London’s Impending Drug Culture Revolution

Three months after the drug related deaths of teenage boys Ryan Browne and Jack Crossley saw the nightclub lose its license for good, the doors of Fabric are open once again. Following a newfound agreement with the Islington council, the world famous venue will start hosting events from early 2017, a decision that sparked huge celebrations amongst all those who had supported the ‘save our culture’ campaign, which received over £300,000 in donations.

However, the decision to allow Fabric to reopen comes at a cost. During the court hearing that resulted in the council’s verdict to reissue the nightclub’s license, a 155-page document was presented by Fabric owners Keith Reilly and Cameron Leslie, detailing the extensive new security features that would be put in place to ensure a complete crackdown on the venues supposed ‘culture of drug use’.  CCTV cameras are to be placed throughout the club, ID scanners are to be installed at the door and sniffer dogs will patrol the queue outside, not to mention that the venue will now ban all under 19s from entry.

These are only a few of the new measures that will be in place once the venue reopens. Fabric now resembles a party at airport security more than it does a nightclub. Strict new licencing conditions such as these paint a bleak image of the future of London’s nightlife, with those in positions of power choosing to implement repressive measures that do more to intimidate nightclub goers than they do protect. Ever-tightening security teams will ultimately result in the joy of clubbing being lost, the flash of strobe lights and the incessant beat of dance music being replaced with the uncomfortable awareness that your every shuffle is being watched intently by a mountain-sized bouncer stood just over your shoulder. Once this becomes a reality it’ll only be a matter of time before attendances at these events plummets and once again club goers will find themselves facing yet another battle to save their culture.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Conversation in the UK is beginning to shift away from what security measures can be implemented. Instead, people are now focusing on what we can do to educate and protect nightclub goers from the potential dangers of drug taking. The relationship between dance music and drug taking will endure and fans will undoubtedly find ways of consuming and smuggling them inside venues no matter the security. Teaching people what they can do to ensure their own safety therefore makes far more sense than putting up a couple of CCTV cameras or adding an ID scanner at the door. Festivals like the Secret Garden Party are giving this notion genuine hope.

The Cambridgeshire festival, founded by Freddie Fellowes in 2004 pioneered a new approach to drug safety this year. Attendees were able to bring their drugs to an on-site testing facility where they were given a short health and safety talk whilst their illegal substances were checked for any dangerous contents, before being returned to their owners who were then free to go and enjoy their festival experience. The service was provided by drug charity The Loop, a non-profit organization whose mission statement is to ‘Promote health and minimalize harm in nightclubs, bars and festivals’ an aim they intend to achieve by providing ‘information, outreach and interventions by trained and experienced staff about alcohol, drugs and sexual health.’

The service was a major success, with over 80 dangerous drugs whose contents has been misrepresented handed in on the first day of the festival alone. By offering information and education rather than opting for a wall of snarling sniffer dogs to navigate on entrance, festival goers were more capable of keeping themselves safe from drug-related incidents and learn the countless list of often toxic ingredients that went in to making their drugs. Steve Rolles, a senior analyst for the Transformation Drug Policy Foundation, was a key figure in the agreement reached between The Loop and the local authorities and revealed that ‘around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs then asked us to dispose of them when they discovered that they had been mis-sold or were duds’.

Unsurprisingly, no drug-related deaths were reported at the festival across the weekend, evidence that progressive and innovative services such as these really do work. If an increasing number of festivals and nightclubs are able to get on board with revolutionary drug safety ideas such as these, events will inevitably become much safer places for music fans. Roelles is understanding however that for now the future of drug testing services lies in the hands of local councils and police forces, saying: ‘Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do. We hope this ground-breaking service becomes the norm for all such events. It is now up to others to follow, to protect the health and safety of their customers. In truth it would be negligent for them not to.’

Berlin’s world famous nightlife follows a similar ideology, choosing to remain relaxed and take a more liberal approach to drug consumption in the cities venues rather than resorting to the now outdated ‘war on drugs’ approach. Speaking to the Morgenpost newspaper, narcotics commissioner Christine Kohler-Azara said: ‘We want to be pragmatic, our experience has shown that it’s not a good strategy to create too much hysteria,’ going on to detail their approach to drug culture in the city: ‘provide scientific information, that’s much more successful than a simple policy of ‘say no to drugs’.

The benefit of this liberal thinking towards drug consumption in nightclubs is the protection and increased safety it offers to those who attend these venues. Door policies throughout Berlin are relaxed and there is even the rumour that some clubs allow drug dealers to operate inside their venues in order to steer attendees away from purchasing dangerous street drugs that are far more likely to contain life-threateningly toxic ingredients.

Nottingham based club-goer Daniel Pearce thinks Berlin’s model is one that should be followed worldwide: ‘It really confuses me that there are groups of people that don’t want to listen to scientific facts about drugs that are by and large safe when used properly and not stupidly abused’. The idea of introducing drug-testing tables like those used so successfully at The Secret Garden to clubs throughout London is yet another prospect that appears to be popular amongst fans of the scene. Harry Tinker, a regular attendee of nightclub TANK said: ‘I think that kind of idea could work in clubs, although I think quite a fair few people would be scared to use it with the amount of bouncers about in that kind of environment.’

This is where the key issue of the matter lies. Club owners need to take a forward-thinking step and replace their armies of security guards with one piece of simple equipment that can do far more to protect the safety of their crowds than any security official could ever offer. With the Secret Garden Party and Berlin as its models, London’s nightlife must surely be set for a drug-culture overhaul that will see venues such as Fabric re-think their approach and what they can do to ensure crowds are able to enjoy themselves without having to put their health at risk.

(Written by Joe Austin)

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