In an ideal world a seminal club would bow out with an emotional closing party that honoured the DJs, dancers and anthems that made it a nightlife legend. For London’s Fabric, however, the end came in a room at Islington town hall on Tuesday night. After several hours of deliberations, Islington council’s licensing subcommittee decided that security at the 2,500-capacity venue on Charterhouse Street, Farringdon, was grossly inadequate and that, following two MDMA-related deaths in June and August and a month-long suspension, Fabric’s licence would be revoked.
Fabric’s untimely demise inspired anguished tweets from the likes of Katy B, Chase & Status, Four Tet, Hudson Mohawke, Novelist and Disclosure, a cross-genre spread of talent that speaks volumes about the club’s reach. For 17 years, Fabric had covered the waterfront of electronic music from techno to grime and drum’n’bass to dubstep. It was regularly voted one of the best clubs in the world and an invitation to curate one of the club’s FabricLive mix CDs was a milestone in any DJ’s career. Fabric is a clubbers’ club built by club people, says the DJ and Radio 1 presenter Benji B. Its contribution to club culture, not just in London but around the world, is undeniable.
If Fabric means nothing to you, then the rending of garments over the closure of a single club may seem excessive. The tectonic plates of London clubland are constantly shifting. It is in the nature of even the best clubs to rise and fall as tastes change. Fabric, however, wasn’t falling. It was pushed. And it was pushed by the authorities, on flimsy evidence. In the absence of criminal charges, the subcommittee’s decision relied on supposition and vague references to clubbers with symptoms such as sweating, glazed red eyes and staring into space. There is sadness over the termination of Fabric but there is also rage, born of a sense of injustice. Obviously clubs come and go but this is a different feeling, says Benji B. I do feel like the rich culture that’s always made this city so unique is under threat. If you’re a club person then this is not just an attack on Fabric, it’s an attack on you.
We are boring away at the foundations of what makes London a world-leading city. This is a dangerous road to go down
Fabric is the biggest casualty yet of a trend with many causes but one undeniable result: even as dance music’s global popularity booms like never before, London’s world-famous club scene is shrinking. The number of licensed clubs in Britain fell from 3,144 in 2005 to 1,733 in 2015 and the capital is far from immune. In a statement on Wednesday, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: Over the last eight years, London has lost 50 per cent of its nightclubs and 40 per cent of its live music venues. This decline must stop if London is to retain its status as a 24-hour city with a world-class nightlife. The timing is poignant for Khan, who has begun his term with the launch of the night tube and plans to appoint a night tzar to ensure London is a safe and thriving 24-hour city. The mayor has no power to overturn the ruling but has expressed his disappointment that thousands of people who enjoyed going to Fabric as an essential part of London’s nightlife will lose out. He should know. As a young man, he went to Fabric himself.
Anyone who has ever spent a memorable night at a club knows how important they are to the life of a city. A good club fosters community, solidarity, liberation and a sense of collective joy. It is a space where you might find your identity, meet new friends, fall in love or be inspired to make music yourself. Clubs are transformative places — the kind of benign melting pots that cities aspire to be.
Even those who have never stepped on to a sweaty dancefloor in their lives can appreciate what they give to a city. Clubs help to moribund areas: Shoreditch was a dead zone after dark before The Blue Note opened in 1993. They attract hordes of international visitors, so-called techno tourists. They give a city its night-time pulse. After the Brexit vote, London needs to reassert its cosmopolitan credentials, hence Khan’s slogan London Is Open, which makes the city’s growing intolerance towards club culture feel even more like an act of self-mutilation.
Landmark clubs are evidence of creativity and energy in a city, says Dave Haslam, author of Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs and Music Venues. They bring people from all parts of the country and all nations. It’s to do with the profile and credibility of a city. Britain is renowned for popular culture and nightlife. If the authorities close down clubs, then they’re threatening that credibility. This is like the main ship in the fleet being sunk. The other boats don’t necessarily go down but the loss of a landmark club is incalculable.
Alex Proud, owner of the Proud gallery and a member of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), is outraged by the Fabric decision. Losing assets like this is incredibly careless and deeply frustrating, he says. We keep doing this to ourselves and slowly but surely boring away at the foundations of what makes London a worldleading city. This is a dangerous road we’re going down.
When Fabric first opened its doors in a former meat storage facility in October 1999, it was a different era. The superclub bubble was bloated to bursting point. Fabric survived the dramatic post-millennium contraction that claimed behemoths including Liverpool’s Cream because it had the scale of a superclub but a connoisseur’s mentality, famed for its cutting-edge, bass-heavy sound system and forward-thinking lineups. Fabric was actually the antidote to superclubs, says Cameron Leslie, who co-founded the club with Keith Reilly. It’s always been an incubator and a platform for artists. We’ve never chased stars.
Fabric continued to thrive when many other beloved London clubs fell by the wayside, avoiding bankruptcy in 2010 and a threat to its licence in 2014. With West End clubs all but wiped out by Crossrail, residential developments and rent hikes, it was one of the few significant clubs left in zone one. When I grew up, you could go to amazing clubs in central London, says Benji B. My musical DNA was created by The End, Bagleys, the Velvet Rooms … I realise now I was incredibly spoilt because my generation had all of these options.
Now Fabric has joined that roll call of clubland’s fallen. The sudden, unnecessary loss of a commercially flourishing club is particularly painful when club promoters are fighting a war on several fronts. One is economic. Financial pressures such as rising rents and student debt make expensive clubs less attractive to people who can drink and dance more frugally at late-opening pubs and bars. The proliferation of festivals offers more bang for your buck and a less regulated environment.
Another threat is the cash-crazed development binge that is rendering parts of London unrecognisable. As the value of real estate rockets, the expiry of a club’s lease can spell the end. Fabric’s erstwhile Farringdon neighbour Turnmills, like Manchester’s late, lamented Hacienda, has been replaced by luxury flats, and some fear that Fabric’s site is destined for the some fate. Even a high-end development springing up close to a club can be dangerous, guaranteeing noise complaints from the new neighbours. Clubs have traditionally moved into underpopulated, derelict areas and created a sense of life, says Haslam. They’re often the pioneers who take the risk. If that area then becomes more appealing and ripe for exploitation, then big business moves in and the club becomes surplus to requirements.
As if the market weren’t treacherous enough, promoters are facing growing hostility from councils and the Metropolitan police if there is a whiff of trouble. The financial burden of satisfying the authorities is huge and growing. With every incident there’s a call for tighter regulation, says Ally Byers, the clubs editor of Mixmag. So clubs have to have more security, more counter measures, more reports, and all of this costs more money. In order for the club to function, prices go up and, as a result, young people go out less. I think clubs are in danger of being regulated out of existence.
Clubs that don’t comply face termination. 93 Feet East in Shoreditch was closed for five months in 2013 after a police raid, before winning its appeal against Tower Hamlets council. Plastic People, the Hackney home of dubstep mecca FWD>>, survived a threat of closure in 2010 on the basis of prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance before voluntarily shutting its doors five years later.
I think there has been a regulatory arms war where councils and police forces see what other councils and police forces do and think they’re not being strict enough, says Proud. The council was saying to Fabric: ‘Unless you tell us you’ll stop every single drug coming into your club then we’re closing you down.’ Using that philosophy, every single club in the UK would be closed down tonight. You’d cease to have any form of nightlife in Britain.
How, in 2016, can the obvious economic and cultural value of a flagship club be disregarded so readily?
Leslie believes Fabric has been unfairly scapegoated and doesn’t understand why, after so many years, the authorities have taken such a punitive line: It feels absolutely unjust. Until recently, the club had been widely admired for the professional way in which it handled 350,000 clubbers a year — the equivalent of two Glastonbury festivals — amounting to 6.7 million over the club’s lifetime. Of those, six have died on the premises. We all think of Fabric as the gold standard of how to run a club, says Proud. It was a wonderful environment.
Yet now the police are describing it as a safe haven for drug use where further drugs-related deaths will inevitably follow. The recent rhetoric is a throwback to the moral panics surrounding the first acid house boom in 1988 and the Criminal Justice Act in 1994. The subcommittee even briefly considered the dubious theory that faster rhythms encourage more drug-taking, echoing the Criminal Justice Act’s infamous reference to repetitive beats. How, in 2016, can the obvious economic and cultural value of a flagship club be disregarded so readily? Perhaps, in an age of austerity, policing nightclubs is considered too expensive and too complicated, and it is easier just to shut them down. They simply don’t know how to deal with the challenges of the night-time economy and see Fabric, myopically, as a crime generator, says Leslie. Their objective is: shut the club down and the crimes go away.
Of course, closing a club doesn’t reduce drug use; it simply disperses it. Last year, longrunning Glasgow club The Arches was forced into administration by the council’s draconian removal of its late licence, despite its commitment to body searches, strict security within the club and paramedics. Glaswegian clubbers have since turned to illegal parties with none of those measures. It is equally unlikely that Fabric’s closure will inspire anybody to eschew drugs for ever.
The hole that Fabric’s demise leaves in the clubbing landscape could conceivably be filled by a new club but there is little incentive to invest in one. Why sink millions of pounds into developing a new venue, knowing that it could be shut down by a single fatality or police raid? Even if you had deep pockets and a strong spine, it would be hard to find a viable space in the centre of town. A lot of people think maybe running a club in London is just too much trouble, says Proud.
Clubbers come to London specifically to do Ministry of Sound and Fabric. They are the equivalent of festival headliners
Does London still need big clubs? After all, it has excellent midsized venues such as XOYO, Egg or Corsica Studios, and venue hives including Shoreditch, which transforms into a hedonist’s playground after dark. But Byers argues that only big clubs can afford major international DJs and attract international crowds. In the same way people flock to Berlin to go to Berghain, a lot of clubbers come to London specifically to do Ministry of Sound and Fabric, he says. They are the equivalent of festival headliners. They’re burning beacons for the rest of the economy.
Now one beacon has been snuffed out. Fabric can legally appeal Islington council’s decision but it may not be able to afford to. Leslie estimates that Fabric has burned through £500,000 in the past month, due to legal costs and the toll of keeping its large staff on standby. We’ve got some very stark decisions to make, he says.
So yes, Fabric is just one London club but it has loomed larger for longer than any other apart from Ministry of Sound and its termination is seen by many as a symbol of a city that has lost its way — a city that understands the price of property but not the value of culture.
In a way it wasn’t unexpected, says Haslam. London isn’t owned and controlled by the people who live and work there. It’s almost like it has sold its soul to some offshore money corporation. This is the latest in a long line of escalating decisions about what kind of city London is, and it’s a city that has no room for a place like Fabric. Ten thousand luxury flats would never replace what has been lost.
News Source TheGuardianNews