Brixton Advent Calendar: Day 3

An ode to Brixton Academy: A south London institution

By Robert Makin

I like to think of Brixton Academy as a world-renowned institution that has educated more than a few generations of audiences in the ways of live music. A place of almost mythological status, few things compare to the excitement of walking out of Brixton tube station and turning the corner on Stockwell Road to see the name of your favourite band glowing in Perspex and neon, wrapping its way around the Academy’s unmistakeable dome.

Then joining the mile long queue of anxious fans, all jittery with expectations, downing the last of their “road beers” and knowing that absolutely anything could happen beyond those glass doors. Two hours later and you’ve managed to squeeze your way free from the crowds and back onto Stockwell Road. Sweat blinds your eyes and ringing deafens your ears, and it all feels worth it as you make your journey home.

It was here during the mid-nineties that I watched a joyously insane Jon Spencer of The Blues Explosion (who was supporting the Beastie Boys) physically attacking his huge Theremin in front of an audience of terrified Hip-Hop fans. On that same night I successfully crowd surfed for the first time, then unsuccessfully stage dived for the last time, losing all feeling in the left side of my body for an hour.

One of the most memorable nights was when I randomly ended up backstage at a Foo Fighters gig. It was an evening that began with me losing my glasses in the infamous mosh pit, being chased back stage by security, then let into the after show party by Dave Grohl himself (where for some reason I felt the urge to scream “kick out the jams” into the confused face of Brian May) and ended with me consuming copious amounts of beer and fine cheeses with various members of The Foo Fighters. Memorable, indeed.

There’s also that other pivotal moment that everyone must have had, when you find yourselves looking upward and realising what a strange and unique building you’re standing in. Having been threatened with demolition several times I think it’s a fantastic achievement that Brixton Academy is still running with very little modernisation been added to its classic design.

Thanks to it’s ornate art deco interior, not only is it one of the world’s premier live venues, it’s also one of London’s most distinctive buildings. Inspired by the dazzling architecture of John Eberson, it’s strange reconstructions of Venetian landscapes, complete with stone gardens, dramatic pillars and a proscenium arch modelled on the Rialto bridge, have been part of its original features since it first opened as a cinema in 1929.

In a world of homogenised arenas that feel like sterile shopping centres with a P.A system, Brixton Academy still stands tall. No matter what brewery takes over its taps or what corporation puts its name to it, Brixton Academy has a defining, unbeatable character that’s rooted deep within its foundations. Coming to Brixton Academy for a gig is often most people’s first (and sometimes only) experience of Brixton. And no matter what reservations some people may have about the area, it will always be home to one of London’s most legendary live venues; a place where music belongs.