those. And I can make you a martini, but nobody will buy it at a techno party.
D: Yes, of course. And it takes too long probably?
P: Yes, as well. So, you kind of, when you work there for a longer time, you have already tried everything. So, you just mix it up. But vodka shots are the best.
D: And what else makes it fun for you, working at techno parties?
P: The music, sometimes. There were definitely some parties that I just wanted to work at, because of the music. And also, you talk with other bartenders, that’s really good at warehouse parties. Because, you meet every three weeks with that person.
L: And you never meet them at other situations. At least for me.
David: I have this thesis published on the blog (see above), that everybody contributes to the making of the scene… I wanted to ask you, where do you see your role in this regard, as bartenders? In making and sustaining the local techno scene…
Pavel: We set up a huge part of the mood at parties. And that’s one of the reasons that I always try to act kind, and funny, and friendly! Because I like it… and I like the scene, how nice it is. So, if I want to contribute to it, which I am trying to, I want to do it in a good way, in a way I feel good about, the same as the scene feels to me.
D: That’s a good point. With your interaction at parties, you are contributing to the scene. And shaping the whole mood.
P: Exactly, and also, we can influence people, the conversations. Sometime you have a lot of energy and you just spread it or you can mirror the customers, which I kind of like to do. Like their interactions. It can take five minutes when you are doing three drinks. So you can start conversations. And I often mirror the people. Their non-verbal gestures and moves.
D: So, by mirroring, you try to engage them in the conversation?
P: So, if I feel really good with them. If their vibe seems really good, I want to keep it that high. So, I just kind of mirror the high of the vibe. That’s a part of it, pretty much, influencing. Because, you can also have the newcomers. They have never been to the techno party. And today, they came, for the first time. Sometimes they can be mean, and sometimes they like it as well. And they try to connect. So they ask about stuff.
D: And you try to guide them?
P: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They would ask, is it ok to come to that naked chick, dancing on the top of the speaker, and ask for her number. And you tell them, well, probably at least wait until she comes to the bar, and let her enjoy the moment for now. And you can guide them, yes.
David; So, in a way, you also have interaction with techno audiences, similar to the DJ, having an interaction with audiences, as she or he co-creates the mood.
Pavel: Kind of, but at least, we can use words.
D: Or, movement also?
Lan: Yes, non-verbal communication.
P: Yes, when you see someone unentertained. You can always pop in some flying bottlecaps, some throwing of a bottle. You know, just entertaining for a bit. We need people to feel good.
L: The vibe of the people, the customers, is very similar to ours.
P: Yes, that’s why we are working at these places.
D: And there are many of your own friends, in the crowd.
L: Behind the bar, in front of the bar. So, it’s very natural for me to feel good at parties, and for them to feel good.
P: That’s one other thing. We started as ravers. You know, we like it. So we can, as we work there, we can try to make it better. Because, it’s for our sake as well.
Lan: "This one is about Pavel saving the party in Bike Jesus when the music stopped. It is about the work that Pavel does besides of bartending -- preparing the technical stuff and fixing tech problems"
Read the first part of the series here: The making of the scene #1: Interview with Nam & his friends
Author and coordinator of the blog: David Verbuč (music anthropologist by occupation, and techno dancer in spare time, or maybe it’s the opposite).
You can email us to firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any comments or questions about The making of the scene blog, or if you want to be interviewed yourself/with your friends.
You can also send us personal reflections of your experiences from Ankali or other local electronic dance music events (they can be in English or Czech language). If we will like them, we will publish them on the blog, under the rubric “Reflections from the scene.”