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- Posted on May 14th 2010 9:30AM by Barnaby Smith
Come to See: First things first, let's make it clear that though this venue is part of the O2 Academy chain, it is one that maintains its fiercely independent spirit of old. In 2006 the Academy Music Group bought Oxford's much-loved venue the Zodiac to a chorus of disapproval from many local fans. However, the venue benefited from a £2 million ($3 million) refurbishment in 2007 and a reassessment of its bookings. Now, the venue is flourishing with a steady stream of international touring acts passing through and has three separate live spaces within. Many, though, still refer to it as the Zodiac.
The Oxford music scene kept going in the '90s and '00s, from Ride to Foals. At the centre of this were two things: the local music zine Nightshift and the Zodiac. While the venue hosted its fair share of big outside acts, it was serving the city's own artists that was the Zodiac's main mission. This raison d'etre evolved when it became an Academy, and the programming was diversified to the nth degree. In the last couple of months visiting acts included Alphabeat, Efterklang, Plan B, Bowling for Soup, the Antlers and even Lou Reed. Oxford music is still high on the agenda, too, though, with bands like Half Rabbits and Little Fish.
The Atmosphere: Inevitably, some feel that The Zodiac lost its squalid charm when it became an Academy. But while the place did indeed maintain a certain joie de vivre from the mere fact it was often disgusting, the refurbishment made the venue much more functional. The result is that it now resembles O2 Academies in London and the rest of the country, for better or worse. The atmosphere, however, has not been meddled with too much and the fact that the venue can host pretty much any genre of music going ensures that the atmosphere is never pinned down in one mood or another for long. Traditionally, this is a hub of rather sweaty rock, and that stuff happily still goes down very well to this day. Expect jumping around.
You Saw Them Here First: As the Zodiac, this venue was crucial to the career of the Candyskins, who played their farewell gig here in 2001. The Zodiac was also important to all the acts on the legendary local label Shifty Disco, such as ex-Ride singer Mark Gardener, Unbelievable Truth and then, eventually, Young Knives. It almost goes without saying that The Zodiac, and in its previous incarnation as The Venue, was a springboard for Radiohead and Supergrass, too.
Claim to Fame: The video to Radiohead's 1992 single 'Creep' was shot here. The video shows the (young) band performing the song in the dark enclaves of one of their familiar haunts. Also, in 1999 Rage Against the Machine played a hush-hush surprise gig here, a small venue for them, in order to preview new material from their 'Battle of Los Angeles' album.
You Should Also know: The main concert venue is downstairs, but the space upstairs still retains The Zodiac name, which is nice.
Booking Now: Goldfrapp, Band of Horses, Richard James, Black Mountain.