As you might have heard by now, London nightclub fabric is poised to reopen. The club, which had its license revoked in September following the death of two young patrons in 2016, brokered a deal with the Islington council to reopen under a revised set of safety circumstances. The announcement was met initially with widespread relief across the dance music community, as its plight had become the symbol of a scene coming under attack from many angles, and for a period was being touted as a death knell for British club culture. But as the days rolled on, it seemed like public opinion was split on the terms of the deal, with many decrying this as a missed opportunity to start working towards pragmatic solutions to the scene’s drug problem.
“These new terms are sanitising not only Fabric, but the culture as a whole,” wrote one commenter on Resident Advisor. “It makes it out as if our culture is something to be ashamed of, when in actual fact it spreads happiness and love. This is a victory but, and sorry to be a downer, it is a hollow victory. It's a shame they didn't stand up to the authorities.” Others resonated that sentiment, with some wondering if dancing in the glaze of CCTV amongst undercover coppers is really the right vision of dance music’s future.
We have umm’d and ahh’d back and forth on the terms of the fabric ruling , writing and rewriting this article from several different perspectives since hearing the news. The outcome is neither wholly positive nor negative, and much of how you feel about it will largely depend on your preconceived expectations, and on whether you were prepared to make a martyr out of the venue and its staff for the good of club culture worldwide.
We Got What We Wanted
fabric staff [via Facebook]
The club is going to open again. We saved fabric. A lot of us genuinely believed that it was curtains for the club, and it’s clear that everyone involved was willing to accept the inevitable compromise in order save it.
Yes, you can lament that the good ol’ days might be over because you can’t ghost about Room 2 gurning, your eyeballs somersaulting in your skull, but that’s precisely that kind of behavior that got us here in the first place. After having two deaths in 2016, and being faced with a damning police report that suggested drug use was widespread and security was lax, being able to keep fabric at all is a huge victory.
There Will Be No Sniffer Dogs
Sniffer dogs have been shown to be extremely counterproductive with regards to drug safety [via YouTube]
In December 2014, Fabric was enduring its first onslaught from authorities, facing scrutiny for its allegedly lax security. The judge looking at their case suggested that sniffer dogs be utilized in order to combat drugs entering the premises. Of course, anyone with a fleeting acquaintance with sniffer dogs and the UK club scene’s appetite for swedgers knew that this would end up with punters frontloading their drugs and being worryingly fucked up inside the club.
Fabric appealed, and in December 2015 they had that ruling overturned. This time around, when the stakes were considerably higher and the club was facing permanent closure, sniffer dogs weren’t even on the menu. So that’s progress. Don’t lose sight of that. The Warehouse Project in Manchester has sniffer dogs on its doors every night—and, curiously, is among the most progressive when it comes to on-site pill testing—so even with the weight of its reputation and heightened scrutiny, fabric is not set to be unreasonably policed.
The Loop Have a Footing in London
Fiona Measham has been one of the loudest voices in the fight for harm reduction in dance music [via NPR]
One major positive elements is that Fiona Measham's harm reduction charity The Loop have managed to get a footing in London. The charity, which will provide drug safety training to fabric's staff, has been doing the bulk of its work regionally, with state-of-the-art pill testing at the Warehouse Project, Secret Garden Party and Parklife being some of their flagship initiatives.
In speaking to RA, Measham explained that regional police officers have been considerably more responsive to The Loop's harm reduction efforts than officers in the capital. "The further away they are from London, the more supportive they are" she said.
Mark Lawrence of the Association for Electronic Music believes that this could in fact be the start of London's adoption of harm reduction practices: "The embedding of The Loop into fabric is the opportunity for the venue to demonstrate platinum standard harm reduction practices and provide the foundation for testing in the club," he told Pulse. "[The Loop's] work with Warehouse Project andSecret Garden Party sets a standard which should become the norm in the UK. Without doubt their research and facilties have saved lives."
250+ People Have Kept Their Jobs
Some of the fabric staff [via fabric]
The fact that fabric is a major employer of not only DJs/managers/promoters/hangers on, but of about 250 staff has frequently been overlooked in this conversation. We’ve all been guilty of aggrandizing this battle far into the abstract, making a martyr out of fabric to put our culture’s battles into a grander context. But jobs and livelihoods were at risk as a result of this decision, and the fact that a business is allowed to remain open, staff can keep earning, and our culture can keep churning up-and-coming and established artists through a reputable business, is cause for celebration.
Turns Out It Wasn’t About Gentrification
The Museum of London was rumored to be relocating to fabric's turf, but they quickly released a statement denying it and offering support
Perhaps it’s our perpetual status as the subcultural mass, or the record levels of distrust in government, or the years of collective drug use are making us paranoid, but a lot of people in the scene believed that fabric's closure was really about property development. Rumblings around the panels at ADE were staunch in their assertion that this was a foregone conclusion, since the Museum of London was rumored to be moving into this space. It was dubbed “Operation Lenor” (geddit?), but it seems now to have been comprehensively debunked—unless of course there’s a basement fire before reopening night…
We Have a Seat At The Table
Sadiq Khan: Fuckin' loves fabric
Much like Mirik Milan (Amsterdam Night Mayor) and Lutz Leichsenring (Berlin Clubcommission) are actively involved in municipal politics, the enormous groundswell of support for fabric and the collective demand for protection for the nighttime industries has earned dance music a seat at the table with the UK government. London has just appointed Amy Lamé as it’s Night Tzar, the new mayor Sadiq Khan has put his neck out to show support for fabric and for nightlife in general, and RA reported that fabric will be part of the House of Lords select committee tasked with reviewing the Licensing Act 2003.
fabric Has Kept Its Late License
It’s a surprise that fabric’s late license wasn’t called into question, particularly considering how deaf the UK authorities have often been towards the public health and safety virtues of late and 24-hour licenses. But fabric will keep going late, and that’s a positive.
We Didn’t Fight in Court
There’s no doubt that a lengthy court battle would have been a strenuous and expensive affair, and would have delayed reinstating the jobs of those 250 people indefinitely, but we had an opportunity to stand up to the authorities and present a robust case for new methods of drug safety.
Every major British (and many major international)n news outlet covered fabric’s closure in September, and the collective force of 160,000 people signing a petition, engaging in debate and carefully scrutinizing the Islington council, the police and the city of London was unprecedented. If we had fought—and we don’t for a second begrudge the fabric team for settling out of court, considering the circumstances—we could have kickstarted a major public conversation about drug safety in the UK and beyond.
The Changes Are Likely To Be Met With Scrutiny
There are those out there that are sharpening their pitchforks in preparation for the club reopening, ready to insist that it’s “lost it”. They’ll get agro online about the touchy bouncers, and they’ll complain that their eighteen year old cousin can’t get in, or that the CCTV makes it feels like they’re raving in Oceania.
People will complain regardless of the changes made, but judging by the outcry online already, you can see that many have already made up their minds that fabric 2.0 is not as good as the old model.
Our Culture is Still Presented in the Mainstream Media As “Druggy”
The positive aspects of us having our collective voices heard by the mainstream media and the governing bodies are obvious, but the main drawback is that we’re in the spotlight because of drugs again. The ecstasy-related deaths of two young people in 2016 put fabric’s future in jeopardy, and while we rallied around saving the club for cultural reasons and at times made this argument about gentrification, we were in that situation because of our scene’s drug problem.
This is a positive outcome, with some negative elements.
The #savefabric campaign saw over 160,000 people sign the change.org petition, and raise a total of £328,509 from donations to go towards legal fees, which will be funneled back into the industry via “worthy causes”. This cause was unprecedented in the way that it brought the global dance scene together, and the momentum and awareness that we have built is already being felt in adjacent battles, such as the revising of UK licensing laws, solidarity in the nightlife economy, and the early rumblings of a major recreational drug conversation.
"Its important to step back from the decision a little," Mark Lawrence told Pulse in response to the polarized opinions in clubland. "One: fabric is open again, which is what we wanted, and two; any conclusion that the clubbing experience will be diminished should wait until after people have been through the doors on its re-opening night and had first hand experience.
"We also need to remember that right now, dealing and possession of drugs such as MDMA are illegal, so those that are arguing vocally that this is a missed opportunity for a pubic debate on drugs policy should invest their energy into continuing the broader political debate and perhaps seek to lobby for some of fabric's campaign income to be set aside for just that purpose."
Look, if you’re going to pick a battle, there are plenty to choose from. Demand that data and evidence start being acknowledged in conversations about drug legislation and public safety. Demand that education, free water and accurate pill testing become the standard harm reduction practices of dance music and festival culture. In the US, you can support amending the R.A.V.E. Act and transforming the culture of drug safety at US festivals and raves.
There are plenty of wars going on in clubland that need your support. And fabric was one of them. And we won. We wanted to #SaveFabric, and we have. As an industry we have learned a lot about our collective power, and we hope that it can be harnessed this effectively in key battles going forward.