Interview with David Urban…
“We can only know what love is when we know how to die to everything of yesterday, to all the images of pleasure, sexual or otherwise; then, when there is love, which in itself is virtue, which in itself is morality-all ethics are in it- then only does that reality, that something which is not anthrax, measurable, come into being. “
This quote from the writings of J. Krishnamurti, a leading opponent of dogmatic thinking, caught my attention as I sat down to write the interview with David Urban, a preeminent show promoter and Radio 1 personality (Tuesday Morning from 3:00 ’til 5:30).
Having grown up here in Prague, shopping the black market for records when it was illegal, and seeing the incredible explosion in the dance music scene first hand these last few years, I was somewhat surprised to find him so laid back about the success of his own recent gigs.
Transglobal Underground, Revolutionary Dub Warriors, the upcoming 808 State show amongst others, the doings of his D Smack U expanded team of two, since 1993 David has done all the work himself. Before he had an office he would float back and forth between the fax machines of friends, wait for the odd phone call, flyer the town himself, just to hear good music.
Even now, with so many promoters vying for club dollars, he won’t book a show that doesn’t personally excite him. Everytime I ask him if a show went well or if a lot of people showed up, he looks at me with a big smile, letting on how much fun he had. The bands that he promotes have a particular flavor to be sure, warmer sounds, slower grooves, and let’s just say. . . . . . an herbal quality.
Though not partial to techno, he digs the Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and some of the more song oriented electronic music. In the late eighties he performed with a little known industrial band MIOS (Mushrooms in our shoes), but has since become more of a fan, except when he’s working the turntables.
His partnership with the Roxy club has been fruitful, and the space seems perfect for the kind of shows he sets up, 75 percent of which have sold out recently. From 1991 to 92 he lived in San Francisco, my home town and we talked about the differences. We both agreed that Prague was a faster scene than SF, which might surprise some people, even though we both missed the food and the multicultural elements of the west coast.
He spent most of his time in San Fran partying down and getting his creativity out by painting portraits of people in their own blood. This naturally led to a discussion of the decadence of life in that city, the overwhelming media bombardment obviously promoting a more voyeuristic quality to life there.
I was curious about the black market record dealers he went to in the early eighties. There were roving dealers who would hock their wares at a specified time and place, selling the records for 200-400 crowns a pop, when the average income was only about 2500 crowns a month. The records were traded ad nauseum, and the parents generally accepted the rebellion, until 1987 when imports became legal.
On politics, “interesting bull sh*t”, generally agreeing with Klaus’ economic plan though hardly a conservative. On new record stores, he recommended the T-shirts for you at Kolinska 16. Takes a wait and see attitude about the sale of Radio 1 to American corporate giant Metromedia, but feels its days are numbered. On technology that it should be subservient, and is wary of government surveillance.
The ethereal quality about him almost lets on when he says he believes in reincarnation, but in an existential, or existence first manner, but doesn’t clarify. It was a pleasure to meet someone who enjoys what he does so much, and loves seeing people have a good time. We’re most fortunate.
Alexander Zaitchik recently picked the brain of David Urban, the tall and taciturn mastermind behind D Smack U Productions, and director of all music bookings at Roxy. Here are his thoughts on the Roxy, Prague and the music scene…
THINK: What goes on in Roxy’s experimental space?
DU: It is a space for artistic activity. We do music, theater, movies, exhibitions, parties, concerts.
THINK: Is the idea behind Roxy the same now as it was when it started?
DU: It’s evolved, and it’s changing. The general concept is perhaps the same, but the projects are different. It’s basically still like a cultural center, but not sponsored by the government. There is some commercial activity, but it’s still a cultural center for the community.
THINK: Do you see the commercial side of things supporting the other stuff, which might not otherwise happen?
DU: Not one-hundred per cent. It helps to survive, it helps the people who work in Roxy, etcetera etcetera, but we don’t approach it like cynics. We welcome it. It’s part of keeping Roxy successful, but it’s not why we do this.
THINK: Has the relationship with the neighbors been problematic over the years?
DU: Like every place, there are always some problems to solve but we try hard to respect the neighbors as much as possible.
THINK: How is Roxy a special club, compared to others in Prague and Europe generally?
DU: It’s very special, and has a very specific vibe, and I would say a very strong vibe. It’s hard to explain, but a lot of international DJ’s and bands, when they arrive in Prague and see Roxy, they have dej? vu, flashbacks to when they started out in Britain or wherever. But also the program is unique, because of it’s variety. There’s no other club in Prague with the same concept.
There’s Akropolis, but they don’t have regular parties. And the dance clubs are just dance clubs. The difference between other clubs and Roxy is that people who come to a party or show in Roxy really like and are concerned about the music, it’s not just the lifestyle, not just to show off a new dress. In other places there’s a kind of snobbery. This isn’t the case for the majority of those that come to Roxy. At least I hope not.
THINK: Are there any plans to renovate?
DU: We’re renovating right now. The holes are being fixed.
THINK: Will people be nostalgic for them?
DU: I hope not. They were actually part of an art exhibit someone did about six or seven years ago.
THINK: How old is the building?
DU: It opened as a Jewish theater in the 1930s, then the communists closed it down and used it for storage until it was reopened in ’90, and then as a club in ’92.
THINK: Was it hard to get the lisence to reopen it?
DU: No, not really. The early 90s were very relaxed, very chaotic, and it wasn’t difficult at all. It was the Linhart Foundation’s idea to open a club. They are still involved, but we have complete freedom to do whatever we want to do.
THINK: What was a typical week like in the beginning?
DU: We were open all week, with maybe three or four actions. A lot of people rented the venue for their own activities. Maybe there was more theater. It’s more structured now, but we still have regular events like Free Mondays, where people from the community can come up and play.
THINK: Do you still think of Roxy as a community center?
DU: Yes, in the summer we have a lot of tourists, but still it’s basically for people who live here. The tourists aren’t a problem, I like to travel to new places too.
THINK: What about the future.
DU: The plan for the future is just to enlarge the possibilities, to show people what we can do. So we have certain goals and certain dreams.
THINK: What kinds of goals?
DU: I don’t want to talk about it. I’m a bit superstitious.
THINK: Nine years later, has Roxy kept a sense of its underground roots?
DU: Ummm… Underground, underground. I think that we are still underground, but also professional. It’s a combination of, let’s say, innocent vibes and a professional approach to productions, promotions, whatever. It has a good reputation with DJ’s. People want to play here.