“The best venue in London” Brixton Academy re-opens with The Smiths and Nirvana tribute bands, plus new safety measures

The Smiths and Nirvana tribute bands re-opened Brixton Academy last night (April 19) after tragedy closed its doors 16 months ago – with fans hailing it as “the best venue in London”.

The legendary South London venue has been shut since December 2022 after a fatal crowd crush that left two people dead. The tragic incident occurred at an Asake concert, which resulted in the deaths of Gabrielle Hutchinson, aged 23, and 33-year-old Rebecca Ikumelo. A third was left in a critical condition.

The future of the iconic London venue had been uncertain since then, before it was announced in December 2023 that the venue would be allowed to retain its licence and re-open if it can meet “robust” safety rules. See the full list of 77 measures put in place here.

Last night, those safety measures were put in place with new security and management at the venue which saw fans directed around the back of the venue. Other measures included a new ticketing system and a new centralised control and command centre.

The re-opening of the O2 Academy Brixton on April 19, 2024, in London CREDIT: Luke Dyson for Academy Music Group

Nirvana UK (a tribute to Nirvana) and Smiths tribute band The Smyths greeted fans back into the venue ahead of a series of gigs which kick off with the likes of Editors, The Black Keys, Kamasi Washington, Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend in the coming months.

Kicking off the night, 30 years to the date that Nirvana were due to play the venue, Nirvana UK covered a host of classic songs including ‘Breed’, ‘In Bloom’ ‘Come As You Are’, ‘About A Girl’, ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

Ahead of their most famous hit, which you can view above, frontman Jez Fox said: “30 years ago a little band called Nirvana were meant to play here to this day. But they couldn’t make it. Now we’re here.”

Kurt Cobain died just days before the concert on April 5, 1994.

Wrapping up their performance, Fox threw his guitar into the speakers much like Cobain did during the band’s legendary concerts back in the ’90s.

Nirvana UK’s Jez Fox throws his guitar into the speakers at the O2 Academy Brixton on April 19, 2024 in London CREDIT: Luke Dyson for Academy Music Group

Later, The Smyths headlined the night and dedicated ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ to Gabrielle Hutchinson and Rebecca Ikumelo. You can view footage below.

Ahead of the show frontman Graham Sampson told NME that they were “grateful and humble” to be offered the opportunity.

Already moved by the tragic events of December 2022, Sampson said that the gig would be all the more “poignant” as he was at Brixton Academy back in December 1986 for what would turn out to be the last ever gig performed by The Smiths.

On the night, he acknowledged this when his band covered ‘Hand In Glove’.

“This was the last song The Smiths ever played that night in 1986 in Brixton,” Sampson told the crowd. “It’s quite touching because it was their first single and the last ever song they played.”

Wrapping up the show with ‘How Soon Is Now?’, he thanked the security at the venue and said: “Everyone has done a wonderful job tonight.”

The Smyths frontman Graham Sampson perfoming at O2 Academy Brixton on April 19, 2024, in London CREDIT: Luke Dyson for Academy Music Group

Speaking about the venue’s re-opening, many fans were delighted to return. Will James, 33, who lives in Brixton told NME: “It’s nice to be back in there. It’s the best venue in London.”

Robbie Thomas, 34, from Swindon added: “It’s so amazing to have the venue back and it was a lovely night to really cement that. It would have been really shit if it had closed down.”

Wendy Robertson, 53, who lives in Clapham Junction, agreed. “I was worried it was going to close permanently. I like this venue. I’ve seen a lot of bands here over the years. I’m very glad they’ve saved it,” she said.

Ahead of the reopening, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said it marked “a new era of crowd safety within performance spaces, with a comprehensive safety plan and extended licensing conditions to safeguard future events”.

CEO Michael Kill paid tribute to the victims who lost their lives and added: “Brixton Academy has consistently held a special place in the hearts of music aficionados, and its cultural significance is immeasurable. We have consistently advocated for its safe reopening, and today we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to ensuring its continued success as a safe hub for live music and nightlife.

He continued: “Today is also a testament to the potency of collective action and the enduring passion for live and electronic music culture, and we are indebted to each and every individual who signed petitions, participated in meetings, and voiced their support through various avenues.”

UK Foo Fighters and Definitely Mightbe (a tribute to Oasis) take to the stage next Friday (April 26). Visit here for tickets and more info on these and other upcoming Brixton Academy shows.