A Love Letter to… Fabric Mixes
When you’re young, you look for windows into other worlds. For a wide-eyed 13-year-old buying Mixmag with his paper-round money, photographs of clubbers representing their disparate musical tribes provided images and sounds that Boiler Room later made kinetic. Similarly, the Mixmag cover-mounted CDs provided the soundtrack to the images – hard-house workouts to accompany day-glo revellers and garage anthems for the London crowds dripping in designers. The mystique of the rave steadily decreased. Everything was on display and not all of it was pretty.
A dark labyrinthine club that’s challenging for photographers to shoot, it’s hard for Fabric to reveal all of its secrets. As an even more wide-eyed university student shedding his indie skin in favour of beats and ecstasy, the music played at Fabric was as mythological as the geography of the club. This resulted in the frequent scouring of line-ups for artists I’d never heard of to further my electronic education. As an extremely badly-dressed hyper-active 19-year-old, I first visited fabric for a 2ManyDJs-curated Friday night and my obsession with the club began. I subscribed to the Fabric CD series immediately.
This was in the early days of the internet we know now. At this time, a lot of today’s popular mix series hadn’t begun. Beatport was in its infancy and most artists posted music on their MySpace page to attract attention. As a result, the Fabric mix CDs became essential pathways into previously undiscovered musical worlds.
I joined the party at Fabric 32 by Luke Slater. Having never really listened to trippy, minimal techno – or really any techno – before, the new textures on this mix came thick and fast. (Even now, this mix remains an incredible entry point to a new landscape.) This was a virile time in electronic music, during which the series traced some major changes in electronic output. Caspa and Rusko’s Fabriclive 37 was a pivotal dubstep compilation and thrust the genre in a controversial direction.The free-flowing liquidity of Marcus Intalex’s Fabriclive 35, the dark heady techno of Ellen Allien’s Fabric 34 and the wild, spacious repetition of Ricardo Villalobos’ entry mix on Fabric 36 each expanded horizons.
"The CDs were windows not just to the club itself, but to a world that, as a teenager, was beyond me and also ahead of me."
Looking back at the Fabriclive catalogue is a nostalgic trip. It’s a history lesson in the sub-genres that have formed the primary sounds of UK club culture over the last two decades. There are a number of breakbeat-indebted compilations in the early years of the series (Meat Katie’s Fabriclive 21 and Adam Freeland’s Fabriclive 16 are particularly strong); fidget-house is fully represented when it had its moment on Sinden’s Fabriclive 43; then the full spectrum of drum’n’bass, which remained a fixture throughout.
However, it was the Saturday night-inspired Fabric compilations that informed my listening for years to come. Techno clubbing was a new concept to me and conjured dreams of extended raves in Berlin, Amsterdam and beyond. The CDs were windows not just to the club itself, but to a world that, as a teenager, was beyond me and also ahead of me. While a monthly CD delivery might seem archaic today, each time the iconic tin dropped through the door another world was unlocked. My visions of distant dancefloors moved closer into focus.
Fabriclive 100 mixed by Kode9 and Burial is out now