INTERVIEW: fabric London… 19 years and still going strong
For close to two decades, London clubbing has been synonymous with one venue – fabric – and while the music may have changed, the Farringdon venue remains at the top of tis game.
On 19th October, fabric celebrates its 19th birthday with a storming 30-hour session featuring Craig Richards, Terry Francis, Ricardo Villalobos, Apollonia, Dax J, Helena Hauff, Jay Clarke and a smattering of others, while this month is also notable for the release of the final release in the fabric mix series (the label will continue releasing in a different form, though fabric are yet to announce details). fabric 100, mixed by Craig Richards, Terry Francis and Keith Reilly, is released on 26th October.
But the fabric story might have turned out very differently, with the club’s licence revoked by Islington Council in 2016, following two tragic fatalities. However, the massive #savefabric and #saveourculture campaigs saw the club reinstated five months later, more focused than ever before.
Ahead of the forthcoming birthday, 909originals caught up with fabric’s longstanding promotions managers – and industry legends – Judy Griffith and Andy Blackett.
909originals: There are just a few days until the 19th birthday, with the club throwing its doors open once again for a 30-hour party. How did the ’30-hour’ thing come about?
Judy: I think the first time we did it was on the 10th birthday, which was in 2009. If you think back to that time, Berghain was just coming on the scene, and you had people heading over to Berlin, and literally going clubbing all weekend. For ourselves here at the club, the night never ended when the club closed on a Sunday morning, there was always another party going on.
We had a 24-hour licence, but we never looked to exploit it in that way – to throw a party that lasts all weekend. So the 10th birthday was sort of a homage to that Berlin scene, and it was probably the biggest birthday we had held at that time.
So on the back of that, we started to do a few more 30-hour parties – we had the feeling that people were ready for it, that it was something that we could do quite regularly.
I remember we held one on the May Bank Holiday the following year, and it had an amazing line-up: Seth Troxler, Matthew Dear, we even had Nina Kraviz playing in Room 3 – she was just becoming more established at that point. But there was a point in the daytime where many people went home, so it was sort of a learning curve for us.
We realised we had to put a lot of planning into future parties, to make sure that every part of the night – and day – is just as strong as any other part. Some people might come in from midnight to 8am, others might do a Sunday afternoon shift, and some might just come in for the Sunday night. So now it’s something that we only do for big events, such as the birthday, and the line-up is usually our biggest of the year.
Andy: At the same time, London has changed. When we used to go out clubbing, it was the most important thing in our lives. Now, it’s just one of many important things in someone’s life. While people used to go out clubbing every week, now they go to big parties every four to six weeks.
Over the past couple of years, London has become a massively different place. I don’t want to say that it’s due to Brexit, but we have noticed fewer Europeans coming to visit. Plus everything is getting more expensive in general. You have to respond to that.
With the birthday, the date is fixed months in advance, and it’s on the same weekend as ADE in Amsterdam, meaning you have people flying in; it’s a big event.
909originals: I suppose one way to think about it is that fabric’s competition used to be other club nights, but now you’re up against festivals and events like that?
Judy: Exactly. The birthday is like programming a festival. We didn’t think like that originally, but you’re right.
This generation is all about events. They don’t want to come to a club every week, they want to save up for that one big event. That could be your event, but it could also be any number of events.
Andy: If you look at the birthday lineup, it’s certainly up there with a lot of the festivals around Europe.
909originals: Of course, things could have turned out so differently – it’s just over two years since fabric was ordered to close. How difficult has it been to get back into your stride?
Andy: It’s certainly made us conscious of putting all our eggs in one basket. When we closed, Friday was going through a bit of a generational change, but Saturdays were rolling. Things were going really well… and suddenly the rug was pulled from us in a way.
Even with the venue shut, we still had bills to pay. We had to go down to a skeleton team of staff, it was really like going back to square one. For those first six weeks after the closure, we were in turmoil. Our managing director had to assess whether we had enough funds to fight it, or if that really was going to be the end.
Thankfully, we were able to tap into our reserves and get enough together to fight the case. Then the campaign started, and we hadn’t seen anything like it.
We received support from across the world, including DJs, people that had come to fabric in the past, and other members of the public.
I remember Carl Cox saying he hadn’t seen anything like it since the fight against the Criminal Justice Bill. The whole community came together; other clubs that are usually our competition donated to the campaign. Before, their attitude might have been ‘this isn’t happening to us, so let’s keep our head down’. But they realised we were all in it together.
Judy: To be honest, we had no idea how far the campaign would go. We thought we would just get a petition together, and hopefully get a good response. We were making it up as we went along, really; we never in a million years could have expected that the response would be so large.
Andy: I think the campaign resonated with people. Everyone that had been to the club understood that the search on the door is one of the most stringent in the business. The medical assistance we provide is second to none, which was acknowledged in the coroners report.
But when you are a licensed venue, you are responsible for the people on your property, and until there is a sensible conversation about drugs and personal responsibility, things like this are going to happen; if not to us, then to other venues, or at music festivals.
909originals: Would you say that the community spirit among London clubs improved as a result of the closure and subsequent campaign? Rather than being in competition, it’s more like ‘co-opetition’ – you are looking out for each other?
Andy: It’s a lot more open, certainly. We’re in regular communication with some clubs in the area, and the information flow between venues is a lot healthier. Clubs are coming to us to ask ‘how are you dealing with such and such a situation?’ and vice versa.
Judy: Before, they never would have shared that information with us. That’s one positive thing that has come out of the whole situation; we all have a dialogue now.
909originals: Is there anything noticeably different about how the club is run?
Andy: It’s mainly around welfare; we have people who work the club and make sure everyone is alright. We have extra medics on the team. Our medical response, I would argue is the best in the country.
Judy: We’re spending more on security and welfare – this has added to the overheads of running the space, but we’re doing everything we can to be as safe a place as possible.
Getting in takes a little longer now so on a Saturday we now open the second room an hour later – we used to open it at 11, but now we stagger the times and it opens at midnight, just to make sure we can get everyone in.
Andy: The search is thorough but not intrusive – and very respectful. The early walk up has changed as well so we’ve started staggering the tickets at different times. Before we used to sell one ticket, and you came whenever you liked, but now we do a ‘before midnight’ ticket, and an ‘after midnight’ ticket – things like that, to keep things flowing…
Of course, the music is the same as it’s always been.
909originals: The fact that fabric has made it to 19 years – temporary closure notwithstanding – is impressive; when you think back to when it opened, you had Cream, you had Gatecrasher, you had Home… none of which still exist. How do you account for the club’s longevity?
Judy: I think it’s about sticking to your guns, and being quite stubborn. Don’t change what you do because other people are changing.
It’s not just about believing in ourselves, it’s also in the artists that we book, and the crowd we attract.
Andy: Getting to landmarks like the 18th or 19th birthday, we’ve realised ‘wow, this person has been playing with us for 15 years’, or more in some cases. We don’t follow fads; we don’t book someone for two years and then move on to the ‘next big thing’. We’d like to think we’ve stayed true to people.
Judy: We’ve created new genres, and we’ve supported them even when the support isn’t necessarily there. One of the great buzzes of being involved in a club like this is being part of that journey, of carrying the baton.
When the whole minimal thing came along, for example, Craig [Richards] got really into it, and I remember him clearing the dancefloor one night. People didn’t get it, even the bar staff were asking ‘what is Craig doing?’ But a few months later, minimal took off, and it was huge for us.
909originals: Do you think it’s the case that when fabric moves, the rest of clubland moves with it?
Judy: I do think we’ve been at the pinnacle of certain genres, and in the past few years, there’s been a lot more of that. Other clubs doing the same thing we’re doing. Everyone is after the same pot now.
Andy: I think a lot of venues – and clubbers – are less prepared to take a risk on up and coming, or experimental talent. Plus, headliner culture has changed a lot in recent years; some artists that would have been considered underground a few years ago, are now mainstream acts.
Judy: I think that fabric has always had a reputation for championing new talent. Some people might look at the line-up one week, and think ‘who are they?’ But because people trusted fabric, they knew they were guaranteed quality.
It’s harder to do that these days, because kids are so focused on the big names. We might have Ben Klock in one week, and then the following week, someone less established, and they are less likely to take a risk on the lesser-known DJ. I think that’s a big shame.
Andy: They’ve got used to these big large-scale events, where you get 10 DJs on the lineup for £50, and you get to see them each play for an hour, or at most 90 minutes. In response to that, we’ve started doing this ‘all night long’ thing, where you get to see DJs doing six, seven, eight-hour sets.
All of our fastest-selling shows this year have been the all-night long shows. The real music fan wants to hear their favourite DJ take them on a journey, and that’s what these nights provide. I think it’s probably mainly those aged 30 and above; the younger consumer wants more ‘instant gratification’, they can tick all these boxes and post their pictures on Instagram or whatever.
We’re lucky in a way that the phone reception in the main room here is crap – so you can’t post on social media as easily as you can in other clubs..!
909originals: Is the rise of online culture, social media, streaming etc, the main reason why you are stopping the fabric CDs?
Andy: It’s not that we’re ‘stopping’ anything, we’re relaunching the series. Things are changing; if you want to listen to Ben UFO, you don’t go off and buy a CD, and then try to play it on your laptop, which probably doesn’t have a CD drive. You just go on to Soundcloud or YouTube.
But funnily enough, we had Sasha for fabric 99, and it was one of our best-selling CDs, mainly because of the age bracket of the customer base.
Judy: I think that the kids don’t consume music in the same way that we do, but we’re lucky with our CDs, how they are packaged; it’s a collectors item. That’s one of the things that’s helped us maintain the CDs for so long. But things change, and we have to change with them.
Thanks to Andy and Judy for the interview. Photos supplied by fabric. You can buy tickets for fabric’s 19th birthday at the official fabric London website, www.fabriclondon.com