London music venue Koko to reopen after three years of ‘monumental’ challenges

Artist impression of the revamped music venue Koko in Camden Credit: Koko/PA

London music venue Koko will reopen in spring 2022 after a £70 million redevelopment aimed at creating “a truly unique music experience”.

Owner Olly Bengough said the project had faced “monumental” challenges from a rooftop fire and the coronavirus pandemic but the space was “coming out better than ever”.

The historic building in Camden, which has hosted artists such as Madonna, Prince, The Rolling Stones and Kanye West, closed in 2019 for refurbishment and was covered in scaffolding at the time of the blaze in January 2020, which destroyed its famous copper dome.

It will reopen next year as a 50,000sq ft multi-use space featuring livestreaming facilities, a radio station, shop, late-night pizzeria and bar hosting intimate live performances.

Mr Bengough said: “Going from a fire and then straight into a pandemic created a monumental challenge. But ultimately you have to stay positive. We were lucky in that we have a great team.

“We work closely with some great craftspeople, our architects, and then obviously English Heritage and the Victorian Society. By assembling a great team and working together we have managed to get through it.

“But obviously it was monumental and working through the pandemic was tough. But it looks like we are coming out better than ever. We are grateful and positive about everything.”

Artist impression of the exterior of Koko in Camden Credit: Koko/PA

The project incorporates three buildings – the original Grade II listed Victorian theatre from 1900 – plus two adjacent buildings, a former piano factory dating from around 1800 and the Hope and Anchor pub, which was a favourite of Charles Dickens.

Members will have access to a roof terrace conservatory, recording studio, piano room, library, hidden speakeasy, private vinyl listening rooms and a cocktail bar inside the restored copper dome.

The restoration also saw the discovery of a fly tower performance space on the main stage, which has been developed with English Heritage to create an intimate setting where musicians can perform in the round in a manner similar to that of the early 1900s.

Koko is being reopened with content company Sister, which has worked on TV series such as Chernobyl and the forthcoming adaptation of This is Going to Hurt.

A new foundation, which will launch next year as a registered charity, hopes to “empower future generations of artists and protect the environment” and will begin by working on projects in Camden.

Mr Bengough said he began planning the development in 2015 after looking at the spaces around the venue.

“By looking at all the buildings in the surrounding space I worked out that you could create this really architecturally unique space by putting them all together,” he said.

“With that in mind I felt there needed to be a convergence of the physical and digital and to add a broadcast element because I felt streaming was coming and that musicians would want to stream to global audience and entertain their fans – not just through the physical space but also through content.

“That was where we started. The plan is to come back and deliver a truly unique music experience that has never been seen before.”

He said the space will “pay homage” to the venue’s “artistic legacy” dating back to its opening on Boxing Day 1900.

The co-founder and executive chairman of Sister, Elisabeth Murdoch, 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.”