OPINION - It’s great Brixton Academy is reopening, but they owe it to London to get it right

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

More than a year after a fatal crush killed two people at the O2 Brixton Academy, the south London gig venue is gearing up for a carefully managed reopening this weekend, with a long list of robust safety guidelines now in place.

In December 2022, security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, and mother-of-two Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, were both killed when a crowd of people without tickets attempted to force their way into a concert by the Afrobeats star Asake. The venue has remained shut ever since, and quite right, too.

What happened that night was a disgrace and a disaster, forever tarnishing the legacy of one of our city’s best-known live music venues. It is imperative that those involved in bringing it back do not screw things up; we cannot ever see such a senseless loss of life ever again, in any of London’s gig venues. But it would also be a huge shame if fans were permanently robbed of a beloved music venue as a result.

So far, the signs look promising. Stronger entrance doors, a new security team, an improved and more secure ticketing system, and the introduction of a command centre at the venue to take control in the event of an emergency are just a handful of the 77 measures that Brixton’s operator Academy Music Group has agreed to, in a bid to prevent a disaster like this happening ever again.

During the closure, they say, £1.2 million has been spent on maintenance and improvements.

Rather than reopening with great fanfare — which would feel pretty distasteful, given the tragic circumstances  — the venue will quietly return with a string of tribute bands: Nirvana UK and The Smyths play tonight, with UK Foo Fighters, and Oasis covers group Definitely Mightbe following on April 26.

Later this summer, bigger gigs will return: The Black Keys, Royal Blood, Janelle Monae, Arcade Fire and Chappell Roan are among some of the first announced acts appearing there in 2024.

At one point, Brixton Academy was facing permanent closure, but I am relieved that a safe solution has been found. An integral part of London’s gig scene, it has hosted The Smiths, Harry Styles, Madonna, The Clash, and Bob Dylan, among many others. As one of south London’s only larger venues, the 5,000 capacity spot also occupies an important rung on the live music ladder as rising acts progress towards the capital’s biggest arenas.

It is completely right that so much time has been taken to fully ensure Brixton Academy is a safer place in the future; here’s hoping it prevents a similar tragedy from ever taking place again.

El Hunt is a commissioning editor and writer at the Evening Standard