London, 1991. Acid house fever is raging, jungle and hardcore are just about to take off. The capital is the beating heart of the nation’s snowballing rave movement. The scene’s in rude health, but all of the best parties – a mix of grimy warehouse sessions and large-scale field gatherings surrounding the edge of the M25 motorway – are part of a never-ending cat-and-mouse chase with the authorities. Sure, there are nightclubs, but the music isn’t always all that credible. And besides, none of them offer the underground feeling of an illegal rave. In the midst of all the chaos, Keith Reilly has a dream.
When he wasn’t hunting down the records he’d heard on John Peel’s radio show, Reilly was putting all his time and money into throwing warehouse parties across the city. He’d already dedicated his life to electronic music, and following a successful run putting on his own club nights in King’s Cross, the next logical step was finding a permanent spot to host them.
The aim was simple: a space made by clubbers, for clubbers. The music would be the focal point, so sound had to take precedence. Saturday nights would champion house and techno, whereas Fridays would be a wild celebration of the roots of sound system culture. Eight years after jungle had first erupted, FABRICLIVE was born.
Few of us could have envisaged just how deep this journey would go. Drum & bass, breaks, hip-hop, grime, dubstep, house, electro – our Friday nights have taken on each of these styles across our lifespan, but even after two decades the underlying mission has endured.
For many of us who missed out on that storied 90s rave era, this was how it all began, where tastes were formed and new sounds discovered. The start of a pathway into the world of dance music, set in a brushed-up warehouse party that was equal parts playground and sanctuary. Thinking about it now, it’s easy to see what Andy C was getting at when he likened the space to “a second home”.
Looking back, a hell of a lot has happened over the course of this adventure. Music scenes sprouted, stars were born, and many lives were changed. None of this should come as a surprise: for the last 20 years, FABRICLIVE has been at the vanguard of the UK underground. This is its story.
Reilly had been searching for the best part of a decade before he found Metropolitan Cold Stores. Located in a vast underground space in the heart of Farringdon, the building was sitting empty when he first stepped inside, its only prior function storing meat for the neighbouring Smithfield Market. Not long after discovering the site he met Cameron Leslie, who was working with the building’s landlord at the time to help fund a restaurant project next door. With the pair’s combined strengths in hospitality and throwing parties, they united to fulfil Reilly’s goal, joined by a small team of friends who would help them realise the vision. One of them was Steve Ball, a local promoter Reilly had met when flyering outside clubs for his King’s Cross parties. Ball’s background was in drum & bass and hip-hop, which was the perfect contradiction to Reilly and his love of New York house. He conceived the musical identity for Friday nights, before calling on the help of Shaun Roberts, an avid drum & bass head who knew everyone on the scene from hanging out at places like Black Market Records. As the pair set about launching FABRICLIVE, the building underwent its final stages of transformation. The whole project lasted four years, but all the hallmarks of the labyrinth Reilly had unearthed stayed fully intact. Even with all the mod cons added, it was easy to feel lost inside. Everyone went through the same ritual: descending that mighty staircase, heading through an alluring doorway and falling into a subterranean maze of dark passages and corners. And if the disorienting layout wasn’t enough of a headfuck, there was one other thing that every last raver and DJ would be left struck by: the sound.
Keith Reilly: Clerkenwell was a very unloved, almost industrial out-of-town area. We’d all come from a warehouse party background, so when we found the building, it ticked every box we’d ever conceived. It was and remains perfect.
Steve Ball: Keith took me down to show me the space. It had been derelict for about 20 years at the time, and I remember the pair of us wandering around with a flashlight. I was so inspired. I told him “I’m going to do this with you.”
James Lavelle: I was invited inside when it was being built. It was kind of insane: a club built by my generation of clubbers.
Keith Reilly: We were just a collection of mates. We were lucky to have the combined talents of Steve Ball and Shaun Roberts. They were the backbone and architects of FABRICLIVE, but more importantly, they were music heads. One of the few things you can never substitute is pure passion. They both had it oozing out of every pore in their bodies.
Shaun Roberts: You never know how a space will work until you put people in it, but it felt incredible right away. On the opening night, I’d been out flyering the shops in Soho, and had to battle through a crowd to get in. Once inside, it was clear that it would become something very special.
James Lavelle: The moment you walk down, it’s like Alice in Wonderland.
Daniel Avery: It seemed to have 38 rooms, and each of those rooms had 12 exits.
Andy C: The underground nature of the club, the rawness, the exposed brickwork, the archways. It was overwhelming losing your bearings.
“Room One melts your heart, Room Two melts your face, Room Three melts your retinas.”
Grooverider: I’d heard about the sound system, how they’d built bass into the floors. I thought “alright, we’ve heard this before”, then when we got in there, it was something else.
DJ Hype: Bass speakers in the floor, what the fuck?! Plus the sound engineers working to make sure it sounds right. Tremendous.
Andy C: You’d want to test tunes out, because it was so solid. So chunky. So weighty. It just made tunes sound sick.
James Lavelle: The sound system was perfect. Before places like fabric existed, it was very unusual to play on that kind of set-up. Having regular access to that environment was truly amazing.
Daniel Avery: Room One melts your heart, Room Two melts your face, Room Three melts your retinas.
By the turn of the millennium, London’s nightlife climate was booming. Clubbers could choose from every branch on the electronic music tree. Dance music was an intoxicating subculture, and the clubs flourished. In many ways, the city’s bursting sound clash set the scene perfectly. The foundations were already there, albeit on a smaller scale. FABRICLIVE quickly became a platform for showcasing London’s diversity. Within a few months of opening, the team had formed close ties with a cast of trusted regulars. Some were invited to join the ranks officially. While Craig Richards and Terry Francis were responsible for keeping the wheels turning every Saturday, Fridays welcomed a team of familiar faces who would return to play every few weeks. Residents began to shape the sound of FABRICLIVE.
DJ Hype: Drum & bass and jungle were still growing in 1999. You had the garage thing going on too, but the music industry media was still not showing it so much love.
James Lavelle: Breaks became the alternative sound in town. You’d had Mo’Wax, then big beat, which became breakbeat. In some ways, it became the blueprint of how dance music had progressed.
Scratch Perverts: Hip-hop was represented well across the capital, though there was nothing on the scale of fabric.
Keith Reilly: FABRICLIVE gave us the freedom to explore all areas of bass and urban music – styles that have been growing more innovatively than anything else in the entire music industry.
Steve Ball: Breaks in Room One, drum & bass in Room Two, and hip-hop in Room Three. Generally, that was how we ran at the beginning.
James Lavelle: I’d discussed the idea that all of the really great clubs were based on a consistent residency. Larry Levan at The Paradise Garage. Junior Vasquez at The Sound Factory. Frankie Knuckles at The Warehouse. So I persuaded them to make FABRICLIVE a regular night, and became one of the residents. I played every other Friday night for five years.
Keith Reilly: Having residents that you love and believe in makes it a club. A club is about people, not buildings. They’re the ambassadors of the core values that form our belief.
Steve Ball: We had Adam Freeland, Plump DJs and Stanton Warriors from the breaks world. Then in drum & bass; Hype, Andy C, Groove, Fabio, J Majik, Adam F. Scratch Perverts and Skitz came on board for hip-hop.
Scratch Perverts: Our Beatdown night ran annually from 2002 to 2010. We were responsible for getting Ian Brown to play live, Dizzee Rascal’s first fabric set, Pendulum’s first ever live show, the list goes on. We used to play for free to be able to afford some of the artists we wanted. We must have been fucking mad.
Shaun Roberts: The Stantons were interesting – they had a real UKG flavour that a lot of breaks acts didn’t have. It added a different dynamic to the night.
Scratch Perverts: Over the years we started playing more D&B, then more 4/4, then grime and dubstep. The experience of playing the club broadened our horizons, and helped us become better DJs.
London had always been the home of drum & bass, and there were a few nights the hardcore fans would flock to. The genesis of the whole thing happened at Fabio & Grooverider’s legendary Rage party. Goldie’s Metalheadz sessions always went off at Blue Note, while Bryan Gee brought together practically every head on the scene for Movement at Bar Rumba. Then there was The End, the fabled West End venue that acted as a home for many of the sound’s heavyweights. But as house music’s surge in popularity was reflected at London’s biggest parties through the late 90s and early 2000s, drum & bass stayed tied to the underground. While other club owners rejected the sound in favour of slower tempos, FABRICLIVE gave it a new floor. Anyone who didn’t make it to the opening night soon heard about it. The prospect of hearing this music on such a powerful rig gripped DJs and fans alike. Before long, the club had become London’s drum & bass stronghold. The nights were always an intense blur of old faces, new faces and supercharged dancefloor energy, but they made a profound impact on the crowd, the artists and the scene surrounding them. DJs and MCs covering every angle of the genre visited. Many of them held long-running residencies. LTJ Bukem & MC Conrad catered to the jungle purists at Bukem In Session. Bukem then inspired a whole generation of liquid funk artists, who packed out the bill at nights like Soul:ution and Marky & Friends. Andy C and DJ Hype’s longstanding reigns in the club led to regular RAM and Playaz tear-outs. Newer faces, too, became Farringdon mainstays. Plenty of them progressed into holding down peak time sets in Room One, and over time, some corners of drum & bass found wider exposure. While Chase & Status scored chart hits collaborating with guys like Kano and Plan B, Pendulum got booked to headline big capacity festivals across Europe. FABRICLIVE bridged both worlds. The big guns who’d learned their craft in the club stayed loyal year on year, meanwhile younger crews coming through showed how they were pushing the music in new directions. 170BPM became the night’s dominant pulse rate. Like in the wider sphere, the sound endured.
Keith Reilly: A lot of clubs were reluctant to embrace drum & bass or other forms of urban music. But we knew there was no reason to suffocate something so wonderful.
Shaun Roberts: We gave it a platform, but the real impact came from the artists and the crowd. The DJs upped their game, and the fans were incredibly loyal.
Grooverider: They’ve always represented drum & bass music from the beginning. Not a lot of clubs have done that so consistently, but they’ve always stuck with us.
Andy C: The drum & bass community started treating it like a second home. I’ve made lifelong friendships from going there that I still have today.
Mantra: FABRICLIVE has always been heavily invested in D&B, even at a time when it wasn’t so popular. I really respect that.
“The drum & bass community started treating it like a second home.”
Andy C: It’s taught me so much. I played at loads of different times in the night, until I was trusted with my first all night long set. That was a massive moment for me. I can’t tell you how much I prepped for it. On the night, it absolutely flew by. I spent the whole ride home cursing myself for what I didn’t play.
Shaun Roberts: Calibre, the late great Marcus [Intalex], dBridge, Bukem – there were many artists playing that deeper sound. Having three rooms gave us the luxury of being able to experiment with different styles.
DJ Hype: The club played a huge part in giving the sound credibility from outside of the scene.
Grooverider: It definitely helped build a bridge for the genre becoming more mainstream.
A few miles east from Farringdon, three towers in Bow were at the epicentre of a new musical development. UK garage had spawned grime, and the East End – home to all of the sound’s pioneers – was its headquarters. Two of its most important proponents were DJ Slimzee and Geeneus, who used to climb up to the top of the three Crossways Estate high-rises with a transmitter to broadcast jungle and grime shows via their pirate radio station Rinse FM. Meanwhile on the other side of the river, two teenagers named Adegbenga Adejumo and Oliver Jones were helping to lay the grounds for a new scene in Croydon. By 2003, they’d joined forces to put out records together as Benga & Skream on the formative dubstep label Big Apple. Neither grime nor dubstep caught on quickly in London’s clubs. Yes, the dubsteppers had FWD>> every Thursday, but there was nothing to be found in any of the bigger spaces. Similarly, a full grime night was practically unheard of. Just as it had done with drum & bass through the early years, FABRICLIVE became an incubator for both styles when few other clubs were interested. The likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Skepta and JME played early gigs in Room One. Elijah & Skilliam brought Butterz to Room Three just as the label was starting to grow, and would later return to pack out Room One. Caspa & Rusko shaped the course of dubstep, and Hessle Audio held a monumental six-year residency. Outside the club, things changed with time. Rinse FM won a licence, and Dizzee Rascal and Skepta a Mercury Prize apiece. Much further down the line, Stormzy headlined Glastonbury’s world-famous Pyramid stage. Dubstep developed two sides: one that gave birth to the EDM beast across the pond, and the other that showed a keen sensibility for house and techno. Ravers developed new tastes, and some artists lost their appeal. As parts of the scene rapidly fragmented, offshoots emerged.
Flowdan: Bow was instrumental in the development of grime. It was full of young people who wanted to express themselves, and Rinse FM’s presence meant there was a platform in the area.
Elijah & Skilliam: Pirate radio was our inspiration for getting into underground music, and grime was our inspiration to start DJing. Most other London clubs didn’t support it. fabric showcasing the sound was a big motivation for us to pursue a career in music, instead of just treating it as a hobby.
Flowdan: Grime didn’t abide by the boundaries of other genres or scenes. It was the only way people could express themselves without having to.
Elijah & Skilliam: Drum & bass, dubstep and grime lived side-by-side. They were inspired by the same things – the difference was grime was MC-led, and the others producer-led.
Shaun Roberts: It was natural that dubstep would become part of the FABRICLIVE family. It’s a sound that comes from UK sound system culture, which is the nucleus of what FABRICLIVE is about.
Grooverider: Before dubstep was at its peak, fabric was on it.
Pinch: One night that’s stuck in memory was inviting my hero Adrian Sherwood to play at Tectonic. He made a bunch of dubstep mash-ups for the evening, I remember hearing them and being fully impressed. He invited me to play and hang out with him after that, and ultimately then to his studio to work on some music. We made two albums and toured the world together as Sherwood & Pinch, thanks in part to fabric.
Jules Le Meilleur: Caspa & Rusko were very important for introducing dubstep to a wider audience. Their FABRICLIVE 37 album coincided with the whole scene growing from its roots in venues like Plastic People to larger clubs around the world. It also reflected a change in the genre’s sound from the deeper, meditative vibe to a more upfront style.
Jack Robinson: “Cockney Thug” was the tune that got me into the music. fabric putting its support behind the sound really cemented its place in the London club scene.
Elijah & Skilliam: fabric helped grime become recognised globally as a club genre, and not just a sub-genre of hip-hop. It brought the music into bigger rooms.
Flowdan: Grime is an authentic sound that really represents UK culture.
Pinch: By the late 2000s, dubstep had started fracturing. It became the hottest thing in popular culture, and the original, and I would say, true, sound of dubstep fell very much to the side.
Shaun Roberts: It came and imploded pretty damn quickly. Some artists lost their pull in a flash. The club went through some tough times at points like this over the years, but we weathered them out.
As dubstep and grime grew through the 2000s and artists like dBridge, Calibre and Marcus Intalex kindled a golden period for drum & bass, guitars had come back in vogue. Four scruffy lads from Sheffield had exploded onto the UK charts with a boisterous track called “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, and quickly became one of the biggest bands in the world. Indie was thriving. Parts of the scene soon began to intertwine with dance music. LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip had festival crowds singing their rave-minded bangers, while Erol Alkan and Daniel Avery adopted a style of DJing that played to both audiences. FABRICLIVE embraced the movement. Nights like Kill ‘Em All and Adventures in the Beetroot Field placed bands centre stage. Soon after, the club was hosting a new wave of electro house artists who gained widespread appeal among the indie kids. Arctic Monkeys fans were now moshing to Jack Beats and Justice. For many of them, it was a turning point.
Filthy Dukes: The scene morphed from electro clash and indie dance into a noisier French thing, which had huge energy, and was a lot of fun. It got absolutely bonkers – people crowd surfing and pogoing around.
Shaun Roberts: One night we held a party in Room Three with Erol Alkan, Justice and all of the Ed Banger crew to raise money for a greasy spoon off Holloway Road. Long story.
Filthy Dukes: The bands pulled an indie crowd, and as the scene merged and became more electronic, the crowd shifted with it. There was an incredible freedom to it.
Shaun Roberts: Daniel was part of Kill ‘Em All. Olly and Tim [Filthy Dukes] were big fans of his and wanted to support him. I agreed because he was a good DJ, and totally committed to being a great DJ.
Filthy Dukes: Daniel was about 12 when we found him, but had an amazing music taste, and was just a lovely guy. He started helping out and playing at the night, and it soon became clear he was destined for great things.
Daniel Avery: I’d never considered myself a club DJ. I’d met the guys from Adventures in the Beetroot Field, who asked if I wanted to open up Room Three. I managed to play some tunes without fucking up, and the bar staff gave me a nod as I walked out. From there I became involved in Kill ‘Em All, eventually opening Room One every time. I cut my teeth in that room.
Filthy Dukes: Having so many live acts on the bill was very different. There were some combinations that shouldn’t have worked, but really did. We once had The Maccabees playing live, followed by gnarly electronica producer Paraone. I remember getting a MySpace message from these indie kids who’d only travelled to see The Maccabees, but left totally inspired by Paraone. Like LCD Soundsystem sang in “Losing My Edge”, they literally sold their guitars to buy samplers instead.
Shaun Roberts: My favourite night ever was Chemical Brothers and LCD Soundsystem DJing in Room One, with an unannounced live debut from Justice in Room Two when they were right at the height of their pomp.
Daniel Avery: In 2015 fabric offered me my own curated Divided Love residency, of which live acts were a big part. I’m incredibly proud of what we pulled together on those line-ups. To have Factory Floor and Dopplereffekt both play live alongside Helena Hauff, Volte-Face and myself on the opening night was a mission statement I continue to stand by today.
For anyone who can’t make it into the maze, there’s always been one way of getting a small taste of the experience. It’s hard to forget those peculiar silver tins dropping through the letter box, each of them telling another pivotal chapter in the story. There were 100 in total. Some broke careers. Others were definitive, causing seismic musical shifts. Early on in the series, John Peel contributed his first and only compilation CD, closing out with The Undertones’ punk anthem “Teenage Kicks”. In something of Farringdon folklore, when he finished his set with the same track at his album launch party, the crowd ended up carrying him out of Room Three on their shoulders. On FABRICLIVE 09, Jacques Lu Cont tied strings between Eurythmics and Brian Eno. FABRICLIVE 37 was a supernova moment for dubstep and its two curators, Caspa & Rusko. Marcus Intalex and Commix delivered mind-bendingly deep drum & bass selections for their albums, before dBridge and Instra:mental rewrote the rule book completely as Autonomic. Another highlight was FABRICLIVE 67, where Ben UFO crossed modern 2-step and dubstep with sublime deep house and hazy techno. As the label matured, the music industry changed. Where CDs and downloads were once the best way for keeping track of new releases, the Internet made streaming services like Spotify a favourable option for consuming music. Suddenly, online podcasts started replacing the tried-and-tested compilation CD. With a milestone approaching, the team opted to draw the series to a conclusion to focus on a new label. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the final mix in the series was also the biggest. Kode9, a seasoned FABRICLIVE regular, was enlisted for the hundredth edition with Hyperdub’s pre-eminent star. Burial.
Rob Butterworth: Keith was inspired to use tins for the series – he’d always loved the packaging for PiL’s Metal Box.
Jack Robinson: The first time I discovered Wiley was on Scratch Perverts’ FABRICLIVE 22 album. That was my favourite album on the series. Like the nights they hosted at the club, it crossed over hip-hop, drum & bass and grime perfectly.
Scratch Perverts: The audience has always been very open-minded. Our sets have always reflected that, and our FABRICLIVE 22 album really encapsulates the open-door policy to different music genres.
Daniel Avery: Much like when the club first booked me, fabric gave me a CD when no fucker knew who I was. I wanted the mix to represent where my head was at musically at that specific moment in time. In my opinion a mix should never try to be anything but that – they are time capsules. It was an exciting year as I had signed to Phantasy just a few weeks before, so I included some music from those early EPs, along with three exclusives. I’d been using the studio next door to Andrew Weatherall for a few months, handing him demo CDs. I sent him a message telling him about the CD and asking if he had any unused material knocking around. He called me back immediately: “I’ll make you something, dear boy. What BPM do you want it?”
Rob Butterworth: We’re humbled to have helped a number of rising artists go on to bigger things. A mix has always been considered a badge of honour, giving exposure to build greater success.
Pinch: I made FABRICLIVE 61 at a time when innovations in UK bass music started happening at house and techno tempos. It was moodier, and bassier. I wanted it to reflect how these things could connect. It was done with a stack of freshly cut dubplates in one take, and starts and finishes in the same place. So it could loop forever.
Rob Butterworth: Early in 2018 we decided on our number one choice to end the series. We wanted the mix to be tied to the history of the club, but also to do something a little different than usual. It’s always been a prerequisite that artists who do a mix have played at the club before, so Burial having never played anywhere ever was something different. Kode9 has played at fabric many times, so it all seemed to work perfectly if we could persuade them to accept. We still can’t believe they did.
That brings us to 2019. Looking back over the last two decades, it’s plain to see that some things have changed. The Internet has expanded beyond our expectations, and the world we inhabit has grown with it. New genres have infiltrated FABRICLIVE’s veins. More recently, Cimm, Fish & Sherry S, Mantra and Mark Dinimal have all joined our family, while our three rooms have played host to some of the UK’s most vital brands and record labels. Now entrenched in London’s nightlife landscape, the club night that started in Farringdon has found its way onto festival stages across the city. But at the heart of it all we’re still driven by that same underlying ethos: presenting the music we love in the best setting possible. That means more than just honouring the legends – the important part is nurturing the new blood. Once you’ve built a community, the only way to preserve it is by looking to the future. That’s how you evolve.
Mantra: When there was no Facebook or Instagram, you’d have to go out flyering. We’d put up posters in record shops, bars and cafés – it was all very physical. It’s mostly online nowadays, but I think the best promotion is other people talking about it. Creating a buzz.
Jack Robinson: Flyers and posters were the way you found out what was going on – you’d always grab the fold-outs to digest on the night bus home. Nowadays people don’t feel they need to know as much, something will just drop onto their phone telling them where they should go.
Mantra: Rupture hosted Room Three at the beginning of the year. Purely Old Skool vinyl from 1991 to 1997. Incredible vibes. The tunes from that era are imprinted on us – drop them, and the place goes off.
Grooverider: They’ve often got certain acts I’ve never heard before that are ramming the place out, and that makes me think “I’d better go and see what’s going on”, because they’re at the cutting edge.
“When I think of fabric, I think of community.”
Jack Robinson: There aren’t many small venues left in London, so we’re really keen to get new acts in and give new labels a chance to shine.
Jules Le Meilleur: I've discovered so many new artists at fabric over the years. We're programming newer brands and labels into Room Three to push fresh talent through.
Keith Reilly: New artists are the critical path to the future.
Andy C: fabric has always been fantastic at bringing newer artists through. It’s champion of the underground.
Mantra: It’s a cultural institution. There’s always a great mix of headliners playing alongside lesser-known DJs – that’s vital in order to keep a scene thriving.
Andy C: When I think of fabric, I think of community. It started out early on, but it’s just built over the years.
Jules Le Meilleur: Every label we book has a distinct sound, a set of tight-knit artists, and a loyal following. It’s about bringing community to the space, having like-minded people coming together to rave.
Scratch Perverts: I still have a real sense of family and belonging with fabric.
Mantra: Drum & bass is still championed in all shapes and forms. It’s a real honour and privilege to be asked to join the FABRICLIVE team. There’s so much amazing jungle and drum & bass out there at the moment – I can’t wait to get stuck in and play it out.
Grooverider: They’re always trying different things, and that’s how you stay alive in the club world.
Keith Reilly: The defining beauty and purpose of electronic music is evolution. No other area of music can create the breadth, depth and experimental innovation that electronic music gifts to us. It is unique and extraordinary in its power to release creative freedom. There are no rules. There are no formulas. It is the widest horizon with which to express yourself.
Writer and Researcher – Chris Williams
Creative Direction – Max von Mensenkampff
Development & Design – Shaun Preston
Photography – Anna Wallington, Lucie Levings, Maddy McRae, Nick Ensing, Thilo Weimer
With thanks to:
Cameron Leslie [fabric co-founder]
Elijah & Skilliam
Jack Robinson [FABRICLIVE promotions manager]
Jules Le Meilleur [FABRICLIVE promotions manager]
Keith Reilly [fabric co-founder]
Rob Butterworth [Label manager]
Shaun Roberts [FABRICLIVE promotions assistant 1999-2004, FABRICLIVE promotions manager 2004-2015]
Steve Ball [FABRICLIVE promotions manager 1999-2004]
& every FABRICLIVE artist 1999-2019.