It’s hard to picture a London clubland without fabric at its heart. Since its birth in 1999 through to its coming of age, it has repped hard for electronic music’s outliers and misfits on an epic scale. It is the anti-super superclub; the ravers’ rave.
Go behind the scenes at fabric in Red Bull Music AAA – listen in the player below.
Just two years ago, the international reaction to its forced closure sealed its status as an essential cultural treasure and in so doing, secured its existence. We speak to co-founder Keith Reilly, Saturday night curator and “queen of the rave” Judy Griffith and a slew of the club’s cohorts to piece together fabric’s rich history.
Over the years, fabric has become known for its airtight team but it began as the outlandish vision of one tenacious young upsetter – Keith Reilly. A disused storage facility in the heart of London’s biggest meat market would become the safe space for a community of like-minded rave purists, unsung DJs and those speakers. The doors were first flung open to a roadblock crowd on October 21 1999 – a forward-facing rave den poised to take on the millennium.
Keith Reilly (co-founder): fabric was almost like a childish and petulant reaction to the things I didn’t like. I did my first warehouse party in 1978. The house scene kicked in from 1982, but by the early to mid-'90s, London had been taken over by the most ghastly, garish mutations of what we thought was ours. It was a complete distortion of everything that was beautiful about this music.
All of a sudden, venues were more interested in what shoes and shirt you were wearing than music policy. It was heartbreaking to me. At the time, I had a business manufacturing CDs and cassettes. I woke up one morning and said, “fuck this, I can’t do this anymore”. I sold the business; I sold two family homes. And from that point it took me seven years to find a venue. I was absolutely determined to find a place where the fundamentals were sacrosanct – a good soundsystem, good quality amenities, and the rest is sawdust.
These days fabric’s office bursts at the seams with a small army, but at its inception a hardcore and bleary-eyed crew of six held the whole 2000-capacity venture together. And all without an office. The yin to Keith’s big ideas yang was co-founder and "reality maker" Cameron Leslie. Together they built an idiosyncratic team, many of whom are still at fabric’s helm.
Keith Reilly: I finally found the space and then started calling people. The first people were Craig Richards and Nicky Smith. I knew you needed two weird fuckers like me and Craig, but I was sensible enough to realise that you needed someone to create some balance. Nicky used to run Satellite Club and Peach and she was absolutely amazing at it.
fabric were championing the underground, giving them a good sound system to play on and a space to tell their story
Judy Griffith (Saturday programmer): I used to go out all the time. I bumped into Nicky Smith who did the job of programming Saturday nights; she told me they were looking for an assistant and persuaded me to come in for a chat. When I got there it was Keith, Cameron, Nicky and Steve Blonde, who was doing the Fridays at that time. I went to that interview and felt like I’d met my long-lost family – we were just completely on the same wavelength, musically and in terms of what we wanted to present to the world as a club. Keith always says that he managed to amass the kids who might have got into trouble at school; the misfits; the anarchists.
Keith Reilly: I’ve always had a really wonderful team of great minds around me. They think about things. Most people consider fabric as just a cathedral of decadence. For us it’s about high art.
fabric’s identity and ethos lives and dies by its residents. For the majority of the club’s existence Craig Richards and Terry Francis have played there weekly, an anchoring point around which to build each Saturday night. Keith’s faith in the talent of his then-unknown buddies says as much about fabric’s creative vision as their enduring loyalty says about the key to the club’s success.
Terry Francis: I was playing in a little club called The Soundshaft. It was pretty quiet but Keith came up to the booth and we had a chat about a club he was getting together, blah blah blah. You heard a lot of blah blah back then, but I was thinking, I like this guy.
We were doing our monthly night Wiggle in various venues and warehouses. Keith said he liked our attitude with Wiggle – no cameras, or interviews. A few years later I heard from Nicky Smith. She said come and look at this space myself and Keith had been getting together. It was an underground space, like a building site. I said: "Wow – I'm in."
Keith Reilly: I remember an agent coming down to have a look around and saying: “You do realise there’s a club called Home opening a month before you? And you do realise that their residents are Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold? Who are your residents?’ I said, “Craig Richards and Terry Francis.” He said, “who are they?!” I just went like a little school child: “they’re my friends.”
Judy Griffith: It was a time of superstar DJs, supersized everything. fabric was different. It was about giving a platform to the unsung heroes. If you went to any other club at the time, they were the DJs in the back room. We were championing the underground, giving them a good sound system to play on and a space to tell their story by giving them long sets.
Keith Reilly: Our first line-up was there, ready and waiting – all of the people who’d been sidelined by this cheesy handbag house shit. For our first nights, there were 20 different flyers, each with just one DJ name on it. Everybody said that we were absolutely mad.
Judy Griffith: One of the great things about being here has been getting to know Craig. I’ve been able to programme the nights around him and his record collection. Craig never gives me the same set. I can’t believe that he still inspires me and that I can still learn stuff from him. He’s the definition of fabric really.
THE MUSIC POLICY
Big name DJs, trends and micro-genres have come and gone. fabric has outlived them all. And they’ve done it with a dogged and magnetic confidence in what they know to be good music. Their line-ups shape rather than reflect tomorrow’s DJ royalty.
Ellen Allien: If you make it to fabric you can be sure you’re a good DJ. They’re music lovers, they understand the vibration of the artists and each individual talent.
Seth Troxler: My whole career started through playing at fabric. Judy gave me the opening slot for Ricardo Villalobos and Craig Richards after hearing a track that I’d made on Wolf and Lamb. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Judy, Craig, Ricardo and I.
Judy Griffith: We took our inspiration from small nights with quality curation. Clubs like Space at Bar Rumba, run by Kenny Hawkes and Luke Solomon. Plastic People was another – before it moved to East London it used to be on Oxford Street. Also, Ultimate B.A.S.E, which was run by Jim Masters and Carl Cox on a Thursday night. A lot of the guys who are big now were playing those nights.
Keith Reilly: Craig and I always had really similar tastes – dark, minimal, dirty, scratchy house. But we also loved techno, dub and drum‘n’bass. We’d be up for hours and hours, facing each other with laptops and playing tunes in almost like a knockout fight. The other one would be saying “you think that’s good?!”
THE DEFINING MOMENTS
Every self-respecting raver has their favourite fabric moment. With 18 years worth of birthday parties alone, there’s a cold meat storage full of stories to tell and secrets to be kept. Or, as Judy puts it, “there’s magic in those walls.”
Judy Griffith: We do fancy dress for all of our birthdays. On the 10th birthday, I remember Seth and Craig doing a back-to-back. I got Seth in this bright red one-shoulder Greek Goddess dress, with his little belly hanging out. Craig was like: “I can see your panty line. ‘You’re not coming in here unless you get those knickers off.” Seth literally whipped them off and hurled them onto the dancefloor. We found them at the end of the night. No one even wanted to take home Seth’s pants!
Ed Rush: The night me and Audio played at the Bad Co reunion party was amazing. That set was the catalyst for the birth of our collaboration project Killbox – that’s how much fun it was.
Andy Blackett (programmer): On our 15th birthday, Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann did an 11-hour back-to-back set. We only stopped when Marcel turned to me and said, “I have to play ADE in three hours!”
Keith Reilly: We’ve had some nights where you look back afterwards and think “fuck, that was amazing.” Idris Muhammad played in fabric. Isaac Hayes! Ludovic Einaudi – a 70-year-old guy playing this rolling, plunging classical music on a grand piano in the middle of Room One. The kids were absolutely mesmerised.
Kimi Otsuka (Logistics Manager): The 13th Birthday was my first birthday at the club and it blew my mind. There was Sandwell District in Room Two and Omar S live in Room One, to name a few. I remember looking around and having a surreal moment of realisation that this was my job.
Saoirse: About seven years ago I played in Room One for WetYourSelf! and I was playing a record which started to relentlessly skip. I only had one option – I took the record off and the club went silent. I started to wave it in the air to indicate “look at this piece of shit.” All these hands went up, people started reaching into the booth, and so I threw the record out to the crowd. Someone caught it with one hand and the whole room went absolutely nuts.
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
In its 19 years fabric has herded over eight million people through its doors. So how do you create a club that’s capable of outliving MySpace, Woolworths and Britain’s place in the EU?
Keith Reilly: I’ve never given a shit about what anyone else thinks. Plus, I’m not materialistic at all. So I’ve always been willing to take risks and experiment. When people talk about the history of fabric and all that, it’s a crock of shit to me because that’s history. I’m just always thinking about what we’re doing next week. It’s always been about – and I think this is what defines electronic music – being experimental, progressive, pioneering. Always trying to find that next piece of beauty.
Judy Griffith: I was trusted that what I liked would resonate with the masses and make the night. We were never driven by bums on seats and that made a massive difference. Keith said to me, “listen Judy, whether there are 10 people or a thousand people on the dancefloor, so long as they’re all having an experience and listening to what you perceive as quality music, then it doesn’t matter.” We believe in ourselves and we believe in the music. Luckily, we found 2,000 like-minded people every week to make it a success. It was authentic and real and it came from the top and trickled down to everybody there.
There are very few clubs with fabric's kind of stature, where the music is consistently kept at such high quality and never compromised
Ellen Allien: It took many years before I played fabric. I felt very nervous, but after one hour of spinning I felt very connected with the crowd, the sound system and the bodysonic dancefloor. fabric is a club just how I like it – you can find corners to sit, talk, kiss and just feel sexy.
Maya Jane Coles: fabric isn't just a nightclub to me. It's a label, a brand, a collective, an institution. There are very few clubs with its kind of stature where the music is consistently kept at such high quality and never compromised. DJs are always proud to play there. It's one of those things on the bucket list.
Saoirse: I’ve had literally the best nights of my life in fabric and each time I’ve asked what exactly it was about that night that was so fucking good. Sometimes there are moments in Room One – whether it’s the lighting that hits or the type of sub in the track that only sounds like that in fabric, or the crowd – something happens in that room that doesn’t happen in many other places.
Seth Troxler: The best thing about fabric is definitely the family; it’s always been the family. It’s a group of people serving the idea of what club culture is supposed to be, in its original context and with a curated sound that only Judy can do. That’s what keeps it with the status that it’s held for all of these years – it’s the dedication to keeping it as a true underground club experience.
On September 7 2016, fabric had its licence permanently revoked following two drugs-related deaths. The closure soon came to represent the climax of a long and relentless assault on London’s club culture that had seen many of its peers – from Turnmills to Bagleys to The End and The Fridge – fall by the wayside. The reaction from within and without was one of dead-eyed shock, anger and incredulity.
Keith Reilly: I don’t even wanna talk about that to be honest. It was just so wrong and so unfair, it makes me fucking cry.
Judy Griffith: When the club closed it was like a grieving process. It was such absolute devastation. We suddenly realised the enormity of what we’d had and what we’d lost. The night after the hearing, people started coming to the club and sitting outside, drinking, leaving cards on the walls and bringing flowers. It was literally like a mass mourning. I remember talking to people outside for hours about times that they’d had there and what fabric meant to them. It was like their community had been broken. It was so amazing to see that the club meant so much more to people, just like it did to me. It was our culture that was being bashed. The next morning, I thought, “I need to go in today and tell my boss that we need to fight this. We need to do it for the next generation.” He’d already made his mind up when I came in.
What followed the closure was a public outcry that gave birth to the #savefabric campaign. £326,000 was raised and 160,000 signatures gathered – each a message that club culture would not go down without a fight. Fundraisers happened in clubs, car parks and warehouses across the country. Ben UFO, Ricardo Villalobos, Seth Troxler, Joy Orbison, Ben Klock and more all DJed to raise funds. On November 21 2016 Islington Council agreed to reopen fabric under a new set of conditions, including an over-19s policy, ID scanners and lifetime bans for anyone caught using drugs. Just over a month later fabric re-opened its doors. Punters raved under a huge projection reading #yousavedfabric
Judy Griffith: Never in a million years did we think that people would get behind us in the way they did. That’s the power of community and the power of truth. We could never ever have got that licence back without the power of the people. The re-opening was the beginning of a new chapter for the club and at times it’s been really hard. We had to start again basically.
We deserve to be here and we should be here. And so we’ll do what it takes. But we need help and we need protection. Club culture needs to be accepted as culture in order to move forward and evolve. When that happens that’s when things will really start happening.
It’s clear from talking to the fabric team that they’re still punch-drunk from the closure. But creative minds like theirs don’t stop. And, buoyed by a global public love-in, they soldier on, in service to their clubland community. Watch this space. fabric 2.0 is a cold store full of possibilities.
Judy Griffiths: I feel that our jobs are harder to do now than they used to be. Club culture is under attack. It’s harder to present what you want to present and in the way that you want to present it. But the struggle seems to be part of it. Every few weeks something happens that inspires me and makes me believe in it all again. The other week Ricardo [Villalobos] played for seven-and-a-half hours and I felt so blessed to witness it. Or I found these guys recently, doing amazing stuff on a little boat in Hackney Wick. Exciting things are happening underground. It’s been driven there.
Saoirse: I think one of the hardest things for any nightclub to do these days is to get a young generation interested in clubbing. I’ll never understand why people wouldn’t want to dance in a dark sweaty club until 8am any more, but that seems to be a challenge. My hope is that younger generations do get to experience these incredible moments that I’ve had in fabric because the people and the lovers who I am closest to now are those I met on the dancefloor.
Keith Reilly: We’re experiencing a sustained attack on youth culture. I’m worried about London. This is one thing that London’s good at. Rather than recognising, encouraging and stimulating it, all they want to do is destroy it. But there are lots of new interesting things coming up and we’ve got a much deeper and longer story to tell. I want to recreate the musical; I want to re-define art and the way that art communities integrate themselves.
Judy Griffiths: I just want us to get to a point where we can offer more. I’d love to see fabric becoming more of an academy – doing teaching, having studios where people can learn. Keith has the right attitude. Don’t make us turn into a money-led, ego-driven industry. That’s not where acid house came from. It was all about love and spreading that love.
Keith Reilly: I’m excited about the future. We know that what we’re doing is a thing of beauty and you’ll never ever stop us.