BBMAs 2018

Op-Ed: To Save Fabric Club and Nightlife, Dance Music Culture Must Unite

 Sarah Ginn/PYMCA/REX/Shutterstock
Fabric nightclub in London. 

Association for Electronic Music founder urges electronic music community to come together.

‘culture definition’. {The sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next.}

I’ve never felt the need to look up the word ‘culture’ before. I like to think I understood its meaning after 25 years in the music business, a large chunk of which was spent a journalist pushing electronic music forward against the agenda of rock newspapers and broadsheet newspapers in England. However, I tapped the word into my browser on Wednesday morning (Sept. 7) on the train to my office in Vauxhall, London, after coming off a call with Keith Reilly, the co-founder and owner of Fabric. Just eight hours before the call, 18 years of hard work creating one of the world’s most iconic, influential and innovative music venues came to a potentially bitter end when the club’s local licensing authority, Islington Council, refused to allow him to continue operating after the tragic deaths of two clubbers at the venue. I had witnessed Reilly and co-founder Cameron Leslie put together a powerful campaign of resistance backed by more than 150,000 supporters, including the great and good of the artist community who have performed there over the years, and was convinced the council wouldn’t take such a short-sighted stance.

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Yet Fabric’s efforts were ignored by the council, despite a powerful and educated defence by Leslie. I felt helpless on Wednesday morning, like most did around me. We felt as empty as the morning after the Brexit vote. Let down by our country, let down by our systems. It was an intense conversation initially as we hadn’t spoken for a year, but Reilly’s passion and positivity came flooding back, reminding me of the time when he first told me about his plans for the club in the late ‘90s. It was this passion and conviction that has seen the club survive countless attempts by the police to close it down. It was also this passion that makes me want to help address the future.

In 2014, Billboard’s then-editor Bill Werde addressed IMS Engage in Los Angeles with a fascinating speech where he said that if the electronic music industry could drop the chip off its shoulder about the world being against us, we would free ourselves to move forward. To some degree, this has happened in the American world of EDM, a movement led by artists mostly from the rock world or those not alive when the genre even began in the country back in 1986. However, it is at moments like this – the closure of a groundbreaking counter-culture music discovery platform, a beacon of excellence in the world of electronic music – when the vulnerability of our music rings home loud and clear and we once again fear for the genre’s existence.

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In the ‘90s, there was little proof of the value of our culture, no mechanism to measure the economic impact of clubs or festivals on key cities and countries. There was no figure on the global value of the electronic music. There was no respect for the art form of DJing. Fast-forward to 2016 and it’s a very different world. We have created a unique culture. The value of electronic music is now $7.1 billion, as measured by the IMS Business Report. Many electronic music DJs are the highest-paid artists in the world for single night performances. Electronic music is the soundtrack to Hollywood movies, mainstream radio, commercials, art installations, computer games and most successful modern popular music. Our artists close the Olympics and collaborate with everybody from Jay Z to Anish Kapoor. The music that began in bedrooms and was transferred into clubs and festivals by DJs is now considered art. It is culture. We are unique but we are now recognised, We finally have a voice.

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It is this voice that now has to rally together intelligently and coherently. The first step is to #SAVEFABRIC and get the doors open. The next step after that is to #SAVENIGHTLIFE. And the step after that is to fight to change legislation that penalises club and live venue owners for the terrible deaths that can happen in their properties at any given moment, usually for reasons out of their control. Who is going to invest in club culture or live music if you can be closed down by authorities for young people wanting to live their lives, make choices and enjoy their youth? Who will invest in the culture? We are distraught at the loss of life; people have died at festivals I am involved in. However, like most of our peers, we do everything within our powers to educate while we entertain.

Culture is passed from generation to generation, but every now and then, a movement comes along that changes everything. For people like me and the thousands of industry colleagues we’ve connected to around the world, this music is our everything. It’s classless, it’s not reliant on a spoken language, its truly a global way of living. There are people such as Keith Reilly, James Barton of Cream, Lohan Presencer of Ministry of Sound, Lincoln Cheng from Zouk in Singapore, Dave Clarke from Soma / Slam in Glasgow, Steffen Charles from TimeWarp, Gary Richards and his HARD festivals, Pasquale Rotella and Insomniac, the Paxahau crew in Detroit with Movement, and the late Anthony H Wilson from the Hacienda in Manchester who have fought the authorities throughout their careers because this music changed their lives, and in turn they wanted to change young people’s lives. None of these visionaries wanted to create a culture where people would lose lives.

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The global electronic scene is finally learning to speak with one voice and address the issues facing us, as it has become clear that we suffer from not being unified. Now is a time when this industry has to bring in the support of wider cultural organisations in and around traditional mainstream music to help us change the laws and change the attitudes of the authorities who are out to victimise the music in order to blame somebody else and avoid the bigger issue.

It is vital that this industry responds intelligently. It is vital that this industry talks to contemporary promoters such as the Warehouse Project in Manchester, England, who are boldly trying drug testing in venues to help educate their young audiences, and going against the country’s established protocol. This is a major moment where the trade organisations of culture need to unite, from AFEM to UK Music to the Association of Independent Music to the Featured Artists Coalition and the equivalent bodies around the world. We all represent the artists and industry that make this incredible culture progress. This is not an electronic music problem. This is a culture needing to unite in all aspects of contemporary music to help protect the music lover – both the punter from the hazards of drug consumption, and the promoter from the authorities who are out to close them down the minute something goes wrong.

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There are a lot of rumours and conspiracy theories about the decision to evict Fabric from its premises because of its real estate value to Crossrail, museums and councils. All of it may be true. Even if it is, the fact remains that Fabric nurtures the careers of thousands of artists, employs hundreds of people, inspires hundreds of thousands of music lovers from all over the world for 52 weeks a year, and expertly never compromises its integrity to make a quick buck. It remains one of the most respected institutions in music culture in this era, no different to Studio 54 for disco in New York or the Marquee Club for rock bands in London back in the day.

I believe Fabric will re-open because the decisions and processes made against it have completely exposed the biases and prejudices of the decision makers. I have every faith the campaign that is about to launch to correct this decision will help convey the message that this is a direct attack on youth culture, the kind we overcame in London in the 1990s. We’ve made huge progressions as a culture since that time and the music world must not accept this decision without an educated fight to prove its incredibly positive, progressive lifestyle and musical enrichment qualities. It’s time to save lives. Education is the key, starting with educating the powers that be. #SAVENIGHTLIFE #SAVEFABRIC​.

Billboard Dance reached out to representatives for the Islington Borough Council for comment. On Sept. 12, a representative commented: "The decision of Islington Council’s licensing committee on Fabric’s licence was based solely on the evidence, submissions, and representations put before the committee. To suggest anything else is simply wrong. For the avoidance of doubt, Islington Council is not the owner of the building and has no property interest in the site.” 

Ben Turner is the co-founder of the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) and International Music Summit (IMS)