While making sure Kiwi.com’s offices don’t collapse, David Novotný also breathes life into the old-fashioned Czech music scene
Always do your research before you go into an interview. This is drilled into you at journalism school. But, of course, it doesn’t always happen because of the pressures of life, work, and sheer laziness.
So when I arrive in Kiwi.com’s bistro, I know very little about David Novotný, the Head of Facilities Operations. However, it quickly becomes apparent that David is a very talented man, and that I should have taken a much closer look beforehand.
As well as making sure that Kiwi.com’s offices don’t collapse, David plays in the band Himalayan Dalai Lama. They have toured all over Europe, and are making the final changes to their second album. David is a multi-instrumentalist, a composer, and a producer.
Himalayan Dalai Lama play the kind of music that is hard to define, and you wouldn’t really want to. It is electronic, but with live instruments; it’s drowned in waves of distortion, but never heavy; it’s a journey through a soundscape full of bouncing bleeps and slow, soothing synths. They remind me of Mogwai, of Dan Deacon on Ritalin. If I had to, I might call it post-dance.
“I think what I’m giving to the music is what I feel and what I know,” David says. “For us, or for me, it must sound new. So I’m always trying to discover new sounds. I think it’s electronic music – mostly instrumental but there will be some vocals on the new album. But it’s music that sounds how I feel. When they are listening to our music, a lot of people tell us that it really makes them feel emotions.”
Currently, it is very hard to make a decent living from music. The major outlets for recorded music – Spotify, YouTube and iTunes – pay very little. A song needs to garner millions of listens in order to earn any sort of money.
That means that playing live is the most lucrative way for an artist, any artist, to make a bit of cash. Himalayan Dalai Lama play almost every weekend, usually in the Czech Republic, but often across Europe.
“It’s a big challenge, but from next year we’ll be a big show with new lights, stroboscopes and completely new visuals. Everything should be synced with the music and lights. It will be like a living organism,” David says.
“If you are interesting, if you are doing a great show it’s possible. If you put a lot of effort and care into the show you can make some money from it. And then you can afford better technology, better instruments.”
In London, Himalayan Dalai Lama have played at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch – the venue run by Vice Magazine to give new artists exposure. David says: “It’s a very famous venue and Arctic Monkeys have played there. It’s a nice old building.
“It’s all so different in London. We played there with two other new bands and it was great. Their music wasn’t like a band starting here in the Czech Republic, it was very different.”
And what is the Czech music scene like? “It’s old. On the commercial scene there are a lot of bands that came up after the revolution, became famous and they are holding their positions. Nothing’s changed since then. The major labels are supporting them and twenty-eight years later it’s still the same on the major scene.
“But in the underground, which is not underground like it used to be [under Communism], there are a lot of interesting bands and producers with great potential. Over the last few years, there is an electronic music scene that is developing really quickly.
“But the people who decide on the scene – the people from festivals, managers, the people who write reviews, the people from radio and TV – they are still from the old generation and they still prefer guitar music and simple pop music.”
David and his bandmate, Krystof Matej, formed Himalayan Dalai Lama out of the ashes of their previous bands two years ago. This happened at around the same time that David joined Kiwi.com.
“We released our first album when I had been working here for about six months. It’s like I’m living these two stories together,” he says.
He had just left his job at Fléda, a club in Brno (“It’s got really good sound, it’s really good for concerts”), as their sound and art producer when the opportunity to work for Kiwi.com arose. “It was still Skypicker back then and we were working in the villa. I had been working on the Christmas party for them, and I went to the villa to say that I wouldn’t be organising it on Friday anymore” David says.
“They told me: ‘We are looking for someone like you, do you have a job?’ And I said not yet. We had a very quick interview and they told me to think about it for two days. I came home knowing that I would accept it and started on Monday.”
Without facilities, it is quite possible that Kiwi.com would not be able to operate. I say this to David, and he laughs: “No… But I can tell you how long it would last without us.”
David’s team manages everything from security to making sure there are cars and that they are insured, from the bistro to keeping the electricity flowing. It’s a lot of work now that there are offices in Prague and Barcelona.
“It’s a lot of different work,” David says. “A lot of work with people, every day, every minute you are in touch with people. With people in our company and people outside of our company.
“We must work for Kiwi.com’s employees and with the landlords. It’s a lot of negotiating and communicating. We are making deals and decisions every day to do our best in the least harmful way. Sometimes there can be some restrictions that everyone must follow but they might not like it and we have to make it possible. It’s working for the good of all.”
It is work, that when carried out well is almost invisible. David describes it as being like a carrot in the ground – only the top can be seen.
Perhaps it’s like when a concert goes off really well – no one can see just how much work has gone into that hour or two to make it perfect. There are so many factors in play that it can be unpredictable.
And when a gig is perfect, David says: “It’s like chemistry; it depends on the sound, on the people, on the atmosphere, on our mood, on the timing, and on the flow of the evening, and when everything fuses together you really feel it.”