A close up of Brixton Academy

News at Eden Harper | 09/05/2014

The Brixton Academy is famous for hosting an array of incredible rock acts since it opened in 1983. Officially known as the O2 Academy, Brixton, it’s become one of the UK’s leading music venues.

The Academy was purchased in 1982, by a 23-year-old music fan called Simon Parkes. He bought the “Brixton Astoria” as it was then know, for just one pound! At the time, it was a big gamble to take, even though it was a very cheap purchase. Only one year earlier, on "Bloody Saturday", the Brixton riots led to widespread looting, injuries to police and locals and burned-out cars and buildings.

As well as this, The Astoria had once been the biggest cinema in the UK, but had fallen into disrepair. Built in the 1920s for a quarter of a million pounds, taking on the building was a risk, as the lease meant the purchaser would be responsible for lots of repairs which would cost millions. However, it’s evident that this risk paid off – and Parkes himself has said that he had no doubt that the venture would be a success.

Brixton Academy in the 1980s

The Academy’s success soared throughout the eighties, with different reggae productions. Its popularity grew due to the fantastic capability for production and electrifying atmosphere. The venue was hired out at low rates to major rock acts such as Eric Clapton, Dire Straits and The Police, as well as used for video shoots for Wham and Culture Club. Rock band The Smiths played their last ever gig here in December 1986. It was an Anti-Apartheid gig scheduled for the Royal Albert Hall, but guitarist Johnny Marr was involved in a car accident, so the gig was rearranged and held at Brixton Academy.

Simon Parkes was certainly very imaginative with the venue – hosting club nights such as the Alternative Miss World, Westworld gatherings and in 1989 the first legal raves in the UK. His flexibility was what made the venue a success.

The Modern Academy!

In 1995, the venue was sold by Parks for some £2.5 million. The building was refurbished and there was a capacity increase to about 5,000. The Brixton Academy is now run by the Academy Music Group. Music acts are mainly metal, indie and alternative rock. It’s perhaps most famous for hosting the Sex Pistol’s reunion gig in 2007, although sometimes the venue features pop acts like Madonna, who played here in 2000 and electronic music group Goldfrapp, who occasionally features. Other acts include The Rolling Stones; Radiohead; The Clash; The Prodigy; Nine Inch Nails; Bob Dylan and Deborah Harry. Electronic group Leftfield were banned after their high bass levels started to disintegrate the ceiling, which showered down dust and plaster.

The O2 Academy, Brixton, has become one of the most attractive features of SW9 for music lovers everywhere. Famous for its incredible legacy and for drawing top acts, it really puts Brixton on the map.