In the world of dance music context is everything, and so when we spoke to Richy Ahmed just days after Islington Council’s decision to close Fabric, there was to be no skirting around the issue that has mobilised people in anger at the state of London’s nightlife. Speaking frankly about a decision that “just doesn’t make sense”, Richy gave us his thoughts on what the loss of the Farringdon club means for London, the inseparable link between drugs and dance music, and how the British public will respond if the attack on clubbing culture continues.
“I think it's absolutely devastating to be honest”, he sighs despondently, acutely aware of the magnitude of Islington Council’s decision. “I've been going for well over 10, maybe 12 years. I don't think people realise how devastating it is; we've hardly got any good clubs as it is, but Fabric was like a soul for the country, never mind London.” The Hot Creations DJ carries a weary tone, reflecting on the club’s closure with a clear sense of discontent. “It was that one club you associate the place with, like Berghain for Berlin, and now we've lost it - hopefully not forever - and it's really sad.
"If they could shut Fabric down I don't know what clubs could ever pass - it was run like a machine"
The decision to close Fabric has not proved a popular one, eliciting passionate vocal responses from people most normally known to express themselves through other mediums. Richy Ahmed is no exception, not holding back in his appraisal of the significance that the decision has for London and UK clubbing. “Fabric is just another thing in a long range of stuff that the English government aren't concerned about”, he suggests. “They don't really care about creativity, they just care about money.”
Like many others, Richy points to the money-centricity of our capital when considering the factors that have caused its focal clubbing institution to close. “I think it's all coming out now... the whole thing stinks to high heaven and I think it's an ongoing thing that the city council seem to have; it almost seems to be a bit like how it was in New York in the 90s.”
Once the greatest spot for clubbing culture anywhere in the world, New York has been transformed by years of gentrification at great cost to its nightlife institutions, many of which have been forced out of their old strongholds and into the outskirts of the city. Ahmed worries that London is heading towards a similar situation.
“I think [the UK government] will learn eventually because they'll find out that there's a lot more business that comes from nightlife than people realise. The reason why East London's popular as it is, and why the property prices are so expensive and they get such big taxes, is because it was cool - it was cool for all the nightlife and creativity, and they are just trying to piss all over it.”
The idea that failings in its drugs policy rather than political and business interests are to blame for the club’s closure is not one that Richy has much investment in.
“If they could shut Fabric down I don't know what clubs could ever pass - it was run like a machine. It was one of those places that you end up just saying straight sometimes and just getting into the music because it wasn't worth trying to get something. It's just unbelievable.”
(Fabric resident and musical director Craig Richards playing at the London club shortly before its license was revoked - Photo courtesy of Danny Seaton via the Fabric website)
The link between drugs and dance music is inextricable, Ahmed argues, noting that other cities have had more success in preventing drug-related deaths in clubs by way of progressive policies and attitudes. “The war on drugs didn't fix it, it just made it worse. We need a new model and a new narrative to change it, just like they did in Portugal, to make it more safe and more functional, because you're just not going to stop people doing it.” Treating drugs as a “dirty word”, he says, merely heightens the danger of drug deaths by obstructing proper education on safe usage. Cities like Amsterdam have already adopted a similar stance, leading the way with measures such as drugs testing, but Fabric’s closure suggests that London is not willing to follow.
In fact, it is not just British attitudes to drugs that appear regressive when compared to many of the big European clubbing spots, with a stark decline in London’s clubs not lost on Ahmed.
“When you look at the venues in Amsterdam compared to ours now - it's incomparable. It's all to do with property and the cost of property and the profit in it. Property prices in Amsterdam and Germany probably aren’t so high, and there's a lot more space to build in the cities. London is different - nobody wants to use a good bit of prime real estate for a club because it's not financially viable. They want to make an office or some apartment blocks and make some money. That's why all of these clubs have been going, because of planning. Greedy councils getting pay offs and greedy town planners”, Richy laments. “I think it compares with the crowd and the amount of people that want to party and want to rave, but I think London really lacks now in terms of venues and options and parties.”
Though his disappointment is clear, however, his optimism has not totally forsaken him. “I don't doubt for one second that it's gonna sort itself out; you cannot fight British people for ideas and there's no way you can keep us down. They've tried for years; they tried in the 90s. We are one of the most resilient crowds for that, [so] it'll just come back round.” London, he reminds us, is not necessarily a microcosm of the nation on the whole.
“Other cities are bouncing at the minute, like Birmingham, Manchester - even small cities because their councils need that a bit more. Whereas London - they've got so much money they don't care. But I don't doubt that it'll work itself out - we like to rave too much. We've not got much else really; we haven't got the beach, we haven't got the weather. We like to party because it makes you forget your troubles at the weekends. You put them at the door and you get on the dance floor and it’s the easiest, cheapest and most honest way to do it.”
"You cannot fight British people for ideas and there's no way you can keep us down"
Moving into lighter territory, Richy points to his show at Leeds’ MiNT Club as a reason to be cheerful. “It’s an absolute establishment... it's banging. Wicked sound, the atmosphere's incredible, it's just the right size - perfect for 4ThirtyTwo.”
Previous 4ThirtyTwo nights have been popular, with Richy relishing the opportunity to dictate longer sets and get deep into the party. “I think we're coming to the stage now where there's so many stacked lineups, like at DC10, with people playing an hour here or there and people don't actually get to see any DJing. If you get there a bit late and go to the bar you've missed them for 45 minutes, and people see ten minutes and judge them on that. 'Oh that was good, that was shit'”, he jokes, though there’s certainly an element of truth to what he says. “[Longer sets] just give you something to get involved in; it's good for me, it's a good party, all the clubs have been really solid. They've been the best parties I've done this year to be honest.”
(Ahmed's 4ThirtyTwo parties have given him the chance to play all night long)
Though the summer has been his busiest yet - “I've never worked so much in me life, which is probably a good thing” - Richy Ahmed’s schedule also has to allow for his work as A&R for Hot Creations, uncovering new artists for label boss Jamie Jones to pass judgement on. It’s a hands-on task, at least some of the time…
“I find the music and I put it together, give him it, and then Jamie makes the decision. I will input but he will always say if it's going to go or not, he's not one of them people that lets it go. But I will say that I've given him about 70% of the stuff that he has signed so he obviously likes my taste. There's loads of stuff that we disagree on... but at the end of the day, it's mainly just us.”
"I didn't expect mine to do so well, because it was just a nice disco groover, but then it just blew it up"
Hot Creations’ brand of tech house has developed a characteristically clean sound, but Richy insists that variation is a significant part of what he looks for in new artists.
“I always try to change it up, get something a bit different. If you get too many demos that are sounding the same you can't sign it. It's mad, we'll get a certain type of demo coming through and then loads of people just start getting it without any idea that they just sound like other people's. There's lots of good music that we can't re-sign anymore - not 'cos it's bad but just because it's not right at that time.” Having overseen a string of releases in 2016, Richy holds a special fondness for his own, an EP titled So Good. "I was really happy with mine to be honest, I was surprised. I didn't expect mine to do so well, because it was just a nice disco groover, but then it just blew it up.”
We ask Richy if there’s anything on his USB that’ll blow up in similar fashion in the coming months. “”The Tribesman” by Solardo”, he says unequivocally. “It’s on Hot Creations, coming out in a couple of weeks, and it’s going to be massive.”
With a combination of shows at huge warehouses and intimate small clubs on the horizon, he ought to have ample opportunity to test it out. Shows at Bugged Out! In Dreamland, MiNT Club, Warehouse Project and the Hot Creations takeover at Motion are on the way, and Richy seems excited for them all.
“Both come with different ups and downs”, he muses when pressed on the age-old question of whether small or large venue gigs are best. “Obviously if you were getting paid the same for either one you probably would pick the smaller rooms - you can feel more connected, but at the same time there's nothing better than walking onto a massive stage when the sound system's good and there's about 500 people there, and you can watch them all in unison getting involved in the music. It's cool.
“Some DJs play small rooms all the time but don't get the opportunity to play big rooms, [so] it's a pleasure to do that - to be big enough to fill an arena.” Richy Ahmed is certainly big enough to do that, and whilst the battle for Fabric rages on in London, that’s exactly what he’ll be doing in Bristol, Leeds and Manchester.
Interview by Andrew Kemp
Photos courtesy of Richy Ahmed unless otherwise specified