Fabric is one of the most well-run nightclubs in the world -- yet it is now under threat of permanent closure. The future of Fabric, probably the UK's most culturally important club too, will be decided by an Islington Council licence committee meeting on Tuesday 6th September.
The meeting will hear a few of the many deputations that have been made in support of the venue, as well as some words by police and local council officers as to why it should be -- potentially -- shut down for good. It's likely to be a nail-biting affair. It is vital for the UK's music industry, however, that Fabric is allowed to continue operating.
Pete Tong MBE, Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim), Carl Cox, the Chemical Brothers, Annie Mac, Sasha, DJ Goldie MBE, Andy C and BBC Radio 1's B.Traits are just a few of the famous DJs who have come out in support of Fabric. Most of these DJs scarcely play at the club themselves -- it's not a self-interest thing. They recognise the important contribution Fabric has made to the UK music scene, helping to nurture underground electronic dance music styles and reward innovation and excellence.
It's no accident that the UK electronic music scene is so innovative. The Croydon-born dubstep sound was largely incubated in Fabric in the middle of the last decade -- the award-winning Clerkenwell club gave it a high-profile home that provided the foundations for it to go global. Grime has had a resurgence in the past couple of years, partially thanks to Fabric booking grime acts. Similarly, drum & bass has had a permanent home at Fabric since its inception -- it's no accident that the sound is now in ruder health than ever, with its own festivals and chart hits as well as a vibrant underground scene. Fabric has also given support to underground styles such as techno and breakbeat, and given early bookings to many of the international DJ/producer stars of tomorrow.
The DJs at Fabric don't play the latest chart hits. Fabric's booking policy ensures that it is only the most pioneering spinners -- DJs who seamlessly blend tracks together as if it's an artform, those playing new emerging styles, utilising the latest new technology, remixing tracks on the fly -- who play at the club. Its army of regular clubbers -- more than six million have passed through its doors since it opened -- appreciate its cutting-edge nature, and electronic music lovers come from far and wide to experience the most futuristic music in its cavernous environs. Well over 100,000 people have signed the Save Fabric petition, and all the principal London music venues have come out in support of the former meat storage unit opposite Smithfield Market -- even the Royal Albert Hall!
Since Fabric opened in 1999, there have been six accidental deaths -- including two in recent months. Yet to put this statistic into perspective, as an internet meme that has been doing the rounds these last few days points out, during the same time-period 108 people have died while being held in custody by the Metropolitan Police. The deaths at Fabric due to drug use are tragic, of course, but can't be blamed on the club as it does everything it can to stop drugs being smuggled into the venue. Its door searches are among the most stringent in the UK. If drugs make it through UK border controls and into prisons, you can't blame a UK nightclub when determined young people sneak drugs into a venue -- or consume them before they even enter.
Harm minimisation is the policy used by the authorities in cities such as Berlin and Amsterdam, which have strong clubbing communities. This accepts as its number one premise that young people are always going to experiment with drugs, no matter what the authorities try to say or do. Given this fact, providing information in order that they do so safely has literally saved lots of lives.
Even America, the country that first began waging the War On Drugs, has been going down the harm minimisation route recently. But in the UK, there are barriers to this enlightened practice. The 1997 Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Act, first brought to Parliament as a Private Members Bill by Tory MP Barry Legg, allowed local authorities -- acting on the advice of local police -- to be able to revoke the licences of clubs with "a drugs problem". This loose, potentially catch-all definition has tied the hands of venue owners and promoters -- providing information about safer drug use on the premises, or even having a chill-out room or free drinking water, could in theory be used by authorities as evidence that drug-taking is occurring on the premises. Indeed, Fabric's own anti-drugs strategies appear to be being used against them during the licence investigation.
More than half of the UK's nightclubs have shut in the past decade. Government cuts to police funding has led to somewhat of a sea-change in attitudes towards some night-time establishments. Never mind the importance to a city of a night-time economy (as the Night-Time Industries Association has repeatedly pointed out). To some stretched police forces another call-out to a nightclub -- where a mobile phone has been stolen, or whatever -- is another inconvenience. Systematically shutting down night-time establishments isn't going to solve late-night call-outs, however, incidents are merely going to occur elsewhere.
The police have been conducting their own investigation into Fabric in recent weeks -- somewhat tritely named Operation Lenor (geddit?). Leaked papers show some rather cack-handed ways of talking about the issues, and bizarre recommendations such as "light colour finishes on walls and ceilings should be used" show little understanding of the appeal of nightclubs. But it is the police's recommendations that are going to be given huge sway at the council meeting on Tuesday, despite the fact that co-founder Cameron Leslie has promised a new 'gold standard' for safe clubbing if Fabric is allowed to re-open -- over and above the measures Fabric has already pioneered.
Despite his public statements in support of Fabric, new London Mayor Sadiq Khan doesn't have a direct say on the future of the club. The Mayor has made all the right noises, and his imminent appointment of a Night Tsar -- similar to posts held by officials in Amsterdam and Berlin, which have buzzing night-time economies -- is to be welcomed. But what is the point of having a Night Tsar, or a night tube for that matter, if there are fewer and fewer places to go after midnight?
Islington MP Emily Thornberry has also urged Islington Council to keep Fabric open. "Fabric has huge cultural significance to an entire generation -- a generation too often ignored and overlooked by politicians and policy makers," she wrote in a letter to the council. "We must guard against the assumption that dangerous drug use would cease simply if we were to close a nightclub like Fabric."
Thornberry went on in her letter to cite the venue's stringent anti-drug, and safety policies, including the on-site medics, large security force and drug-seizure system. "Given this drug seizure programme was apparently developed in conjunction with the police, it is all the more shocking to discover that the logs of these confiscated drugs are now to be used as evidence against Fabric at the licensing committee," she continued.
London attracts visitors from all around the world for its tourist sites, West End shows and assorted musical offerings. A few months ago this included an elderly Polish couple, Wladyslaw Nykiel (82) and his wife Stanislaw Zapasnik (79), who danced until dawn at Fabric and said their trip was "like a dream come true". Welcomed with open arms by the club staff and clubbers on the night, the story of their visit to Fabric went viral. "I can't find words to describe those wonderful memories that will last till the end of our lives," said Mr Nykiel afterwards. "I have been dreaming about this for eight years -- to see and hear music at Fabric."
Needless to say, this Polish couple have joined the campaign to save what DJ Sasha has called "the jewel in the crown" of UK nightlife. Just seven months ago, a judge referred to Fabric as "a beacon of best practice". Indeed, Islington Council themselves have been referring new venues to Fabric in the last year as a great example of how to run clubs as safely as possible.
Closing Fabric could be the beginning of the end for clubbing in London. 250 jobs are at stake, apart from anything else. Yet one of the UK's main exports is music -- and Fabric is at the heart of the country's thriving electronic music scene. It must be allowed to re-open.