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Remembering Fabric and the Underground Cultural Movement it Fostered

London’s landmark nightclub is shut. Possibly forever. But for producers and DJs drowning in the depths of their own self doubt and worth, it was a life raft

Nerm Sep 08, 2016
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Apart from being the home of drum ”˜n’ bass since it first launched, Fabric spawned a massive range of exciting music. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

I first went to Fabric in 1999 — before the club had officially opened its doors ”“ for the pioneering drum ”˜n’ bass record label V Recordings party, ”˜Planet V’. Over the next 17 years, I was lucky enough to witness some of the most cutting edge electronic artists on earth in one of the best clubs in the world.

Fabric was a crucial stepping stone in an artist’s career; playing there was an honor, hearing your music played there for the first time was like a rite of passage. A quick scroll on the list of the 5000 artists that have played there will blow your mind.

It’s not surprising then that everyone you can think of from the music scene in the UK is in uproar. Apart from being the home of drum ”˜n’ bass since it first launched, the iconic club spawned a range of exciting music — Diplo meeting M.I.A. at Fabric kick started a whole scene; Caspa & Rusko’s Fabric Live mix CD (as part of a pioneering mix CD series that the club released) was one of the biggest moments in breaking dubstep into the wider world. On a personal level, seeing Anoushka Shankar perform a classical set and Riz MC (the stage name of actor Riz Ahmed, famed for HBO’s The Night Of and the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One) launch his immersive live show there was a testament to how Fabric had an impact across the musical spectrum.

Fabric has been there for me through the whole of my London life. It has constantly represented quality, current musical culture. It’s been a life raft to aim for, especially for producers and DJs drowning in the depths of their own self doubt and worth.

Nerm performing at Fabric in 2002. Behind him is DJ-producer Gaudi. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Nerm performing at Fabric in 2002. Behind him is DJ-producer Gaudi. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

This entire positivity aside, in the early hours of September 7th, Islington Council ruled (based on two extremely tragic MDMA-related deaths and a controversial undercover police report) that Fabric was in breach of its license and that it should remain closed.

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The damning police report was greeted by the club, patrons and DJs as almost unrecognizable from actual experiences in the club. The report also signaled a U-turn from the police’s historic relationship with the venue. In fact, the statement by co-founder Cameron Leslie at the hearing reveals a long-known open secret about the founding of the club and organized crime: “The notion that we provide a safe haven for drugs is frankly insulting to the considerable efforts we have put in over the years. My co-founder Keith Reilly stood up to a significant organized crime organization who wanted to run drugs in to this club just after we opened. He had to move his family out of their home and wear a bulletproof vest for nearly a month. So we know very well the real life challenges of running a clean venue in London.”

This has brought the issue of drugs in nightclubs in the UK back into the spotlight and sparked debate on what should be done about the problem. Some advocate drug testing kits while others say that since drug-culture also exists in hotels, prisons and even in government, why not shut those places too? Fabric does more than any other club in the UK to protect its patrons and weed out drugs. The fact remains that its highly unlikely that the closure of one club, especially one with the highest security and customer health care standards in the country, is going to solve the alleged drug culture.

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With mainstream news reporters angry that the sad death of two young people has been used to shut down an iconic venue in the name of drugs, there is also talk of the closure being a back-door entry for high-rise property development that the local council is aiming for to bring in extra revenue.

Goldie wants to melt his MBE (Member of The British Empire) medal in protest and has called for Jazzy B, Norman Jay and Pete Tong to do the same. Chase & Status have openly called upon the new London Mayor Sadiq Khan to overturn the decision, especially as he was voted into power swearing to protect London’s dwindling night life.

I’ve lived through several nightclub closures. After the initial feeling of loss, there’s eventually a sense of, well, ‘It’s a business, these things happen’. With Fabric, the wound feels much more personal and deeper.

It’s as if everyone that’s performed or worked there understood that it had deep cultural significance — like a modern-day Royal Albert Hall. Until it opened in 1999, no club took quality dance music to the consistency and scale of Fabric. Of course, the music will play on and underground scenes will continue to grow. But the loss of the club feels like an attack on London’s nightlife itself.

With the mounting pressure from artists, the press and the public, I hope that the doors to this hallowed institution will reopen.

(Nerm is a DJ, broadcaster and founder of underground music collective Shiva Soundsystem)

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