Paradiso, Amsterdam’s temple of pop culture turns 50

Opening 2-4-1968 @ Joost Evers, Anefo
By Benjamin B. Roberts

If the 1960s Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll generation, Flower Power, and counter culture movement could all be rolled up into one year, then 1968 was -hands down – the year to be 20-something in Amsterdam. In that summer Amsterdam was buzzing with excitement. The city was crawling with American Vietnam War draft dodgers, students protesting and demanding more democracy, and squatters occupying an abandoned Protestant church on the edge of the Leidseplein. In March 1968, they officially turned the building into a center for youth culture and named it Paradiso. Less than two months later Pink Floyd was performing on the same spot where only three years earlier Dutch preachers had spread the gospel.

The location near the rest of the Leidseplein entertainment area, together with spatial design of the church made it the ideal venue for concerts. The outside of the former church was painted in provocative colors red-white-blue, and later black. In 1968 it must have been revolutionary to re-appropriate a church building into a youth center, and then for young people that were known for their use of mind-altering drugs and promiscuity and free love. However, the church on the edge of the Leidseplein had a longer history with nonconventional thoughts and beliefs. In 1877, two preachers, the Hugenholz brothers, together with 350 kindred spirits had left the Dutch Reformed congregation because they objected to the Dutch Reformed faith’s stoic and limited opinions. The Hugenholz Brothers were freethinkers that wanted to integrate the believes of Dutch Protestantism together with the teaching of other world faiths including Buddhism and Confucianism. At first they did not have a church building and only gathered at diverse locations before they became organized and founded the Vrije Gemeente (Free Community). Two two years later they had the current building constructed, based on a design by Dutch architect Gerlof Salm (1831- 1897), who was known for his designs of industrial and church buildings, as well as fancy villa’s.

In the last fifty years, Paradiso, or the temple of pop music, on Leidseplein is internationally-renown for concerts by pop-legends from Prince, David Bowie to Amy Whinehouse and Nirvana have given commemoriable performances. The building’s 1,500 audience capacity gives it an almost intimate ambiance. In the first few years after it opened, Paradiso was known for it’s improvisation and for being unprofessional. There were a lot of pot-smoking hippies, Hell Angels’s fights, and some musicians had to deal with it’s faulty sound system. When Pink Floyd performed in May 1968, the microphone did not work and he had to give an instrumental concert without vocals. Till this day, that concert is legendary in the venue’s history. However, today Paradiso is no longer the gangly adolescent and is all grown up. This month, Paradiso has launched a website www. paradi50.nl, where concertgoers can reminisce about the concerts that they attended in the last half century. Stories include the John Cale concert held on April 19, 1975 where the commentor questioned whether Velvet Underground’s lead singer John Cale was truly on stage because he was grossly overweight and looked unhealthy due to his alcohol and drug addiction. The commentor thought the music sounded better than the singer looked.

Nevertheless, the commentor had a commemoriable evening. Another commentor attended two of David Bowie’s performance’s at Paradiso. The first in 1989 with his band Tin Machine, and the second in 1997. Both were sold out but the commenter thought both were complete flops, yet reminisced that everyone else envied that they had missed it. Apparently at Paradiso it’s not only the performer that makes it memorable. It’s the venue.