On September 6th the world held its breath as a decision on the continuation of iconic nightclub fabric was made. The tragic deaths of two eighteen year old men told of a tragic tale.
The decision was not as we’d hoped, and an illustration of a bleak future for London’s club culture was painted. The war on drugs, the police, Islington council and an ironically named concept called ‘Operation Lenor’ all played their part in the closure of one of the world’s most beloved venues.
Throughout this feature we’ve taken a deeper look at the war on drugs and how our outdated drug policies contributed to the killing of fabric, a journey through the Islington Council hearing itself and the concept of Operation Lenor, corruptly designed to obscure our views of the truth in order to satisfy the already bursting belly of gentrification.
The Present Tense
Our government screams for eradication whilst the more liberal minded of us protest for an updating of our drug laws. We’ve played witness to many a brutal battle over the years; a repetitive cycle provoked by the simple difference of opinion.
In all honesty, no matter what your opinion is, the war on drugs is failing. Rand Europes Internet Facilitated Drugs Trade Report recently discovered that the UK’s online drug trade is one of the biggest in the world, second only to the United States at a worth of £1.8 million per month.
The shutting down of the infamous Silk Road in 2013 was thought to bring an end to this booming illegality, but the report found that it did very little to halt the growth of online drug trade. After Silk Road’s closing the monthly numbers of online deals had tripled by January. Nope, you read that correctly. Tripled. The UK’s drug trade accounts for 16% of drugs sold worldwide. The most successful online dealers are believed to be earning £211,592 a month.
Now, if you felt before reading this that the war on drugs was actually doing some good, what do you think now? Can you really completely stop people buying and using drugs? Like it or not, they’re here. This idealistic image of a drug free society is dangerously arrogant. It’s resulting in the eradication of UK culture. The most recent battle we’ve played witness to is the war on drugs vs fabric London. A club regarded as a jewel in the clubbing crown locked horns with Islington Council to determine where its future lay.
The Dividing of Opinion
The drug related deaths of two eighteen year old men at fabric London sparked a three way war between the Met Police, Islington Council and the club itself. Despite fabric’s openness to work alongside authorities the club came under serious risk of being shut down indefinitely.
Met Police stated that the venue is “a safe haven for the supply and consumption of illegal drugs” whilst fabric’s director, Cameron Leslie, issued a statement explaining “the safety of our customers has always been our number one priority. Any suggestion that we are not one hundred percent committed to the tackling of drugs on the premises is completely false.”
The war raged on as politicians, such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour Party MP Emily Thornberry, had their say. Khan stated that “clubbing needs to be safe” before stating that any decision made was completely out of his own hands. Thornberry issued a statement reinforcing the need for collaboration as opposed to opposition.
”What we need is for club owners and the police to work together, not against eachother, in order to make whatever reasonable and appropriate changes are required to mitigate the risks as much as possible.
Basically what this comes down to is just a dividing of opinion. One side says one thing, the other responds with an opposing view. There has always been a divide between authorities and the rave community. It’s a repetitive cycle that we see year after year, isn’t it about time the wheel was broken?
Whilst the events that unfolded at fabric this year, and in December 2015 when four people sadly lost their lives, are truly tragic it makes no sense to just shut up shop when the going gets tough. Since fabric opened in 1999 there have been six deaths. During the same period one hundred and eighty people have died in Met Police custody. Is the Met Police’s custody going to permanently close? Some might say that that’s being slightly unfair, and childish, but it’s the same principle. Clubbing does need to be safe and we as a society need to ensure that it stays safe, but as the battle continued many people began to question, is closure really the answer?
Would Closure Stop Death by Drug?
Those who have attended fabric have continually commented on the safety measures in place. The bouncers with their watchful eyes and the potential fatalities if it weren’t for the on site first aiders.
Alternative options to combat drug related deaths in fabric have tried and failed. Sniffer dogs cause panic and anger at the concept of already being treated like a criminal before entry. The threat of getting caught inside the venue sometimes means that people attending take their drugs for the whole night in one go, leading to fatal overdose. Alternatively, people may choose to buy off a dealer inside, but that desperation is manipulated by dealers who don’t really know what they’re selling as pound signs light up their eyes.
The Global Drug Survey found that MDMA consumption has gone up forty two percent since last year. This is yet more evidence that people will always find a way to take drugs. It reinforces the opinion that eradication is impossible and policies are in need of updating.
Take a step back from the war for a second and think what would happen if those first aiders and bouncers weren’t on hand to help. Well, that’s what potentially stared fabric in the face. The closure of an iconic and beloved venue would only lead to people venturing to illegal raves and events where the correct facilities are not in place to combat overdose, leading to more tragedy.
Fabric’s Potential in the Face of Despair
Earlier in the summer UK independent festival The Secret Garden Party collaborated with charitable organisation The Loop to pioneer drug testing services for festival goers. It became the first festival of its kind inside the UK to do so.
Two hundred individuals took advantage of the service while the festival founder, Freddie Fellowes, explained that “harm reduction and welfare is a vital part of hosting any event and it’s an area that for too long has seen little development of advancement.”
The testing came up trumps with high strength ectasy pills being discovered as well as anti-malaria tablets being sold as ketamine and ammonium sulphate being sold as MDMA. If these testing methods weren’t put into practice, who knows what damage could have been done.
So, why couldn’t fabric be used like this? There are UK party events, such as The Warehouse Project, that implement testing methods but these are not front of house services and there is no real interaction between the party goer and the tester. One of the most iconic clubs in the world seems like a pretty decent spot to pioneer new testing methods and policies in regards to drug use.
In the face of potential closure an idea sprouted amongst the fabric loyal. Instead of closure why not abolish this ignorant, eradication craving ethos in favour for something that will actually make a difference?
A Damning Verdict
On September 6th an anxiety riddled Islington Town Hall congregated to reach a verdict on fabric’s future.
Councillors began by whisking those directly involved to a private room to discuss exempt information on behalf of the police’s cases; as they returned the police stepped up the plate to deliver their damning verdict on London’s most iconic venue.
A police representative stated that fabric had become an “environment tolerant of drugs and crime” on the basis of “evidence taken across a number of nights.” The case was based on the easy accessibility to drugs due to the lack of thorough searches and clear cases of intoxication. The one sided case continued as it was stated that the police possessed “no confidence that conditions would be met” and that it was a “tragic irony” that the conditions of 2014’s standards review were not met by fabric. The conclusion – “there should be a serious case for license revocation.”
The police failed to answer whether they would allow anonymous drug testing at the club and admitted that they failed to find out how Manchester police had OK’d the testing of drugs at The Warehouse Project in Manchester.
Once again those involved retreated to the private room for discussion.
Licensing Authorities Stand Up
Next up, the licensing authorities.
The galleries witnessed a more neutral case here. The authorities stated that “a higher level of transparency” was required when working with authorities and called for “robust measures” to be put into place without the club being completely condemned.
The drug dog idea was brought up once more, but again shot down due to beliefs that drug dogs incite panic and can lead to potential overdose as club goers may take all of their drugs in one go before entering. Then came a reflection on just how out of touch those making the decision on the future of London’s club culture really are.
The council proceeded to enquire if safety would increase if music with a higher BPM was banned. This raised a few eyebrows in the crowd before the licensing team confirmed that this was not enforceable. The team went on to call for a “speedy and rapid response” when seeing illness within the venue alongside better drug information before the public health inspector finally mentioned the most obvious answer to the problem of drug safety, drug education.
The licensing team displayed an openness and collaborative effort to see an increase in drug education and information that was not visible during the police’s initial case. An Islington councillor burst into tears before calling for the license to be revoked before the hearing comes to a halt as the head councillor calls for people to speak up in favour of the endangered venue.
The Voice of the People
For the first time the audience erupt into applause as an elderly man stands up to give his defence of fabric. A realisation of just how much this club means to the people hovers over everyone in attendance.
Alan Miller of the Night Time Industry Association makes a strong case for the opening of fabric before Alexander Proud, owner of Proud Galleries, states that over two million people have entered the club and only six deaths have tragically occurred. A councillor quickly shuts down Proud passion radiates from his lips, stating that he has exhausted his two minutes.
The public continue to mirror the licensing authorities views on drug education before artist Kate Simko entitles dance music as “the sound of a generation”. Simko goes on to praise the searching of security upon entry before warning that “closing fabric will have an undeniable impact on this city.”
The fabric team have been attentively listening for hours. Now it’s their turn.
Fabric’s defence opens with the fact that both London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, supports their plea, before commenting on the save fabric campaign that reached around 130,00 signatures.
Fiona Measham, the professor of Criminology and Director of the Inside Out prison exchange programme at Durham University, steps up to the plate and reinforces the fact that the strength of pills has sky rocketed recently and that this must be taken into account. Measham goes on to state that “closing fabric might increase drug related problems” before the fabric co-founder, Cameron Leslie, makes himself heard for the first time.
Leslie makes it known that he is insulted at comments made by the Met Police that fabric is a “safe haven” for drug use and distribution and draws attention to the clubs co-operation with authorities over the last seventeen years. Each claim made from the opposition is met with an educated response as Leslie reveals TripAdvisor reviews actually complaining about how thorough the security searches are and describes the club as the “darling of Met Police” for twelve years after it’s opening. A powerful and heartfelt speech comes to an end. Rapturous applause sounds out as councillors begin to question the fabric team.
This marks the beginning of an extremely long process as questions based on the issues of patron safety and welfare become repetitive and borderline intrusive. Every question is met once more with well planned and thought out responses. Measham states that drug education would be more effective in schools than in clubs before the fabric team collectively highlight each change made to their security polices following previous fatalities, stating that one was due to a dangerous amount of drugs being consumed at one time before entry to the club.
The council, not so swiftly, move onto fabric’s relationship with the police. The fabric team make their co-operation with authorities known, stating that they send information regarding dealings and muggings in the area to the police every week. Fabric’s zero tolerance policy towards drugs is reiterated before Leslie drills deeper into the tragic crust, stating that he would be happy to hire someone who had a history of working for the policy in order to establish increased safety.
Questions reach peak repetitiveness as a musk of nervousness and exhaustion hangs in the air. An age limit suggestion is regarded as an “interesting proposition” by Measham before fabric offer to change certain aspects such as a new security contractor, a different music policy and different ways of searching people.
Measham offers two minutes for each party to sum up their case. You can guess how this goes. The police call for complete revocation while fabric express annoyance at the invasiveness of the test thrust upon them. Reminders of public support and cultural importance bounce off the walls as it is made clear that establishment needs to support club culture, not murder it.
Meeting adjourned. Six hours of back and forth questioning arrives at a halt. “Have we reached a tipping point where the venue must be closed?”
Subculture locked horns with establishment as discussion goes on behind closed doors. Fabric’s bind on London’s club culture is seemingly becoming worn. The crowd grows more and more anxious. Artists such as Plastician take to social media to support the awaiting verdict.
Finally the chosen few emerge.
”A culture of drugs exists at a club which management cannot control.” Game over. Fabric will close.
A sorrowful silence reigns out as another piece of UK club culture circles the drain before disappearing into darkness. “We’ll fight this.”
As if the closure of the UK’s most beloved wasn’t enough to get upset about, here comes the real kick in the teeth.
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information, after an investigation by The Independent, have suggest that long term plans for the closure of fabric were already in place. Drug legislation still has its part to play, but here it becomes apparent that it was used as a smokescreen, obscuring our view from the truth.
The report finds that the undercover police operation found no hard evidence of drug taking inside the venue. Observations were carried out; someone sweating over there, eyes glazed over here, what’s he staring into space for? In fact, the original report carried out by police stated that “the general atmosphere of the club was friendly and non threatening.” Does that sound like a club that should be closed to you?
For the first time in history the venue itself sat firmly in the police’s crosshairs, as opposed to the dealers themselves.
OK, now we get down to the nitty gritty. The Independent reports that Islington council has lost half its funding in the last six years. This year it stands to lose seventeen million pounds and the Islington police potentially face losing up to 252 officers. The difficult economic climate that exists has resulted in costs being cut across public services, yet investment and building projects seem to appear from thin air.
If you “follow the money trail”, as The Independent so brilliantly put it, you will notice a correlation of what is happening in London and what happened to the Hacienda in Manchester, now unrecognisable under a corporate image of 130 flats.
It paints an ugly picture. Fabric was always intended to close. Drug policies and the police certainly played their part, but it was a ruse designed by a corrupt architect obsessed by the idea of foreign investment. Once again UK club culture makes way for the gentrification of London. Plastician put it best – “Using kids deaths to push an agenda to acquire property. Congratulations Islington council. A new low for the gentrification of LDN.”
The Disappearance of UK Club Culture
”I can’t say I can give you confidence. I’m hopeful, but this is a real complex challenge. Look at the picture of London in 2006, then in 2016, and just take that as a snapshot. This is not a thriving industry. If we close I think it would be a rather damning testament to exactly where we are at the moment” – Cameron Leslie.
The closure of fabric only reinforces the dark and dismal future that may lie for London’s nightlife. Dance music isn’t seen as culturally valuable in the UK, like it is in cities such as Berlin and Amsterdam. It isn’t viewed as an art form, instead it has an ugly stigma tattooed upon its forehead.
The rich and powerful continue to condemn our most beloved venues. Venues where we escape the harsh realities of life. Where we go to fall in love. Where we go to have our minds blown by alien sounds from across the globe. It just isn’t fair that we keep being trampled on like we’re Mufasa in a canyon full of wildebeest, but the powerful and corrupt will continue to oppress us as they shake hands with foreign investors.
It’s a bleak image. A soundtrack that was once vibrant and full of life is now saturated with depression and heartache. What’s important now is that we challenge the oppressors. I don’t mean by simply signing a petition. Real action needs to take place and it needs to take place now. Sadiq Khan and his future Night Czar need to bring out the big guns and gain our respect and trust. If not, I feel that UK club culture could receive a stab wound to the heart before finally becoming still.
Photo 3 by Steve Rolles.