Days before the court appeal was due to begin, which would decide the fate of London super-club, fabric, a surprise settlement was agreed between Islington Council and Fabric owners, allowing the club to re-open under heightened security measures.
The news has been celebrated as a landmark event for London’s dance music culture. The 3 month #SaveOurCulture campaign was a true testament to Fabric’s significance as part of the landscape of London’s dance scene, and brings home the importance of club culture to so many passionate groups and individuals.
DJs, promoters, clubbers, Islington locals, music fans from around the word; even London’s Mayor, Sadiq Kahn, who stated that there should be a ‘common sense solution’ to keep the venue open, contributed their support. An online funding page raised over £300k to cover Fabric’s legal fees and 160,000 people signed an online petition to show their support.
A huge success for grassroots campaigning and for dance music, but the details of the settlement leave an underlying feeling of frustration on behalf of the London venue.
From impassioned speeches and outrage by Fabric, to a hushed, out-of-court settlement and an admission of fault, the joint statement made by Fabric owners and Islington council reeked of mutual disdain and underwhelming conviction.
“Fabric accepts that its procedures in relation to searching were insufficient, as were its procedures to prevent the consumption and dealing of drugs within the club itself. Fabric accepts that the Police acted reasonably in making the application for a review and that the Authority’s sub-committee was fully entitled to revoke its Licence.”
The club agreed to a series of arguably regressive security measures. The agreement included introduction of the once dismissed ID scanners, lifetime bans for drug use on the premises, increased CCTV & improved lighting, and no entry for under 19s. This was despite recommendations of a wealth of evidence-based, professional advice from harm reduction methods and on-site drug testing.
In December 2015, after a drug-related death in the venue, Fabric won a license appeal against Islington council, keeping the venue open and stopping the potential use of sniffer dogs & ID scanners. The judge at the hearing described Fabric as a ‘beacon of best practice’.
Cut to September 2016, and Fabric’s failed license appeal, which led to the indefinite closure. This was in response to the tragic deaths of two 18 year olds in Fabric during the year, and the subsequent reports from ‘Operation Lenor’ – an undercover police investigation at the venue, Fabric lost their appeal to keep their licence and were forced to shut indefinitely.
Less than a year after Fabric’s license victory, following 16 years of positive relationships with police and the council, Fabric was closed. Flora Williamson, chairman of the committee declared that “Drug culture exists at the club and the management has been inadequate at controlling it”.
So why the turnaround? During the various debates and investigations into Fabric’s fate, the police have been accused of ‘premeditated targeting’ of the venue, particularly in regards to the motive and questionable findings of ‘Operation Lenor’.
There’s been speculation that Fabric had long been on the list for re-development and that the council were looking for a reason to close their doors. No hard evidence has been seen for this, but news that The Museum of London is to move next to fabric in a re-development initiative, has left a sour taste for nightclub campaigners. Many feared (and still do) a similar fate for fabric as the Haçienda in Manchester, which is now a block of luxury flats.
During the campaign to save Fabric, there were calls from various groups to consider a harm reduction approach, such as the drug testing facilities which The Secret Garden Party festival successfully trialled.
Prof Fiona Measham, who heads up The Loop, a drug charity who specialise in drug harm prevention, said in an interview with Resident Advisor that the London Met and Islington Council “just weren’t in the right place” to adopt more of a harm prevention approach and described the conditions of the Fabric settlement as “inevitable”.
Drug testing methods have been successfully adopted in festivals around the UK, including Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire, Kendall Calling in Cumbria, as well as Manchester’s Warehouse Project. Harm prevention methods have been a mainstay in European cities for years. The Netherlands have been adopting such methods for over a decade. In regards to drug testing at clubs and festivals, Measham explained “There’s a lot of support from police, but it’s mostly regional,” she says. “The further away they are from London, the more supportive they are.”
Some positive news came from the settlement in that the fabric team are set to be working with The Loop on creating an in-club welfare team. This is a step in the right direction, but the question still begs: Given that the Fabric license reviews have always been in relation to drug related deaths, why is the capital so against the consistently effective harm prevention methods that have been adopted by parts of Europe, and even other parts of the UK?
‘No comment’ has been a common theme of the recent settlement. The muted responses from both Fabric and Islington Council came as no great surprise, but the lack of public opinion from many of the central parties of the discussion, some of whom spoke out quite strongly against a ‘zero tolerance’ drug policy is, at the least, intriguing.
In a tweet, MP Caroline Russell revealed that all 47 Labour councillors had been asked to express no opinion on the ruling. The silence on the matter has planted seeds of suspicion. Is there something they’re not telling us?
Conspiracy theories aside, this assumed request for silence from those who might ‘make a scene’ is just another thread to the bow of zero-tolerance that London has adopted on the drugs discussion. There’s an element of stiff upper lip at play. If we don’t acknowledge the problem, let alone discuss it, maybe it will go away.
In many ways, London is a forward-thinking city, but, there’s a dividing factor here.
It’s the people vs the establishment. Londoners are (as a sweeping generalisation) more liberal, progressive and culturally diverse than anywhere in the UK, and most cities in Europe. They voted to remain, they voted for the first British Muslim mayor, they campaigned to #SaveFabric and they support the introduction of drug testing initiatives in clubs and festivals.
However, the establishment; the people who make the rules, stamp the papers and close the venues are at odds with the London population. Over the course of 5 years, London has lost over half of its music venues and continues hard down a zero-tolerance policy to, not just drugs it seems, but to late nights, weird parties and slightly too loud activist communities. Are the decisions made for financial gain? To make it easier to build flats and banks? Perhaps it’s all just to do with money, but, with the Fabric case as a clear example, there seems to be an un-proportionally conservative, ill-informed and almost paranoid edge to the decisions made in our capital city, even compared with the rest of the country.
London culture is built on diversity and creativity. Thousands of fresh faced creatives flock to the city every year for forward thinking music, art and culture. When they’re presented, instead, with offices, luxury apartments and military style nightclubs, will they stick around? The re-opening of Fabric, with support from the Mayor, was a great step in right direction, but there’s a long way to go. When will London catch up with Londoners, to become the thriving, 24-hour city it so wants to be?