Opinion

Brendan O'Neill on Fabric closure: The night is under assault

"Officialdom and those who run society fear the night – that wonderfully dark side of life – and we should defend it"

I want to pay tribute to the night.

Nighttime gets a bad rap. According to every horror film ever made, it’s the time when Bad Stuff happens. Politicians are forever wringing their hands over the night, especially nightlife: that loose, drink-fuelled time when normal everyday morals don’t apply. When you can dress more sleazily, speak more freely, walk up to strangers and say “I fancy you”. Things you’d never do at 3pm in a Tesco (unless you’re a creep).

You can picture politicos at home on a Friday evening, binge-watching a box-set, but their minds distracted by the thought of what is happening out there, in the dark. As Paul Chatterton says in his book Urban Nightscapes, the night fills the ruling set with dread. They’re always kickstarting “nighttime moral panics”, he says, where they talk down the “nighttime economy” – pubs, clubs, late-night chippies, and that mainstay of every youthful venture into the dark: the vomitous night bus home – as a “site of excess, vice and crime”.

The pub was the great socialiser of the next generation, where they learnt how to handle their booze and to move and shake with real adults

You see this all the time, this nightphobia, as we might call it. You see it in officialdom’s dire warnings about binge-drinking, which is basically three pints: what most people consider the hors d’oeuvres to a night out. You can see it in the Daily Mail’s weird penchant for sending photographers to capture sozzled, mini-skirted northern girls holding on to lampposts for dear life or Ben Sherman-sporting lads having a bit of a barney outside a kebab shop – pics splashed under headlines like “BROKEN BRITAIN”.

You can see it in the growth of police powers to disperse yoofs who gather at night. Fifteen and 16-year-olds used to go to pubs, where they’d have to behave themselves or risk the wrath of older folks chewing their ears off for being naff, childish drinkers. The pub was the great socialiser of the next generation, where they learnt how to handle their booze and to move and shake with real adults.

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But clampdowns on teens in bars means they now drink in parks or at bus stops. And so the cops have devised new means to drive them away. Some forces shine halogen lights on gangs of young’uns, blinding them off the streets. Some bus stops now emit a shrill noise more audible to youthful ears than older ones. The authorities are obsessed with driving scallywags out of the night, with purifying the night.

And you can see nightphobia in the creeping war on nightclubs. Last week, Fabric, one of London’s best-loved clubs, had its licence revoked. The Licensing Committee of Islington Council decreed that Fabric has a “culture of drug use” and basically forced it to close.

Two people died after taking drugs at Fabric between June and August. That is awful. But can Fabric be held responsible for what adults choose to do on its premises? I one snuck a little bag of Es into a nightclub. It was stuffed into my Y-fronts. That club was no more responsible for the pills my friends and I took that night than the Queen is for Stephen Fry’s infamous snorting of cocaine at Buckingham Palace.

The harsh treatment of Fabric fits a pattern of nightphobia

The harsh treatment of Fabric fits a pattern of nightphobia. Madame Jojo’s, legendary Soho club, had its licence revoked in 2014 following a violent incident. The Vibe Bar in Brick Lane also closed in 2014 after its owners decided strict licensing laws were turning clubs into “prisons with airport-style security”.

The night, the wonderfully dark side of life, is under assault. And we’re losing something incredibly important. As Dave Haslam says in his history of British nightclubs, Life After Dark, yes nighttime can be “chaotic and perilous”, but it’s also “a secret time, a lost time, when what’s normal doesn’t apply, a chance for some casual flirting, to seek pleasure, to look different, to be different, to be lost in music”.

Night gives us a frisson of freedom. In the day you gotta be polite, a bit starched, maybe even an arse-kisser. Not at night. The darkness, and the retreat of those who run society into their homes, opens up new possibilities, the chance to wriggle free from the straitjacket of day and work.

This is why officialdom fears the night, and why we should defend it. If we let our fear-fuelled rulers colonise the dark, there’ll be no zone left for open, adult, autonomous interaction. So venture into the night: it can be perilous, but it’s mostly a thing of joy.

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