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Fabric's Closure & The Rise Of A New British Puritanism
Luke Turner , September 8th, 2016 08:29

The news that London nightclub Fabric is to close has stunned the music community. Here, Luke Turner argues that this is another battle lost on Britain's rightwards shift towards a bland, corporate new puritanism of the strange post-Brexit landscape. Photo thanks to the Islington Tribune

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This past Tuesday evening Islington Council revoked the licence of Fabric nightclub, putting nearly 300 people out of work and ending an institution that has fostered so many musical careers as it brought millions together in the communal joy of the dancefloor. The police naming their surveillance operation inside the club Operation Lenor arguably suggests a gigantic stitch-up, just the latest in a long line of club closures that have blighted London in recent years (see Ed Gillett’s Wreath Lecture for The Quietus here), largely to the benefit of property developers. With one of London's biggest clubs now gone, a dangerous precedent has been set - how long will it be before councils and the police start cracking down on smaller institutions like Corsica Studios, where the new luxury flats of the class-cleansed former Heygate Estate now loom ominously over the road? One notes that Baron James Palumbo's Ministry of Sound has never received the same level of scrutiny as Fabric, and that London's hip ACE Hotel (which derives the cachet that allows it to charge £300 per night from its association with underground music) never faced censure despite its owner dying of a drug overdose in one of its bedrooms. I don't need to point out that far more people die of issues related to the consumption of alcohol each week than do from ecstasy use.

The whole Fabric farago points towards a depressing, retrogressive trend in British culture towards a bland new puritanism. Last year at Berlin's CTM Festival I attended a lecture by Professor Rupert Till of Huddersfield University on the human need for dancing and ritual, how we developed language by moving around the edges of darkness as drums beat and fires flickered, likely as not under the influence of psychedelic roots and fermented liquids. As he said then, "Music making is a communal technology. The community that sings and dances together, stays together". The decision to close Fabric is about more than any one nightclub. This is about our divided nation.

The overwhelming rhetoric since the financial collapse of 2008 has been a rightwards drift that has succeeded in creating a 'them and us' society split between 'strivers' and 'shirkers'. The message, led by an increasingly rabid right wing media and abetted by a hapless mainstream opposition, comes from the Cameron and Osborne Tory narrative that if you're a 'hard working family' who knuckles down and gets on with life, then it might just be bearable. Never mind the nonsense spouted at the Islington Council hearing that faster BPMs might cause heart attacks - the repetition of that hackneyed phrase over the past decade has nearly tipped me to join the silent majority. What's so snide about it is everything that it sets itself in opposition to: the 'hard working family' to which we in Britain are supposed to aspire to be immediately sets itself in opposition to hedonism, the queer, the single, anyone who does not see that work and money ought to be the central motivating role in life. It is a phrase that demands absolute conformity.

Other dangerous chasms have emerged. The Baby Boomers have hoovered up the wealth in vast property portfolios which they now rent out at exorbitant prices, directly affecting the ability of younger generations to afford to participate in culture. The memory of the 60s and 70s as a universally hedonistic era might be a mythic one - most got on with their lives in fairly ordinary ways - but the mass media still celebrates those decades, and their hedonism, as a high point in culture. At the same time, those same media outlets will come down on the conformist, conservative side on a decision like that to close Fabric, or to ban certain drugs. Those who enjoyed the new freedoms of the post-war years now seem incredibly keen to close them down for the millennials, who they then brand as feckless and indolent.

The make-Britain-great-again narrative is of course a fiction. Its proponents dream of a day when the union flag might crack stiffly from poles outside sensible pubs and a pint of mild, where deference has returned, where full employment keeps hard working families in proper shirts and home. It has no room or time for the vast, swirling, colourful solar system of culture that has come from these islands, usually created, improved, made spectacular by the many who have come here as immigrants.

This new puritanism that we now face, which has closed down Fabric and so many other venues, works in two oddly opposing ways. On one hand there's a 1950s conformism that wants everything sanitised and above board, no risk, nothing naughty. It would rather have artisan coffee shops, boutique hotels and luxury flats than places where, just occasionally, something might go wrong when people take drugs. 'Hard working families' goes alongside 'Keep Calm And Carry On' in the Great British Bake-Off as it looks forward to a society where at night each room in every house glows from an HD TV set above the fireplace and a laptop in the kids' bedrooms. Perhaps Netflix and DVD box sets might be prescribed as useful societal control measures, like the telescreens of Orwell's 1984.

On the flip to this, though, the drift towards bland homogeneity does permit a certain sort of very British hedonism. We have always been great enthusiasts for intoxication, from the days when water was so dirty everyone drank beer instead, via the Georgian gin craze, to Victorian opium dens and slum boozers. We're a nation that excels at getting wasted, and you can bet your bottom dollar that councils, the government and police are going to do nothing to stop that. Sure, the government has brought in ridiculous new 'safe' levels of alcohol consumption that'd make even a modestly-tippling nun feel like a Special Brew enthusiast, but little else is likely to change. The pub piss-up, the house party, the mainstream end of clubbing more likely to be fuelled by Malibu than MDMA, these are all happily condoned or even encouraged by the authorities. Often conducted in premises controlled by huge chains, this culture-free hedonism is a mass guzzle at capitalism's boozy teat, unthreatening, simple, easily understood by our out-of-touch elite.

This all feels very British. It embraces this country's tendency towards anti-intellectualism, a particular fear of the other, of things that are a bit weird. It feeds on the assumption that anyone taking drugs is in some way 'damaged', that they need protecting from themselves. It does not understand that the millions who take drugs every week are fully aware that something could go wrong, just as every time we step into a car a part of the subconscious knows that the next half hour could see it going blank wrapped around a tree. The new puritanism seeks to control the uncontrollable, to remove all risk from life, to squeeze us all into a blandly conformist vision of Britain decided by on one hand the Little Englanders (of all classes) scattered across the landscape outside our big cities, and on the other by politicians who have never experienced life outside their dry, risk-averse bubble. It’s worth noting that politicians of all stripes are responsible for this. For all his promises and the imminent appointment of a Nightlife Czar, new London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been hopeless throughout the entire Fabric process, constantly making the excuse that the decision is out of his hands. Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn’s press conference to announce his endorsement by half of UB40 was yet another example of a political class utterly out of touch with popular culture, let alone anything that might be considered from the artistic leftfield.

It is tempting, though perhaps should be avoided, not to see all this as an echo of Ali Perc’s 2014 track ‘London We Have You Surrounded’, imagining the capital as an island of liberal enthusiasm for clubbing, non-conformity, strangeness and tolerance amid a dead sea of conservative attitudes. This is of course very much part of the narrative of the divides exposed by Brexit. A city with a rising population needs more cultural amenities, not fewer, and although scenes around the country are increasingly vibrant, London continues to attract people who want to create networks and work in music and the arts. Yet our wider society continues to show disdain for those who want to choose this route for their lives. There’s often a sense that to either create art or to work in the supporting industries is not a ‘proper’ job. Envy is of course a powerful emotion.

London’s position of dominance within the UK is shifting, and this is no bad thing, but to have the capital as a place of 10 million people with barely anywhere to experience repetitive electronic music at high volume would be madness. In the same way as the Brexit vote may well remove opportunities to explore, grow and share from the generation now in their teens and for many more to come, the closure of Fabric and spaces like it is about denying futures, and forcing people down limited paths. Nightclubs are places where sexualities, genders and races meet, mix and understand each other - just as Professor Till put it, "The community that sings and dances together, stays together".

Nightclubs have been incredibly important spaces for me. Without the contacts and friendships made in them and the exposure to new music that I'd never have found trawling the internet, there is no way I would be writing this now. Without them The Quietus would not exist. Without them much of the music this website loves and has supported in our eight years would not exist. For all the freedoms and new networks of the internet, they're best complemented by a physical space in which people can meet, speak, dance, exchange ideas, kiss, fuck. Our nervous systems are stimulated by the presence of others, by the movement of the group, in a way that can never be replicated when online and isolated in small and overpriced flats. The closure of Fabric is another loss in what feels like an increasingly bitter and difficult war between those of us who love, live and breathe culture ranged against the conformist force of hyper-capitalism and its useful idiots in positions of power. I don't know quite how we can fight the new puritanism, but fight we must, in words, in music, in action, in debate, in love.

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El Georgo
Sep 8, 2016 9:54am

Brilliant, brilliant piece Luke

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Sep 8, 2016 10:29am

Excellent! For this and David Stubbs's piece on The Smiths, please accept a donation.

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Eugenie Arrowsmith
Sep 8, 2016 12:10pm

As all things weird and wonderful and areas of research are cut at UK Universities on budgetary grounds it's so important that we stand against this puritanical censoring and continue to be active and productive.

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Ed Furniss
Sep 8, 2016 12:21pm

Yes! Rage against the dying of the night ...

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Jacqueline Palmer
Sep 8, 2016 12:24pm

"I don't know quite how we can fight the new puritanism, but fight we must, in words, in music, in action, in debate, in love." With you all the way!!! Thank you for this article. In it you expose the vicious undercurrents of conformity that are corralling us into a boring sameness which strangles innovation and ideas at birth. The only jarring note are your comments on the Brexit vote, which, at its simplest, is a strike against the even greater mind numbing, bureaucratic, and stifling conformity of the EU.

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Sep 8, 2016 1:17pm

Overall, an interesting comment on what appears to be a tendency towards some sort of cultural gentrification.

However, please be aware that to those in other cities around the world - Chicago or Orlando for example - your concerns seem fairly quaint.

Mourn the loss of your favorite nitespots, but be thankful that your pain is evidently due to some sort of looming ideological shift and not the fact that going out in certain parts of town during specific dayparts may get you shot.

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50 Pence
Sep 8, 2016 1:52pm

Great! We need to rise up about this

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Bob Astly
Sep 8, 2016 2:05pm

So they could move over to The End? About which there was a similar 'outrage' when it closed, from online experts? or what about Cable? No?

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The Mayflower Band
Sep 8, 2016 7:29pm

You brits have been mining dub for so fucking long you'd think someone would put speakers on an ice cream truck outside fabric and start dancing like yr stuck in glue.

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Os Moz
Sep 8, 2016 11:33pm

Lame- since when did ' The Quietus " become so ideologically fixated and entrenched? This is truly some of the worst, fuzzy headed writing I've seen in quite a while. How about ' celebrating diversity ' by hiring some writers with some intelligence and original insight ( ie. not cowed by fixed ideological positions ).

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Sep 9, 2016 12:03am

Ah, a late convert to minimal state intervention and libertarianism. Your best option here would be UKIP membership. The lamented leader might have saved this nightspot and popped in for a pint and a fag.

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Sep 9, 2016 6:22am

Sorry for not caring about the closure of some trendy nightclub where people ate disco biscuits. I like thequietus but this article is lame.

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A Clockwork Lozenge
Sep 9, 2016 7:50am

In reply to DongJong:

It's not about the closure of some "trendy" (did you really write "trendy"?!) nightclub. It's about what the closure of such a club represents, and your failure to read this story as such makes you significantly lamer than Mr Turner's well-considered opinions. I'm not 'a clubber', but I still realise that the gradual but nonetheless systematic closure of undeniably safe venues in which people can gather and celebrate life - in ways they see fit - is a worrying development.

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Sep 9, 2016 9:30am

In reply to A Clockwork Lozenge:

Dont care about swanky disco punters

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Dan John
Sep 9, 2016 10:24am

The Tories and UKIP are on ~53% currently, so, y'know. Just move out of London, other places do exist.

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Christian Eede
Sep 9, 2016 11:06am

In reply to Dan John:

I rarely add to the comments section on the site, or any site for that matter, but feel compelled to here. Why must we take the easy option, give up and simply move out of London, where our homes, livelihoods and support networks are, because those in charge want to systematically sell it off to the highest bidder? Such a defeatist attitude.

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Dan John
Sep 9, 2016 12:13pm

In reply to Christian Eede:

Well yes, but with London being so economically successful gentrification is bound to happen. Sorry if being a bit flippant, but even when I lived in London 10 years ago everyone was bitching and moving to Berlin. Things change, sure you can fight, that's your prerogative, but don't expect to win.

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Luke Turner
Sep 9, 2016 2:52pm

In reply to Dan John:

This isn't just a London problem though is it. It's happening across the country with venues closing, the rise of fancy flats, sound restrictions, drug crackdowns, the lack of places to stage off-the-grid parties etc etc etc. Just look at Glasgow and the Arches.

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E Smith
Sep 9, 2016 6:39pm

In reply to KingP:


Are the 'looming ideological shifts' in London not all too similar to the ideologies in places that make Orlando a threatening place? Even if there are more progressive pockets of acceptance across London as a whole.The kind of forces Luke talks about are present in London although not as salient and make many a LGBTQ person for example think twice about where exactly to go in London of an evening and what precautions to take.

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Crunchy Frog
Sep 9, 2016 9:22pm

Hilarious piece. Author blames closure of place to buy and use illegal drugs on absolutely everything and everyone but himself and the group doing it. I bet you can see what you ate for breakfast.

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Dan John
Sep 9, 2016 10:43pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

Ok, sure. I guess in the North-East these 'problems' are not as acute. (Though the Star And Shadow in Newcastle shut recently, which would be a good example of what you say). It's tricky, we want to raise living standards, have more money for public services, but this often gentrifies at the same time. If everywhere is becoming more conservative that's probably because conservative people have more kids!, over the long term.

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Oz Mos
Sep 9, 2016 11:19pm

In reply to Bunta:

BS- Libertarianism is another ideological roadblock. We are talking about music and the arts on this website aren't we? These are forms to open minds and debate and not close them down by name calling- like you are Bunta- sad mate.

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Sep 11, 2016 6:30am

Interesting piece. Well written.

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Simeon Deseoise
Sep 11, 2016 8:04am

In reply to Jacqueline Palmer:

Plain wrong re the EU. Your deluded mindset has cost us our freedom to lead truly international lives, and our ability to shelter ourselves from the regressive parochialism Luke so eloquently describes.

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Dan John
Sep 11, 2016 12:40pm

- "77% of British voters now see themselves as centrist or right of centre".

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miguel nutria
Sep 11, 2016 7:24pm

Interesting take on the issue - but sadly wide of the mark factually. Islington council are very trad labour lefties with both elected reps and employees stuck in a historicist time warp. The Met Police due to their job being one of social control cannot be anything but statist and therefore what we understand today as left wing. This does not either being puritans and intolerant. As with entrenched rightist positions entrenched leftists firmly believe they know how the rest of us need to behave - including what music, clubs, substances etc they will allow

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Sep 12, 2016 1:20pm

Eleven paragraphs and no mention of the six lives lost.. For shame!

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James Greenan
Sep 13, 2016 4:43am

Regarding the comments on this article: I'm not a fan of how libertarians seem to think they have ownership of all forms of liberalism, you don't, obviously.

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Oss Moss
Sep 13, 2016 10:08pm

In reply to James Greenan:

There are no commentators saying they are libertarians- in fact it's the opposite. Shows the quality of the readership here- which is that they can't read in a critical & thoughtful way. Just a glossing over of anything worthy of debate- ending with the slogan- Brexit vote= Fabric closure. Dumb.

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Mark J. Smith
Sep 13, 2016 11:11pm

All Hail The New Puritan! Cock One!

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Sep 14, 2016 4:40pm

This is an excellent read and anybody who thinks otheriwse is part of the problem

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Sep 14, 2016 9:56pm

In reply to Ozwald:

Wrong! But thanks for opening up the discussion.

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Sep 21, 2016 2:26am

In reply to Osawld:

its just a venue...clubs have always shut down
Fabrics time is over

the music lives on and evolves

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Sep 26, 2016 9:58am

Fantastic bit of writing. The thing they'll never know is that without culture there is boredom and the reason why humans are attracted to London is because it is supposed to be an exciting place. It's just become a little less exciting with the closure of Fabric.

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Oct 2, 2016 8:29pm

It's just that this country is old and senile.

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Katarzina R'Yleh
Oct 2, 2016 8:33pm

Isn't Fabric the one with the amazing ground breaking sound system...?
Lemme see.... yeah....

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Oct 22, 2016 6:42pm

Nicely written article. You're wrong about the 'ridiculous' new safe drinking limits though. This change is very much evidence-based, off the back of substantial and rigorous academic research, just have a look on PubMed/MedLine if you don't believe me. More than 14 units every week really is too much if you want to be healthy!
This is motivated by something very different to the greed, short-sightedness and indifference of the people behind the Fabric decision I assure you.

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Peter Sijbenga
Oct 25, 2016 4:17pm

I never was into clubbing culture with or without the drugs.
I take my hat off for this well written article.
Thank you very much for articulating this so well.
I second this emotion.

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Robert Murray
Oct 28, 2016 12:34pm

Enough with your 'discos' - bring back pub rock! Bring back pubs. Bring back the Common Market. Bring back legal highs, as well while you're at it.

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Nov 16, 2016 10:06pm

In reply to Satu:

Would those that died want the place shut down ? Does closure make their drug taking any safer?

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