50 years of Paradiso

50 years of Paradiso

Paradiso, one of the most famous music venues in Amsterdam, turned 50 this year. Absolutely renowned for its high-profile artists, performing there all year round, and also for its eclectic concert programming, it always manages to remain both edgy and up-to-the-minute, presenting artists that break new ground on the music scene.

You probably can’t help but notice that Paradiso is a handsome old structure that most likely wasn't purpose-built for clubbing or pop concerts. It is, in fact, a converted church. And like most old buildings, it tells an interesting story.

Liberal right from the beginning

Even though it was originally a religious building, the congregation that used to meet there was liberal-minded. In 1877 the Hugenholtz brothers, who came from the Dutch Reformed Church, decided to set up their own religious community known as the Vrije Gemeente.

The church was a meeting place for this liberal religious group, until they moved out of the building in 1965 and it lay vacant, but not forgotten to time. For a while, it was used as a carpet store, but it was soon left abandoned again.

Cosmic Relaxation Centre Paradiso

In the late 60s, an opportunity was just waiting to appear. Music-loving hippies became squatters in the empty building in 1967. They wished to convert it into a publicly funded youth entertainment venue. Negotiations regarding their vision for the space continued for a considerable amount of time. 

The police raided the place and the squatters were removed, but there were some determined members among the group of hippies that succeeded in hosting musical and theatrical events in the building. City officials eventually agreed to the venue being turned into a public establishment.

On March 30, 1968, which was the same year as the Prague Spring and the Paris Student Riots, Paradiso opened, under the name “Cosmic Relaxation Centre Paradiso”, welcoming 1.300 attendees. The programme included dance, rock, ethnic music acts from Suriname and a light show. The opening night was referred to as “mind-expanding” in newspaper reports. Within just two months, Pink Floyd was already on the lineup to perform.

Keeping up with the trends

Paradiso saw each decade through with the trends of the times, always staying synonymous with the zeitgeist of counterculture and pop culture.

1960s hippie culture

It became a hub of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s and soft drugs were tolerated – one of the first places of its kind to do so. 

1970s punk

Paradiso in the 1970s saw new-wave music, punk bands such as The Stranglers, and the glam rock band New York Dolls.

1980s raves

From the 1980s onwards, raves and themed dance parties were held. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers performed there in 1988 during their first ever European tour, the Monsters of Funk Tour.

1990s grunge & electronic music

The grunge of the 1990s was epitomised in the music of Nirvana, who played there in 1991. In 1994, Sonic Acts Festival was founded in Paradiso, a collaboration between Paradiso and the Art Science Interfaculty, to provide new developments in electronic music.

Half a century of music at Paradiso

It’s been a fascinating half century for Paradiso, as a pop and rock venue, a club and a cultural centre. Starting out as a place of worship and now being a sort of music temple, this place has always been a centre of profound meaningful culture and entertainment.

Image credit: Andre Pessireron

Rachel Deloughry


Rachel Deloughry

Rachel is a writer, editor and digital content creator, passionate about the arts, culture and lifestyle.

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