Inside the Fight to Reopen London's Famed Fabric Nightclub After Drug-Related Deaths

Billboard

Clubland is by nature ephemeral, but the dance-music community took a crushing blow on Sept. 7 when Fabric, one of Britain's best-known and most popular nightclubs, had its license revoked by London's Islington Council in the wake of the drug-related deaths of two 18-year-olds earlier in 2016. The club, which opened in 1999, helped spawn the careers of Disclosure, Skrillex, Calvin Harris and many others.

"For a country like the U.K. that has had such a big impact on dance music around the world, it's going to destroy the scene," says Three Six Zero's Maren Brombeiss, who manages DJ Sasha. That sentiment was echoed throughout the dance-music community with Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers and Pete Tong all expressing dismay at the decision. "Fabric changed my life," Skrillex tweeted. "There are so many records I would never have made if it wasn't for that club."

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A petition opposing the closure has attracted 160,000 signatures, while Fabric co-founder/director Cameron Leslie, 43, will appeal the decision and vows to fight it with "every bone" in his body.

"If this action can happen against Fabric -- a well-run operation that has always taken the challenge of the nighttime economy head-on -- then it can happen to anybody," Leslie tells Billboard. He vehemently contests the council's verdict that "a culture of drug use exists ... which the existing management and security appears incapable of controlling" at the club, which regularly hosted the world's biggest dance-music artists and welcomed 7,000 people through its doors every weekend. (The council declined to comment on an ongoing case.)


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The closure comes at a time when British venue operators are under increasing pressure from licensing restrictions and spiraling costs and local taxes. In the last decade, the number of U.K. nightclubs has fallen from 3,144 to 1,733, according to the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, with notable London clubs that have shuttered in that time including Cable, Dance Tunnel, Madame Jojos and Plastic People. The picture is similarly bleak when it comes to the live-music sector, where the number of "grass-roots" venues in London has slumped from 136 to 88 since 2007, according to the Music Venue Trust.

Leslie says "out of step" licensing regulations are also to blame for the decline of London's nightlife economy and that the laws "need to rapidly start changing. Venue operators are looking at the landscape and thinking, 'I don't want to be a part of this anymore.' "

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There are also fears that the closure of popular licensed nightclubs will simply drive the U.K. dance scene further underground, forcing fans to attend unlicensed premises far removed from the relative safety of venues like Fabric and London's 1,600-capacity Ministry of Sound, which have trained medics and security staff on-hand.

Leslie says that the closure of Fabric has already cost 500,000 pounds ($660,000) and resulted in 250 staff members losing their jobs. To help with the legal costs of fighting the council's decision, the club has launched a fundraising appeal that has received backing from across the music industry. "It is going to take strategic lobbying and negotiating to change attitudes," says Association for Electronic Music co-founder Ben Turner. "Now the fight is to get Fabric back open, and then change the laws so club owners are better protected."