You’ve probably already been inundated in social media with this news — London’s nightclub fabric saw its license revoked overnight last night. But there’s more to this story than simply another casualty of urban nightlife. With so much ink being spilt on this issue (uh, pixels being killed?), there are a few points to highlight.
The story so far:
Fabric had already come under license review by the council in Islington, the posh central London neighborhood where the club is located. Concerns about drug use eventually resulted in an order to resort to drug-sniffing dogs and ID cards – ironically, overturned at the end of last year when a judge ruled that neither would help with drug enforcement. (The dogs might even make matters worse.)
It seemed Fabric had dodged a bullet, until this summer. The tragic deaths of two 18-year-olds, allegedly the result of Ecstasy consumption, triggered another review. And this time, despite an international outpouring of support for the club including many prominent cultural figures and 150,000 signatures on a petition, the nightclub owners lost.
The premises license revocation means the club is closed permanently. You can read the complete description.
Read closely, though, and you’ll notice that most of the reasons for closure fall on testimony by Metropolitan Police, which in turn relies mostly on a single undercover operation. The evidence found in that operation is, surprisingly, mostly speculation and vague impressions – perhaps not what you’d expect from a club overrun by rampant drug use. (One report simply referred to people’s body language and sweating. Okay, regular clubgoers: how many times has someone wrongfully assumed you were high when you were just going wild and dancing? Actually, if the answer to that isn’t a lot, I suggest you dance a bit harder when sober, quite frankly.) The most shameless moment came when the council reportedly asked if slowing down bpm would make people safer; see the Independent for appropriate parody.
You can read plenty of impassioned and informed defenses of Fabric – why demonizing drug use alone doesn’t make sense, why Fabric is an important cultural asset, why the reasons behind this decision may have little consideration for public safety.
But I want to call attention to the public safety issue in particular. It’s not enough simply to say that closing Fabric fails to address drug use. I think you have to go to the opposite extreme. Substance abuse, including alcohol abuse, is a significant risk to young people – and not just because of overdose and alcohol poisoning, respectively. Substances are associated with violent crime and sexual assault. They’re indirectly cause of other health problems. And they themselves may stem from other serious mental health problems.
These problems all exist with or without nightclubs. The question of what we do in the music community is not simply whether we cope with those problems, but whether we become active in making the world we live in a bit better.
And that’s why the closure of Fabric should be particularly disturbing. Just as with anti-terrorism efforts, artificially vilifying large groups of people or resorting to ineffective enforcement actually makes us all less safe, not more safe. It destroys the partnerships you need to make things improve.
And by all possible measures, Fabric deserved its “gold standard” label in this regard. That wasn’t a reputation in the dance music community, it was a reputation earned in law enforcement. Resident Advisor obtained the testimony of the club co-founder. It’s a great read, but I want to highlight in particular his bullet list of what they’ve done with law enforcement and why, until recently, they had a positive relationship:
A quick snapshot of some of the initiatives we have launched together:
• A Police instigated youth outreach music program, getting seriously damaged kids from De Beauvoir Estate in to music programs at the Club
• Launched the Safer Travel in London initiative
• Date rape drug awareness initiative
• The Hollaback anti-harassment program
• We were pioneering in tackling the blight of mobile phone theft. Creating much of the assets and procedures used by other London venues
• Founder members of the City Of London police independent advisory group
• We host police dog training and tactical fire arms training
• Islington always include fabric in purple flag assessment
• Founders and ongoing chair of the EC1 Pub and Club watch
Read Cameron Leslie’s full speech to Islington Council [Resident Advisor]
And this is why everyone who works in nightlife ought to be worried. We need these partnerships – not just to try to prevent these kinds of deaths, but also harassment, rape, and violence.
The focus on particular illicit drugs – in exclusion of other substances – should be particular cause for worry. They suggest enforcement’s priorities are backwards. Opioids pose problems on an order of magnitude worse than something like MDMA, from crime to health to addiction. Focusing all efforts on “party” drugs makes no sense. And then there’s alcohol. In the UK alone, thousands of violent crimes (and tens of thousands more non-violent crimes) are associated with alcohol use. Apart from drunk driving accidents, you can also account for nearly 500 deaths in 2013 in the UK due to alcohol poisoning, yet these don’t receive media attention.
My own home country is something of a cautionary example. The United States has seen drug abuse continue to worsen; anti-rave laws had the effect of making substances more dangerous, missing an opportunity to embrace intelligent regulation and prevention and risk mitigation.
Thinking this is Fabric’s problem or the UK’s problem would seem a big mistake. Here in supposedly progressive continental Europe, we face the same battles.
If you want to know what happened in the UK, the Independent has an excellent report. You might not agree with their conclusions, but to their credit they’ve amassed additional information on which you could base such a decision:
Was this the real reason Fabric was shut down? ‘Operation Lenor’ and a cash-strapped council and police
iNews, meanwhile, gets a good survey of what this may mean culturally in the UK:
What’s going on with Britain’s nightlife?
If you do live in the UK, FACT has a nice summary of actions you can take (less relevant to the rest of us, though still worth reading):
Fabric: Seven things you can do today to protest the club’s closure
Even Fabric’s battle is not necessarily over. The owners’ statement today says they’re unsure of the next step, but the Night Time Industry Association, a London advocacy group, promises to appeal this decision and continue the campaign.
From the perspective of dance music, though, generally, this should be a warning. I think it’s long past time any of us associated with nightlife venues build better relationships with policymakers and communities. It’s important that the spaces we have are private, that they’re exclusive, that they make safe environments. But we need alliances outside those spaces.
What’s chilling about Fabric is that they did all those things and were still shuttered. And that’s why action here is so urgently needed.
If we hope to have any chance of addressing mental health, violence, LGBTQ equality, substance abuse, harassment, rape, and indeed self expression, we will need established institutions and not only illegal parties or private space, and we’ll need these kinds of collaborations. That means whether or not we in the international community can solve Islington’s problems or save Fabric, we have to at least make sure Fabric’s story doesn’t end here.