The narrative surrounding drugs needs to open up, or cultural mainstays like the London club will close, and preventable deaths will continue to happen
Since Fabric’s voluntary closure last weekend following the drug-related deaths of two teenagers, it’s been announced that the London club will close indefinitely, pending the council’s license review.
In the last nine weeks, two 18-year-olds have died in separate incidents after attending the Farringdon club. The most recent occurrence happened when a man collapsed outside the venue last Saturday (August 6); he was pronounced dead at 9am.
A spokesman from the Metropolitan Police, who requested the club’s entertainment licence be suspended, said: “Officers felt the need to act due to concerns about the safety of those attending the club because of the supply of class A drugs in the venue and the recent deaths of two young men linked to the club.”
According to the BBC, the club will remain closed for 28 days until the council meets to review its licence. The last review took place in 2014, when eight people collapsed because of drug use across three years, and four people died. It was back in December 2015 that the superclub won their case against the council for imposed measures following those incidents, which pushed to introduce sniffer dogs at the door and ID scans for punters. Fabric appealed and won the right to continue their business without the £300-a-night dogs and handlers, or scanners that would potentially alienate international visitors and a system that would surely affect queue lengths and the surrounding public space.
For anyone who’s been to Fabric, the work that’s been put into safety procedures for its customers is pretty apparent. From personal experience, the bouncers are stringent and keep a watchful eye, first aiders are on site, and there are as many leaflets and posters for keeping watch of pickpockets as there are for contacting someone if you feel unwell after ingesting something. It’s been two years since Fabric has witnessed a death – as a 2,500 capacity venue hosting weekly events with acts pulling in international crowds, the number of deaths could be said to be proportionally low, given that in general, death after MDMA consumption has risen in the UK. Though in no way parallel to the number of alcohol-related deaths every year in the UK (8,697 in 2014), deaths related to MDMA consumption – rather than actual overdoses which is almost impossible to do – have risen. Of course, any death related to drugs is one too many, and frustratingly preventable had the space been afforded resources that only government policy can bestow.
“Viable alternatives in harm reduction, rather than the tired war on drugs battalion, are a possibility”
The laws surrounding drugs and clubbing seem to work within a realm above any form of logic, truth or fact. The 2003 Licensing Act actually worked against public safety: venues that had a high proportion of punters ending up in hospital were in danger of shutting down for too many strikes against them, so calling an ambulance for someone who was unwell was trumped by the need to get them out and away from the club. The introduction of sniffer dogs at any event, as well as invasive searching methods, can cause panic and distress. People are already pissed off enough getting treated like criminals when going to rave. The threat of getting caught before you’ve even set foot in the venue encourages people to take their drugs prior to entering. Instep with the logistics of not getting caught out, but completely out of step with basic safe drug use when swallowing a stash that’s meant to last you from 11pm-7am the next day in one gulp. Alternatively, but no better, people may buy off dealers they don’t know inside, and that desperation can be played on by people trying to make a buck. Out-of-touch policy is just a meaty fist swinging in the dark, ready to clock whatever gurning jaw it finds.
It seems ignorant, arrogant, and dangerous to ignore the swelling of drug use within the UK – but the government still does it. The Global Drug Survey found that MDMA use had escalated to 64.6 per cent among respondents, up from 42 per cent the year before. They also found that compared to the rest of Europe, the UK had pretty heavy nights, averaging at 1.67 pills per session. The house and techno scenes are intricately entwined, the syncopated beats run in tandem with that pure, sickly rush of a come up. And whether the government likes it or not, people will find a way to do drugs; in a London superclub’s toilets or corner of the darkened dancefloor, in an alleyway with a dealer they’ve never met, a rural rave, in a club or bar will less facilities to help if things go wayward.
Legislation could take this into account but it currently doesn’t, despite the fact viable alternatives in harm reduction, rather than the tired war on drugs battalion, are a possibility and have been tested elsewhere in the UK. Secret Garden Party recently became the first UK festival to offer attendees the opportunity to test their drugs onsite. In collaboration with drug safety charity The Loop, the local council and police, a service was set up that tested substances so people knew exactly what they were ingesting. Over 200 people used the service, with 80 substances of concern were flagged up, including high-strength pills and anti-malaria tablets sold as ketamine, as well as ammonium sulphate that was thought to be MDMA. Over a quarter of participants ended up throwing unwanted and unsafe drugs away. It’s a system that’s also been successfully trialled by the Warehouse Project in Manchester. Current legislation makes it difficult to see this kind of potentially life-saving service implemented nationally.
“People will always find a way to do drugs: club toilets, an alleyway with strangers, a rural rave, in a club or bar will less facilities to help if things go wayward”
Drugs are getting stronger too, and when a generation that’s grown up with only Pill Report and Roll Safe as their guides, rather than actual compulsory PSHE teaching, the danger is real. In 2005, pills contained around 80mg of MDMA. Now, the average sits at around 150mg, but new pills popping up have tested upwards of 250mg, plus reports say 400mg pills were discovered in Ibiza. The educational narrative that surrounds drug use is poor, and as Adam Weinstock from Global Survey, who launched the Start With Half campaign to encourage safe consumption, asserts, a lot of young people believe false info. The more you take, the more fun you have: wrong. There’s also a lack of awareness around how people actually die while on drugs: rather than overdosing, it’s usually due to overheating, dehydration or other conditions which could be seen to quickly. Higher quality drugs, higher quality education needed.
Venues like Fabric could be genuine spaces for practicing safe drug use if they had the right services at their fingertips, as well as the right policies aiding them from local and national authorities. Closing the venue only shifts the crowds elsewhere, underground, when regulated public areas aren’t being considered a real option. Our night time economy has already been decimated too, with nearly half of British clubs closing in the last ten years. Cultural mainstays – places where friendships bloom, identities are found, passions are borne – such as Plastic People, Dance Tunnel and Power Lunches have all shut their doors or now count their days. While we worry about the threats on our health caused by government ignorance, we also mourn the communities they’re destroying by closing these clubs.
Everyone’s had that Fabric experience: on my first visit to London at 18 with friends, I was lucky to all but stumble across the Farringdon club after a gig, on a night with club favourite and teeth-sinking techno DJ Terry Francis playing. And whether it was listening to 8 hour live mixes from my bedroom in Belfast to watching its residents grace local venues and finally jumping back into the main room when I moved here, it holds a special place in my heart as it does for so many other clubbers, who deserve to rave safe.
The recent deaths of two young men is unbearably sad, and work needs to be done to make sure young people like them don't have to deal with such dangers. And what happens next? Well to start, the threats that may close Fabric down for good must be reevaluated, and focus should zone in on helping it become an environment that makes people safe. Fabric has proved itself a superior operation given the circumstances it has to work under, and it shouldn’t suffer or be blamed for tragedy that’s facilitated by anachronistic, tunnel-visioned, deadly drug laws and a poor education system. Instead of destroying it, we should be building it up, and treating the company like the real business it is, rather than a faciliator of illicit behaviour. The narrative surrounding drug use and clubbing needs to become more open, because responsible raving is real and within reach.