Closing Fabric Would be the Biggest Fuck You to UK Nightlife Since the 1994 Public Order Act

Whether or not you care about fabric itself, the symbolic cost of closing its doors for good would be catastrophic.

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31 August 2016, 10:33am

This article appeared originally on THUMP UK.

By now you'll have heard that London clubbing institution fabric is in danger. Following two drug related deaths in recent months, Islington Council have elected to review the club's license. The club has survived this sort of scrutiny before—last year it won an appeal against the council's attempt to impose sniffer dogs and ID scanners on the club's security—but this time around things feel more serious. The two most recent fatalities have seen the tally rise to six deaths since 2011, and have put fabric's drug policy under investigation again, alarmingly soon after their last narrow escape.

Put simply, the pressure on fabric is far greater than it's ever been, and the chances of appeals proving favourable twice in the space of a year are far slimmer.

That said, the call to save fabric has proven loud enough to match the pressure. A petition started by WetYourself resident Jacob Husley has already reached close to 95,000 signatures, approaching the 150,000 target currently set on change.org. Not only that, but the petition is has received vocal support from some of dance music's biggest figures. In fact it's probably easier to list DJs and producers who haven't come out in support of the venue. From Seth Troxler to Carl Craig, XOYO to Space Ibiza, Emily Eavis to Lauren Laverne, the entire music world has made itself heard.

Much of the energy and campaigning has been directed at London's new(ish) mayor Sadiq Khan. While this might appear a bit misguided—Khan won't actually have any practical influence over the eventual decision—his platform is undeniably huge and his support an important seal of approval. Khan has responded a couple of times now and seems genuinely receptive to the concept of protecting the club. In response to a slew of tweets and pleas from DJs, Khan responded on Twitter saying "I'm urging #Fabric, the Met & Islington to find an approach that protects clubbers' safety & the future of the club." Then, following the increasing success of the petition, he released a longer statement in further support, adding his commitment to recruiting a Night Czar. However he made a point of concluding that "There have been two tragic deaths at Fabric over recent months and there are clearly issues that need addressing."

Khan's statement touches on some of the uncomfortable questions around the campaign. It doesn't make you any less of a nightlife devotee to notice that two people have died, and Khan is absolutely right to pick up on this as central to the conversation surrounding the club and its potential closure. As much as we value our "fabric moments" we can't ignore the fact that substance misuse has led to two deaths. Of course it isn't exclusively fabric's fault—in fact it's almost exclusively the fault of the UK's deeply flawed drug legislation—but we can't expect incidents like these to occur unquestioned. It might sound negative, but people without a stake in club culture may struggle to see the inherent value of one particular nightclub when there have been fatalities. If we're going to save fabric, we may have to do more than recall the good times, and actually prove to people why nightlife itself is worth protecting, and proving how it can be made safer.

So, why does fabric matter so much? Beyond the great nights out people have had there, why is it so important? The answer's simple.

Whether or not you care about fabric itself, whether or not you've even been, the symbolic cost of closing its doors for good would be catastrophic. Put it this way; fabric isn't just considered one of the London's best clubs, it's not just "a great night out". No, fabric represents so much more than that. It is the most famous, celebrated club in the UK and its reputation extends to that as one of the most recognisable clubbing brands in the world. Whether you like it there, prefer a basement in Manchester, or a superclub in Cardiff, the Farringdon venue is arguably the face of British club culture. Whatever happens to fabric will send a powerful and definitive message out to world as to the value of youth culture in this country.

In this sense we should be under no illusion; closing fabric would be the strongest political statement against the idea of club culture and dance music since the 1994 Public Order Act. In fact, it would arguably be stronger. At least the anti-rave legislation said "you can't party like that"—closing fabric would be saying "you can't party at all."

Would local authorities allow the BFI to close? The National Theatre? The Albert Hall? No. Of course, all of those institutions are far less likely to play host to drug-related incidents—however messy the Song of Praise Big Sing gets—yet the point is they are also considered valuable in terms far exceeding their annual turnover. They are cultural landmarks, preserved and protected as they represent a corner of the British identity. It's long been the case, but the greatest battle against club closures in the UK is an ideological one. Presenting the case that clubbing isn't just a means of getting wasted, but instead a creative pursuit and a legitimate facet of the nation's artistic economy.

Of course, part of this has to come from fabric and will rely on how prepared they are to work with the Metropolitan Police and Islington Council; but make no mistake, this is a watershed moment for the licensing board more than anyone. If the authorities decide to make an example of fabric, refuse to work with them towards harm reduction and instead make business for the club impossible, then the message is clear: nightclubs have no place in 21st century Britain. For if fabric isn't worth protecting, literally the first club you'd likely say if asked to name a night out in the UK, then where is?

Disconcertingly, a police dossier relayed by the Islington Gazette suggests that the authority's response is proving less than measured. The report, recently filed by Sgt Aaron Barnes, includes spurious and badly sourced claims, such as a vague estimation that 80% of the club "appeared to be under the influence of drugs" based on little more than eye-witness accounts. The report also accuses fabric's security of passing confiscated drugs onto "friends inside the club"—again without any evidence. This report naturally raises concerns, if the police are already this willing to publicly disseminate unfounded and inflammatory claims then it doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose they have an agenda.

Yet, in brief conversation with THUMP, Alan Miller, who chairs the Night Time Industries Association, was resolutely upbeat. "I'm in constant conversation with the Mayor's office, both the previous administration and this one," Miller explained over the phone. "The Mayor has come out saying he wants a solution which is great news. Now I think it's essential we have a grown-up conversation about harm reduction, with the authorities but also people like The Loop who have worked with Secret Garden Party recently, in order to focus on harm reduction and treating it as a health issue."

Miller was keen to stress that fabric itself would be an unnecessary victim of draconian laws. "Don't punish the places. If we close fabric then we pretty much have to close every bar and club in the country."

Miller's absolutely right. To punish fabric won't solve the problems that led to these tragic deaths. Yet that's also why saving the club has become so important. The closure of fabric wouldn't be about drugs, it would be a gesture. A gesture that says nightclubs, dance music, and by extension youth culture, have no place in the capital city. Whether or not the club itself is of any personal value to you, that surely matters. This isn't a conversation about the value of one club, it's about the value of all of them.

Angus is on Twitter.