It’s hard to unlearn things. Stay away from strangers. Wear a mask. Avoid crowds. So for an uneasy half-moment, as the doors to Fabric’s Room 1 swung open, I wasn’t sure what to do. I could only half-believe that on the other side were a hundreds of other whirling 20-somethings: serotonin saturated strangers who were also trying to unlearn everything they had internalised over the past 16 months.
Somehow this hit me only when I was about to dance in the world-famous club in the early hours of Monday July 19, aka ‘Freedom Day’, COVID restrictions having been lifted for the first time since last March. I had survived the 50-minute queue snaking through Farringdon, central-ish London, without that uneasy feeling. I guess there’s no great novelty to queuing. It borders on qualifying as a national sport, something not even lockdown could move online, but merely distanced by two metres. The temperature guns were the only addition to Fabric’s security arsenal. Avuncular bouncers casually delivered point blank shots into foreheads before waving revellers onto the notoriously meticulous full-body searches.
My designated frisker decanted most of my worldly possessions in a bright plastic fruit bowl. “Just like prison – except no drugs here,” she nodded as she rifled through my wallet. iPhone photos of Lateral Flow Tests were waved at bouncers in futile attempts to skip the queue – to no avail. We just wanted to dance, and who could blame us?
As we emerged from the security ordeal, the thud of British DJ Radioactive Man’s 4/4 drum track began to ricochet up from the club’s Room 1, deep in the bowels of the Victorian building. There were around 900 punters in attendance; both of the club’s other stages were closed on ‘Freedom Day’, which felt aptly anticlimactic. The small scale of the night (and the absence of big name headliners) was a product of the way in which lockdown had been extended beyond the innumerable previous ‘Freedom Days’.
So the star-studded 48-hour Fabric Reopening party was replaced (and postponed until this weekend) by a fairly understated evening: one stage from Sunday midnight, a last-minute replacement headliner, am 6AM closing time. It seemed as though even the nightclub had tried to preemptively manage further disappointment by celebrating its freedom in such a muted manner.
I had my own private fear that the universe might still conspire to keep me from a dancefloor. Freedom had been put off so many times before. It seemed so fragile. Only a few hours before midnight, Fabric announced that the intended headliner, French electro producer Sweely, had cancelled “due to COVID restrictions beyond our control”. Going down the familiarly sticky stairs, I was reminded of the nights I had missed and would never get back. Refunded tickets on the RA app. 21 birthday that had been postponed – and postponed again – before being cast out of Google calendars altogether. Two years’ of memories that almost were. At any moment I braced for a high-vizzed bouncer to block the door and announce a Government U-turn. But it never came.
And so I danced. With my eyes closed. To really loud music. With sweating, swinging, joyous shadows I had never met and might never meet again. And we didn’t have to feel guilty about it. Every so often, a face in the crowd would pause, mid-movement, look up and smile; and I knew they were thinking the same thing. Five hours in, it was the first time, in a very long time, that anything felt truly normal.
But this isn’t a hymn. “Clubbing is back, and so is hating the donnies who jump and ‘Woo!’,” sighed Will, a jaded clubber in the smoking area. Some of the worst habits of English club crowds seem to have survived despite the near-death of the industry, and an entirely new generation of clubbers. Even with Fabric’s 19-plus age policy, most of the younger clubbers can’t have been out before. “It’s a strange vibe to see a young crowd moving to live electro,” mused one veteran clubber after Radioactive Man’s set. But the night was inevitably going to feel strange and in many ways the first-timers seemed the least fazed. Later, London producer and DJ Desert Sound Colony served up a different juddering offering of dubby garage, driving house and breakbeats with equal success.
“Better than a rented speaker at a house party”, was one London fresher’s glowing endorsement of the soundsystem. If you have stood on Fabric’s world famous “bodysonic” dancefloor, your spine will testify as to how much of an understatement this is. Directly below you, 450 powerful tactile transducers pulse, pounding bass vibrations from the depths of your sole into the depths of your soul. It must be felt to be believed, and if you haven’t, you should (if only to prevent an audiophile presenting their smoking area sermon on the Martin Audio sound system vs the Funktion-One).
At the end of the night and beginning of the morning, the masses drained out of the old Smithfield storage cellars onto Charterhouse Street. The sun was up and the birds had started the chorus they reserve for ravers and commuters. But the overwhelming mood on in the early hour of Freedom Day was one of relief. Relief that dancing still exists, and relief that we are still able to enjoy it.
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