We Watched People Protest Against the Death of London's Nightlife (Again)
If the capital's club culture is doomed to die, it won't go down without a fight—or, in this case, a marching rave that we attended in London.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK
If London's nightlife is destined to go down, it won't do it without a fight. Or, rather, a walking rave. This Saturday, protesters gathered in east London's Hoxton Square to show their support for now-shuttered Fabric and the city's endangered clubbing culture. For those who hadn't heard, Islington council revoked Fabric's license on September 6 after two tragic drug-related deaths this summer. Next, the club will appeal the decision on November 28.
In the meantime, I joined an initially-small gaggle of people who swelled in number and wound their way along the streets of east London, ending in London Fields park. DJ Normski led the colorful crowd, as they carried disco balls, peace signs, and bore signs and t-shirts carrying the message to #saveFabric. It was a tightly run ship, with an emphasis on sticking to the pavements—some vigilant volunteers even steered the march around dog poop. People of all ages congregated holding smiley flags, a testament that this protest concerns not only our generation, but also our future's right to a freedom of expression.
"Operation Lenor you are taking the mickey," Normski shouted, referencing the rumored codename of a police operation that some believe led to Fabric's closure. "Open the bloody club up!"
Some of Fabric's 250 staff were there, as several sound systems on wheels blasted out jungle and drum n bass down Shoreditch's Columbia Road. The protest then ended, in the usual style, with a series of heartfelt speeches.
"Both the police and the council have gotten into a narrative that nightlife is a problem," said Alan Miller, from the Nighttime Industries Association, addressing the crowd. "We refute that narrative. Nightlife is not only a £66 billion [$82 billion] per annum industry in the UK, but also it makes our cities better and it transforms them. It is about urban landscape management. We need to work together in partnership." Not quite the most rabble-rousing words, but fair and vital points.
Normski, getting ready to lead the crowd through east London
Festival owner and promoter Rob Star told the crowd that he moved to London 20 years ago for one reason: the clubs. "When I started opening venues, people wanted to close venues, and I mean the police. If we don't fight we will lose this."
As you'd expect, the march saw a mixture of optimism and a sort of raver rage. Eleanor Wilson, director of now-closed independent east London venue Passing Clouds highlighted that eight years ago, the UK government spent £500 billion [$620 billion] bailing out the banks.
"Why can they not spend any money bailing out the institutions of our creative industries," she asked, pictured above, "which is the second biggest industry in the UK?" Well, because governments haven't tended to adore counter-cultural nightlife. From the state's approach to quashing free parties and raves to the licensing battles fought by bars and clubs, that part of our cities—the improvised, the grimy, the left-field—seemingly makes them less appealing to investors. And that, apparently, just won't do.
Fabric co-founder Cameron Leslie told me this isn't just a fight for his club. "Our case shows how under threat UK nightlife is right now, and the statistics on the number of venues closing in recent years really speak for themselves. This goes beyond our club—we want to safeguard the whole industry, so that safe, well-managed venues are celebrated rather than treated as scapegoats."
Alan Miller, addressing the crowd at London Fields
Producer Halogenix says he practically grew up in Fabric and brought his mum and dad there for his first set in 2012. Was he shocked to see the council actually close the club? "That's a tough question to answer and really depends on how much you keep your ear to the ground with current events," he said. "For someone who spends weekend after weekend visiting clubs, speaking to promoters, club owners etc you get to know that it's a tough climate out there, especially in London. Property prices are through the roof, luxury 'affordable' housing is popping up all over the place and space is at an all-time premium. To be honest, I'm surprised it's lasted this long. Am I sad it's closed? Absolutely."
I spoke to 18-year-old Clementine, who had a different view from the nostalgic crowd. "It is just a bit shit really," she said. "Soon our generation aren't going to have a space to express ourselves. Though, to be honest, I fucking hate clubs anyway. They are overpriced and full of men looking to get laid with anyone who's drunk enough. I go to squat parties mostly. Save our culture? What fucking culture?"
An important one, for those who don't want to see it disappear. "Everybody is talking about how this is the end of clubbing culture as a whole," said Bristolian producer Troy Gunner, when we chatted in the lead-up to the protest, "as if there's nowhere else to go and everybody's gonna end up in fields repeating the tragedies that have happened. I think the nation is wiser than that, and I'm optimistic that this isn't the end of all things."