2016 the year in… clubland

From Fabric to free parties, Night Czars to night tubes, this was all the history – good and bad – that was made at night this year.

by Jack Needham
28 December 2016, 10:26pm

Back in March, during simpler times, we naively thought the biggest threat to UK nightlife was ourselves; "dull hipsters" incapable of creating a scene that rivalled "Elvis or the Sex Pistols". Or at least that was what we were told. Less than one week after the final Bloc Weekender welcomed Four Tet, Jeff Mills and Floating Points to Butlins in Minehead, one of its founders George Hull penned an anti-safe spaces ode to his self-imagined late-80s heydey -- where the drugs were better and people got mugged inside The Hacienda -- in The Spectator (of all places). DJs including Ben UFO and the festival itself disagreed with what he was saying. Rightfully so, people were a bit offended by his words -- which frustratingly perhaps falls into his own narrative a little -- but unknowingly at the time it set a strange precedent for the year to come; where out-of-touch, middle-aged adults tried to dictate how young people should enjoy themselves.

The big stories of the year were of course, club closures and Fabric. In a year where the opening of the weekend night tube was celebrated there were becoming fewer places for us to go. "It's quite frightening to see what's going on, it seems like a full on attack on club culture," Arthur Smith, otherwise known as Rinse FM DJ/producer Artwork, says. From punters to promoters the closure of Fabric was seen as a systematic dismantling of London's nightlife, a way for the police to simultaneously 'crack down on crime' while offering up a prime piece of real estate to a cash strapped Islington council. On any given weekend you more than likely saw at least one person wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the message 'THE MET POLICE ARE TARGETING LONDON VENUES', a message coined by Jonny Banger that quickly became a depressing slogan for the year.

After the death of two Fabric attendees this summer, Fabric was closed in early-September, but after an agreement was made in mid-November the club was granted its license to re-open, yet under strict new terms. No under-19s, ID checks on the door, added lights and security and lifetime bans for anyone caught with, or trying to buy drugs on the premises. While this isn't all bad - "I'm up for more lights, as long as they're lasers or strobes" Artwork says -- it goes some way in demonising those who just want to have a night out.

"We shouldn't even be having this conversation about Fabric" says Alan Miller of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), an organisation who aim to champion the night-time economy and ensure its future. "We're sending out a message that people in both London and Britain are anti-social" says Alan. "It says that the public are a problem and a drain on resources when actually, nightlife helps create jobs. It helps light up the streets and it employs young people. We inspire fashion and music, film and advertising. Dance music has helped spearhead a transformation of our views, and we need to continue creating safe spaces where that can continue."

While Fabric was undoubtedly the most prominent club closure of this year, other venues suffered too. Over the past eight years more than half of London's venues have closed. In 2016 alone, Studio 338 was gutted by a catastrophic fire in August, killing one of its employees Tomas Ceidukas, while East London's Dance Tunnel said goodbye to its hallowed basement and Passing Clouds, a Dalston music and arts space, succumbed to property developers. "Closing smaller venues like Dance Tunnel has a huge effect," Artwork states, himself a Dance Tunnel regular with the FWD crew. "Small clubs are where new ideas happen, someone with a new sound and a circle of 150 friends that are into it can twist a promoters arm and get something started that goes on to be huge. If the smaller clubs go you remove an important stepping stone, possibly the most important one to be honest."

While Fabric's closure was a hit to many there's at least one silver lining to it all in that it helped create a wider discussion about club culture that could potentially make nightlife stronger than ever before. Firstly, the Save Nightlife campaign has brought together promoters, club owners, musicians, punters and politicians to help protect nightlife in all its forms. Secondly, a healthy discussion about drug culture within electronic music has become mainstream. "It helped open up an honest conversation about drugs in Britain," Alan says of the events of 2016. "It fueled debates about harm reduction and drug testing and that debate is changing. We still have a long way to go, but organisations like The Loop are doing absolutely brilliant things."

"It has to be made as safe as possible," Artwork thinks. "There must be more education and information, we need to put drug testing stations in clubs." Thankfully, for all its woes, in 2016 that growing message has been listened to as for the first time in the UK a major festival -- Secret Garden Party -- introduced drug testing services on-site. The Loop -- an organisation who provide information, outreach, intervention and research on issues relating to the night time economy -- and Lancashire Police have also recently agreed to roll out drug testing sites in clubs across Preston, for what is the first initiative of its kind in the UK. It's not country-wide yet of course - critics to the scheme think that it 'normalises' drug taking instead of reducing harm - but it is a very progressive step in the right direction.

2016 has also brought us Sadiq Khan and his appointment of the new Night Czar in Amy Lamé. Some were, wrongfully, confused by her appointment. After all, she doesn't present herself as a weekend basement dweller capable of 36-hour sessions, nor did some people realise that while she represents Fabric she also has to represent the likes of Infernos in Clapham. As a long-standing stalwart of London's LGBT+ clubbing community though, her appointment helps showcase the diversity in nightlife that this city has to offer.

"People will always want to dance to music together and have fun, it's what humans do no matter how hard the powers that be will try to stop it," Artwork says, and in 2016 that fuelled a rise in free parties and illegal raves. While much of the wider media coverage on the rise of illegal raves in 2016 has centered mostly around police troubles and injuries, a healthy dose of outlets were also publishing satirical news on the matter as fact. After the closure of Fabric, spoof website Wunderground posted an article detailing how '172 Illegal Raves' were planned for London that weekend. It was fake of course, but that didn't stop several news outlets including RT and the Express -- who swiftly edited their article to say they 'exposed' the spoof without acknowledging their mistake -- from covering it as legitimate news.

There are parallels to be made between rave's heyday in the late-80s and the rise of free parties today. Rave was a reactionary movement. People went in search of hedonism when it was becoming harder and harder to find it in their everyday life, and today is reminiscent of that. Tory governments, widening divisions between rich and poor, and the general feeling that everything could go to shit at any second are as relevant today as they were during in the late-80s. For all the perils this year has brought, in a way it has also provided the foundations for something new to emerge from the wreckage of 2016, something that may take over the fields and farmlands of the UK once again.

While 2016 has been viewed as generally catastrophic from every angle you look at it within clubland, the silver lining is that we've been offered a sort of reset button. While it's important to fight for the future of nightlife it's also important to acknowledge its flaws. Female producers and DJs are still criminally under-represented, and assaults within venues remain one of its biggest problems. 2016 has made us look at the problems facing dance music from the outside, but 2017 should be an opportunity to do the same for the problems within it too. Saving fabric is just the beginning, not the end. 


Text Jack Needham
Photography Gadgee Fadgee

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