It was a shock when fabric was shut down in September. I felt angry, sad, embarrassed on behalf of London that it was losing its finest nightclub, and nostalgic for my own clubbing past. Now that Islington Council has given it a sudden reprieve and a rescue deal has been agreed, I know I should feel elated, enthusiastically liking Facebook posts about how 2016 isn’t so bad after all. But I’m not. I don’t.
If I squeeze my eyes shut I can hear the throb of the speakers, the chatter of people at the bar, the rhythmic thud of feet tapping out patterns on the concrete floor. The memory of how the nightclub looks, feels and sounds is never far away. It could be fabric, it could be Berghain in Berlin or any of the other techno temples that are a Mecca for clubbers around the world.
Like so many others, I was deeply saddened when the north London nightclub had its licence revoked by Islington Council. Yes, the drug-related deaths of two young boys following a night out at the club was a total tragedy, but closing it seemed a misguided and draconian response. So, we grieved the loss of fabric. There was an outpouring of grief on social media, angry articles were written about the need for drug policy reform and the loss to London’s night time economy. Bitter jokes were made about the fact that just as the Night Tube was finally open, the capital’s finest disco den was forced to close.
The truth is that, like many of those so vocally mourning the loss of club, I hadn’t quite made it to fabric for a few years. While it was a comforting thought that it was there in the background, I had little intention of going before it was shut down – my days of nodding along on a darkened dancefloor were done and saying goodbye to fabric was quite a cathartic process. I let go of the partying side of my life and felt peaceful.
I was there the first weekend it opened in October 1999. We drove down from university in a convoy and spent three hours queuing in the cold to get in, anticipation helping us persevere. Once inside we wandered wide-eyed around this cavernous clubbing space, losing friends, making new ones, marvelling at the sound quality – the speakers are under the floor of the main dance room – and dancing to drum ‘n’ bass till the early hours.
Set in the bowels of an old meat-packing factory, it was a subterranean wonderland with passionate staff whose ability to spot and champion DJ talent helped the club become world famous. The careers of big names such as the mercurial techno DJ and producer Ricardo Villalobos flourished there. The artists reciprocated with unswerving loyalty, playing regularly, and often exclusively, at the club which became affectionately known as “the disco”.
In my early career as a journalist, I once wrote a review describing fabric as a “superclub”. I was soon contacted by their irked head of press, who informed me that the owners objected to that term. I was confused. If it wasn’t a “superclub”, what was it? But fabric was unique. It wasn’t like Ministry of Sound, which long ago became more of a brand than a club. It was derived from the underground, at a time when the Criminal Justice Act had put paid to the free party scene, and dance music lovers were looking for indoor places to party.
Over the years, my musical tastes evolved. I moved from the bass-heavy Friday nights to the more house and techno-focused Saturdays. With the occasional Sunday brunch session on the always-brilliant birthdays. The tenth birthday was a landmark and the club went all-out, replacing the turntables in Room Two with playstations, video game consoles and Twister. It was sophisticated clubbing at its finest and the disco never disappointed. Even when it was heaving on a Saturday night, there was always a secret spot in Room Three where you could dance unfettered.
The last time I was there was bittersweet. I was sitting at home alone on the Sunday afternoon of the club’s 14th birthday, reading a book and trying to resist following the party on social media. Then came a text from my recently ex-fiancé telling me to come. He had sold the engagement ring and wanted us to dance it, and the remnants of our relationship, away. I got changed, took a taxi and was in the club within the hour. I look back on that evening with affection, we shared a dance and a drink, and then went our separate ways. We said our goodbyes.
Now, as I read about the new rules the club will have to follow – the covert surveillance that will operate inside the club, the ID scanners, the increased CCTV – I wonder if the new atmosphere of safe hedonism will feel the same? If the shadow of those tragic deaths will ever be fully erased? Clubs rarely bounce back from the loss of a licence or a venue – Berlin’s legendary Tresor is a shadow of its former underground self after it closed, seemingly for good, in 2005, only to reopen in an atmosphere-less, oversized space two years later.
The decision of the judge is a positive sign for London’s nightlife, and I’m happy for the staff who got their jobs back and all those who campaigned so hard. But while I feel some pride in the power of the dance music community to unite and defend its interests, I won’t be going back to the disco. I’ve said my goodbyes and will continue to enjoy getting high on nostalgia at home instead.