One of the most popular clubs in the world turns ten next weekend. RA chats to some of the major players that made it possible.
fabric opened in 1999 almost exactly at the same time as Home, another club of similar size. But whereas that club had Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling as resident DJs, fabric enlisted Craig Richards and Terry Francis. And while Home took out full-page ads in glossy magazines, fabric's marketing was resolutely understated. Over the years, it's stayed that way. Home—and many other clubs like it—no longer exist. fabric does. The following goes some way toward explaining why.
Geoff Muncey: The London clubbing scene was desperate for somewhere new and exciting to hear music and to dance at the time.
Judy Griffith: At the time, the scene was dominated by superstar DJs. Anyone I wanted to listen to had to get off their backsides and put on their own nights, or—if they did play at those clubs—they were relegated to the back room.
Cameron Leslie: It took quite a few years to open the club. It almost took a decade. But once Keith found a site, it was about four years from there.
Keith Reilly: I had three other sites that I actually looked at and negotiated on quite heavily. I was a fair way down the line, and spent a hell of a lot of money. By the time I got to fabric, I had already sold my two houses.
Craig Richards: The first few times I visited the club, it was still a dank Victorian underworld, a series of dripping tunnels previously used to store meat. It certainly didn't resemble a nightclub.
Keith Reilly: If anybody else had named it, it would have been The Arches or The Vault—or something blindingly obvious like that. I wanted something that had no prior connotations or associations with any other club, and I wanted it to be almost meaningless. You can make it anything.
Cameron Leslie: As soon as my partner Keith said "fabric," it felt right.
Keith Reilly: I wanted to drive everything towards the important things. The only thing that matters is who is playing, and when they're playing. And that's it.
Geoff Muncey: Strangely, there were two venues that pretty much opened at the same time. fabric, and another venue called Home.
Judy Griffith: fabric was always getting compared to Home before it opened, but you could tell that it had such a different attitude. Home was all singing and dancing, and fabric was this understated little club.
Keith Reilly: I remember one person asking me if I realized that there was a club called Home opening up in Leicester Square a month before us with Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling. I said, "Yeah, I'm fully aware of that, and I hope they do very well. I'm not after their crowd, and there's a market for the people who want to see them. And there may well indeed be a market for the things we want to do."
Shaun Roberts: I was doing some flyering and street promotion for the opening night. And the first thing that I physically had in my hand was just a flyer with a DJs name on it and a date. No other details at all.
Andy C: There was a lot of buzz about the club. Everyone was talking about this new club in East London by the markets.
DJ Hype: I remember hearing about this new club being built. It was supposed to be fantastic. With bass in the floor and everything.
Shaun Roberts: We would ask, "How do you want us to sell this?" and they said, "Just put it out there, let people make their own decisions. Once we open it, then people will be able to make a decision, but let's not give people the opportunity to make preconceptions."
Keith Reilly: "OK, this area is a bit rough, isn't it?" "Do you think you'll get this many people coming to this location?" "Who are Craig Richards and Terry Francis?"
Shaun Roberts: Ali B and James Lavelle on the Friday and Craig Richards and Terry Francis on the Saturday. The statement was very much, "These guys play incredible music and are incredible DJs. We don't need to sell off the name of a big name DJ." It was a very different attitude to promotion.
Cameron Leslie: It was about three weeks before the launch, and it became very apparent that we didn't have enough space allocated for the cloakroom. I phoned my Dad up and said to him, "We're working round the clock trying to get everything else ready, but this area which is effectively going to be the beginning and the end of the night is just going to be a total and absolute disaster. Can you come up and help us?" So Dad pretty much looked after the cloakroom for three months.
Keith Reilly: We were originally supposed to open three weeks earlier.
Shaun Roberts: To be honest, I was actually quite chuffed because I was working freelance as a flyer guy. When we did the re-launch, we got paid again.
Keith Reilly: Even the day that we opened it looked like they were going to fail again. We didn't have any electricity until about 4:30 in the afternoon of the first party.
Judy Griffith: You knew from the first time you went there, it was something special. When I came down and heard the soundsystem, I knew that they were going to pull it off.
Shaun Roberts: From the outside, it's just a little doorway. Your immediate perception is to look at the building and look at the floors above and go "Oh, that's the club," because you don't realise that there's that space underneath the road there.
Keith Reilly: Every great club I have ever been to has involved descending down a set of stairs.
Shaun Roberts: When I showed my Dad around for the first time, he was like "Is that it?" Then I took him in and every time we turned a corner it was "fucking hell" in a slightly higher octave.
Dan Coshan: I think from the very first club night I had here as a customer, I was completely and utterly convinced right from the word go.
Andy C: Once I went down to fabric, it was clear that there was only one club for me.
Shaun Roberts: The first night that we opened to the public was a drum & bass night. The queue used to go the other way from the door at the time, but it went all the way down Farringdon Road, back down Farringdon Road and then back up to the tube station. It was absolutely insane.
Lee Burridge: The first time I walked in, it just had something different about it. No trimmings or nonsense. It felt really honest and simple.
Judy Griffith: It has an old warehouse vibe. Just cleaned up a bit.
Keith Reilly: fabric was always intended to be a legitimised warehouse party. I wanted it to feel like you've gone to an industrial zone, and you're in an old disused building.
Sinden: The club is like a labyrinth. I remember walking around the first few times that I went there, and just getting lost.
Dan Coshan: It also had a nice warehouse feel. It had that feeling of getting lost, where you were able to shut yourself away from the rest of the world and just lose and immerse yourself in the music.
Shaun Roberts: I still find myself running up the wrong staircase and going, "What am I doing here?"
Doc Martin: It's kind of like three clubs in one. Everybody has the room that they like to go to, and some people wander around. And that makes for a very interesting dynamic.
Andy C: I played in fabric about six times before I even realized there was a main room!
Sinden: fabric kind of has the best of both worlds. It's a big club, but at the same time it doesn't feel like one. And then there's the soundsystem.
Craig Richards: The soundsystems.
Dan Coshan: The soundsystem is the key.
DJ Hype: There's nothing like it.
Andy C: Amazing.
times before I even realized
there was a main room!"
Sanj Bhardwaj: I love working at fabric, because Keith loves sound.
Keith Reilly: Our company looks to one thing really, and that's our sound system. It's the most important thing in this company.
Sanj Bhardwaj: I had worked at Ministry and other places, but the cavernous volume in fabric was amazing to me the moment that I walked in. It was the first thing that I thought might come close to the Ministry of Sound's legendary old system.
Keith Reilly: If we couldn't have had toilets, we would have gone without them. The whole project was managed through our soundsystem first. That was the ethos.
Judy Griffith: One of the things that first attracted us to Ricardo [Villalobos] was his ability to understand and manipulate the soundsystem.
DJ Hype: I've played just about everywhere, and there is no soundsystem that comes close to the one at fabric.
Andy C: It brings the best out of every tune. It's loud without really hurting you.
Terry Francis: They're always fine-tuning the system.
Sanj Bhardwaj: We kicked JBL out after about a year of working with them, and replaced them with Martin Audio. That upset a lot of people, but the sound that came out of it was untouchable.
DJ Hype: Most normal clubs weren't really equipped for a music like drum & bass at the time. If the system isn't good, drum & bass sounds fucking awful. Because if you can't feel it, it's pointless.
Shaun Roberts: Drum & bass had been shunned by so many clubs at that time.
Keith Reilly: The minute you talked about drum & bass back then, people would look down their noses at you and just think it's trouble.
Shaun Roberts: The fact that we were taking a stance on supporting it regularly was very special. And the look on the crowd's face that first night, going "Wow, this is going to be our playground for years to come."
Andy C: Being there and realizing that my music—drum & bass—was being taken very seriously in what was obviously a major landmark club really struck a chord with me. The love that they have for drum & bass, the support that they were giving it, instantly made it very special. You really can't overstate how important it was that there was a place like this that would have drum & bass in on every Friday night.
DJ Hype: The clientele you'll get is everything from your underground street guy to a tourist. So you get a nice cross-section of people that will come in. Which is great for someone like me who would play underground drum & bass. We could introduce it to audiences that might not necessarily come there for it.
Andy C: fabric played a huge role in the reigniting of love for drum & bass in London.
Geoff Muncey: Over the first few months, Keith was bombarded with people asking him, "Is fabric going to set up a record label?" Keith always said they were too busy trying to organise parties to be able to do something like that, but after time he thought it would be a really good idea, so I was brought in to help.
Craig Richards: I did the first mix CD for the club. I wanted to say as much as possible about the end of the night in Room One—the music, the club, and lastly myself. I really love the combination of old and new. Old records that still sound good remain strong in the mind. I tend to be proud of very little, but I'm very proud of what I did. People are still very complimentary about it.
Terry Francis: It's quite hard to fit everything you want into a CD, but the goal with my fabric mix was to give people a little bit of everything with it.
Geoff Muncey: The club is based in London so obviously not everyone is able to come every weekend, so we wanted to set up a series that if people listened to maybe six CDs, they would have an idea of what was actually being played inside the club.
Dan Coshan: Having John Peel do the only ever-recorded mix album for us? That was one of our peaks of our entire existence.
Group Operations Director
Keith Reilly: It's about finding new and interesting and diverse music and supporting and developing that. That's our lives. We are all massive collectors of music ourselves and it's just an extension of that really. I would quite happily take my two-week vacation in a basement of a record shop rummaging around looking for old vinyl and the club's no different from that except we rummage round and find the DJs.
Terry Francis: fabric has always been a leader, rather than a follower. And I think that's why it's worked so well. There's no jumping on the bandwagon. It is the wagon.
Judy Griffith: Tyrant really shaped the first years of the club with the tech house boom going on at the time. And, of course, Doc Martin and that West Coast sound. That was the sound of fabric.
Doc Martin: The first night that I played there was probably my most memorable night. I had played about three records and Nikki Smith asked me if I wanted to be a resident! I was like, "Well, yeah. I'm down. But let me finish my set!"
Judy Griffith: When we brought over Ricardo in 2002, both he and Craig were having a bit of a tough time in a way. The musical style was changing. There was a lot more minimal and dub, and people just weren't embracing it. But with them and Michael Mayer pushing that sound, people gradually began to open up to it. It was a really hard year when we were making that transition, and a lot of clubs wouldn't have carried on with it. But Keith doesn't care if there are 20 people or 2,000, as long as the people there have had a good experience.
Keith Reilly: We're not interested in finding DJ's who are going to give the crowd a great night, we are interested in finding DJ's who will come down and play us music that we haven't heard.
Sinden: One of the special things about fabric is the way that they reach out to new and emerging artists. One of the best nights I've played there is when we booked Buraka Som Sistema and Santogold before they both blew up.
Doc Martin: You could tell that Keith is keen on bringing in underground music, which is so rare for a club of that size.
Terry Francis: I like how important that the club has made the resident slot. I don't think I would have taken the offer if it hadn't been the case.
Craig Richards: From the beginning, Saturday night was structured around Terry and I. Being in a comfortable environment has allowed me to express myself.
Judy Griffith: I'm not sure people understand what an effect Craig has had on London clublife. People simply weren't listening to that stuff on a big system before him. But, in a way, he's been the perfect resident DJ because he was never stuck in any one musical style. He plays across the board. That's why, in the end, we program our nights around him. He's the centre point of the club, and just as important as the guests we bring in.
and no bullshit."
Keith Reilly: A club isn't rocket science. It's very simple things—have a great sound system, book great music and make sure that the club is run well and that people are treated well.
Cameron Leslie: From arriving to leaving, you want people to forget about the pointless and irrelevant things in the experience, whether that's going to the toilet, cloakroom or bar. If you get those things right, people forget about them and actually think about the good things.
Dan Coshan: We want to make people happy. We're big enough to admit that we don't get it right all the time, and we're always looking at the things that we do and how we do them.
Cameron Leslie: I'm not saying that we always get it right, and I'm not saying it's perfect. Sometimes the amount of people can dictate things.
Dan Coshan: There are certain aspects which are traits of any club. Someone in the crowd wants to pick a fight, grope a girl, pick a pocket. Hopefully, we manage to keep it at bay. But I don't see anything we have to face as a major problem: I see it as a challenge. How do we overcome it? How do we adapt?
Cameron Leslie: The core team—the people that are essential to what fabric is about and delivering that project and that whole ethos behind it, hasn't really changed a lot. That's been a success for us—to obtain and keep such loyal and dedicated and passionate people. It's something we certainly don't take for granted.
Shaun Roberts: There are a lot of young people here, handling booking or working in the press office, interns, promoters, assistants to record label guys or digital graphic designers. They're all really passionate about their music and they all feed into the guys we book.
Craig Richards: We are just happy to be still successful, without changing the recipe. We have achieved what we set out to do—to promote quality music on a significant scale. No formulas, no branding and no bullshit.
Keith Reilly: For years and years people have come up and asked "How'd you do it?" When they're asking about it, they are almost suggesting that we're some kind of clubbing guru or we have some kind of magic formula. We haven't. It's pure self-indulgence.