Over the past decade, we have witnessed Britain’s subcultures and creative spaces suffer under redevelopment and gentrification. Clubs have been an easy target for these convenient closures, being dubbed as dangerous, hedonistic, drug-fuelled wastes of public space. Rather than helping clubs deal with drug use or to build a relationship with its community, closing them is becoming an all too familiar ‘solution’ for local councils and town planners. Since recently being threatened by property developers looking to build flats in the Baltic Triangle, 24 Kitchen Street said it best: “we want music venues and creative spaces to be embraced within the city’s long-term vision, not briefly tolerated, then swept aside…”
The closing of Fabric London’s doors in September 2016 felt like the final blow to Britain’s club culture, and its reopening doesn’t provide much hope of a brighter future. Fabric’s management was given a 155-page document stating the rules and regulations the club must abide by to remain open. This included raising the minimum age for entry to 19, a more thorough CCTV monitoring, ID scanners and lifetime bans for anyone caught asking for drugs. When compared with Europe’s more forward thinking attitude towards clubbing, lumping these new conditions onto Fabric feels like a useless attempt to do the impossible: prevent drug use in clubs once and for all.
Ironically, on the same day Fabric announced its closure, a German court ruled that Berlin’s famous nightclub, Berghain, should be considered as culturally significant as theatres, concert venues and museums. By boosting its status, the club is now taxed at a lower rate than regular ‘entertainment events’. To provide a safer environment for clubbers, the Netherlands has encouraged harm reduction approaches by using monitoring systems for safe and legal drug testing. Not only has this prevented tragic deaths, but it has allowed authorities to be notified about new and dangerous substances. Although free, charity-run drug testing in clubs has been supported by Lancashire and Manchester police, who have said they will not prosecute anyone who makes use of the service, it appears Britain still has a long way to go. Our nightlife, which holds global significance and has helped form the careers of an endless list of musicians, isn’t being considered with the same cultural significance and identity.
This gradual regression of creative spaces has revealed their vital importance to both the public and artists who are rightfully fighting back. Fabric launched the campaign ‘Save Our Culture’ to raise money for their legal battle. The campaign was accompanied by electronic and house music events, including two daytime events at Camp and Furnace hosted by Circus. Circus has been providing Liverpool with internationally celebrated electronic artists for over a decade. Starting off as a simple house party, Circus evolved into an integral part of Liverpool’s club culture. Its founder, Yousef, stated that the public’s eagerness to help Fabric revealed “an underestimation of how important this culture is and how dance music has permeated many areas of modern life.”
A disregard for and prejudice against club culture is something we have seen before. Just as the Northern Soul phenomenon of the late 60s and rave culture of the late 80s created controversy, their cultural significance is now recognised. Today’s club scene has its roots in these and numerous other cultural phenomena. It is a culture that is already cemented into our history and identity. Long may that be the case.
After it was announced on Monday 21st November that Fabric would reopen, 27th November and 27th December became two days of celebration at Camp and Furnace. Here’s my experience of the two nights…
Camp and Furnace is no stranger to clubbers, and vice versa. The atmosphere of the large warehouse is oddly homely, as the queue enters and people spill into the places where they know to find what they came for; I follow the thumping bass into the Furnace and am welcomed by PACO OSUNA. An eager crowd gathers under the twisting vines and the hanging thunderclouds of The Night Garden. Paco delivers a deep, rumbling set that promises a good night ahead. His sophisticated sound scrambles intelligent techno beats with an underlay of repetitive house rhythms. STEVE LAWLER takes over and continues to fuel us with a heavy set. Living up to his nickname ‘King of Space’ in Ibiza, his set delivers an abundance of anthemic rhythms and intense drops that send his crowd off into a gratified groove.
MIND AGAINST and MACEO PLEX successfully keep the packed venue fervent and focussed. Atmospheric and, at times, dark, both sets blast out hypnotic beats and body-shaking basslines. Maceo Plex’s Conjure Dreams and Solitary Daze are two highlights and the crowd’s love for the familiar tunes is almost tangible. YOUSEF himself finishes off Furnace with ever-funky and trend-defying beats, twisting emotive vocals with techno and house.
Meanwhile, the set in the Camp is just as powerful and exciting. I catch the tail end of NASTIA’s set as a recording of Stevie Wonder passionately sings, “clap your hands just a little bit louder” over a build-up of techno beats. B. TRAITS follows with a rich and high-energy set of thumping basslines and cleverly crafted techno overlays. She effortlessly enchants her crowd into a dancing frenzy. In fighting to keep these cultural institutions alive, B. Traits participated in BBC Radio 1’s talk, Fabric And The Future Of Clubbing, and has stated her view on drug use in clubs: “as a DJ, I think it’s to an extent my responsibility to keep your patrons, fans and family safe […] the best thing we can do is to make the environment that they are experimenting in safe, so that in case anything goes wrong, it’s there for them.”
A quick exchange of headphones and MANO LE TOUGH takes over. He delivers a different, more melodious set, but continuous to feed the energy built up by B. Traits. He surprises us with Hans Zimmer’s poignant theme for Interstellar, gradually unfolding the familiar melody into a fast-paced, repetitive house track. The Berlin based duo, TALE OF US, end the Furnace set with intense tracks like North Star, mixing disco and pop with beloved house rhythms bringing out the best of the crowd’s seemingly harmonised dance.
The Christmas Special at Camp and Furnace welcomes another impressive DJ set and an even bigger herd of eager clubbers. Under giant hanging snowflakes and laser lights, MATTHIAS TANZMANN blasts out infectious basslines and metallic melodies in the Furnace, setting the fast momentum for the evening. Another pulsating set from Yousef, before HOT SINCE 82 introduces some disco and funk elements. Confetti blasts over the euphoric crowd during the uplifting track, Veins, before SAM PAGANINI brings the powerful groove emanating through the Furnace to a close. His dark and eerie set reaches intense heights; the rumbling rhythm of The Beat shakes his crowd into a united wave of bopping heads and raised hands.
Camp has taken on a surreal Alice In Wonderland theme, with giant lotus flower lights, vines, and cardboard cut-outs of characters and playing cards hanging from the high ceiling. A rectangular canopy falls just above the audience in the middle of the dance floor, brought to life by erratic light installations that fizz and flash to the rhythms. Once again, the set is extremely rich and diverse. GUTI fuses electronic with his jazz and Latin roots, adding a sophisticated funky rhythm beneath harsh house beats, whilst ANDREA OLIVA keeps it traditional. Scream gets his crowd eagerly cheering and whistling to the familiar build-up of a repeated, fierce vocal scream, before dropping into a deep house beat.
JOSEPH CAPRIATI takes over with a darker and slightly sinister sound, but nonetheless infectious, and keeps hold of his crowd’s focus. He energetically delivers his vigorous set of slick techno beats and further enchants the decorated Camp. For Joseph, his work is a healthy outlet for both himself and his audience: “When I’m playing I totally forget everything and this makes me happier. Looking at the people dancing and following my musical trip is an amazing thing.”
Circus host Green Velvet and Davide Squillace at Arts Club on 25th February. Fabric have announced their winter season of weekly shows running through February and March, taking place under new licence restrictions.