As Fabric nightclub is forced to close by Islington Council, Getintothis’ dance editor Ste Knight reflects on the uncertainty surrounding UK clubbing as we know it.
Islington Council have achieved what they have been aiming towards for several years now: the closure of one of the county’s most forward thinking, and well-recognised, clubbing institutions, Fabric Nightclub.
In a move that reflects the closure of Glasgow’s Arches Nightclub in 2015, Fabric is no more.
In August, the club was forced to close its doors on a temporary license suspension, pending review, due to two drug-related deaths which took place inside the club over the summer period. There is absolutely no denying that these incidents are tragic for all involved – in particular for the families, friends and loved ones of those who lost their lives.
As visitors to the Fabric Nightclub on several occasions, Getintothis have nothing but good things to say about the establishment. The doormen and staff were friendly, approachable and most importantly were vigilant. On our trips to the club to witness the likes of Dave Clarke, Justin Robertson, and Andrew Weatherall, we were always impressed by the manner in which the staff and punters behaved themselves. We never saw any inkling of trouble – this has to be down to the stringent door policy, and the manner in which Fabric, as a brand, took the safety of its customers as a number one priority.
Fabric Nightclub has, for several years now, been under scrutiny for alleged drug use within the confines of its nightclub. Back in 2014, they underwent a similar review, in which they were seen to be fully co-operating with the Met and with Islington Council‘s rules governing the license of the venue. The club’s attempt to combat drug use were seen as a “beacon of best practice” for clubbing safety, as quoted by one particular judge in a hearing last year. And not only that, club co-owner, Cameron Leslie has consistently reiterated his aims to set a “gold standard” in terms of clubbing safety for those who enter as punters as staff alike.
However, now, we must ask ourselves, what does this spell for the future of clubbing in this country? There is no doubt that, where you have a clubbing community, there is always going to be an element of drug use. The two, it can be argued, go hand-in-hand. Are those in power necessarily approaching the matter in the correct manner?
Since time began, human nature has led to us, as a species, experimenting with substances, natural or synthetic, to enhance or alter our mood. We drink coffee in the morning to perk us up, we have an alcoholic drink after a hard day at work or to celebrate a special occasion, we smoke tobacco to receive the effects of nicotine – and that is just the ‘refined’ substances that we have discovered along the way.
Amazonians imbibed Ayahuasca as a method of contacting a higher consciousness. The Mesoamericans used psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, in religious ritual. The medieval Persian Hashishins used cannabis. All of these are products found naturally, surely something that cannot be outlawed or governed over. Not so, it would seem, as all of these substances are by-and-large criminalised in today’s modern society.
It has been the opinion of many, including this writer, for quite some time now, that the best approach to drug use is to inform and educate those who use the particular drug. If an individual decides that they are interested in trying a substance for the first time, then they are going to do so, irrespective of the law and the consequences of their actions.
What we need is a system that properly explains the effects of the drug, what you can expect to happen to your body, and both the immediate effects and those which come after using the substance. This needs to be conducted in a manner which doesn’t sound like you’re getting a bollocking from your Dad. It needs to be consistent, controlled, and simply stating the facts.
Sure, we have resources such as Frank, which is a government initiative designed to educate the masses on the effects of drugs. It just comes across in totally the wrong way. There is no mention on how to take the drugs safely. The whole thing is just swathed in a cloak of negativity, with horror stories about ‘what could go wrong’. How about we tell people how much of a substance, and over what period of time, they should take to remain safe when taking their drug of choice? They’re going to take drugs anyway, irrespective of whether the omnipotent Frank is there casting a disapproving eye over proceedings.
Ecstasy, in particular, has seen an increase in the number of deaths as a result of taking the drug. This, it would seem, is largely due to the fact that the strength of the pills that can now be purchased has increased to what experts believe to be dangerous levels.
The Office for National Statistics recently stated that deaths from Ecstasy use have risen from 8 in 2010, to 50 in 2014, with that figure rising further as we approach the end of 2016. These deaths have largely been teenagers, so the issue regarding education about recreational drug use is now, arguably, more prevalent than it ever has been.
As stated earlier, clubbing and drugs have a tendency to wander together. Perhaps this is an unfortunate fact, perhaps not, but it is a true statement nonetheless. Fabric Nightclub is no different to any nightclub. No matter how strict your searches are on punters, someone is always going to manage to smuggle drugs into a club and distribute them. People are clever and intuitive, if they want to do something, they’ll find a way.
The only result the government is achieving in its ‘war on drugs’ is to drive drug use further underground. Closing a nightclub here and there is not the solution. Education is. Where is this policing of people’s private lives and what they do with their own bodies going to stop? Should we now campaign for the closure of every pub across the land because of the huge number of people who die of alcohol related illnesses every year? Should we shut down our local newsagent because they sell cancer causing substances right there behind the counter? Somehow, that seems pretty unlikely.
We reported in August 2015, almost a year to the day, that findings from the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers showed that, over the past 10 years, the UK on a whole had lost 50% of its nightclubs.
Alan Miller, who represents the Night Time Industries Association, argues that closing nightclubs is not the answer. This move will not prevent people from taking recreational drugs. In fact, following the closure of The Arches in Glasgow, he posited that “there was a proliferation of [drug related]incidents in the area”. So rather than achieving the desired effect, we actually saw that the complete opposite was true.
Perhaps we need to look to the continent to see how effective measures can assist in reducing the risk involved in taking drugs. In Holland, for example, there are testing stations located in nightclubs, in order that Ecstasy users can have their drugs examined to ascertain not only what the active ingredients are, but also the what the strength is of the drug they hold in their hand. Perhaps, if this kind of approach was adopted, there would be significantly less in the news about unfortunate drug-related deaths in nightclubs.
Taking away people’s method of enjoying themselves through music is not, and never will be the answer. It will only serve to shift the problem on somewhere else. Unless the powers that be take a more liberal approach to educating the public about safe practices for drug use, this problem is going to continue to prevail. Instead of talking to Frank, perhaps we all need to just be talking to each other – politicians and the public alike – to understand and inform on the issue.
With Liverpool being one of the country’s clubbing meccas, what does this decision mean for our nightlife? Several new clubs have opened in recent years. We have a number of venues in the Baltic Triangle, for instance, that cater to this need, with many an underground club night being held in the area. Are we now going to see clubs closing across the city should instances, such as the alleged deaths in Fabric, take place here?
Sadly, Cream underwent similar scrutiny prior to closing its doors for the last time in December 2015, when the tragic death of John Mills, a visitor to the club, sparked concerns about a slew of ‘super-strength’ Ecstasy pills being circulated in the Merseyside region. In that instance, as with the two deaths that have been associated with Fabric Nightclub, the drugs were procured prior to the event.
Until we see a more tolerant attitude to recreational drug use, sadly, we feel that we are going to see much more of this kind of irrational decision making taking place, and driving the problem of misinformed drug use underground, where, surely, it is much more dangerous. We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for the clubbing community, but this writer for one doesn’t fancy feeling like he’s entering Mega City One every time he wants to go and watch his favourite DJ.
Reaction from Liverpool’s dance heads
“Closing Fabric solves nothing, it’s counterproductive and leaves a dangerous void in its wake. Fabric have long been the trendsetters and outstanding benchmark for professional club management. It’s appears 17 years of setting the highest standards in safe clubbing and forward thinking venue practice counts for nothing.” – Trevor O’loughlin, mUmU, Liverpool
“The closure of this iconic venue baffles me. Closing this (or any other) venue because of a very unfortunate drug related death will not stop the UK’s drug problems. The problem is with the authorities, and their outdated and ignorant attitudes towards drugs. In their eyes it seems better to let a clubber die, than allow testing stations that could save somebody’s life. What kind of caveman way of thinking is that? Fabric was so much more than a room that had music played in it. It pushed musical boundaries. It had the best sound system. it had ridiculously great line-ups. It helped forge many friendships, relationships and even legendary DJ and author Bill Brewster proposed there (on NYE 1999!). New attitudes are required rather than closing venues down. And the authorities need to look at the way Berlin and Amsterdam use the popularity of thier finest underground clubs to do this. #savefabric” – Steve Parry, Selador Records