Bye bye, fabric. We’ll miss you.
Another gone. Swept away. In a wave of moral panic. The latest gurgle. We partied since 1999 and now it’s at an end. At least for now. A week has gone by but it’s still agonisingly raw.
It seems pointless to restate the case that closing down a club will not stop people from taking drugs. That case has already been made firmly by the co-founder of fabric himself, Cameron Leslie.
It feels trite to reheat the arguments about science and drugs policy, considering the impact of all drugs across society, including alcohol and tobacco. These have long ago been served up by Professor David Nutt, among others.
There is no need to underline the opportunities we are losing in harm reduction. That has been shown in the work of The Loop, by fabric and more widely in Germany and the Netherlands.
There is though a need to highlight the tragedy of people dying, and of dying so young.
It is also necessary to declare the sadness of what fabric’s closing means for music generally, to dance music and club culture specifically, as well as to London as a city.
The number of DJs and musicians who voiced support for fabric to stay open — who said how important the club and its music labels had been to their development — is telling. For several decades, musicians and DJs from around the world have launched, accelerated and re-launched their careers from the city that was, for 17 years, fabric’s home. This is because London, with its many tribes, has managed to cradle a huge number of genres both within, and outside, dance. It has invented so many forms of music — from Jungle to Garage and Grime — as well as reinvigorated a swell of others — from Rock to Reggae.
As often happens with music, this vigour has usually been carried out in a spirit of defiance: if not always countering authority, at least being separate from it. Across the UK, we saw this sharply at the end of the 1980s with acid house. (There are so many echoes of that era to what has happened with fabric — not least, the references back then to the effects of the ‘repetitive beats’ to Islington’s Council’s suggestion last week that fabric might reduce the bpm in the music it played to discourage drug taking.)
A move by the political class to curb the rave culture spurred on by acid house culminated in the Criminal Justice Act of 1994. Roni Size speaking about the emergence of Jungle, relates that the end of raves forced by the Act pushed dance culture literally underground creating darker, more moody rhythms and melodies than acid house.
Why the moral panic? Read what local authorities say about club culture and an ambivalence, leaning towards the hostile, emerges. They breathlessly refer to the ‘thriving night time economy’ it offers but immediately after mark out the spectre of CRIME. There is an acknowledgement of the revenue, licence fees and rates clubs can bring but a suspicion of these businesses’ motives and the mores that accompany them. For years it has been remarked how limiting it is for such a global, internationalist city as London to shut down at night — it has often been easier to find coffee or eat a meal not wrapped in greasy paper in a provincial European town than in London. We must, the urge goes, have a 24 hour city.
The trend is however in the other direction. The Guardian in June last year detailed how local authorities’ licensing departments, together with the police, were regulating nightclubs to oblivion. The current Mayor of London who was against fabric shutting down and is keen to make the city more open, and stay open for 24 hours, acknowledges that ‘Over the last 8 years London has lost 50% of its nightclubs and 40% of its live music venues. This decline must stop.’
How will this stop, given the reasons cited for fabric’s closure and the precedent that has been set? 250 jobs have been wiped out at fabric, and thousands more in the industry more broadly over the past few years not through creative, but paranoid, destruction.
Leslie in his rebuttal of the argument against fabric asks the question of where London would like to go:
‘We could be bold, like Amsterdam and Berlin, which regard nightlife not as a social disorder issue but a tourist attraction or we could be like New York, where neoliberal policies have all but destroyed what was once the most musically innovative and vital club scene in the world.’
It’s a pertinent question to ask. Rudy Giuliani as part of a law and order stance in the 1990s, declared war on New York’s nightlife. With this position strengthened further by Michael Bloomberg, club culture in the city has never recovered:
‘The Giuliani administration dusted off the 1926 cabaret law — it came about as an attempt to stem dance floor miscegenation — in the ’90s to prohibit three or more people from dancing in unlicensed establishments.’
It should be underlined how this law was precisely conceived to prevent integration. It’s a disturbing thought, that a key hostility to clubs stems from the fear of different races and classes mixing. As the Guardian says:
‘They are where you learn about people who are different from you: they are a really important expression of diversity.’
For those of us who grew up with club culture, clubs were an outlet for integration. My friends and I never felt at ease in pubs. We weren’t into drinking, so we went to clubs. We liked dancing, so we went to clubs. We were racially diverse, so we went to clubs. We were into music, so we went to clubs. We didn’t have the slightest interest in Britpop — we were into Hip Hop, House, Garage, Jungle — so we went to clubs.
That culture of course is not always positive. It grates to see people come with the sole purpose of getting completely off their heads when you feel the music itself should transform. I’ve been asked for drugs at nearly every club I’ve been to. I’ve seen violence; witnessed, and been subject to, patent discrimination. I have had things stolen. Often, what made me most anxious about going clubbing was being shoved around by a bouncer, as they patrolled their square metre of empire, a legend in their own nighttime.
Yet we were comfortable there. As a young person it was not about feeling at home in clubs, it was about forging a sense of self beyond the home.
They are places of utter humanness — with displays of ugliness, excess as well as stupidity, yes, but they are also places of beauty, intelligence and intense creativity. Club culture always drives music on.
As Dorian Lynskey says:
‘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.’
Clubs close for various reasons. They are businesses, subject to financial needs, economic changes. The music they play must urge forward and elsewhere. The fashions that an individual club is associated with become worn. Young people, often their drivers, find new places of interest. Unfettered nostalgia for any culture is usually never a good thing — there are golden ages that never quite existed, nasty tendencies that have been forgotten. The scene, in short, always move on. Also, as Roni Size alluded to, the end of rave culture led to new forms of music and experiences of that music. Think, too, of the new music that emerged from the desolation of 1970s New York.
Fabric’s abrupt end feels different though. A strong force too quickly throttled amidst a club scene that is being irreversibly (and knowingly) damaged.
Dorian Lynskey again:
‘[fabric’s] 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.’
Despite the tag of being a super club, fabric has always been a champion of cutting edge music rather than a bland re-hasher of the mainstream. It pushed and experimented — the club, its labels, it represented and made concrete the possibilities of music as an attraction. Drawing in people from across the country and globe, it introduced thousands to — and reinforced the very notion of — club culture.
It was not my favourite. I was always drawn to the more intimate places. I miss FWD at Plastic People, with its heart slowing, pulsating bass. At Rhythm Factory, I am left forever with an image of DJ Storm plucking J.Majik and Wickaman’s Capoeira with such dexterity and energy. Herbal for Hospitality on a Friday, where you’d see High Contrast play with a geeky, encapsulating artistry; you’d be within spitting distance of SP:MC swallowed up in his long puffer jacket, riding the rhythm with an improbable ease, the crowd in full sweat. The End was my favourite. For Swerve. We’d get there early to listen to DJ Flight’s set — a real concert of the avant-garde. Sometimes, all you could do was stand there and clap. Logical Progression at Fabric though in 2005 with its procession of Fabio, Goldie, Conrad, and Bukem was one of the best nights out I have had.
In any of these places, when Logistics’ Together would drop, the crowd would whoop with joy. It was a feeling of optimism, intense and frightful happiness, delightful abandon — that ineffable tingling very few things other than music inside the womb of a club can give you. It was like peering into an unknown sun.
My favourite #fabricmoment was not in one of its main spaces. It was in the cloakroom. In the small hours, the attendant was going through the routine of picking up tickets, handing back coats while in between sleepily perching on a chair. She had a small stereo on the bar playing music to keep her company. She was listening to the Calibre remix of Global Love by High Contrast — one of the first times I’d heard it. Even from the squeaky stereo the tune sounded magnificent, other worldly. How could a usually forgotten part of a club offer something so inventive, so enchanting?
It may not have been my favourite, but I loved it. The place dripped music from every pore. It was a vital source.
Plastic People, Rhythm Factory, Herbal, The End — all gone. Now Fabric too. We’ll miss you.