Fabric was founded in 1999 by Keith Reilly and Cameron Leslie in a renovated Victorian building opposite the Smithfield Meat Market in Farringdon. With three separate rooms (one of which is home to a coveted, vibrating ‘bodysonic’ floor) and two main stages, the cavernous club was founded to take on what the owners perceived to be the domination of ‘tacky’, ‘cheesy’ house music that saturated the clubbing scene of the late ‘90s, serving as a ‘legitimised warehouse party’. What was regarded as a risky move paid off, and Fabric became a staple in the London nightlife landscape, twice voted as the best club in the world in DJ Magazine’s yearly poll. Drum & bass and techno genres have been foregrounded from the get go, while the club also played a major role in the development of London’s dubstep and breakbeat scenes.
Just four short months ago, Fabric was hitting headlines for the right reasons, when an elderly Polish couple became internet heroes after rocking up to the legendary Sunday night techno and house party, WetYourSelf. Dancing away until the small hours of the morning, crutches in tow, the OAP clubbers put a smile on the faces of awestruck fellow Fabricers and social media users alike — but nobody’s smiling now.
Over the course of a nine-week period from June to August, two 18-year-old boys tragically lost their lives after collapsing either within or just outside of Fabric. With the deaths initially described by police as ‘non-suspicious’ and ‘unexplained’, it was subsequently revealed that they had died as the result of drugs ‘overdoses’ — a word which could potentially signal the imminent death of Fabric as well.
On August 10th, Islington’s police force made a request to the borough’s council for the immediate rescindment of the venue’s licence in order to carry out a review. Though the nightclub was initially only thought to be closing for a weekend, its licence has now been suspended indefinitely by the Licensing Sub Committee, pending a full review hearing. Fabric has decided not to contest the investigation, and will await the arrival of a decision within 28 days.
However, this is not the first time that Fabric’s future has hung by a thread, having narrowly escaped closure late in 2014 following the drugs-related death of an 18-year-old girl, who collapsed after buying MDMA whilst at the club. It was the club’s fourth death and eighth collapse to be blamed on drug consumption in the space of three years. After a review, the club was permitted to remain open on condition that it introduce more stringent measures to prevent on-site drug consumption, including electronic ID scanning and the implementing of £300-per-four-hour-shift sniffer dogs at the entrance. Fabric subsequently won an appeal against these measures, in light of the exorbitant costs.
In 2014, more than 30,000 people signed a Change.org petition in support of the club, while some of the biggest DJs in the world also came out in their corner, a show of support which is being repeated this time around, with DJs and producers calling on Sadiq Khan to step in, in light of his manifesto pledge to support London’s struggling nightlife during his recent mayoral campaign.
Fabric’s suspension comes at a poignant moment, with the introduction of London’s first ever night tube service just this week, which is widely hoped to help reinvigorate London’s night industry. The number of nightclubs across the UK halved in the ten year period from 2005 to 2015, with London, once live music capital of the world, fast becoming a nightclub graveyard. The city has suffered through a string of high profile closures in recent years; legendary LGBTQ venue Madame JoJo’s closed in 2015 as did Shoreditch staple Plastic People. South London’s Cable went in 2013, and this month was the last for Dalston’s Dance Tunnel. The decline of Britain’s nightlife has been blamed on a perfect storm of factors, from crackdowns on crime (Madame Jojo’s closure was apparently solely due to an incident in which bouncers used baseball bats to beat off unruly clubbers) to development projects such as London’s Crossrail.
However, one of the biggest challenges facing London’s venues in particular is a distinct shift in the attitudes of both the Metropolitan police and local councils. From making licenses dependent on the introduction of ID scanners to the implementation of curfews and the new ‘late night levy’ which sees councils charging an extra tax to pubs and clubs that serve alcohol past midnight, critics argue that the authorities are squeezing the life out of the nightlife industry — more than double as many supermarkets have 24-hour licenses than do pubs, clubs, or bars.
Another major factor has been current Prime Minister Theresa May’s catastrophic police budget cuts during her tenure as Home Secretary. From 2010 to 2015, she made cuts of 18 percent, leading to the loss of more than 17,000 police officers. Now, according to campaigners, stretched police forces have taken to viewing nightclubs as a strain on their resources, with many London boroughs’ police services operating a ‘last drink’ policy — meaning any crimes perceived to be alcohol-related are traced back to the last venue to serve the offender, with a view to challenging its licence arrangement.
For Fabric’s part, its owners pointed out in 2014 that of the six million people that had passed through their doors in their 15 years, there had been only four deaths. Having survived impending doom then, it remains to be seen whether they will get off as equally scot free this time around — or, indeed, if they will get off at all. Here’s hoping this is just the second of nine long lives.