“You saved Fabric” reads the banner on the Farringdon club’s Twitter account right now.
And that’s right; an arsenal of global followers creating a loud marathon of campaigning, protests, and petitions did the trick in the end. The process was lubricated by both the sharing power of social media and a flock of high-profile influencers who adopted the cause.
They are free to reopen their doors under strict licensing conditions that – although straight from the pages of an Orwellian novel – they had already previously agreed to. The regulations (as detailed in a 155-page document) include controls on ages for certain nights, more CCTV, different lighting, and ID scanners. There is also talk of ‘covert operations’ and lifetime bans for drug offences. It’s useful to note the existence of some positives too, though. Harm reduction charity The Loop will be providing Fabric’s staff with welfare training and sniffer dogs are still not required; they won an appeal against the use of them last year after successfully arguing that they can be counter-productive.
Some may say that without a sense of privacy, freedom and escapism, a nightclub is much less of an attractive place. But, although the situation might be far from perfect, given recent trends in the UK clubbing scene we really need to cherish any progression at all. Pre-release tickets have already sold out for Fabric’s opening night, and I’m sure that is a sentiment shared by the people snapping them up.
The deal was struck just a few days before the club’s appeal was due to take place – a turn of events that saved them over £100k. In their latest financial transparency statement, released earlier this week, they confirmed they are considering how to use the funds to “assist other industry associated causes”. What could these ‘worthy causes’ include? Some have suggested that a portion of funds could be used to improve welfare in the space whereas others have suggested that some could go to helping other, less influential clubs, from arbitrary licence enforcements.
Calls for onsite drug testing formed a common theme throughout Fabric’s past licence hearings but was not included in the final conditions. “It wasn’t on the table for long, unfortunately,” founder of The Loop Fiona Measham told Resident Adviser. Perhaps that is an idea ripe for development though as it seems to be working elsewhere. At Warehouse Project in Manchester, The Loop, run entirely by volunteers, tests drugs that have been discarded, confiscated or handed into medical staff onsite and relay the findings to clubbers on social media. Similar schemes have taken place at various festivals in the UK last summer.
Secret Garden Party (SGP), a large music festival in Cambridgeshire, was one of two festivals that went further and allowed revellers to hand samples of their drugs over to be tested by The Loop. They then received the test results as part of a 10 minute individually tailored health and safety session. After finding out the true contents of their party packs, many festival-goers then handed over their remaining drugs for the charity to destroy instead of blindly ingesting them.
And that’s the point here, isn’t it? This initiative managed to achieve what an infinite amount of sniffer dogs and ID scans could never do: They made someone think about their drug use and choose for themselves what their limits are. This common sense approach has the power to inform a decision, which is the only thing that can save lives. The police are aware of this too; they agreed not to swoop on anyone entering or leaving The Loop’s welfare tent at SGP. In Lancashire, police have backed a scheme that will make testing booths available to clubbers. Plus, one survey for police working at festivals found that 80 percent were in favour of onsite testing. The Loop hopes to expand its operations next summer, but with each of its testing machines costing £25,000, it may not be able to without financial support.
Whilst the campaign to #SaveFabric relentlessly gathered pace this autumn, other clubs were shutting down in similar circumstances. There aren’t many other musical institutions in the world with immense cultural influence as their ace card. One example of this is the 700-capacity Southampton club, Junk. A couple of violent incidents outside the club (and allegations of a drug problem inside which the management refutes) led to a licence review last April. They were allowed to stay open but measures such as restricted opening times were enforced. Knowing that the new rules would kill the club off, they appealed against them and won. But they now face immobilising legal bills. “We are now left in a crippling financial position with a £200k deficit hole with us all but losing the business,” a spokesperson for the club said in a statement. “We are indebted to virtually every aspect of the industry.” Maybe if the #saveourculture campaign continued it could assist in situations like that.
“It was great news when I found out [Fabric] was to reopen,” 27-year-old Tom from South London told VolteFace. “When I was growing up as soon as everyone was [aged] 18 Fabric was the place they wanted to tick off their list. It really was the Mecca of music for us.” How did he feel after the licence was revoked? “Gutted,” he says. “Everything I was reading in the press at the time felt like obituaries; everyone spoke about their fond memories of the place and were saying goodbye. I found it very disheartening; the clubbing scene in the UK was already fading and Fabric was the crown jewel.”
Tom, who already has a ticket for the reopening party, added: “I think the council are a bit naive about the new regulations, but I don’t think it will really affect the atmosphere there to be honest. It’s going to be an elated one; such a big celebration when they first open back up. And that vibe will continue going forward in my opinion. You don’t know what you had until it’s gone; everyone is going to appreciate the place even more now I think.” What to do with the extra cash? “People are talking about spending the money on welfare staff at the club which I think is a really worthy cause,” he stressed. “Also, there are things outside the industry that could benefit – the refugee crisis in Syria for instance.”
Liam, 26 years old, attended “countless” events at the Farringdon superclub before moving to Bristol. “The new regulations are strict,” he says. “But it’s unlikely to mess up the vibe in there; people go to Fabric for the music and the great mix of cultures. If they just wanted to take drugs they could do that anywhere.” Despite this, Liam does believe that some of the additional funds should be given to welfare-related endeavours. “I think the money should be spent on trying to stop any more tragedies at all events in the industry,” he argued. “The Loop seem to be the people doing that right now.”
But not every regular I spoke to agreed. Ronda, a 31-year-old from Brixton, said that she is “not hugely in favour of donating the funds towards drug charities”. She believes that would imply that Fabric has a huge issue with drugs “which is an overreaction at the very least”. She would be happy to see the funds going to saving our nightlife in the UK. “I’d be in favour of supporting smaller clubs and festivals,” she said.
It’s not for anyone to tell Fabric what to spend the funds on. They can clearly be trusted to do the right thing and have a wealth of worthwhile causes to choose from. Having said that, with some police forces now backing testing in nightclubs The Loop could benefit from a cash injection. A chorus of voices (which seemingly includes just about everyone other than our Government and local councils) are now calling for testing initiatives to be imminently rolled out nationwide. In Switzerland, where similar schemes exist, they have not had a death at a music event for seven years. In the UK, we had over 50 deaths from MDMA alone last year. Equally, there are a host of venues, festivals and arts spaces facing unfair closure in the UK. It would make a lot of sense for other threatened venues to benefit from the generosity of Fabric’s excess saviour funds and, of course, their cultural clout.
Simon Doherty is a freelance writer. He has written for VICE, The Huffington Post, Johnsons Press Plc and many others. Tweets @oldspeak1