From countercultures to conformity: Paradiso turns 50

Translated from the Italian (by Serena Gandolfi)

Last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic “Cosmic Relaxation Centre Paradise” better known as “Paradiso”, probably the most famous Dutch venue and a symbol of the protest years.

More than 200 photos of concerts and evenings were exhibited at the Amsterdam Museum last year, remembering the dawn of that temple of European Pop.

In reality, there was very little Pop when, on March 30, 1968, Paradiso opened its doors. It was born from the occupation of a hippie group that moved to Vondelpark in the summer of ’67. The activists of the time professed community principles of nonviolence, progress, and free love.

The name Paradiso is a “tribute” to the previous life of the building: until then it had been an abandoned church that belonged to the religious order of the “Vrije Gemeente”, the Free Congregation. After the occupation, it became the largest temple of counterculture and youth protest. Festivals, concerts, debates, and artistic avant-gardes of all descriptions animated its halls where excesses, disinhibition, and rejection of all social norms were fermented.

With the Pink Floyd concert of ’68, the season of progressive rock, psychedelic hallucinations, and lysergic journeys opened. The former church boasts the record of being one of the first places where the sale of drugs was allowed, or at least tolerated. As the programmer of Paradiso, Maz Weston, recounts: “The police didn’t know how to treat the extravagant characters who frequented the place. The officers preferred to keep their distance and intervene only in the event of a clash.”


Young people from all over the world made pilgrimages to the hippie temple of Northern Europe. It was the place where you had to be for music, drugs, and freedom. But not everything was love and flowers: there were also clashes within the collective. Often some members complained about its levels of “vice”: it’s okay to transgress but you should not overlook Paradiso’s social commitment. Debates and assemblies were organized. The Dutch left: the PSP (Socialist Pacific Party), the PPR (Radical Party), and the Labour organized the May Day collectives there.

In 1974, as a result of the economic crisis, the enormous social centre – in the meantime legalised – found itself bankrupt and just a step away from closure. When the shout of “let’s get rid of the hippies” came out, new members of the organization gave a boost to the club, and with the first Sex Pistols concert in ’77 the Punk season opened in Amsterdam.

Quite a different kind of aesthetic and attitude, bands like The Stranglers, Blondie, and Iggy Pop were not spared from the launch of beers and screams, typical manifestations of punk appreciation.


In the 80’s, in addition to opening up to ethnic music and especially reggae imported by the Surinamese who came to Holland following their independence, Paradiso became a theatre of installations and evenings of experimental art. The “Terroristic Congress” by Erik Hobijn and Amsterdam Urban Art Guerrilla, with the corpses of cars flanked by elephant dung, was perhaps one of the most controversial performances. The social protest continued with the poetry evenings of the Anti-Apartheid movement, while Metallica, Guns N’Roses, Joy Division, and Ramones would perform on stage.

The ’90s were the years of electronica and big rave parties. Names like Nirvana, Bjork, Rolling Stones, and David Bowie also appeared on posters. Prince, who in 1981 had played at Paradiso as a total stranger, in 1995 celebrated his success in the former church by challenging the staff in ping pong games.

In 2000 the Cosmic Relaxation Centre, with 627 events organized and about 400,000 visitors, won the “Arthur Award” becoming the “First European venue”. The White Stripes, Amy Winehouse, Queens of the Stone Age, and Lady Gaga also took to the stage during that decade.

Today Paradiso is one of the most famous discos in the capital. DJs and concerts are still sold out and, as of 2016, there are around 1200 evenings organized a year.

“The exhibition traces a portrait of the musical and youth culture that has crossed Amsterdam since the 70s. It’s fascinating that a single building contains the history of the entire counterculture of time,” says Annemarie de Wildt, curator of the exhibition.

In addition to the hundreds of photos, posters and films on display in the halls of the Amsterdam Museum, there was also an entire section dedicated to the stories of those who experienced Paradiso first-hand. Stories of transgression of a time handed down to history.



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