Speaking Czech is hard, singing Czech is harder: My experience at an underground indie rock show in Prague

Most of my friends from the program were travelling, and others already had plans. I wasn’t worried. I had faith in my rudimentary Czech and common love of music that I would be able to make conversation with locals. (Roman Boed/Flickr Creative Commons)

If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to criticize my current musical taste, I would call it “wannabe hipster,” and that’s probably fair. While my teen years were mostly dominated by rap like much of my fellow white suburban boy brethren, I’ve switched from freestyles to flannels in recent years. I’m not doing this to stick my nose in the air and scoff at the top 40 charts, I’m not above that. It’s just where my mind is at right now.

For the first couple of years of my foray into indie music, I mostly played it safe and floated at the surface of the alternative ocean, getting into well-known bands and artists like Vampire Weekend, Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens (the latter of which is still my favorite artist today).

(Side note: I’m fully aware of the near-satirical level of faux-Brooklyn vibes I’m putting off right now. It wouldn’t surprise you that I applied to intern at Pitchfork this summer.)

However, in the past year I’ve tried my best to take risks and find lesser-known bands to further my cred. Besides, there is so much music in the world and it would be a waste for me to wither in what’s familiar to me. This past summer in Philadelphia, I started going to small-scale concerts in the basements of people’s homes and the back gardens of cafés. There were times when I was the only one without a tattoo, but that didn’t stop me from socializing and discovering great new music.

After my fall semester going concert-less (Storrs often gets overlooked for Boston by New England performers), I was excited to discover the underground music scene of my new city, Prague. After looking for a nice, affordable indie concert with bands that appeal to my taste, I finally found what I was looking for. My first foray into this new scene happened this past Friday, when I saw local bands Margo and Tasmania Kamikaze in the basement stage of Café V Lese, located in the hipster neighborhood of Vršovice just southeast of Old Town.

Doors opened at 8 p.m. and I entered solo. Most of my friends from the program were travelling, and others already had plans. I wasn’t worried. I had faith in my rudimentary Czech and common love of music that I would be able to make conversation with locals. I immediately found out that was easier said than done – it can be hard to make conversation at UConn when you don’t know anyone – but it was tenfold harder when you don’t speak the common tongue of the majority of the fellow concertgoers.

Eventually, I swallowed my pride, turned off my phone and forced myself to make some temporary friends. It worked; I talked to a guy who happened to be from one of the neighborhoods downriver from my dorm and two guys on a weekend trip from London.

Eventually, the show got started, and it kicked ass. The opening band, Tasmania Kamikaze – what a name – played most of their songs in Czech but I didn’t care in the slightest, and why should I? I did my best to sing along (see article title), but it was mostly guesswork. Again, I didn’t care. They rocked.

After a brief intermission, the main act, Margo came onto the stage with gusto. Margo’s debut album “First I Thought Everyone’s Staring at Me but Then I Realized Nobody Cared - All the Creatures I Met Sitting on the Back Seat and How to Deal with What I’ve Learnt” released on a local independent label in December. After listening to the album on my own time, loving it and buying tickets, I decided to look deeper into the meaning of the songs, and I was shocked to find that it mirrored the experience I’m going through right now. Aneta Martínková, the frontwoman and primary singer-songwriter for the project, says the album “is intended a collection of stories of people Aneta came across during her American study trip.”

It’s poetic that her album is now a story that plays a part in my Czech study trip.

It goes without saying that Margo’s performance was sensational and will end up being one of my favorite experiences of the semester.

Music transcends language, and Friday night was proof of that.


Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.