By Victoria Elliott, London Young Greens committee member
On Tuesday 7th September, Islington Council announced the permanent closure of London’s iconic nightclub, Fabric. The decision has been met with widespread disappointment and condemnation, by the Mayor of London, a number of drug-related NGOs including Transform Drug Policy Foundation and Drugwise, and hundreds of thousands of DJs and club-goers, past and present. Our own Green Councillor in Islington, Caroline Russell, fought the Labour majority to save the club, expressing regret that the Council did not work with Fabric to improve safety and keep its doors open.
So, why the furore over one expensive central-London club? It’s really about a lot more than just this venue – epochal as it has been on the world clubbing scene. Fabric is merely the latest in a long line of closed clubs and pubs (many of them the already sparse queer spaces) across the city in the last decade and its closure represents so much more than the end of one club’s nights. In this fate, Fabric finds itself at an intersection of the racist war on drugs, aggressive gentrification and specifically urban class and age inequalities, where the young simply keep on losing.
That the prohibition of drugs has been an abject failure is a truism at this point. The war on drugs has cost billions in the name of safety, yet clearly keeps us no safer – and in fact has propelled a racist discrepancy in criminal convictions in the UK as well as the US. Nonetheless, the Council have claimed that Fabric has been closed over concern for the partiers due to a “culture of drug use” and a desire to see the danger this poses eradicated.
Given that experts and case studies repeatedly tell us that criminalisation leads to more dangerous drugs making it onto a more dangerous market, and given that we know people will continue to seek their deserved thrills and fun no matter what the legality of the particular substances involved (and here I will take for granted that we can all see the blatant political hypocrisy where alcohol is involved) – Islington’s council is, at best, naive, and, at worst, knowingly abdicating its responsibility to ensure the safety of its constituents. Instead of understanding that people simply are not going to stop using drugs recreationally and seeking to implement better harm-reduction strategies, they have revoked the license and displaced any potential future drug-related problems to another venue – or, worse, underground.
Here, I think, the real stake becomes starkly evident. From Councils to the Commons, our elected officials simply do not consider young people to be constituents worth caring about. Maybe it’s because we are less likely to vote, or maybe it’s because we have less money and less influence over other people’s money. No one would argue that the recent deaths of the two young people at Fabric – and all the other drug-related deaths – are anything but tragedies. But clearly, there is a serious difference in the treatment of this venue compared to, for example, the (£415-£950 per night) Dorchester hotel, where a man sadly died of a cocaine overdose last week. There are no calls, other than in irony, to shut those gilded doors for good.
Thus, the ongoing closure of venues mostly frequented by the young across the city displays a blunt disrespect for youth culture and young people. This is direct in the case of the Islington Council, and indirect in the form of gentrification and absurd property prices and hiking rents that are pushing the young and the working classes out of the city. There is little doubt that the space these clubs have taken up will make way for expensive flats or the only corporate eateries who can afford the skyrocketing rent. As Clash Magazine put it, the Fabric closure “seems to solidify the belief amongst young people that London simply does not belong to them. It belongs to bankers and real estate agents, and not clubbers, promoters and DJs.”
It is the more vulnerable and marginalised in society who are the first victims of gentrification, as we are seeing in this case and – vitally – in the high numbers of queer venues that have shut down in recent years. In all the thinkpieces following Fabric’s closure, there has been mention of other clubs being shut but never specific acknowledgement of the disproportionate number of LGBT+ spaces among them. Focusing on queer clubs is important because in this we can highlight how a nightclub is so much more than a place where people come to drink and dance.
Queer clubs in London have for decades acted as safe, welcoming spaces for groups of people who are marginalised, abused, judged and mistreated, and remain such vital parts of those communities. Dan Savage wrote about this beautifully after the Orlando massacre in June: “I had been told that being gay meant being alone, that being homosexual meant being miserable, that being queer meant being loveless, friendless, and joyless. Then I walked into a gay bar where I saw men with their friends and men with their lovers. I saw men dancing and I saw men laughing. I found a community that I had been told didn’t exist.”
While Fabric isn’t exactly a safe-haven for the oppressed in the same way as those places Savage refers to, the value of all spaces where people can come together, dance and let go of their day-time worries is much, much greater than another set of expensive flats with a Pret downstairs. Young people, and queer people, need places to exist for us – we need places we can go to not work. Our city is taking these places away and pushing us out.