Courtesy of KOKO – Kanye West looking at a packed auditorium.
The rap star performed a surprise gig at the venue on March 3, 2015.
Iconic is probably one of the most overused words when it comes to venues, however, KOKO is one of those buildings that truly deserve it. Some of the worlds biggest stars have performed inside the London venue, from Kanye West, Madonna and Dua Lipa, to the late Amy Winehouse and Prince.
Following a £70 million ($97 million) refurbishment, the venue will relaunch in spring 2022, promising “an unrivalled experience for live music fans and with high spec streaming capabilities integrated throughout” a total of 50,000 square feet (4,645 square meters).
David Levene – The newly refurbished dome of KOKO.
The dome got destroyed by a fire in January 2020, which also led to water damage in the building’s main auditorium.
News of the venue’s refurbishment plans first broke in March 2019, back then, people reckoned KOKO would reopen in the spring of 2020. In January that year, a fire badly damaged the building, followed by the COVID crisis, all of which meant that KOKO’s doors remained shut for much longer than originally anticipated.
Working closely with the charity English Heritage, the $96 million investment encompasses the restoration of the burnt copper dome, the water damaged theatre (another result of the 2020 blaze) as well as a state-of-the-art redevelopment of the new project.
The new KOKO, according to the vision of founder and CEO Olly Bengough, wants to “redefine live music and entertainment, with a mission to support and empower the next generation of musicians.”
What the building’s owners call “a maze of beautifully designed, immersive spaces” offer artists a platform “to take their creative freedom to the next level.” High-spec broadcasting, recording and live streaming capabilities built into the fabric of the Grade II listed theatre play a huge role in that.
The refurbishment saw KOKO amalgamate two adjoining buildings, an old pub (built in 1860) and a former piano factory (1800), and expand to four storeys. The new space will house its own radio station, a recording studio, production facilities, a KOKO shop, DJ space, Jazz Club, restaurant, pizzeria, and, of course, multiple live performance spaces, including the main 1,500-capacity theater.
– A cross section diagram of the new venue.
When KOKO reopens in Spring 2022, it’ll offer a significant amount of new space to both artists and fans.
The new ”Fly Tower” venue and gallery directly above the main stage was a surprise discovery during the three year development process.
The new KOKO will offer memberships that can be purchased for access to various parts of the building that’ll be closed off to non-members.
For its relaunch, KOKO partnered with content creator platform SISTER, which in turn partners with pioneering independent companies to grow “a global ecosystem of creatives ranging from visual production to podcasts to publishing.”
What SISTER, which was co-founded by Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider and Jane Featherstone, brings to the table will complement the newly formed KOKO Studio as it looks to help artists and brands develop new content and formats.
The diary for KOKO’s theater is now open from April 2022 onwards. Any promoters interested in holding dates at KOKO, can get in touch by emailing [email protected]
– Olly Bengough.
Founder and CEO of KOKO.
KOKO CEO and founder Olly Bengough commented, “After three long and epic years of construction and restoration, I’m excited to announce that we will be returning KOKO to the musicians, artists and fans next spring with a beautifully restored theatre and live music offering that will hopefully be a truly unique and unparalleled experience for everyone coming through the doors.
“We are as committed as ever to protect our 120 year cultural legacy and to support the next generation of musicians and London’s dynamic and ever growing music scene. We look forward to welcoming everyone back to KOKO in Spring 2022.”
Elisabeth Murdoch, co-founder and executive chairman of SISTER, said, “It’s never been more important to support the next generation of artists and storytellers to collaborate, innovate and share their work. Although we’ve all been eager for the return of live music we’ve also been discovering new ways to engage with the artists we love through their creative endeavours in the digital space, keeping us united as a global community.
“It’s this connective power of music and the arts that Olly and his team are harnessing as they develop KOKO into London’s first next generation global entertainment experience. At SISTER we’re really excited to partner with KOKO and to use our collective expertise, networks and shared independence to forge creative collaborations and empower artists and audiences around the world.”
Some KOKO history:
KOKO began life as The Camden Theatre and was opened on Boxing Day 1900 by actress Ellen Terry. In 1909, the theatre was renamed The Camden Hippodrome and became a variety theatre where Charlie Chaplin regularly performed.
It was a cinema between 1913 and 1928, although on so-called ‘Novelty Nights’ on Fridays, live acts would perform before films. The cinema closed in 1940; for some 20 years from 1945 the building became a BBC Theatre.
Courtesy of KOKO – Amy Winehouse.
The late singer performed at KOKO on Nov. 14, 2006.
KOKO’s music legacy began in 1970, when it reopened as The Music Machine. Sex Pistols and Iron Maiden performed live, and it also hosted The Clash’s four-day residency in the summer of 1978.
In the 1980s, when the venue was known as Camden Palace, the Eurythmics, The Cure and Camden’s own Madness performed, as did a rising star known as Madonna, who played her first U.K. show at KOKO.
The Camden Palace closed for refurbishment in 2004. Since reopening as KOKO in 2005, Queens of the Stone Age, Noel Gallagher, Kasabian, Thom Yorke, Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse, The Killers, Biffy Clyro, The Chemical Brothers, Katy Perry, Lilly Allen, Bruno Mars, Nick Cave and many more have graced the stage.
Madonna returned as a superstar, Prince played a secret show in 2007 and an official one in 2014. Other artists that played surprise shows at the venue include Kanye West and Ed Sheeran. Coldplay and Red Hot Chili Peppers launched albums at KOKO.
Wiley, a Pollstar Hotstar, performed the last gig at KOKO pre-refurbishment, March 5, 2019.