So, in the middle of October, fabric came of age. Turning 18 may signify the start of a sort of faltering, sloppy adulthood for humans, but in club years, and especially in the current climate, this feels like a much grander age: the sort of time in a person’s life when you’d start drinking sherry. It’s a testament really to the club’s management and its ongoing cultural that it’s come this far, still holding court as one of the capital’s top clubbing destinations for artists and partygoers alike.
Anyone who’s been to one of the birthday weekends will know that the annual party is less a club night, more a subterranean festival – and one of the few times a year London gets a taste of the sort of nonstop amorphous hedonism that seeps long into the pale hours of Monday. Balloons festoon the bars, and staff, clubbers, and artists alike turn up thorough yet totally unclassifiable fancy dress. Past birthdays yielded the delights of Mathew Jonson playing live in a Pikachu onesie that looked sort of like a deflated parade blimp and Seth Troxler getting sweaty with the rest of us in a bonnet and negligee. This time, there was an additional reason to celebrate: it was the first birthday since the club reopened back in January, and so tinged with both relief and expectation.
Friday, in keeping with regular scheduling, is dedicated to jungle and bass. Saturday, whereupon the venue stays open continually for 30 hours, attracts starry house and techno lineups. Set times are never released outside the club, only vague gestures towards days, so you have to just turn up and hope.
Deciding to save myself mostly for the Sunday-Monday session when shit gets the weirdest, I dipped in briefly on Saturday to catch Blawan, who transformed the sepulchral depths of room 2 into a mini Berghain with two hours of hard, punishing techno. Booming kicks and crisp, skittering high hats took it in turns to keep the pulse of the dancefloor going, and in the arched recesses, shirtless solo dancers threw themselves about wildly.
At this point, the whole place felt like a microcosm of London clubbing, featuring every kind of person you’d find on a night out anywhere, from polished corporate types to hardcore club kids. Energy levels, even at 6.30am, were constant but measured, never slipping over into the kind of mad-eye twilight zone that ends up like an episode of Limmy’s Party Chat set in the zone 3 flat of someone no one apparently knows. Though the dance floors were thinning out by this point, many people were just settling in for the night, and plenty had flown over – from Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and France especially – for the occasion.
Returning late on Sunday afternoon, the crowd was notably different. Shiny garb was everywhere and the overall demographic had swayed into true festival territory: a mixture of dedicated music heads and general hedonists, often a little older. Many had come just for the Sunday, and spoke fondly of birthdays they’d been to before. On the bars and on the door were plenty of familiar faces, all still going strong even on limited sleep.
While the main room hosted the announced lineup’s big names – Raresh, Villalobos and Ben UFO – it was the smaller, cloistered room 3 that ended up drawing me in. Opened only on Sunday, and shrouded in secrecy, the schedule was packed with back-to-backs from artists who’d played earlier in the weekend, as well as an irresistible surprise closing set from Jackmaster and Midland.
I started in the main room, where Raresh, with Villalobos still hovering from an earlier b2b, filled the space with warm, stripped-back tracks, typified by Roustam’s Valparaiso. Gliding, dreamy pads built up into precise, pumping house beats, and mellowed out again, easing us into a genre-spanning set by Ben UFO, who came on at 9pm with a slow, hypnotic piano and kick groove. Cutting slickly between rave, techno and disco, the dancefloor rapidly segued into upfront party mode. Feeling like a whirlwind tour through modern dance music history, classics like Agua Re’s Holy Dance were blasted out to magnificent effect alongside new releases, including a couple from Hessle Audio’s own Joe.
At some point, I drifted up to room 3 to check out Margaret Dygas b2b Voigtmann. Earlier in the summer, Dygas played an apparently incredible dawn set at Houghton festival that friends of mine wouldn’t shut up about, and that I’d missed because I’d gone to sleep. This clearly is always a mistake, and I was determined not to repeat it.
As soon as I entered the reshuffled mezzanine space, I knew I’d found my place. With people dancing in loose clusters and the DJ booth nestled casually against the back wall, it felt immediately intimate and friendly, like a ridiculously great house party – if your mates were professional DJs and lived in some kind of castle. Trance-y techno, pounding kicks and bouncy grooves drove us all into a frenzy, with expansive dance moves and spontaneous conversations breaking out in a way that’s not always familiar to big clubs. It was an instant personal highlight.
As Hammer kept the pace up, Villalobos returned to the main room with his epic 22-minute The Contempt, a slow, building beast that played for almost its duration, another track slipping in and out in the meantime. It felt like a conversation with the crowd, a raucous call and response, excited whistles and cheers filling the spaces created by Villalobos as he teased in the opening claps.
Ultimately though, I couldn’t resist the pull of room 3. Taking over the booth at 1am, Jackmaster and Midland played what was undoubtedly my set of the weekend. Weaving through intricate drum tracks, soulful grooves, and pure house bangers to a tirelessly delighted audience, the atmosphere was so ecstatic it was intoxicating. More and more people peered in curiously and found themselves unable to leave. As DJ Hyperactive’s Music Box came on, we all lost our collective shit.
If I ever needed a reminder of why fabric is such an enduring mecca for people who just really love music, this weekend was it. Underpinning it all, everything about the place is designed to help you eke out the maximum enjoyment from your night, from inviting seating areas still within foot-tapping distance of the dance floors, to the water bar, to the staff and security, all of whom seem to genuinely love being there too. With the freedom to come and go as you please, the party’s longevity takes away that clock-watching compulsion to have all the fun right now, all at once, quickly, before it closes. There was a relaxed, easy pace to whole thing.
So many people I spoke to were serial birthday attendees, even if they didn’t come to the regular nights so much. A combination of the place itself, the artists who play (many of whom play repeatedly), and the particular, passionate group of people that only a Sunday session can attract, it’s just a fucking awesome party – and one with a special, rare, madcap energy. Long may it continue. See you there next year, yeah?
Words: Sonia Williams
Featured Images: Anna Wallington, Nick Ensing