By Tristan Cross
09 Sep 2016
Tuesday night, Wednesday morning. Music stops, house lights go up and revellers are merrily ejected into taxis home as nights out across the city draw to their natural, collective conclusions. The clean-up will start soon, as the premises ready themselves for tomorrow, when the nights out will begin all over again. Elsewhere, one of the city’s most beloved and enduring nights out is being forcibly closed for good.
Islington Council’s decision to revoke the iconic London superclub Fabric’s licence, forcing its permanent closure, has been framed as a concerned, preventative act for the collective good of the community it serves. It’s a decision, we’re told, which has been made on the specific basis of the club’s failure to control its individual drug problem. It’s a decision which must be seen for what it really is: endemic of a calculated and sustained attack on London’s nightlife, and by extension, its youth.
I could tell you about my time spent at Fabric, but to do so would be to tell you anecdotes you know already – from hearing them a thousand times before, or living them yourself. The palpable excitement in the queue, the giddy dancing inside, the sense of belonging, communal elation and catharsis, nothing else mattering for a few precious stolen hours.
These are, of course, things that happen on any given night in any given club, but what seems important is that Fabric was a space where they could happen, and now it’s gone. It is important to note the aspects of Fabric which elevated it above the ordinary, which made it special: the sprawling, inviting labyrinthine layout; the superior soundsystems that had been actually considered for the space (an increasing rarity in London); the vibrating bass floor; the ability to book a pedigree of genuinely world class DJ; its importance and influence on electronic music; the fact that you didn’t have to be from London to know about it; the fact that clubbers would make the pilgrimage from overseas for just one night of its pleasure. It was seemingly too big, too beloved, too good to go down. And now it’s gone.
The flurry of club closures means there’s been a lot of reminiscence in recent times. Clubbers now exchange fond memories with the grim regularity of elderly mourners attending an ever-increasing number of wakes. In this analogy, there is at least a sense of the inevitable conclusion of things as they reach their natural expiry, whereas in the case of London’s venues, it feels decidedly premature and deliberately accelerated.
To suggest drug culture is a problem exclusive to and solely perpetuated by Fabric would be utterly naïve at best and wilfully disingenuous at worst. Shutting Fabric will make as much difference to eradicating drug culture as banning urinals will stop people pissing. There are plenty of other places to take drugs if you are so inclined, and most of them are a great deal more dangerous and less regulated than in a nightclub with a team of specifically-trained staff on hand.
I had some drugs I was going to take on Sat at Fabric, but now it is closed so I will throw them down the toilet and never take drugs again— Jon Hopkins (@Jon_Hopkins_) September 7, 2016
As many have pointed out, if we were to extend the precedent of closing premises on the basis of drug-related deaths, numerous luxury hotels would go out of business, entire music festivals would be cancelled and you could pretty much bulldoze most of West London’s private members’ clubs tomorrow. Fabric’s was less a closure based on ‘drug culture’ and more on the culture of the people taking drugs within it.
Beyond the outpouring of genuine grief from patrons past and present, the reactions to Fabric’s demise have ranged from a rueful sigh and a “hey, what are you gonna do?” shrug; to complete indifference from those who never went because it “wasn’t for them” or who went once and “hated it”; to barely-concealed glee from those who saw it as a hotbed of undignified debauchery, of drugs, dance music and death, indulged in by the sort of people they have no interest in and certainly don’t approve of.
Indifference to clubs and gig venues shutting down is understandable in some respects. If you have no interest in the events being put on at them or otherwise find the spaces oppressive and unpleasant – loud, claustrophobic, anxiety-inducing rooms full of stench, sweat, drunks, drug-takers and gropers – then it’s probably hard to muster the energy to care one way or another. But the prospect of having a quiet night in with pizza, panel shows and FIFA every weekend is every bit as hellish to many as the thought of being thrust into XOYO and plied with Jaegerbombs might be to you. The difference being that your Netflix subscription isn’t being compromised by overzealous councils and the police.
“ People scoff at the Fabric regular - bulging biceps, armfuls of Sambuca ”
To many, the news that Fabric has closed might be as inconsequential as discovering a show they hated has been cancelled. They didn’t like it, so it doesn’t matter, and the people that liked it don’t matter. They scoff at their perceived image of the average Fabric clientele: the dreaded Lad, all bulging biceps and armfuls of Sambuca, fresh off the plane form Kavos and on a never-ending stag do, barging his way across the dancefloor hollering at his mates and gyrating at you in a most unsavoury of ways. They are the heir-apparent to the ridiculed and reviled ‘chav’, the new group drawn from low-income backgrounds that it’s socially acceptable to sneer at, rather than having to admit you just disapprove of the poor who don’t make an effort to disguise their socio-economic status.
Not only is this image of the typical patron false – Fabric drew crowds far wider than one given scene, from the shorts-and-trainers clad have-a-go heroes determined just to have a great night to the dour-faced EDM heads and their meticulously-selected outfits and studiously-observed versions of dancing – but it shouldn’t matter, even if it did happen to be true. Regardless of your thoughts of the club and whether you would have ever gone yourself, it’s important that these places exist to serve the people that do. A city’s ability to maintain a healthy culture is dependent on catering to the diverse needs of its inhabitants. It needs superclubs every bit as much as it needs metal bars, indie nights and chart-and-cheese pop nights, or else it risks pointedly excluding entire sections of society. You also need other stuff for when you inevitably get bored of the stuff you usually go to. Without it, nightlife – and with it, culture – quickly stagnates and regresses.
Still, the forced closure of an institution as big as Fabric goes beyond subjective personal taste. If the response to the threat of closure – a 150,000 signature strong petition, the vocal support of countless celebrities and the pledged opposition of Sadiq Khan, the actual Mayor of London – were all in vain, what hope do smaller venues have if the ire of the police and the council suddenly turns on them? Alex Proud, the owner of Proud Camden, gives the grim prophecy:
“Once the police have the ability to close a club that is well-run on those sorts of grounds, every club in London has to think it could be closed tomorrow.”
For a long time, the history of music was mostly people having their heads blown after a life-changing encounter with a revelatory live show, a DJ set, a club night, becoming so excited they had to try their own hand at it and, in doing so, becoming life-changing to someone else. Craig Richards at Fabric, The Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, David Bowie anywhere. The permutations of inspiration saw constant innovations in genre and style, each requiring their own specific spaces to be experienced best: from tiny punk clubs to expansive superclubs. Now, the only venues impervious to being extinguished like exposed candles are stadiums and purpose-built arenas. As a result, live music is increasingly the preserve of the elite number of acts able to fill the 02 Academy at around £100 a pop, stifling new talent, new genres and new subcultures in the process. Going out becomes a rare treat, with music consumed and experienced mostly through cheap headphones and tinny laptop speakers.
The cultural impact goes beyond just music: these venues influence art, fashion, creative ideas and people. How many trends can be traced back to a performer, a scene, a dancefloor? The chance to encounter something or someone you’ve never seen before, in spaces built specifically to allow for expression is rare and must be protected. The importance of these formative experiences in the shaping of the self, to understanding who you are, cannot be understated. These are the opportunities that have been afforded almost every generation stretching as far back as the 1920s, and now these are the opportunities that are being snatched from young people by their contemptuous elders.
Should Fabric fail in its appeal to reopen, the building now becomes prime real estate to be developed. Manchester’s Hacienda and Glasgow’s The Arches have both fallen in similar circumstances, paving the way for a block of luxury flats and a nearby luxury hotel to be built in and down the road from the clubs’ respective locations, even cashing in on the history of the places they had consigned to the past. Any future development in Fabric’s EC1 Farringdon location will almost certainly not be what could be even close to what is considered ‘affordable housing’, and it is undoubtedly far easier to sell properties in the vicinity without the caveat that there is one of the UK’s most-visited nightlife destinations right on your doorstep.
There is something of a grim irony in the fact that a neighbourhood’s real estate is made infinitely more desirable according to its cultural capital, as gauged by the perceived popularity of its nightlife among the city’s youth. Once an area becomes vogue, the residents that move in are never those it’s been geared towards or who could sustain its reputation. The young, with their spiralling student debt and meagre starting salaries, barely expect to own a property in their lifetime, let alone outbid the older, more affluent thirty-to-forty-somethings that immediately snap up property in these areas as soon as they accrue any sort of status, all eager to grab a slice of delicious cultural capital, clinging to notions of relevance as their age betrays them.
Upon moving in, of course, they soon realise they aren’t actually that young anymore, that they don’t actually want to stay up that late, that they don’t actually like going out in the way these kids do, and that actually, they don’t want to endure any of the noise disturbance, police presence, drunken incidents and tanked-up partygoers that living in such a place entails. After benefiting from their area’s standing, they quickly seek to shut down the nightspots which had added zeroes to their portfolios. You only have to look at the alarming number of venues in Shoreditch, Dalston, Brixton and Hackney which have been rapidly forced into closure in the wake of their regeneration and gentrification to see how ruthlessly an area is ransacked and annexed into soullessness.
Those hit hardest by venue closures are first and foremost those whose incomes are reliant on them. Fabric employed over 250 people – bar staff, bouncers, cleaners, promoters, DJs and more – who have all lost their livelihoods. Lamenting the club’s loss to the clubbing culture is one thing, because it is a travesty, but it is nothing short of disgraceful that a council would make a financially-led decision that would put so many people out of work in one fell swoop.
Even beyond those immediately affected, closing a venue such as Fabric has a massively detrimental impact on the night-time economy surrounding it. The nearby bars and pubs providing pre-drinks, the kebab shops and off licenses which lay on much needed post-munch and the taxi ranks which ferry people home all suffer immensely when the focal point for an area’s nightlife is boarded up.
Once an area’s new residents do away with all the seedy haunts that had caused hordes of ghastly immature youths to flock to it, they quickly replace them with far more tasteful gastropubs, concept bars and pop-up cities. Places that do things ‘properly.’ Proper beer, proper burgers and proper fun. For proper people.
“ London’s nightlife is now aimed at those who enjoy sipping craft lager on rooftops decorated like Victorian sweetshops ”
In this way, London’s nightlife is no longer being aimed at its youth, but skewed towards the older, wealthier punter. Even if you enjoy sipping a warm £6 bottle of craft lager on a rooftop decorated like a Victorian sweetshop, or else paying £3 to enter a warehouse of burger vans where you have to spend a further tenner for the privilege a eating a hotdog ‘slider’ next to a flaming bin, they aren’t so much a ‘night out’ as a daytime, weekend activity that’s been transplanted into the evening.
These places will still draw young crowds (mainly because there’s not much else to do), but how many can afford to go week-on-week to something which is essentially just the pre-amble to a night out? When they close around midnight, there will be members clubs and house parties for those who can afford to live nearby (or know the sort of people that do). As clubs vanish, the few that remain become more expensive, and the young person with a near-maxed-out overdraft has nowhere to go. They shuffle back to rented rooms in faraway zones, where – if they’re lucky – they can share a few cans squeezed into a cupboard-sized kitchen before calling it a night.
Such a dearth in nightlife would normally see an exodus of a city’s youth to the brighter lights of another. The grim reality of the UK is that so much investment and so many industries are concentrated within the capital that it’s often not quite as simple as deciding to move somewhere else. It does benefit your career to be in London, and your cheap labour benefits companies who need you to do the work they don’t want to, but the trade-off is that you have to accept a social life that’s geared towards people who earn more than you.
Nightlife is important for obvious escapist reasons. Life has many crushing rhythms and routines. For the majority of London’s young workforce – with rents rising far more quickly than their meagre wages – it can be particularly galling. You wake up in order to go to work in order to afford to your single bed in order to have somewhere to sleep in order to wake up and repeat the process all over again. Nights out offer light at the end of the tunnel, sanctity and temporary reprieve from the drudgery of the working week, something to look forward to that makes it all worth it, a chance to actually enjoy yourself.
Nights out are the chance to meet likeminded people, to forge friendships and become part of a community, to meet fleeting lovers and long-term partners. The more these places cease to exist, the smaller people’s social circles become limited to their colleagues and those they grew up with. There is much head-scratching at the inexorable rise of dating apps among the youth, but it seems a natural response to the decline in opportunities to meet people elsewhere.
London is a relentless city, with a housing crisis that’s pushing people further and further out and requiring them to work longer and harder to afford to be there. This can make maintaining relationships extremely difficult. You seem to see people, but never for long enough. Conflicting schedules and punishing distances between you bring several hour-long round trips just to share a drink or two with a pal you haven’t seen in months, before realising it’s pretty late, you’re both exhausted and you probably ought to be heading off and anyway it’s last orders so you’ve no choice. It can be a completely insufficient, lonely way to live. Club nights and gigs require minimal organising and offer places to congregate with large groups of mates, none wanting to miss out on spending the evening together, nobody particularly bothered about the location because they won’t be going home any time soon.
It’s a dire situation when you have a whole section of a city’s workforce whose options for entertainment are gradually limited to staying in, watching iPlayer and listlessly swiping their way through. The strangling of outlets for young people will surely have a massively detrimental effect on morale. London will become an ever more oppressive environment, a place where the potential for something exciting to happen seems improbable if not impossible, a city you need to be in that doesn’t need you and increasingly doesn’t want you. It’s a despairing, depleting thing be made so explicitly aware of exactly how incidental your existence is to the place in which you live.
The closure of Fabric is so much more than just the sad, isolated loss of a beloved nightclub. It affects all venues, it affects businesses, it affects music, it affects fashion, it affects culture, it affects the young and it affects mental health. It is one of the biggest attacks and most vindictive assaults on Britain’s youth culture since the punitive Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 which sought to eradicate raves and free parties. It needs to be fought.
Fabric is launching an appeal against Islington Council. It’s backed by the Night Time Industries Association’s Fund For Fabric campaign and aim to raise £500,000 to aid the legal fees. There is an official #savefabric hashtag and a petition which has already racked up over 150,000 signatures.
If the campaign is successful and Fabric opens its doors again, it will send a defiant message that London isn’t just a playground for the elite, that its landscape mustn’t be determined by unscrupulous housing developers and its culture dictated by the whims of the rich. It’s a city with a genuinely remarkable history of creativity and inclusivity, where there could be a dozen wildly-different-but-equally-brilliant things happening on the same night and you wanted to go to all of them. And it needs to stay that way.
And if the campaign is successful and Fabric does open its doors again, you have to go. It’s really fucking great.