As you probably know, this Autumn sees the re-opening of Korova. Well, actually, it doesn’t. It sees the opening of Korova, no relation to the original Korova.
Confused? You shouldn’t be. It’s quite simple. The much-missed venue is still the stuff of misty eyed memories of yore (oh, OK, 2008), but the venue’s spiritual home – especially its subterranean live music vault – is the location for a new venture for the people behind Lago and Brooklyn Mixer.
Their choice of name (or rather, their lack of choice) has perplexed many. Not least the team behind the original Korova. So, who wins? There’s only one way to find out….
We spoke to the teams behind Korovas past and present.
SevenStreets: Why call it Korova?
Mike Edwards (Area Manager): When the building was taken over the lease was bought as Korova. Although we understand it’s under new ownership and it’s not the creators, we’re not trying to imitate the bar concept they created. This will just be a basement club focused on live music. The bar could have been re-named, but then you will also get people saying that will only ever be Korova. We have some great shows lined up and some amazing secret headliners and club nights coming to the city.
What are your hopes for the venue?
We hope to establish it as not only one of the best small venues in Liverpool but the UK. We want to attract breakthrough bands from all around the country and further afield. We’ve brought in a pair of young new promoters, Stephen and Craig, who are bringing fantastic bands to the city such as Half Moon Run, The 1975 etc under their ‘I Love Live Events’ brand. We also run Lago, Brooklyn Mixer, most recently opened Soho and numerous other places around the city.
Basically, our aim is to bring back a real cool feel to the place with the music mostly being indie, electro and punk. We want to create a new hangout for Liverpool’s creatives.
Next up, we spoke to Ladytron’s Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu, Korova’s musical heart, its head, bar guru Rob Guttman, and Korova designer, Richard Eastwood to get their take on the story.
What does Korova mean to you?
Rob: It’s simply the project in my career that I’m most proud of.
Daniel: Socially, a lot of good memories and professionally, satisfaction at a good idea, well realised, which was a success. It felt like the first time in some years that Liverpool was ahead of the curve & the richness of the programming was unprecedented.
Reuben: What a question. One of the closest things I have to a baby.
Richard: It was a special point in time for (Eastwood’s) R2 Architecture. As a company we were beginning to find our voice in terms of what we believed in. With Korova because it was such a creative team it allowed a lot more trust and freedom. With the client, Rob Gutmann, and Burn we really were a team.
When was the first you heard about the new venue? Did the owners try to contact you?
Rob: I heard about it a few months ago. There were rumours and counter rumours, and to be honest it didn’t seem credible that anyone would want to do something as crass as to try and replicate Korova.
Daniel: We heard some rumours months back, made enquiries, and it was denied. Then we started hearing of shows actually being booked. At no point did the owners try to contact us, nor did they respond to requests to clarify and discuss.
Richard: No. Not at all. I’m not sure we could have dealt with it anyway. It would have been soul destroying and unfaithful to our friends.
Of all the bars in all the world, why did Korova linger in our hearts?
Rob: Korova was ‘designed’ to linger in hearts. We all new instinctively what the kind of place we’d like to hang out in would be like and how it would make people feel. We knew we weren’t alone in feeling somewhat disenfranchised by the rest of Liverpool’s bar scene.
Reuben: I remember our excited chats in 2004 about making our Friday night Evol into a real bricks and mortar venue. You could see the love that went into absolutely everything – the interior design, the programming, the branding. In combination with the fantastic bar staff, that made it unique, and memorable.
Daniel: We created that place not just because we wanted to fill a gap in the market (there wasn’t an identified market), we wanted something that was the envy of other cities, not just Liverpool’s version of something elsewhere. It closed against all our wishes, and we tried to hit the ground running in the second site with very little time to prepare, which was ultimately work wasted. That didn’t mean the end of the project, just a break to regroup and rethink until the right opportunity came along. We’re the only people who have the right to decide when to call time on a project we have invested so much in.
Richard: Because it was one of the first places around which a community formed. You have to remember what Slater Street was like. Luring the asymmetrical haircuts out of Le Bateaux basement and down Slater Street was an amazing undertaking. Also there is the Hollywood adage of die young and stay pretty. People seem to have forgotten the night there was only blue WKD left behind the bar. Also, to be honest, once a design is done, no matter how good it is, the operation wouldn’t have worked without the bar staff being spot on and the door lads keeping it mellow.
The new team say they’re keeping the name because it’ll always be known as Korova anyway, so why fight it? Thoughts?
Rob: Korova isn’t an historic building. Korova is a moveable feast. It’s not ‘the Korova building’, it’s simply a space where Korova once found a home. I don’t think the regulars of ‘Hippy Chick’ tell each other that they’re meeting up in Korova, so this line of reasoning just doesn’t wash.
Daniel: Find an abandoned Costa and open a coffee shop, called Costa, on the site, because everyone will call it Costa anyway. May as well be called Flintlocks; without the original group involved, that site is nothing more than a concrete shell with some of our left over interior. There are a few people saying that the name is not unique internationally, which really isn’t the point; this is an eight year old project, in Liverpool, which is being approximated by a third party without permission. Erics would be the closest analogy, but we’re talking about a three year hiatus versus 30 year closure, and despite that, had Roger Eagle still been alive I doubt the venue calling itself “Eric’s” would’ve been able to open without his blessing.
Reuben: As soon as you name it Korova, then it refers to so much more than the physical space, and that belongs to the creators. I’m pretty upset that people have essentially stolen years of our hard work.
But couldn’t this be a well-intentioned, innocent faux pas?
Rob: My hunch is that it was simply an ill thought out ‘revelation’ of an idea that gained momentum in its own vacuum. I don’t think anyone stopped to think about how the real originators of Korova or the people who actually loved and got Korova, might feel. They know now though, and seemingly don’t care.
Daniel: It may well have started off innocent enough, but once aware of our position there was no excuse to continue. The Korova brand was and is still active, as a venue it has only been physically closed for three years, and we were in discussion about a new Korova site when this came up. There’s no objection to use of the space we left behind there, but they have no right to use the project’s name without permission, and know it. It is an attempt exploit a five year local, national & international reputation we worked to build. Besides anything else, Korova vacated that site in 2009, and only half of the original venue still exists. The bar area most associate with the name has been something else for a few years now.
What would you like to say to the bar’s owners?
Rob: I’d like to ask them to take a step back. Come up with a unique concept they can feel proud of. Try and be bigger than attempting to get a cheap ride on other people’s coat tails. Try and grasp that people are not stupid and will see through this. It won’t even work commercially for them.
Daniel: Save yourself time & resources by fixing this now rather than later.
Reuben: Be original. Pick a better name and make a better bar than we did.
Richard: To be honest I have ambiguous feelings towards it. I’m not one for nostalgia and someone somewhere is probably getting angry about The Conti on Victoria Street.
What are your plans, and hopes?
Rob: Our Korova will be back. That’s been in the works for a good while now.
Richard: To keep on learning and moving. To love what we do. From Korova days we’ve learnt to be as inclusive in the design process as possible. This inclusiveness has lead to some of our clients thinking they can do it all themselves though. So actually this might not be such a good business model. It’s the only way we can work though.
Favourite Korova memory?
Rob: Jesus. too many to mention or remember clearly.
Reuben: Haha, not sayin’…
Richard: Just the fact you might be bored in the house Friday or Saturday night and you could just head into Korovaas you knew someone you knew or were about to get to know would be there.
Korova opens on 18 September, with The Front Bottoms.
Interviews, David Lloyd