The hearing that will determine the future of London’s iconic O2 Academy Brixton began today (Monday September 11), with the council being assured of the venue’s safety as well as well as being one of “economic and cultural importance”.
- READ MORE: Artists and industry speak out to save Brixton Academy: “It’d be a tragedy to lose such an iconic venue”
Taking place at Lambeth Council, the two-day hearing will determine whether or not the Academy Music Group can continue to operate their licence at the music venue, after it was forced to shut its doors following a fatal crowd crush that occurred at an Asake concert back in December.
The event — which left two dead and one in critical condition — ultimately led to the academy having its licence suspended. The Metropolitan Police have since claimed to have “lost confidence” in the safety of the venue and made a push for the location to close its doors for good.
Speaking on behalf of AMG, Philip Kolvin QC told the hearing that the operators were open ideas “to make the venue even safer” through “partnership and solution-finding”, adding that the findings that would be presented to the council were “the product of many months of work from the venue, from events specialists and independent experts across all the relevant fields – including security, crowd management, engineering, licensing and health and safety.”
“What we’ve placed before you is not a pitch – it’s a seriously and thoroughly considered professional approach to preventing the recurrence of the events of December 15, 2022,” he said.
He continued: “This is a very traumatic case, for so many people, and in particular those who’ve suffered loss – whether directly, or indirectly. Understandably the case has aroused a level of interest because the Academy is a venue of economic and cultural importance, and plays a significant role in the ecosystem of grassroots music nationally.
“Understandably, there has been much comment in the press and on social media on all of these topics, and there has been a level of political interest and concern. However, as you know and will undoubtedly make clear, this is a licensing hearing, at which a dispassionate approach is called for, setting aside all that has been seen and heard and determining the case on the evidence before you.”
Kolvin revealed that over 15 years, AEG had put on 45,000 shows nationally and entertained 39million people across the 18 venues. Since the tragedy at the Asake concert, the group went on to put on another 1,642 shows and entertained 1.4million people. He spoke of how AEG “take security very seriously and have no interest in cutting corners”.
“AMG have spent over 25 years being a reputable and trusted operator,” he said. “They did not become a disreputable and distrusted, untrusted operator overnight on 15 December. What they did become was an operator that was required to understand how this could have happened at one of their venues on their watch, and to put in place measures to ensure it could never happen again.”
He went on: “[Brixton Academy] is an iconic venue where leading international artists yearn to perform. Why? Well, the physical attributes of the venue – one of the largest stages in Europe – but also a very intimate atmosphere in the auditorium. Partly the professionalism of the operation, and partly because it’s a historically important venue”
Despite the reported opposition from local police, Kolvin said that “the Academy is not one of those venues on the police radar.”
“In 2022, the venue held 174 shows, 108 sell-outs,” he said. “During the whole of that year, there was one police call for assistance. Every venue has to call the police from time-to-time.”
He explained how the rating of the venue’s out-of-house security firm put them among “among the gold standard” of operators, having worked at the Academy for over 20 years, Kolvin went on to describe the risk assessment that had taken place before the Asake show.
“It was decided that Asake was not pure Afrobeat[s], as much as Afropop, ” he said. “It was decided that with a demographic predominantly female, it should be assessed as level 4 but nevertheless with measures from level 5 and the high risk events operational policy was adopted.”
He later added: “By the time of the Asake run, it wasn’t 120 security staff – it was 165 security staff. That was the highest number there had ever been at the Academy. There were five controlled dogs.”
Mr Kolvin QC said that AEG were set, as always, on making the Academy not just “a place of great music” but also “a place of great safety”.
Prior to the hearing, a number of industry figures spoke out in support of Brixton Academy.
“We’re wishing our friends over at Brixton Academy the very best for today’s hearing,” wrote fellow London venue the Troxy. “As an important local, cultural and historical landmark we are fully behind this campaign and are hoping they receive good news.”
London Night Czar and DJ Amy Lamé meanwhile, wrote: “My thoughts remain with the families and loved ones of Gaby and Rebecca and the individual who remains in a critical condition in hospital following the awful events at Brixton Academy.
“It is essential that the venue operators, the police, the council and the community work together to understand what went wrong and ensure it cannot happen again. During the course of this week Lambeth councillors will hear a wide range of evidence over several days.”
She continued: They will weigh that evidence against the requirements of the Licensing Act 2003, and decide whether the plans put forward by the venue’s operator – Academy Music Group (AMG) – will enable the venue to be reopened safely.”
Lamé added: “The Brixton Academy is a well-loved and important live music venue for artists, fans and the local community. Whatever the outcome of this week’s hearing, the Mayor Of London and I are committed to working to ensure the venue can reopen safely. ”
@O2AcademyBrix‘s licensing hearing begins today.
We’re wishing our friends over at Brixton Academy the very best for today’s hearing. As an important local, cultural and historical landmark we are fully behind this campaign and are hoping they receive good news. #savebrixton🤞 pic.twitter.com/DIul6rX6Bp
— Troxy (@TroxyLondon) September 11, 2023
The Brixton Academy is a well-loved and important live music venue for artists, fans and the local community. Whatever the outcome of this week’s hearing, the @MayorofLondon and I are committed to working to ensure the venue can reopen safely. 🧵4/4
— Amy Lamé (@amylame) September 11, 2023
It has been estimated that local businesses have lost around £500,000 each week since O2 Academy Brixton had its licence suspended by Lambeth Council back in December 2022.
Gianluca Rizzo, the Brixton Business District Managing Directors, previously told GB News: “We have assessed that the local economy worth £2billion pounds, with 40 per cent of that spend happening after 6pm.
“So, it’s a huge contribution that the nighttime economy plays for Brixton – with the Academy being one of the key drivers of that footfall and spend in the area.”
The hearing continues today and is expected to conclude tomorrow (September 12).
An online petition was then launched to counteract the closure while various artists and industry professionals also spoke out against the potential shutting down of the venue. So far it has attracted over 103,000 signatures.
The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) then launched a campaign alongside Save Our Scene and Brixton BID to keep the O2 Academy in Brixton open. You can support their campaign here.
The NTIA said the venue “has been part of the cultural tapestry of London” and “one of the most celebrated venues in the UK, hosting performance royalty from a hugely diverse internationally acclaimed pool of talent, including Eddie Izzard, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Groove Armada, Rema, Little Simz, Little Britain, Davido, Arctic Monkeys, Skrillex, Stormzy, Kylie Minogue, Ziggy Marley, Burnaboy, LCD Soundsystem, Rihanna, on top of the countless award ceremonies and ambassadorial moments representing the UK globally.”