Wednesday, September 8th 2016 is a date etched into the minds of clubbers around the world and venue owners across the United Kingdom. After a months of petitions (150 000+) with musicians across the world speaking out, countless media articles, interjections from the Mayor of London and even revelations of under-handed tactics by the Metropolitan Police (MET), Islington Council in the early hours of the morning, revoked the license of fabric Nightclub. It was a blow to supporters, to staff, artists and the entertainment industry that would resonate even to today.
If you are not familiar with the story of fabric nightclub and the events leading up to this day, a little bit of background. fabric is situated in the prime location of one of London‘s most affluent boroughs, surrounded by millions of pounds of redevelopment and one of London’s last remaining superclubs. Did you know that over half of London’s clubs have closed in the last 10 years (not including pubs)? Turnmills, The Cross, Pacha to name a few, fabric had become a beacon of electronic artistry, both aural and visual, it is a second home to clubbers around the world, even to those who have never set foot in the venue. Being firmly etched into electronic music folklore, it was always going to be an emotional fight.
Tragically, the deaths of two 18 year old patrons (un-related) earlier in the summer, had kicked into gear the powers of the police, council, licensing and nefarious media outlets were willing to splash the deaths on front pages for cheap traffic. We have to say, the deaths of anyone, in any circumstances is a horrible situation that no venue, promoter or establishment wants to be in, it affects staff across the venue, questions race through your head to “what could we have done more?” to the utter devastation it brings to the families of the deceased. There are never any winners, only heartache, so politicising or splashing a one sided view only hastens the healing and removes a level heads to find solutions, it becomes highly charged.
Answers and solutions had to be found, yet fabric was on a collision course to a highly coordinated and pre-planed attack from the council and Police. The official statement from Islington Council’s regarding the closure lists 11 bullet points justifying the decision. Two of these directly relate to the deaths of the two individuals. A further eight relate to an undercover police operation that took place in the venue in July 2016.
The undercover police operation found no hard evidence of drug taking inside the venue, relying instead on vague observations. These observations found their way into the council decision, including that individuals were
“manifesting symptoms showing that they were (on drugs). This included sweating, glazed red eyes and staring into space,” and also that “people in the smoking area enquiring about the purchase of drugs…I believe within earshot of the security officer”.
The original Police report stated
“the general atmosphere of the club was friendly and non-threatening” and that “there was a diverse demographic in regards to race, [with people speaking] French, Italian and Chinese”.
For whatever reasons, these findings did not make it into the Islington statement.
“We’ve always had a fantastic relationship with police and particularly the council. Only eight months ago, a judge tested all our systems and said we’re a beacon of best practice,”
the club’s co-founder Cameron Leslie told the Guardian
“Eleven weeks ago another licensee, from a venue that had a death, was sent to visit us to see how we managed things. How can this suddenly have changed overnight in such a damning way?”
The fightback had begun, Freedom of Information requests from fabric’s legal team and various media outlets, begun to uncover just how targeted this had become, this was not about finding and arresting dealers, this was about fabric, cue ‘Operation Lenor’ seemingly named after a well known brand of fabric softener. In 2014, Islington Council had reviewed fabric’s license following four drug deaths over three and a half years (only one death was found from drugs supplied in the venue). The review mandated some of the most stringent conditions ever placed on a UK licensed venue in history, including the venue to pay a private security firm for sniffer dogs outside of the venue on rotating shifts for at least 50% of the night.
Paddy Whur, the club’s solicitor during the 2014 review, pointing out: “The vast majority of private sector dog providers are not trained to the level that police dogs are. So it’s been difficult finding one to meet the criteria police want.” On December 11th, a Judge reversed the council and police’s decision, noting “The Judge went further and found that the use of a drugs dog could undermine the licensing objectives in a number of unintended ways, including causing drugs to remain in circulation that would otherwise have been confiscated under Fabric’s thorough search procedures.”
It is quite understandable that venues across the UK were watching this unfold before their eyes, were they next? would this set a precedent for other councils? what is the Mayor of London doing? Questions needed answers and people needed to be mobilised; and quick! fabric needed help and money, lots of it, enter #saveourculture and #savefabric a transparent fundraising campaign for the best legal teams, as well as driving a multi point approach to mobilising youth with social media, the music industry, various trade / industry bodies and the music media.
In just two weeks, fabric had raised an incredible £253,141.01. They had enlisted industry heavyweight Philip Kolvin QC and assisted by leading licensing solicitors Woods Whur both agreeing to represent the case at a significantly discounted rate, along with the generous offer of pro-bono legal support from barrister Patrick Hennessey.
The date was set, Monday 28th November at Highbury Magistrates Court, with support from London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan (although not wanting to intervene in local licensing rulings) Khan said:
“London’s iconic clubs are an essential part of our cultural landscape … My team have spoken to all involved in the current situation and I am urging them to find a common sense solution that ensures the club remains open while protecting the safety of those who want to enjoy London’s clubbing scene.”
The MP for Islington, Emily Thornberry, also wrote on Facebook that she believed Fabric should stay open.
“As a parent, my heart goes out to the family and friends of anyone who has lost loved ones at such a young age. But we must guard against the assumption that dangerous drug use would cease simply if we were to close a nightclub like Fabric.”
After a lengthy appeals hearing, 41 witness statements and with concessions from fabric, The Met and the council, fabric was to re-open, but it was not without conditions. 32 of them to be precise (in a 155 page document), they included banning entry to anyone under 19 on main nights, more comprehensive CCTV monitoring, ID scanners and lifetime bans for anyone caught asking for drugs as well as fabric conceding that that the police investigation was “reasonable” and that “procedures in relation to searching were insufficient, as were its procedures to prevent the consumption and dealing of drugs within the club itself”. Judge Robin McPhee told the court: “I’m satisfied that the council and fabric pulled together to get a set of workable conditions to prevent drug use and supply.” Ranjit Bhose, the QC acting for Islington council, told the court it was “satisfied management understand the processes they need to make sure Fabric is safe for young clubbers”.
A statement from the club following its successful appeal thanked supporters, telling them: “You saved Fabric.”
It said: “We owe everything to our supporters. We really would not be here today without your unparalleled support and generosity. So many different people stepped up to put their voices to our cause, artists from all corners of the music community, fellow promoters who have put on huge events from us and clubbers from around the world who all united behind us.”
So that’s it, we won, can the last person who leaves turn off the lights when you are done?…………………….. wait, not so fast
fabric is not an isolated case in the UK, nor around the world. In Sydney Australia, lock out laws have crippled the music and late night entertainment industry with developers eagerly snapping up former bars, clubs and shops in a once thriving nightlife district. In Rio, the government has banned electronic music festivals as a knee jerk reaction to festival deaths, LA has severe nightlife restrictions and regulations for festivals. It is a pattern of stringent over-regulation regulation from conservative governments, crippled by right wing media who are happy to splash absurd clickbait headlines across the front page.
It is essential for the long term development of ALL music and nightlife that the industry and punters support their scene and be vocal for their rights. Thankfully we have various industry bodies around the world that are at the forefront each day in not only uniting carious sectors of the music and entertainment industry, but also local politicians, police, medical staff, councils and local businesses to address the situation. With the AFEM, NITA, Keep Sydney Open and the Night Mayor initiative, it is now more than ever, to support these bodies.
By following them, you can keep up to date with new local initiatives, changes in laws, sign official petitions and be a part of the scene you rightly deserve. There is no quick and easy answer to solve the problems, but an “Us & Them” approach will not solve anything, we need to bring invested parties together to find common ground, to drive the economic message of a nightlife economy and find ways to better educate people on drug and alcohol use from much earlier ages.
You can hear ideas from at Electronic Music Conference 2017 from Judy Griffith, Fabric, Dr Adam Winstock, Global Drug Survey UK, Facilitated: Mirik Milan, Night Mayor Amsterdam in Sydney’s Redfern for a two-day program seeing international music leaders and industry experts appear across an array of panels, talks, workshops, parties and masterclasses on November 29-30. Tickets are on sale now via electronicmusicconference.com, with A Case Study of Fabric tickets available HERE