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The history of The Melkweg

The history of The Melkweg

The history of The Melkweg

Located off of Leidseplein in the only surviving factory building in the Amsterdam canal belt, The Melkweg (Translation: The Milky Way) hosts hundreds of concerts, club nights, theatre performances, film screenings, exhibitions, and events every year.

As this iconic venue celebrates its 50th birthday this month, let's take a look back at the history The Melkweg and its building.

A new lease of life

The building was opened in the 19th century as a sugar refinery, before being bought by milk company OVVV in 1920. The building lived on as a milk factory until it closed in 1969. 

In 1970, a cultural youth group took residence in the empty building for the summer. This was the start of The Melkweg we know and love today. The city of Amsterdam was widely considered a cultural hub at the time, labelled a so-called cosmic centre of the world. Young people travelled from all over the world to come together and play a role in this new cultural centre that combined and celebrated a variety of different artistic disciplines. 

During that summer, the building featured a cafe, a restaurant, and one hall for music and theatre. Due to The Melkweg’s success in 1970, the centre reopened for the summers of 1971 and 1972, before becoming a permanent venue in 1973. 

With the name "melkweg," the original youth group that discovered the building honoured its original purpose and quirky history, while at the same alluding to the milky way galaxy and Amsterdam 's label as a cosmic centre.

The building has seen many changes since it first opened its doors, and has been adapted to better fit its new function. The Melkweg now houses two concert halls, a cinema, a multidisciplinary room, and an exhibition space. 

 Photo credit: DigiDaan via Melkweg

50 years of fun

Over the last 50 years, The Melkweg has become one of the most prominent event venues in Amsterdam. It has welcomed artists from around the world across different disciplines, styles, and genres. 

Through the years, a number of world-renowned acts performed on The Melkweg stages, including Prince, Arctic Monkeys, U2, and Nirvana. Club nights celebrating everything from reggae, to hip-hop, to drum and bass, welcome a wide variety of music fans throughout the year. Through these events, the venue aims to bridge the gap between underground styles and the wider public.

2019 saw The Melkweg host a whopping 1.250 events, with more than 1.600 artists, bands and creators given a space to share their work. They welcomed over 540.000 guests. The venue clearly continues to play a significant role in the cultural landscape of the Dutch capital.

Melkweg celebrating the big five-o

The Melkweg turned 50 in the coronavirus lockdown, and so was unable to host the events initially planned to celebrate the milestone. However, the birthday was still marked by a 24-hour live stream event, jammed with music, dance, and talks about the history of the venue. 

The lockdown marks the first time in Melkweg's history that the doors have been closed and programming suspended for such a long period of time. 

The celebration was held on July 17, and could be streamed for free from anywhere in the world.

Thumb image: DigiDaan via Melkweg

Victoria Séveno

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Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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