Perhaps it’d be easier to start this by saying, “There goes another one”. That seems a little defeatist and what Islington Council’d be overjoyed to read. It’s difficult to write anything to the contrary, though.
Fabric, one of London’s biggest clubs, had its licence taken away by Islington Borough Council in September, like a mouth-breathing high school bully demanding all your lunch money. On 26 June and 6 August, two young men named Ryan Browne and Jack Crossley, both 18, died at the venue after taking drugs on a night out. After accusations of lax searches and the venue being a ‘safe haven’ for drug use, as the council claimed, the venue is now closed. Go find your fun elsewhere.
The Farringdon club has seen a huge swell of support today with a petition of more than 150,000 signatures, at the time of writing, gaining support by the hour. Were this an isolated incident, people’d be sad, but it wouldn’t be the big deal that it is.
It isn’t news to say that London’s going through an unsettling paradigm shift in its attitude to nightlife. Stories are regularly brought back from cities, with the most notable arguably being Berlin, of how to do it right – yet this sustained attack is a concerning turn.
Three main factors contribute to a club’s closing; urban redevelopment, crime and rent. Bagley’s and The Cross were closed in 2007 when King’s Cross was earmarked for redevelopment; an incident involving bouncers with baseball bats outside Madame JoJo’s saw the venue licence revoked two years ago; and Bar Code in Vauxhall saw it’s rent rise by two-and-a-half times to £150,000 just last year. Add these to a list that includes The Astoria, Plastic People and The Dalston Dance Tunnel and it creates a pattern that’s hard to ignore.
Putting aside the issues of redevelopment and rent, Fabric’s closure was about crime and particularly drug use on the premises.
It’s common knowledge that drugs and nightlife are synonymous. People gather en masse, get fucked up and dance the night away. So, by closing Fabric, are the council under the impression they’re helping in the War on Drugs? That by taking this measure, people won’t be able to ingest their particular vice and, therefore, will shrug their shoulders, accept there’s nowhere to go out and have a lovely evening watching whatever brain-rotting bollocks is on their telebox instead? That probably won’t be the case.
In the last eight years, more than half of London’s venues have lost their licences. That’s an insane statistic. Worryingly, this means that recreational drug users have lost a significant amount of places to congregate and be in an environment where there are facilities when things go awry. One irrefutable truth about human nature is to never underestimate someone’s desire to alter their consciousness. Keeping people out of Fabric isn’t going to stop people taking MDMA. Instead, it’s a far more realistic scenario that they’ll be pushed underground to raves where there aren’t first aiders on hand, to the fringes where people don’t know how to deal with life-or-death situations and this is the most troubling thing.
Speaking to The Guardian, Danny Kushlick, director of Transform said: “…if there was some risky drug taking going on there then you throw harm reduction services at it. This is a long-established principle since we introduced needle exchanges, free condoms. This decision flies in the face of all our experience of dealing with drug use.”
It’s unlikely that more stringent searching would help either. It sometimes feels easier to get out of the country than into some clubs, but it’s been suggested that, if people knew there were going to be heavier searches on the door, all that would encourage is for people to take everything they had before entering. If you start coming up once you get in, you’ve still done the drugs and got in past a big search.
Then, once it’s all in your system, for ecstasy users at least, you’re carrying around a bellyful of a drug which is nearly twice as strong as it was in 2005. In just over a decade, a drug that once had an average of 80mg of MDMA, now stands at 150mg with some pills rising to 250mg. Add that to the chances of it being cut, or completely replaced, with PMMA, another stimulant which is more lethal, and the drugs on the European market are considerably more dangerous than they were just ten years ago.
So, now, we’ve a situation where people are likely taking stronger drugs under less supervision in more dangerous settings. This doesn’t sound like a sensible policy to deal with drugs in nightlife entertainment, does it?
Earlier this year, Secret Garden Party pioneered a scheme designed to allow users to test the strength of their drugs in a safe and judgement-free tent. Around 200 people used the scheme designed to offer education and understanding about what they were putting in their bodies. A quarter of those who visited the tent discovered their drugs were either dangerous or missold and asked organisers to dispose of them. By doing so, dangerous elements were removed from circulation and people weren’t exposed to them.
Admittedly, testing over 2,000 peoples’ MDMA, ketamine, cocaine or whatever would be such a downer at the start of the night. However, implementing a system where people can enjoy themselves in a safe environment with drugs that are much less likely to kill them sounds like a more practical and common sense idea than slamming the doors in their face.
London’s nightlife culture is under serious attack. The club kids that make it a world-renowned centre for the biggest DJs, events and tourism are being forced to look elsewhere for their fun and, chances are, those places won’t be regulated, won’t have first aid on hand and certainly won’t be able to look after them when their evenings take a dark turn. Tread carefully, Islington Council. You could be doing more harm than you suspect.
Alex Taylor thinks you should take as many drugs as you like.