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The Big Challenges Facing London's New Night Czar

Amy Lamé's job will be to promote and protect London's nightlife in the UK and internationally. But will there be much left to champion?

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Two months have passed since Fabric's licence was revoked.

One of the most popular nightclubs in the UK, its closure, which came after the drug-related deaths of two people in August, was part of a trend that has seen London lose 40% of its live music venues and half its clubs in the last five years.

"It's without a doubt the darkest day I have experienced being involved in electronic music in London specifically," DJ Plastician, aka Chris Reed, told BuzzFeed News when Fabric closed. "It feels like we have lost a relative. I am sure I am not alone in feeling like that."

That's the context in which Amy Lamé arrives in her role as the capital's night czar, a position directly appointed by Sadiq Khan after a manifesto pledge in his London mayoral campaign to help protect the capital's nightlife.

The US-born Lamé was selected from among hundreds of applicants, and seems eminently qualified for the role. A writer, DJ, performer, and campaigner, she fought successfully for the future of famous LGBT venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern – where she co-founded the arts group Duckie – and was mayor of Camden between 2010 and 2011.

“It’s a privilege to be London’s very first night czar," Lamé said. "I can’t wait to hit the streets, and have loads of ideas of what I can do for revellers, night-time workers, businesses, and stakeholders. For too long, the capital’s night-time industry has been under pressure – music venues and nightclubs in particular are closing at an alarming rate."

Fabric is appealing Islington borough council's decision to revoke its licence in a hearing scheduled for later this month, and Khan referenced the club's closure as he announced Lamé's appointment.

"The recent closure of the world-famous nightclub Fabric and the threats facing other venues across the capital show why Amy will be a much-needed ambassador for the city after dark," Khan said.

According to the mayor's office, London's nightlife is worth £26.3 billion annually, and represents two-fifths of the UK's overall night-time economy. But the capital's booming property market has seen clubs and venues squeezed out by developers.

Producer and DJ High Contrast, real name Lincoln Barrett, told BuzzFeed News: “It’s becoming even harder to combat gentrification. I think it would be a real shame if London went the way of Manhattan, where the cultural interests are pushed out and you’re left with the super rich. For me, you lose the heart of the city then.

“I think there is a general trend of that gentrification. It feels a little bit like there’s a general war on culture, an anti-intellectual war on culture. It’s getting pushed out by a confluence of money, control, and a dumbing-down of society to move all the edges out."

However, Alan Miller, chairman of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which welcomed Lamé's appointment, told BuzzFeed News clubs such as Fabric were not falling victim to "gentrification or shady developers", but to issues around policing.

Miller, who said the Fabric decision was made by the "most unbelievable licensing committee I'd seen in 25 years", said crime in nightclubs was being blamed on venues and not those intent on breaking the law.

“People are foisting these responsibilities on to bars and clubs: ‘As you are the creator of the drug problem, have more security, have more CCTV,'" he said. "We must ask why everyone is going to Berlin or Barcelona, and not London."

Miller called Fabric's closure a "watershed" moment that set a precedent that "can't be the case". “From an industry point of view," he said, "this can’t keep happening, this ‘close anywhere you want’ attitude."

Some club owners are more philosophical about the future. Jordan Gross, co-director and co-founder of Oval Space, told BuzzFeed News: "Culture’s always been something that has waxed and waned. It has different forms it takes from time to time, decade to decade: M25 raves don’t happen any more, but what arrived instead was the relative safety of venues and clubs that allowed people to have a good time.

"The idea of dancing and people going out celebrating things and making connections is a very, very old thing that people have been doing since the dawn of time. I doubt very much that it’s going to be stopped at this point. It’s our job to make sure people keep on dancing one way or another."

Gross said there were practical steps Khan and the night czar could take to help clubs, through protecting planning permission and guarding against rent rises.

“It’s very exciting and London is an amazing place to be positioned in. It has an amazing culture and nightlife culture," he said. “I think Sadiq will come through, I get the impression that this is the case. The nature of culture is it breaks down and is rebuilt again."

Carl Loben, editor of DJ Mag, said new steps should be taken to help preserve dance and electronic music venues.

“Dance culture needs to be protected from lottery subsidies, taken seriously in town planning meetings as well and perhaps as new clubs are built," he told BuzzFeed News in the aftermath of Fabric's closure. "Make it part of the conversation involving new-builds.

“Fabric should have been protected as part of the UK’s cultural heritage. More people would come to London for Fabric than a West End theatre – it was the gold standard of UK clubs, one of the most culturally important clubs for UK nightlife.

“If a theatre was closed down in the same circumstances there’d be uproar – the arts people would swing behind a campaign."

Let's make London the most vibrant and diverse 24 hour city in the world! #LondonIsOpen

Speaking before Lamé was announced as night czar, High Contrast said he was unsure about what someone in the role would be able to achieve.

“I love the name [of the role] but unless he’s a Batman-type figure who fights off the land developers, I don’t know," he said. "I hope it’s not a gimmick and he can actually fight for the cultural cause and really make sure that Ministry of Sound doesn’t go the same way as Fabric.”

The challenge for Lamé will be to work with venues, police, developers, and other stakeholders to help preserve an industry and culture worth billions of pounds, avoiding the risk of London becoming a city with a 24-hour tube but nowhere for people to go at night.

She said she's "confident that I can inspire a positive change in the way people think about the night time economy. I look forward to bringing together local authorities, the police, Transport for London, and many other people from across the night-time industries to transform London into a truly 24-hour city.”

Matthew Champion is a weekend editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Matthew Champion at matthew.champion@buzzfeed.com.

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