"Iconic London venue KOKO has opened a new chapter in its history by substantially upgrading its existing JBL/Crown house system. The move is designed to keep the technical infrastructure of this Grade II landmark building ahead of the pack.
The 1500-capacity venue — famous for hosting Madonna’s first ever London gig — has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence since being taken over by the Mint Group in 2004, with experienced nightclub operations director Larry Seymour at the helm quickly developing a relationship with then Harman pro distributors (Harman Pro UK).
The relationship has continued to prosper under present distributors, Sound Technology Ltd, who this month commissioned the first phase of a new JBL / Crown system. This includes an upgrade from the existing JBL SRX enclosures to six VerTec VT4886 sub-compact array elements which now sit atop eight new VerTec VT4880a 2 x 18in subs (replacing the previous SRX models). At the same time the Crown iTech amplifiers have been upgraded to flagship Crown iTech HD’s featuring higher power and next generation onboard DSP featuring BSS OmniDrive HD processing and Linear Phase FIR filters which provide much more electrical headroom and transparency to the system.
Stated Larry Seymour, “Our vision when we opened was not just to reinvent an iconic venue, but to revolutionise live music in the UK by transforming this into the capital’s hottest address. With huge brand visibility JBL became central to that plan, as part of a Harman family installation which also includes Crown amplification and Soundcraft digital mixing desks.
“It’s consistently been a priority to sustain an advanced technical infrastructure, widely accepted by both fans and bands. Our production team is entirely focused on delivering top quality shows on a consistent basis and to that end we are constantly reinforcing our equipment, adding something pretty much every year.”
It was towards the end of last year that Seymour contacted Greg Niven, Sales Director, Sound Technology Ltd and asked ‘Where do we go next?’ And slowly an upgrade path unfolded.
The move coincided with the announcement of JBL’s new VerTec V5 software ‘plug-in’ upgrade, and although this has yet to be developed for KOKO’s main VT4888 PA hangs, the extra headroom provided by the Crown iTech HD’s is described by venue technical manager, Tim Hamper as “outrageous.”
He planned the new design with head of Sound Technology’s Project Team, Sam Brandon, sensing that he wanted to upgrade to the beefier VT4880a subs. When Brandon also introduced him to the JBL VT4886 sub-compact VerTec array elements he knew that with this compact footprint, clarity and directionality he had found the perfect match.“I like the idea of little things providing a lot of coverage and the low profile suits the unusual shape of the building, as the stage ends 3ft behind the pros arch.“One of the problems previously was that downstairs sounded distant because of the noise coming off the stage — now there is more energy focused downstairs, with greater throw and more penetration into the remote parts of the club.
”At the same time Hamper is delighted with the assignment of the new Crown iTech HD’s to drive different parts of the system and the headroom that the eight iTech 5000HD and eight iTech 9000HD driving the main system, and five iTech 12000HD powering the subs, has created.
“Previously, the old iTechs were powering the main array’s eight VT4888’s per side in two sets of three, plus one pair, per hang. Now with the new specification, iTech HD’s drive the elements in pairs,” explains Sam Brandon. “This, along with the new series’ extra output, results in a system with much increased headroom and control. The additional benefit of the upgraded DSP engine results in a much more transparent sound.”
“Even without the V5 settings yet this is way superior to what we had before,” confirms Hamper. “The new amps sound like a studio monitor with a silky sound as you would expect with BSS processing. The system doesn’t really stop — it’s a punishing schedule with the live sessions going into club nights, which means the systems needs to be working hard all the time.
As a showcase venue for BBC Radio 1, the acid test came when KOKO immediately hosted a performance by Red Hot Chili Peppers through the new house system — following close on the heels of another LA rock band Jane’s Addiction — which both shows passed with flying colours.
With other shows broadcast regularly from KOKO, including Channel 4 programmes such as The Album Chart Show, Stand Up For The Week comedy series and their own KOKO POP, Seymour stressed the importance of a system that was both TV- and rider-friendly, and at the same time sufficiently versatile to host the broad spectrum of live concerts and club nights referred to by Tim Hamper.
In fact one recent band, Unkle has already voted KOKO to be the best sounding venue in London. And that is what the production team has striven to achieve. “We try to be as helpful as possible to the bands who play here,” confirms Tim Hamper. “Many could sell out the O2 Arena and so it’s vital we can give them the infrastructure to support that.”
And ‘support’ is a word close to the production team’s hearts. “Sound Technology have been great in that respect,” says Hamper. “Sam [Brandon] has been brilliant and Sound Technology go far out of their way to support us.”
Concluded Larry Seymour, “Having spoken to various companies at the outset in our bid to find the ideal technical partner. I am delighted with the decision we made.”"