Return of an icon: Inside the new KOKO with d&b audiotechnik

Iconic London venue KOKO has been relaunched following three years of major construction work as a new ‘global music platform’, complete with a fully upgraded audio system in the room, as well as a vast range of new multi-purpose spaces.

Having overcome challenges including a major fire in January 2020, which melted the venue's iconic copper dome and caused millions of pounds worth of damage, and of course, the pandemic, the historic venue is now a state-of-the-art live music venue that spans 50,000 square feet.

For founder and CEO Olly Bengough, the aim was to provide a space that offers support and empowerment to the next generation of musicians. Originally a 19th century theater, KOKO later evolved into a broadcasting center when it became the home of iconic productions such as Peter Sellers' The Goon Show and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which were transmitted live from the building during 30 years of BBC ownership (1945 -1975). The Rolling Stones also recorded Live At Camden Theatre from the building in 1964, for BBC’s Rhythm and Blues show.

Now, the venue has been transformed into a maze of immersive spaces designed to offer artists visiting KOKO a new platform for their creativity. With new high-spec broadcasting, recording and live streaming capabilities incorporated throughout the Grade II listed theater and its new four-storey extension, musicians now have access to a venue where they can not only perform live, but also co-produce, stream and distribute their music to a global audience with the newly formed KOKO Studio. What’s more, a host of meeting rooms, restaurants and late-night live performance/playback areas have been built into the expanded site.

In the main live performance space, the 19th century theater has been fully restored and now features an XSL System from d&b audiotechnik. And, at the center of its restoration is the immersive new ‘Fly Tower venue’ and gallery (the large volume of space above the stage), which was a surprise discovery during the three-year development process. Having worked closely with English Heritage to unlock this new space, artists will have the opportunity to perform in the round on a 360 stage or in a more intimate setting, giving music fans a truly unique experience of what the theater would have been like in the early 1900s.

When restoration of the venue began in 2019, Wayne Powell, business development manager, d&b, took the KOKO team to Backnang, Germany for an in-person demonstration of the company’s brand-new SL Series. With flexibility and power two of the key requirements, the decision was taken to go with an XSL System through d&b’s Subscription Series, which offers an alternative to ownership and ensures d&b’s sound systems are more commercially accessible to an even wider range of venues.

The d&b XSL System is housed in the main venue and fly tower area of KOKO, alongside the DS100 signal engine, making the venue ‘d&b Soundscape ready’ in the future. Furthermore, to cover the VIP balconies housed on the side of the main stage, the team deployed d&b V-Series loudspeakers.

One of the key challenges the team faced was ensuring the neighborhood of Camden would not be impacted by any off-site noise. For KOKO, d&b’s XSL cardioid performance across the full frequency spectrum, resulting in reduced audio spill onto open mics on stage; improved clarity and impact of individual instruments; and less spill from the main sound system to the stage and backstage.

“A huge benefit of the XSL System is broadband directivity control,” said Powell. “By using a combination of cabinet geometry and cardioid techniques in the lower range we are able to control off-site noise, thus ensuring that the residents of Camden can sleep soundly, even with a major performance happening just a few meters away.”

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 with a beautifully restored theater 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.”

Elisabeth Murdoch, co-founder and executive chair of SISTER, added: “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 endeavors 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.”

Photo by Sam Neil