In praise of Fabric’s mix series: an unassuming archive of 21st century dancefloor history
The physical mix CD, with its real world graspability, its inherent being-in-time-and-space, its sheer physicality, suggests a kind of timelessness that its online-only counterparts can only ever aspire to.
That isn’t to say that every mix committed to polycarbonate plastic deserves to be considered as worthy, or even listenable: my teenage fingers were burnt innumerable times by promise and potential that dissipated into yet another hour of turgid tech-house.
At their best – mixes like Triple R’s Friends, say, or Arrange and Process Basic Channel Tracks by Scion – they are transformative, transportive, and transcendental.
Since 2001, London superclub fabric has been pinging out monthly dispatches from the world of electronic music. The result is an uneven but important physical archive of 21st century dancefloor history, an assemblage of sounds and styles that have weaved in and out of the underground continuum. Last week they announced the 100th and final instalment of their genre-hopping FabricLive series, with Hyperdub boss Kode9 and Burial being asked to man the mixer one last time.
— 9:Ø (@kodenine) August 15, 2018
Reflecting the club’s approach to booking, the divide between Fabric and FabricLive mixes has always been transparent: the former focuses on the house and techno that dominates the venue’s three rooms on a Saturday night, and the latter flits between DnB, dubbed-out disco deviance and victory lap UKG.
Growing up far from Farringdon but with an increasing appetite for the possible pleasures that my romanticised ideas of nightlife afforded, I began collecting mixes from both sides of the divide, with each new purchase opening up avenues of exploration. Michael Mayer’s gooey Fabric 13 steered me toward the emotional world of microhouse and an obsession with Trapez, Freude Am Tanzen and Force Tracks, while Diplo’s still genuinely really good FabricLive 24 had me sniffing around second hand bins in various record shops hoping to get my hands on Model 500 12”s and DJ Deeon remixes.
Some mixes left me cold – if I listened to Spank Rock’s painfully-bloggy FabricLive 33 more than once I’ll be surprised, and I have distinct memories of turning Ralph Lawson’s lumpen Fabric 33 off after about four tracks – but that’s to be expected in a series that attempted to appeal to pretty much everyone who’d ever thought about stepping foot in a club at some point.
There was, and listening back to select mixes – Ellen Allien’s shuddering Fabric 34, Omar-S’ all-Omar S Fabric 45, the gorgeously wonky Fabric 52 by Optimo, Zip’s slinky minimalism on Fabric 67, or the taps-aff abandon of Prosumer’s super-jackin’ Fabric 79 – still is, a solidity to the Fabric series that is commendable.
But there was always something a little less predictable, a little stranger about FabricLive. The fact that John Peel was as natural a fit for the series as Pearson Sound is a testament to club’s hands-off policy when it came to the selector’s selections. You’re as likely to hear The Eurythmics on a FabricLive CD as you are D Double E.
It’s for that reason that FabricLive is possibly a better indicator of where dance music in Britain has been over the last 17 years. House is house, techno is techno, and until the day the Earth implodes you’ll always be able to walk into a nightclub somewhere and hear The Bells or New Day and that’s great, but there is untold joy to be found in seeking out the emerging, the unexplored.
You can see dubstep mutating into brostep on Caspa & Rusko’s rowdy FabricLive 37 and just a few mixes later Switch and Sinden are joining the dots between fidget house and speed garage on 2008’s FabricLive 43. Elijah and Skill showcase the dancefloor-friendly side of the grime spectrum that they bring to the space with their semi-regular Butterz nights on FabricLive 75.
UK Bass – that slippery sub-genre that encompassed everything and everyone from Zomby to James Blake – dominates for a period, with serious low-end excursions provided by the likes of Toddla T, Digital Soundboy Soundsystem, and Oneman. These, if we’re being honest, haven’t dated particularly well, but anyone looking to relive the glory days of 2012 could do worse than slapping on Pinch’s bleepy FabricLive 61 and pretending that your Miami bass night in a Folkestone pub really was the reincarnation of the Paradise Garage.
With Friday nights at fabric often being DnB-orientated affairs, it doesn’t come as a surprise to note just how many of the FabricLive mixes focus on the kind of heavy rollers that seem to exist in their own little cocoon, far away from the Klock’n’Dettmann dominated main stages at festivals around the globe.
Even merely looking at the last 10 mixes they’ve commissioned gives you some idea of the sheer scope of FabricLive: Kahn & Neek, Special Request, Preditah, Daphni, Midland Mefjus, Skream, Holy Goof, Dimension, DJ Q and Kode9 & Burial. There’s breadth in there, a sense of the sonic width that makes the rumblings about UK nightlife being dead seem like the petty complaints of those of us who got too old to keep up with the times
It might never have been on the cutting edge of things, but that was fine; a Fabric or FabricLive mix is a marker of a moment in time, a reminder that in an increasingly and disorientingly fast world, permanence is achievable. It will be missed.