On the House

EC1 Echo talks to Keith Reilly, the owner of Fabric nightclub about lockdown, music and his battle with the authorities

By Oliver Bennett

The future of the nightlife industry, post-coronavirus, is clearly uncertain and Fabric has no idea when it will get the green light to reopen following the closure in March.

“We get very little information, and the information we get is convoluted and changes all the time,” says Keith Reilly, who co-founded the club. “For example: masks or no masks? They’ll probably say in a nightclub you’ll be too close together but look at the tubes every day. Nightclubs are always singled out.”

Indeed, bars, nightclubs and restaurants will be in the last phase of businesses to re-open, says Reilly, which is “understandable. Let’s say we’re forced to stay closed till the summer of 2021. But at some point the economy – the life force itself – will have to get moving. There are risks to everything but we have excellent aircon, high ceilings – it’s got to be safer than being on a tube.” His workers, some of whom have worked there for 20 years, are on standby.

Fabric is 21 this year. It started in October 1999 in the renovated Metropolitan Cold Stores in Farringdon with three separate rooms and over the next two decades, has become one of the biggest nightlife brands in the world.

A huge hit came in 2016 when Fabric was shut after the death of Jack Crossley, 18, from an MDMA overdose. But Reilly says that it gave the police an unfair excuse to close the club. “I’m still incredibly angry about it,” he says of the six-month enforced closure. “It was nothing to do with that poor boy dying. It was revenge.”

Two years before, he says, the police asked Fabric to pilot a new strategy. “Until this point Fabric had been the golden boy of club management,” says Reilly. “Then the police came up with an idea that they use dogs outside Fabric to go up and down the queues.” These dogs would locate anyone in contact with drugs. “They would be taken from the queue, their name placed on database, and they’d be banned from venues across the UK. Really draconian.”

Reilly resisted on two grounds: accuracy and illegality. But the police forced their hand, Islington Council agreed with them, and it went to court.

“In reality, more deaths would be caused by the dogs,” says Reilly. “Young people see the dogs, panic and take any drugs they had.”

In the event Reilly says they “got a drubbing in court. Our figures showed that we were serious about the problem. We’d apprehended 81 dealers but only one was prosecuted.”

The drugs issue is an excuse, he believes. “We earn money two ways: tickets and beverages. The more drugs, the less drinking. It’s bad for us. This club is a £10m investment – why would we jeopardise our license by allowing drugs in the club? Again, clubs are an easy target. What the police did to us was unforgivable.” It needs a rethink about the drugs debate which has gone on for ever and as Reilly says, “Despite billions of taxpayers cash spent on drug prevention, The problem has got worse. Keeping things illegal seems to drive it to crime cartels.

Fabric, adds Reilly, is also a “loved and respected brand. We don’t get any help, only hindrance, but in normal times we bring lots of visitors to London. I’ve known people to come from Japan for the weekend to go to Fabric. People travel to football and festivals and to nightclubs – look at Ibiza, although I’m not a fan as it’s so tied up in that ‘ave it’ culture.”

“We’re passionate about what we do and we’ll never give up. We’ve won best club in the world several times. But we get no support from the police or the Arts Council where most of the money goes to opera. It’s so weird.

The GLA hasn’t really helped, he says. Although London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted that Fabric should be saved, it was “an illusion. I asked the GLA if we reopen could we have support from the police? No commitment came.”

All of this obscures Fabric’s purpose, which is to bring music to its audiences. “The market changes all the time,” says Reilly. “That’s the beautiful thing about music. There are changes and trends. People now like going out to day parties on Saturdays and Sundays. But the point is that people will always want to go out and listen to music and why shouldn’t they allowed to do so?”

There’ll always have variance in the market, but Reilly says that the big change could now be in content and the way we participate with artists. “You go to see an artist – PJ Harvey, Madonna or a DJ, say – and nothing’s really changed in production values.

“But there’s so much more to do with the technology. So I’m bringing 20 venues in 20 cities around the world together – in each place collaborating with the best and highest-tech venue and linked to creative communities in each city: Buenos Aires, Moscow, Beijing. For DJ’s musicians, sculptors, artists, technicians and digital mappers – this is their natural home all linked via a computer system. They’ll become a celebration – a global arts community with an open dialogue and a shared platform.” The working title is FCAL – Fabric Creative Arts Laboratory – but Reilly might change it as he’s “never been about just sticking the name above the door.” He has a proposed site in Silvertown.

With Crossrail and the changes at Smithfield, Fabric now finds itself in the hub of London – but Reilly hopes attitudes will change towards the club he helped found 21 years ago. “We’ll fight on but I’m heartbroken at the way we’ve been treated. An institution like Fabric should be treasured by Islington and the country.”