Kanye West, Amy Winehouse and Prince: NME writers remember KOKO’s finest gigs

When news broke that iconic Camden venue KOKO was ablaze last night (January 6), Twitter was full of people reminiscing on their favourite memories inside the venue formerly known as the Camden Palace’s lush rooms. We at NME are also pretty fond of the place so decided to look back on the best gigs we’ve seen at KOKO over the years.

Smashing Pumpkins – December 5, 2014

Just seeing Smashing Pumpkins rattle through their greatest hits (‘Tonight, Tonight’! ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’! One of the best songs ever written aka ‘Disarm’!) and a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ in the sub-1500 cap KOKO would have been enough of a treat for a cold December night. But then came the encore and a surprise appearance from Marilyn Manson to bring the night to a leather-clad, gothy climax.
Rhian Daly, Writer

Danny Brown – February 21, 2014

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Rap shows are the new punk gigs, but I didn’t quite know that back in 2014, when hundreds of kids were moshing to Danny Brown’s zany brand of hip-hop at KOKO, and it blew my tiny mind. A huge surge of punters rushed back to the barrier for the encore like something from 28 Days Later. I interviewed a – to put it politely – reluctant Brown backstage for my first ever NME feature, an experience that was arguably even more turbulent than the show.
Jordan Bassett, Senior Staff Writer

Prince – February 2, 2015

Having already caught Prince at KOKO on his surprise HITNRUN tour back in 2014, I figured I’d probably experienced as much history as I could with His Royal Badness in Camden. One year later, I was feeling tender on my way back to London from my brother’s funeral when I got the call to attend an intimate charity gig back in the same venue. “We’re gonna play 14 hits in a row,” he purred during a medley of merciless joy. “Then if you’re still standing, we’ll play some more”. This was his last UK gig. A year later he was gone, but that night as with so many others, he gave his all – and it meant everything.
Andrew Trendell, News Editor

Brockhampton – August 20, 2018

Brockhampton’s first-ever UK show sold out in a lightning-quick 30 seconds. When the best boyband since One Direction finally arrived at KOKO, those lucky enough to bag tickets (and more than a few last-minute chancers) snaked all the way back to Camden Town Station. The group performed on a sparse set of swings; KOKO’s toweringly ornate balconies felt like playground perches. The energy was ridiculous. Stumbling out of the doors afterwards, it felt like a proper ‘I was there’ moment. Will I ever stop banging on about this gig? No. Apologies future generations, grandma’s had a wine.
El Hunt, Staff Writer

Mac DeMarco – May 22, 2014

Remember when Mac DeMarco was fun? I do! In fact, he was maybe peak Fun Times at this show six years ago. Having released ‘Salad Days’ – his best album to date – a month earlier, and cultivated a rabble of scruffy teenagers (myself included) sporting bootleg Simpsons merch (myself included), Mac rose to the occasion by cracking jokes, playing indie slappers and clambering all over the multi-tiered venue before the shtick wore off. He didn’t make it up to the smoking terrace at the top, mind. The only drawback.
Thomas Smith, New Music Editor

Rex Orange County – February 20, 2018

Screams are echoing around the venue, moshpits are opening up and hundreds of kids are losing their shit as their favourite songs are being played. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a punk gig – but no, it was Rex Orange County. Bringing his gorgeous neo-soul to Camden, his show of feel-good tunes was brilliantly good fun, even from the very top balcony where we were squinting to see him because it was that heaving.
Hannah Mylrea, Junior Staff Writer

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And here are a few more classic nights down at Camden’s KOKO…

Kanye West – March 3, 2015

“Proof that the self-anointed number one rock star on the planet is in town is snaking around the streets of Camden, past off-licences, fried chicken shops and pubs. At 12.30am, 90 minutes after the doors were supposed to open, the queue for Kanye West’s surprise KOKO show is dense, restless and running out of cans of Red Stripe. But no one’s going anywhere: Yeezy season approaching.”
Read Tom Howard’s full review here

Coldplay – June 6, 2005

“As the Close Encounters space ‘whaarmp’s of ‘Square One’ throb out and Chris Martin bounces through the floodlights like the alien that hopped down the ramp in box-fresh Adidas, there’s a tangible air of triumph; of backlashes dodged and paranoia allayed. In the 48 hours since ‘X&Y’ prematurely hit the internet, it has unravelled its slow-burning wonders and announced the coming of age of one of the most grandiose, shiversome and brilliant bands for generations.”
Read Mark Beaumont’s full review here

Amy Winehouse – November 14, 2006

“‘I can see my mummy,’ pouts Amy Winehouse with an Artful Dodger twang. “Hello mummy!”. Tonight’s a family affair; slap bang in the middle of Amy’s home turf, it’s a meeting of the whole Winehouse clan, extended family and the north London mafia – which “includes the landlady of the local pub”. As she flashes grins and bigs up various acquaintances scattered throughout the crowd, she’s like a wide-girl Queen Mum, sipping chardonnay on a heart-warming cockney meet and greet during the Blitz, except the only bombs dropping in this venue tonight are soul-packed musical ones. Oh and the Queen Mum never looked like a cross between Ronnie Spector (Google it kids) and an award-winning tattooed lady from Coney Island.”
Read Leonie Cooper’s full review here

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