Fifteen people can save Fabric today, at a meeting of Islington Council’s licensing committee. Time Out’s Music & Nightlife Editor Oliver Keens has a few words to say in the venue's defence...
Dear Islington Council,
London has an outstanding reputation for its nightlife, and Fabric is emblematic of our status as a world-class city for music and clubbing. It’s a fun palace. A cathedral of sound set among brick arches. It is, quite simply, the nation’s best club. In the same way Brexit shamed many of us, the closure of Fabric will send one only one message to the world: London is in decline.
Now, of course, as local councillors your job isn’t to be responsible for maintaining London’s global status. As the licensing committee of Islington Council, you are meeting because, after the very sad deaths of two 18-year-olds at the club, the police are urging you to close Fabric for good, to prevent more fatalities. There’s no other way to describe those deaths than as a total tragedy. But what I want to stress is that closing the club won’t save more lives. It could even have the opposite effect.
London has great nightlife. But it also has the potential for really irresponsible, badly managed and dangerous nightlife too. Just at the moment, we’re blessed with a remarkable generation of devoted promoters, coping with adversities like stringent licensing laws to put on great events – for love and just enough money to cover costs.
But it’s naive to forget that there will always be opportunistic chancers drawn to the world of nightlife: people willing to compromise on security, on safety, on entry numbers, and licensing itself, in order to make money. These are the people who will benefit from shutting Fabric. These are the people waiting for you to make the wrong decision.
Clubs like Fabric were born out of the horrible divisions caused by the 1994 Criminal Justice Act. The process of setting up permanent superclubs like Fabric was a great step towards making raves safe, accessible, legal and responsible.
But if you strip a capital city of legitimate outlets for fun, people will find illegitimate outlets instead. It’s really not idle scaremongering to imagine a return to the days of the early ’90s and widespread illegal raving. If you want proof, just look at the resurgent free party scene that’s been bubbling under in London for the last couple of years. Some have gone really badly wrong, yet their growth seems inevitable if responsible venues like Fabric are eradicated.
Forgive my glibness, but clubs don’t kill people, drugs do. It’s fast becoming evident that there's a burgeoning and underreported problem with drug use in this country – a country where, for good or bad – doing drugs has become as socially acceptable as riding a bumper car. Take a recent study which shows how over the last ten years, levels of MDMA in pills have shot up from 80mg to 150mg. It's a sign of a problem that needs a targeted, grown-up response. Some festivals this year have allowed drug testing onsite, other schemes are working to educate people to take small amounts of their drugs first, to avoid any adverse reactions. I'm convinced that either scheme has more potential to save lives that shutting Fabric.
Yet by contrast, police recommended in 2014 that Fabric have sniffer dogs permanently at the door of the club – despite the widely held view among clubbers that such dogs only encourage punters to dangerously take all their drugs beforehand, in one precarious go, to avoid detection. That measure was later overruled by a district judge, who described Fabric as a ‘beacon of best practice’. We believe that that’s still the case. Last week, the club pledged to pursue a ‘gold standard’ of safe clubbing. Fabric’s director Cameron Leslie stated: ‘As an experienced operator with a strong track record, we are best placed to pioneer new ways of working that will keep people safer.’
We urge you to do the right thing and work with Fabric along these lines. Keeping such a valued and important institution open is the right thing to do: for Islington, for London, and for our safety and general sanity.