Getting Away With It
There is no shortage of bumping bodies. Drinks flow non-stop as revelers consume beer, wine, spirits, and energy drinks. The dance floor is small and intimate; house music fuels the beat. From time to time a crowd gathers by the windows and the revelers wave to passersby on the street. Noise complaints are ignored as the bass bins boom into the distance like an after hours ambulance, for this is no underground club, no house party, and no disco!
Mobile tram parties are nothing new to Prague. Honza Komárek and 16 year veteran DJ, Chris Chemist began planning mobile soirées over two years ago. On September 20th, 2002, these forward thinking individuals hauled 800 watts of sound equipment and 500 cans of Gambrinus beer up the hill to the Vozovna Streovice tram barn next to Prague castle and the TRAMix tram party was born.
Without knowing exactly what to expect, the sold out "one-off" event turned into an extended crash course in the experimental beats-per-mile discipline. The rented tram was specially outfitted with a power supply that granted access to the city tram system's plentiful overhead power lines. What everyone overlooked was the fact that the massive blue spark that periodically erupts above a speeding tram generally corresponds to a brief power loss to the car's electrical system. Combine this with sound systems that require a steady flow of juice to maintain sonic output and you have a problem. As a result, subsequent trips required the help of an on-board generator. The "wheels of steel" Technics 1200 turntables were absent from the events because the tram's bumpy ride made a stylus tracking onto vinyl impossible. This small detail was rectified during future trips by pre-recording DJ sets onto portable mini-discs for playback.
As the parties continued, the overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants and the trouble-shooting commitment of the founders allowed these events to evolve into a unique sensory experience. Why wallow in the depths of a smoky club cellar staring at eye candy video walls when the beautiful nighttime scenery of Prague is just outside?
A large part of why these events remain unique can be credited to the promoter's keen sense of spontaneity and unabashed revelry. Chris Chemist founded and helps run house music promotion outfit B-52 while partner Honza has cemented a solid alliance with local transit Czech transit authority Dopravní Podník. A typical party runs for two and a half hours, with the most recent ones beginning in Vinohrady. The organizers have strategically planned "pit-stops" in parks located along the circuitous route and catered for site-seeing considerations as well.
First-time tram partier Sara says, "There are basically three things you can do on the tram; talk to people, drink and dance, or look out the window and interact with the people on the streets." The concept remains pure at its core. Provide top-notch music and sound in a comfortable yet unique and social space, while the unrivaled scenery slowly passes you by.
The styrofoam cooler "mini-bars" are heavily stocked and cater to drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Red Bull, fruit juices, colas and mineral water are for sale alongside cans of locally produced Czech beer. Laptops and digital cameras provide instant photos to the participants as the party unfolds.
Some highlights of the No. 18 tram party events involve mistaken commuters boarding mid-route and waiting nervously amongst head-bopping beatsters for the next "scheduled" stop. One noteworthy sojourn was interrupted by a derailment further down the line, and horse carriages and delivery trucks have hiccupped others; but not to worry, what remains a constant in every one of these evenings is the almost bizarre-like attention commanded by a tram load of pie-eyed adults with colored lights and 1600 watts of sound as they pass through the center of Prague just after midnight. The necks of observers crane to catch a glimpse of the rolling collection of hipsters and club kids on their pre-party crawl through town. Participants regularly exclaim "Euphoric" and "Unique" as civilian vehicles slowly line up behind the infrequent, yet welcome parade.
The logical progression of these mobile events witnessed the rental of a CSSD 80 ton double-decker passenger train which pulled out of Smíchovské Nádrai on New Years Eve 2002, bound for Olomouc in Moravia with over a hundred frenzied revelers. The larger commuter train space accommodated the much-missed turntables and live mixing skills of local house heroes Josef Sedlon, Lumiere, Nika 77, Babe LN and The Chemist himself. Once having arrived in Moravia, the partiers then proceeded to the now defunct Barumba club to bring in the New Year with panache alongside the city's welcoming mayor. More recently, the "Get Trained '03" event featured an almost scientifically planned "stall" of the massive train in the desolate snowfields of Hermanicky. As the dancers bopped from the cabins, trackside acrobats, jugglers and stunning firework display greeted them unexpectedly as DJ Chris Sadler dropped the ecstatic New Years crescendo. A massive snowball fight then ensued as horrified local residents reluctantly joined in the melée.
The highlight of this particular event was the mistaken kidnapping of a TV Nova crew as they missed their exit window and were trapped aboard the train while reporting on the happening. Subsequent midnight footage of Prague's Old Town Square was oddly missing from the next day's broadcast. Happily, however, there was plentiful coverage of the party train bash.
Occasionally, visiting club acts such as Spin Cycle join in the fray with their own unique selection of vinyl delights. The local press has embraced this event and helped to spread the word. Reflex, The Prague Post, BBC Czech and X-Mag have all done reportage on this unusual excuse to cut loose. There are no fewer than 200 web postings following any recent event on Prague.tv and other community websites. Juki, a regular participant from internet dance site www.techno.cz, exclaims that the tram parties exude the long lost unity from 10 years ago that is missing from the current club scene. Another web site, www.clubber.cz, features 100s of party photos archiving the two-year legacy of the events. The official TRAMix website can be found at www.b52.cz .
The demographic that frequents these events is usually an interesting hodge-podge of Ex-pats, visiting tourists and forward-thinking locals who've tired of the usual offering of weekend club doldrums. Mara, a newcomer to Prague, says that the vibe was good and people are friendly. Tram participants seem to unanimously agree that the "special" environment is one of the best things about the party and people are friendlier and more open than they would be in a similar event held in a club. Even former President Václav Havel's stepdaughter was once spotted on a recent mobile outing.
The fact that a few creative individuals amongst us have graciously threaded a new club trend into our brief house music legacy is a blessing. This do-it-yourself model may serve as a good example to other local promoters in how to focus on the music and fun in innovative locales rather than the umpteenth big promotional sold-out house party formula.
Call it the lost art of spontaneity if you will. But why have our over planned overpaid PC lifestyles left us yearning for the perfect unplanned moment? I say: take the dive, jump in, the water's warm. Plan to ride the party Tram while the house beat thumps and the champagne flows. May 29, 2004 will see a practically new city tram, traveling to rendez-vous with a fully equipped party barge at Palackého Námestí for a multi-sensory adventure-filled experience on streets and over water.