Tuesday, September 6, 2016, will go down in history as a landmark day for nightlife in the UK and beyond. The events that took place in the early hours of this morning will likely have a huge knock on effect for all of us with any level of investment whatsoever in the idea that clubs and live music venues are of utmost importance. Fabric, the most famous club in post-Hacienda Britain is closing and there's nothing we can do about it.
By now you'll have read the statement released by Islington borough council and marveled at how in two flat, disaffected, cold pages of PDF, an entire way of being, an entire means of living, has been reduced to bureaucratic rubble.
By now, you'll also know why the council decided to take fabric to task. Two, tragic, and potentially avoidable drug-related deaths within a short span of time in the same premises is, of course, cause for grave concern. A detailed examination of what lead to those deaths and what could have been done to prevent further incidents of that kind was completely necessary. No one's saying that fabric—or any nightclub in the world, for that matter—should be impervious to scrutiny following fatalities, but we have to place them in a broader context. And that context is what nightclubs are and what nightclubbing is.
Before we explore exactly what the closure means for nightlife in London and throughout the UK, it makes sense to investigate that flat, toneless council statement a bit further. The council's main issue with fabric was the availability of drugs inside the club, and the inadequate searching of those bringing them in. It has been proposed that this inadequate searching is what led to the recent deaths. So far, so legalease, so ignoring the fact that a systematic lack of decent drug education in this country is more of a problem than any nightclub could ever be.
Things get interesting when the statement—an incredibly slimmed down version of the lengthy and detail-packed hearing which took place yesterday evening—gets to grips with the reality of the drug-taking revelers who filled the Farringdon venue weekend after weekend. While we know that Sadiq Khan has been to the club in a recreational capacity, we can't vouch for anyone on the Islington licensing sub-committee, which might go some way to explaining this scene painted in the statement:
Staff intervention and security was grossly inadequate in light of the overwhelming evidence that it was abundantly obvious that patrons in the club were on drugs and manifesting symptoms showing that they were. This included sweating, glazed red eyes and staring into space and people asking for help.
This is, in its own staid way, just a step away from Bernard Manning and the rest of the celeb-dupes who happily rambled on about Cake and Clarky Cat on Brass Eye. If it wasn't so depressing, it would offer a fascinating insight into how official documentation—that is documentation which purports to representing some kind of complete objectivity about a specific situation—slips in parodic territory. These sweaty ravers, desperately screaming for help, their glazed eyes red and staring, are the same figures who pop up in the kind of drug educational tools that, ironically, we're so lacking.
The statement is ruthless in its efficiency. A cultural institution—that as Angus Harrison rightly pointed out here on THUMP last week is as valuable to London as the BFI or the National Theatre—has been robbed of us by yet another London council implicitly deciding what's best for us. And, yep, you guessed it, what's best for us is probably another batch of identikit apartments that overlook a parade of Prets and chain-pubs. Here's how it, and thus fabric itself, ends—with the council's final verdict:
The Licensing Sub-Committee found that the crime prevention objective is being undermined. A previous review of the licence took place less than 2 years ago following deaths at the premises. The problems that manifested themselves at that review have not been addressed adequately resulting in further tragedy and crime.
The Sub-Committee decided that revocation of the licence is both appropriate and proportionate in light of all the circumstances.
The interim steps remain in place pending any final determination of any appeal.
And that's that. Somewhere in the gap between those three paragraphs we lost one of the most important venues in the country, forever.
The reason that fabric's closing is so important, so central to the narrative of nightlife from hereon in, is simple: this is a warning to anyone who thinks that club culture is an important part of what it means to live in a city. Fabric has, somewhat conveniently, been painted by a sub-committee as a kind of nefarious den of inequity stuffed to the gills with shambling, stumbling teenagers who've filled their boots—literally—with MDMA, while security and staff turn a blind eye. We know that in fabric's case this isn't true. We know that 80 suspected drug dealers were arrested on the premises with just one prosecution being made. We know that the club have complied with the police time and time again in an attempt to ensure that it's as safe a space as it's possible to be.
We also know that London is changing at an alarmingly rapid pace, and an overwhelmingly large part of that change is that more and more communal sites of cultural and social worship are being bulldozed in favor of luxury housing. It's an obvious point, and one that possibly strays into the Gentrification Means Microbreweries and Cupcakes territory in terms of incredibly complex issues being reduced to something snappier and easier to swallow, but it's pertinent nonetheless. Give it two years and the site on Charterhouse Street will be either a Tesco Metro or a beyond-bland flat owned by the parents of a 22 year old prick called Toby.
This social sanitization isn't London specific. Spend time in Manchester, or Leeds, or Bristol, and you'll see the Londonification of the entire country taking shape before your very eyes. And the councils and police forces in those cities will look at this landmark decision made by the select few in a room in Islington, and they'll think that if they got away with closing fabric—one of the most celebrated nightclubs in the entire world—under relatively spurious terms, then anything is possible.
And that is an incredibly worrying prospect for any of us who understand just how special and important and vital and integral nightclubs are to life.
That said, the worst possible outcome, worse than the closure of any single club, would be admitting defeat. The support for fabric was unbelievably vocal, and exceptionally high-profile. A petition to save the club accrued well over 100,000 signatures—yet this still wasn't enough. So what do we do? We try harder, shout louder, and equip ourselves for a serious struggle. Protests and lobbying might sound like extreme responses to venues closing, but social and cultural cleansing needs to be fought as systematically as it is being executed. Rather than falling apart, we need to be more organized and better mobilized than ever before to stop our cities from disappearing in front of our eyes.