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Seven years on, The O2 is still (Brooklyn) Bowling for glory

A new 1,000-capacity venue with its origins in New York City has opened up a new chapter in the life of the leading London entertainment complex

Seven years after The O2 rose from the metaphorical ashes of the decidedly unlamented Millennium Dome, the Greenwich entertainment complex continues to expand its scope with the recent opening of a new multi-purpose facility, the Brooklyn Bowl.

An additional venue that complements the main arena, the 2,720-capacity indigo at The O2 and the more clubbing-oriented Building Six, the Brooklyn Bowl combines a restaurant, 12 lanes of bowling and a live performance stage. Collaborator and producer du jour Pharrell Williams is among the star names to have already played the 1,000-capacity venue, while future bookings include country music trio Lady Antebellum, Fugees singer Lauryn Hill, Stax soul legend William Bell, New York indie-rock band We Are Scientists and former Parliament/Funkadelic saxophone stalwart Maceo Parker.

Appropriately enough, the Brooklyn Bowl concept first originated in the eponymous New York City borough and has since rolled out to Las Vegas, but the O2 location represents its first venue outside the US. “It adds another component to the mix,” observes Emma Beszant (pictured below right), who is technical manager for The O2 Arena and has no involvement with this new space. “It’s a great offering with a cool venue, some very strong programming and a nice vibe.”

Established by Brooklyn Bowl’s NYC-based owner, promoter Peter Shapiro, the new venue is also open for corporate bookings, and in this regard it is surely assisted by an extensive permanent audio specification. The d&b audiotechnik PA comprises Vi, Q, Qi and J Series boxes, along with M6 monitors on stage, while console duties are handled by a pair of Avid VENUEs: a Profile at FOH and an SC48 at monitors. When the PA is not in use, day-to-day audio is run through 33 Tannoy boxes, hung from the ceiling in zones and powered by a Lab.gruppen system situated upstairs.

Brooklyn Bowl London also houses an impressive permanent mic spec, including plenty of Sennheisers, among them e 906s, e 609s and Beta 91s, along with four ew 500 G3s featuring 935 capsules. Also available for use are AKG K451s and Shure SM58s, among other fixtures.

Overseeing the assembly of this audio inventory has been Brooklyn Bowl London production manager Pete Webber, who has just added a full Pro Tools HDx system to the inventory. “This means we can do live recordings on spec, but I’m also keen for us to be a venue that is working with bands and artists of all levels in creating content,” he says. “With the in-house video capabilities as well, we can create separate live cuts of video and then add multi-track mixed audio after the fact for a slightly more polished look and feel. I’m really excited by that and the importance not only for bands and artists to have live content available on the web, but venues like ours too. It’s a digital age, and I think it’s underestimated how important it is for a live music venue to keep up with that.”

The arrival of a new venue underlines the current good health of the O2 complex as a whole. Reflecting on the year to date of the main O2 Arena (the indigo at The O2 is run separately by AEG Live), general manager Rebecca Kane reports that “overall 2014 has been a slightly quieter year than 2013, which was our best year ever. Having said that, we were delighted to see that when [touring industry trade publication] Pollstar released [its] mid-year ticket sales figures, The O2 was once again the number one venue in the worldwide arena rankings, having sold 919,900 tickets for music shows in 2014.”

A predicted total of 203 performances for this year attests to the wisdom of pursuing an increasingly diverse repertoire that complements arena-filling musical appearances by the likes of Elbow, Peter Gabriel and Kylie Minogue with sporting fixtures including the ATP World Tour Finals and mainstream stand-up comedians such as Lee Evans and Miranda Hart.

“As The O2 has developed from a pure music venue since opening in 2007 to more of an entertainment destination, we’ve seen the breadth of events offered wide,” says Kane, who was MD at Alexandra Palace Trading when PSNEurope last spoke to her in 2010. “Comedy and sport are a key part of our bookings mix throughout the year, and this has enabled us to reach out to new fans and customers.”

Further diversification is set to follow. Work is currently nearing completion on a £2.5m refurbishment and relaunch of The O2’s VIP space, the American Express Invites Lounge. “It’s going to be a breathtaking space for guests and we’re very excited about this and the investment going into it. We’ll be re-launching our VIP experience later this year,” says Kane.

“Then, summer 2015 will see the opening of a 452-bedroom hotel on site. It will contain a 3,000sqm-capacity ballroom as well, set to be the largest in Europe and which will be a great addition to the O2 offering. There is much more planned for 2015, but I’m afraid at this stage it’s under wraps.”