Lukas Wimmer is a long-standing member of the Czech Republic’s Free Tekno scene. He recently acquired his M.A. in Public and Social Policy from the Charles University in Prague. The following article is an excerpt from his thesis. He attended CzechTek 2005 and was witness to its conflicts.
Subject: Czech/English Translation Needed
Date: June 26, 2007 3:34:49 PM EDT
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At the end of 90s, the Czech media exploded with news about an apocalypse of bizarre individuals, appearing annually around July or August, unwelcome, occupying private properties even for several days in a row. These individuals distinguish by nonconformist appearance and unacceptable music, hardly making any pleasure to locals. Meanwhile rumors spread about those events as of places missing any kind of sanitary equipment and being extremely tolerant to any kind of illegal psychotropic substances.
Police were puzzled, as were local authorities. What is for some people the cultural and social event of the year is, for others, a nightmare – one that comes without warning, impossible to prevent.
Than came 2005. Reeling from the negativity of past experiences, Czech police decided to intervene immediately; this measure backfired in many ways. The results were alarming and markedly exceeded the horizon of force that would normally end an illegal techno party. The incident stirred up multivalent public discussion, which crossed even the borders of Czech Republic. Freetekno, a new social phenomenon, became obviously very controversial.
The following article is dedicated to explain what Freetekno is in its essential form, to shed some light on the values it represents, its ideologies, behaviors, and motivation, its fundamental structure of interests.
Rave And Freetekno
“A rave is a phenomenon that does not exist within the rules of society, it is the creation of a separate space.”
The historical label for a dance party, as well as dance music, is the word “rave.” In the context of the modern dance scene, “rave” refers to an illegal party. Following the segregation of the commercialized club scene, a fundamental segment of rave culture demanded free access to parties, adopting the label “Freetekno.”
The Free Teknival
Teknival (tek-ni-val) noun—1. An artistic and musical festival that usually takes place in the European countryside. 2. A celebration of a musical sub-genre called Techno, including what was left after the crash of the British acid house scene.
The Teknival in the Czech Republic is represented by an organization called CzechTek, which is closely tracked by the media. Sound systems are set up in a secret place that for a few days converts to a “festival town,” with its own social conventions based on principles of the free party. Free technivals such as CzechTek are known for their relaxed atmosphere, in which everyone respects the basic principles of DIY culture, not only in regard to the free sound systems, but also to the entire model of music production.
The 2003 Czech Tech was the first to introduce new sound systems (hip-hop, punk, hardcore, and ska); due to the participation of different groups of people, this festival became more diverse. Sound systems are not just speakers; in simple terms, they can just be a group of people who have their own device and play everywhere they can. Sound systems originated in Jamaica, at the beginning of the Dub scene. It’s not just music: it’s people creating a scene, playing, performing. Sound systems are the nucleus of the freetekno community, just as families are in traditional society.
In comparison to the commercial club scene, freetekno’s music production doesn’t hinge on the names and prestige of individual DJs, but allows space for anonymous musicians. It’s a fairly clear binary with, on one side, the star-name DJ who comes only to perform, and, on the other side, a group of people (or sound system) that takes charge of the whole party’s organization. Sound systems are often referred to as tribes (as with one of the most famous British sound systems, Spiral Tribe); tribal names and understanding give sound systems their social structure, forging a feeling of connection, common identity, and communication, as well as other attributes of community.
The rave scene—and, later, freetekno—was in its pure form always an underground movement. Its ambition was to exist outside of mainstream society. From the beginning, it was a subculture of escapism.
Freetekno is an offshoot of the dance scene, linking electronic dance music with traveling, spirituality, DIY principles and drug culture into a larger, more global meaning, one reaching across the borders of cyberspace.
The elements are all connected, most having in common longing for escape out of unpleasant reality. This phenomenon points towards forgotten relationship between strict social organization (for modern society based on strict Christian roots) and secular wish for escape (even for a while) into the world of instinct and basic elements, interfering with magic and rituals… Dance was always its original substance.
In its beginning dance scene became a refuge for different social groups (people with different sexual orientation). Tolerance is the base for success of a party, the clue for interpersonal relations, and bridge over taboos and ideological stereotypes. What are the principals, values, goals and needs that define freetekno sphere within a social space? It is emphasis on autonomy, disentangle from “the system gear” takes ravers to make their sound systems mobile and to occupy free suburban spaces – everyone who can respect others is welcome.
“Don’t hate the media, become the media.”
Jello Biafra, the Dead Kennedys
The DIY scene was born when people came to the conclusion that the only way for things to go forward was if they relied on themselves, whether it was by protesting directly against highway construction, or by campaigning for the equal rights of minorities.
Sound systems, then, offered a form of self-realization in all aspects of human creativity, while the “rave” was an opportunity to show it to others. Friends either put together money for music apparatuses, projectors, stroboscopes and other visual effects, or they simply built it themselves. Those unable to do so painted canvases for use as backdrops, or built tents for people to escape the rain.
“At the base level, rave is very comparable to American Indian ceremonies…where music is the key towards putting one self into a unique emotional and psychological state.”
The actual concept of the rave is not new. Dance is a ritual, a traditional and celebratory form of worship, bringing both relaxation and psychological healing. Accordingly, Freetekno parties are unregulated and minimally organized. The borders between the organizers, the artists, and the participants are almost indistinguishable, since Freetekno spirit calls for a maximum level of personal freedom and respect for the nature of others. It offers a wide space for individual behavior; with the same logic, it shirks responsibility for individual disorder and one’s behavior towards others. Garbage and mess left behind after Freetekno events are one of the main arguments the public uses against organizing such parties. Unfortunately even if the Freetekno scene declares responsibility for after-party clean up, it rarely happens.
The Political Ideologies of Freetekno
“The idea that [rave] culture has no politics because it has no manifesto or slogans, it isn’t saying something or actively opposing the social order, misunderstands its nature. The very lack of dogma is a comment on the contemporary society itself…its definition is subject to individual interpretation: it could be about the simple bliss of dancing, it could be about environmental awareness, it could be about race and religions and class conflict…it could be about reasserting lost notions of community – all stories that say something about life in nineties.” [Collin 5-6 in Steins, E].
From its spontaneous beginnings, Freetekno was not planned to become a political activity. Dogmatic thinkers do not often drive subcultures; even if these exist, they tend to be within local communities and therefore have only limited impact.
Different views abound within the Freetekno community. Some see Freetekno as a fight against an unfair system, while others just anticipate a weekend party.
People in Freetekno culture are not anarchists. However, it is important to note the genealogy of their practices. The first Czech sound system came out of a squat called “Ladronka,” which was at the time of its existence supporting anarchist newsletters and actions. Meanwhile, the British sound system Exodus was estabilished in June of 1992. Its members gathered at an abandoned farmhouse, where they took in the homeless and even started to farm their own produce. Some people speak of ravers as anarchists, but that position is often a reaction to repressive forms of state authority.
Historically, autonomic theory is connected to Italian “autonomic Marxism,” a left-spectrum ideology, and later on, in the 1960s and 1970s, with Marxism and anarchism. Finally, it became associated with Dutch and German squatting. Today it is understood to occupy the right wing of the political spectrum, as its emphasis on individuality and life without taxes are also reflected in liberalism and federalism.
Autonomy is an antithesis to control, in a point of view that distinguishes between material and post-material human motivations. Post-material motivation is based on autonomous orientation: the individual wants to be accepted for the way he feels about himself, and, in suit, feels that same freedom should be offered to others and the environment. In contrast, pro-material posture is based on control: the individual prefers material and authoritative assurance, and because he/she desires control, he/she accepts a level of control from within the system. Arguably, both of these human motivations exist within each individual, in different levels of potency. However, it’s only the autonomous (individualist) direction that leads to instinct-based actions.
According to rave culture, this autonomous approach echoes the concept of TAZ, or Temporary Autonomous Zones; street parties, squats and rave parties are just a few examples of this kind of space.
The term TAZ has become famous through the work of Hakim Bey, who proposes the anarcho-political tactic of creating a temporary space that avoids formal structural control. Bey uses different historical and philosophical examples, leading to the conclusion that the best way to introduce a non-hierarchical system of social interactions by strongly emphasizing the present. In simple terms, TAZ are an occupation (intrusion) of space. TAZ differ in space and time frame, but are always connected to the same criteria: to create entertainment, illegally, and with friends. A typical example is the early 90s rave party, lasting usually just for a few hours, with massive sound systems and ravers filling previously abandoned warehouses. No permission was necessary, no taxes were paid: you only had to let your friends know when to come, and all could start.
The Rising and Splitting of the Dance Scene
The British sound system Spiral Tribe was partially responsible for the massive ideological spread of Freetekno at the beginning of 1990s, largely due to the wording of their lyrics: free party, free people, and free future.
After the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) in Britain in 1994, sound system culture spread to other Europeans countries, while British went underground. Some sound systems moved back into the clubs, becoming mainstream; in time, the label “raver” was changed to “clubber.”
The year 1994 was important for the Czech techno scene: the events of that year’s Love Parade and May Day events in Germany, as well as its own techno scene and free parties, had a huge influence on the commercial club scene in the Czech Republic.
The country’s first sound systems appeared at approximately the same time, especially since Spiral Tribe and Mutoid Waste Company were escaping from Britain after panic caused by implementation of CJA. One of the members of Spiral Tribe commented on the situation, saying, “the result [of the CJA] is an exodus to promise land, Europe and beyond, as England tightens the screws, enforces its consumer monoculture of civil obedience and staticism, the energy of the scene flows out like tendrils of techno energy and here we are, it’s the late twentieth century and Spiral Tribe and the Multoids are in a scorching field way out in the Czech Republic, in Eastern Europe.”
This traveling community found its first listeners among punks and squatters, particularly in “Ladronka,” the famous Prague squat. From that point, the Czech scene was shaped by a few active sound systems; for example, pioneers Direct Drive and Technical Support. Another important system was Mayapur from Dobris, who participated in first big technivals. The most numerous sound system was, in the beginning, Cirkus Alien, based in Ladronka; it was the only sound system in the Czech Republic that also claimed political interests. Most of the parties of this era took place at Ladronka and a nearby abandoned estate, Cibulka. After the initial gestation period, parties gradually moved to dance clubs and empty army land outside of Prague.
The traditional Czech celebration of spring, the “Burning of Witches,” became a phenomenon of the Freetekno scene, and a synonym for the first open air parties of the year. In 1998, the Czech public was introduced to more music from mobile sound systems, as Prague hosted the Global Street Party. It took place in 36 other places around the globe and was politically charged against global capitalism and its consequences. Just a few months later came another similar event, Prague’s Local Street Party.
By the late 1990s, parties were becoming more and more popular, and by the time of CzechTek ’99, there were about 30 sound systems at the technival; although mostly from abroad, about 10 of the sound systems were Czech. Three years later, the number of Czech sound systems had climbed to 50, and the number of parties was rapidly growing. By the year 2005, several parties took place simultaneously almost every summer weekend.
Specifics of Czech Freetekno
Some special conditions distinguish the genesis of Czech Freetekno scene from its Western counterparts. First, the Czech scene is unique, as a result of the relative absence of nomadic (migratory) sound systems; the Czech Republic is a small country, and traveling within it does not make much sense. Rather, sound system members recruited from the working class, and others, such as students, who consider music to be a hobby rather than a source of income. One of a few exceptions is the Ladronka-born Cirkus Alien, which traveled to France, Italy and Spain in the end of 1990s.
Further, the Czech Freetekno community was a haven for young members of the middle class, who, without any political or ideological realization, participated in the parties only for fun. Only a small percentage of the Freetekno scene claim to adhere to ultra-left wing politics, something that is visible by their presence at anti-globalization events and in their support of the left-wing press.
Another idiosyncratic characteristic of the Czech scene that cannot be overlooked is the Czech tradition of drinking beer and alcohol. Almost every free party provides a great deal of it; the proportion of alcohol to other, more illegal, drugs (if they are even present) is radically disproportionate to the West. The Czech Freetekno scene is an isolated, non-traveling culture, and generally much more conservative towards drug use.
The Freetekno festival CzechTek was the yearly focal point for everyone within the free party community. From the point of view of its participants, it was more than just a party, but a place to meet people from abroad and to get inspired their ideas, and a huge space for the sharing of information. On the other hand, as the popularity of the event increased, the party site’s surrounding community came under pressure. Admittedly, most of these technivals were organized without proper permission from local landowners, and with groundwork this unstable, it was impossible for it to assume a peaceful course. The CzechTek solution was haphazard: organizers waited until the last moment to announce the event to officials, making it impossible for local authorities and inhabitants to pressure landowners or to even ban the festival.
Fortunately, the first three festivals (which took place in the summers of 1994 – 1998) took place without altercation, almost unnoticed by law authorities and with only a few encounters from neighborhoods. In next two years, however, the media picked up on the event, and began to spin the dance party, and all parties like it, as apocalyptic drug events.
Partially due to the media, the police kept a close watch on the following years’ festivals (1999-2004), although no incidents were reported. The 2003 CzechTek took place in an empty field near the small village of Ledkov, and accommodated nearly thirty thousand people. It lasted for 10 days, even after officials tried to restrict the party due to its excess of legal noise limitations; any significant legal enforcement was prevented by the impossibility to deliver the official terms.
The 2004 CzechTek took place at a plot of private land in Tachovsko. Local inhabitants began to protest against the situation almost immediately, and the whole cause was documented on privately owned Czech television. Eventually, due to a controversial rental agreement, the festival was shut down by police. At that time, people were already taking off, so there were only a few conflicts. One participant was taken into custody: ironically, it was a person organizing after-party cleaning.
“The truth is on our side, naturally.”
-Czech police spokesman of CzechTek 05 cause
The 12th annual CzechTek music festival was planned to take place in July and August in Mlejnec, in Tachovsko district. The general public was thrilled and curious about the outcome of the event, due to the previous year’s heavy media coverage and eventual police intervention. The discussion of 2004’s police action was not unambiguous: some condemned the violent police presence as being unnecessary, while others supported the police from the beginning.
Police prepared for CzechTek 2005 in advance, by printing pamphlets in several languages warning and advising participants about the risks of unlawful behavior. The public openly accepted the methodical nature of these precautions, as they were standard for big events like this. Legal authorities assumed this “technival” would be illegal, and lacking any kind of formal agreement with the landowner.
At about 2pm on Friday the 29th, 2005, police discovered the exact location of the party during a routine safety-traffic inspection. An operating headquarters was immediately established within the division of Tachovsko. Later on that day, a truck carrying a large amount of music installation and gear got stuck on a local highway. It was rented by one of CzechTek’s organizers for the “formal private party,” as it was explained to officers at the local police station. The organizer also mentioned that according to criminal law, a meeting had been held in Prague and agreement had already been made about the use of this private lot for the purpose of a private celebration of the summer holiday – a meeting of electronic music fans – called CzechTek.
Even after the police was provided with this information, they restricted entry to the party, causing, eventually, a 10 km-long traffic jam. To justify the blockade, police claimed to doubt the proper use of the entry road and alleged unclear relations with the owners of nearby fields.
Meanwhile, the person who was renting out the land in question visited the police station in Prague to confirm that a private party for “celebration of the end of first half of summer holiday” could, indeed, be held on his land. Still, even after the police obtained the owner’s verification, the blockade of the site continued, resulting in a complete isolation of the field. The land surveyor coming to delineate the borders was not allowed in, and even necessities such as a water truck and mobile toilet stayed out.
At the same time, owners of surrounding lots asked for police protection of their properties. The Czech police press spokesman argued that, “It is not important now if we have the agreement verification from the owner. What’s important is that we do not have a permit from the owners of surrounding land, because there is no public entry road to the concerned land.”
Police also urged incomers to abandon the freeway ramp leading to the contested road. People did not react to this appeal and thus police closed the road completely.
Later in the afternoon, a water cannon was brought to the site. Some cars were already leaving the space around that time, but new people continued to arrive, either by car or train. Many of the newcomers found it impossible to even get close to the site because of the blockade. People were leaving their cars at surrounding fields or roads and trying to walk to the site.
According to the police report, about 3-5 thousand people and over 500 vehicles were on the site, many of which shirked the boundaries of the rented land, while even more people poured in. Throughout the morning, more complains from locals were filed and the site vas visited by several authorities.
A few minutes before 4 pm, the police made a press release about their anticipated action. Shortly afterwards, police cars entered the festival area, requesting people to leave. Their proclamation was translated into several other languages. Most people didn’t even react; it was difficult to hear the police appeal over the loud sound systems. At about 4:30pm police started to clean the area. The media (Czech TV Nova) were not allowed to enter, for “safety” reasons. The first police intervention ended at about 8 pm. By that time, most of the participants were gathered at the rented land.
Sound systems encouraged people to create a peaceful resistance by remaining on the site and passively showing they do not agree with the police action. This, however, didn’t last long. The entire area became a battlefield filled with smoke and petards; the police also used the water cannon. These were the violent means they used to get the situation “under control.” Those who were not brutalized were forced to take off. By 11 pm, the police had seized 8 pieces of music equipment for the criminal record.
The intervention at CzechTek 2005 sparked an extremely passionate reaction. The very same day it happened, people were already gathering in front of the Czech ministry of interior affairs to protest. Several thousand people threw eggs and paint at the building. Small protests were held, too, at the Czech Embassies in Helsinki, Dublin, Paris and Berlin. In the Czech Republic proper, the demonstrations took place mostly in Prague. The last monumental protest was called “The Street Rave Parade,” and happened in the end of September 2005. Considering the scale of the event – about 3,000 people and a plethora of decorated cars in the center of the parade – the media did not pay very much, if any attention.
Protesters mainly demanded an explanation of the police action, mainly why the person renting the field and his guests were not able to access their own site, even after proving it was rented legitimately. They also wanted to know which article of law justified the police’s decision to brutally expel people from a place at which they were staying legally.
Protesters also requested the formation of an independent commission to evaluate the police action. Further, an appeal was made to the Czech government to make a formal statement regarding the authorization and legitimacy of such an act.
The demonstrators were supported by a few right wing parties, and, later by extreme left wing and anarchist groups. Supporters also emerged from the Czech cultural scene.
 STEINS, E. Peace, Love, Dancing and Drugs: An In-Depth Sociological Analysis of Rave Culture in America.
 STEINS, E. Peace, Love, Dancing and Drugs: An In-Depth Sociological Analysis of Rave Culture in America.