North London's Cultural Guide

KOKO to close for a year for £40million reboot

The Camden venue to reopen with six performance areas, three new restaurants and retail outlets

Fancy an “immersive retail experience” at Mornington Crescent’s iconic music venue KOKO? No? Well, that’s one of many rather drastic new changes the owners are promising when it relaunches next year.

Before that, the seminal space will close its doors to undergo a major £40million state-of-the-art transformation – opening in spring 2020 as a “world-class music and hospitality destination”.

The redevelopment includes the acquisition of two adjacent buildings (yep, including the former Hope & Anchor pub behind) and a complete renovation of the rooftop area, adding more than 20,000sqft of new spaces, whilst retaining the main venue’s 1,500 person capacity. The transformation will create what they’re ambiguously calling “a social destination”, where high-quality music, food, entertainment, and hospitality come together.

The new KOKO, designed by Pirajean Lees and architect David Archer (Chiltern Firehouse), will therefore comprise six live performance areas, a radio station and broadcast studio, three new restaurants, a rooftop conservatory and a penthouse space where artists can rehearse and record music. Oh, and that rather enigmatic immersive retail experience – guess we’ll have to see how that pans out.


Since its inception back in 2004, it’s undeniable that KOKO has hosted some of the most important live music moments in recent years, including seminal performances from Prince, Kanye West, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Amy Winehouse and Noel Gallagher. Previously, as the Camden Hippodrome, the venue famously hosted shows by The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Spandau Ballet, Blur, Prince and Madonna.

The major reconfiguration comes in the wake of a large number of small independent venues closing or being sold to large corporate organisations. “KOKO has always taken great pride in our innovative approach and we can see that our audience want a 360-degree experience in the future,” says owner Olly Bengough, “and it’s our duty to deliver that, to cut out the unknowns of going to a venue our size, most of which haven’t changed since the 1950s. This isn’t just about offering a music venue. In the Camden spirit of independence, auteur-ship and eccentricity, we want to offer an unrivalled experience.”

KOKO: a potted history

Inside DRAF x KOKO
Beautiful interior. Photo: PR

Since opening in 1900 it has functioned as a theatre, a variety venue and a BBC studio, hosting show business legends like Charlie Chaplin and The Goons. As a rock venue, the Music Machine, it hosted gigs by The Clash and Sex Pistols before its purchase by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan of the band Visage, who established the Camden Palace as the epicentre of the New Romantics and London’s burgeoning club scene. But as Camden became a mecca for a new generation of clued-up youth and famed for the most visited open-air market in Europe, this grand and great venue did not move with the times. The venue lay derelict until its purchase and transformation by Mint Entertainment in 2005.

1900 – Camden Theatre opens
1909 – Renamed Camden Hippodrome and Charlie Chaplin performs
1913 – Becomes a Cinema
1945 – Bought by the BBC, the Goon Show is recorded here
1964 – The Rolling Stones perform ‘Camden Theatre 1964’
1977 – The Music Machine is born – new wave and first wave punk bands
1978 – The Clash take up a four-day residency
1980s Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, Culture Club
1982 – Transforms into the Camden Palace
1983 – Madonna performs first UK show
1988 – Prince’s show (Love Sexy Tour); returns 2007 + 2014
2004 – Koko is born
2005 – Coldplay launch X & Y album
2007 – Prince secret performance
2009 – Katy Perry and Lily Allen perform intimate one off shows
2014 – Ed Sheeran secret show
2015 – Kanye West ft Skepta, Vic Mensa and Wu Tang Clan
2018 – Arianna Grande plays

KOKO will hold a closing party with a special live act on Tuesday 5 March – full details to be announced on Monday 4 March. It will open its new doors in Spring 2020.

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