Fabric co-founder and CEO Cameron Leslie has told Music Week that the club’s former promoter Shaun Roberts (pictured), who passed away in December, played a unique role in the UK music industry.
Born in 1975, Roberts passed away on Christmas Eve after a three-year battle with cancer. After starting as a flyer boy for Fabric, he spent 16-and-a-half years working with the club, taking on the role of promotions manager in 2006 and spearheading the influential FabricLive weekly night, before leaving his role in January 2016.
This week, to pay tribute to his legacy and the part he played in nurturing wave after wave of emerging talent in drum&bass, hip-hop, dubstep and beyond, Music Week sat down with Leslie to reflect on his time working alongside Roberts. We have also gathered tributes from across the industry, as those who worked alongside Roberts share their stories.
Mark Ronson, a Fabric mainstay early in his career, reflected on performing alongside Amy Winehouse at the venue.
“Shaun was always so welcoming and generous with me at Fabric, even if I was more ‘pop' than 99% of the acts that played there,” Ronson told Music Week. “He put me on stage there way before Version blew up, which led to one performance where Amy Winehouse got up and sang. If memory serves, we played You Know I’m No Good that night and that was before her album [Back To Black] was even out.”
Shaun put me on stage and Amy Winehouse got up and sang way before Back To Black was out
Ronson added: “Even more happily etched in my memory are the many nights I hung with Shaun when he was off the clock, usually at YOYO on a Thursday night. I loved seeing him let his hair down on the odd night he wasn’t at work, not having the pressure of 35 acts and their managers breathing down his neck. He was such a positive and pure spirit. To be such a universally beloved figure at the level he was, in nightlife no less, is unheard of. I can picture his wry smile right now. I will really miss him.”
Tom March, a longtime friend who first met Roberts inside Fabric, has also paid tribute. So too, has March’s former colleague, Polydor president Ben Mortimer.
“The Friday nights that Shaun curated at Fabric defined one of the most exciting decades in UK clubland, as well as giving so many of the best DJs and artists across so many genres playing today their first breaks,” March said. “I loved the sense of community he built around the night. It was a place you could turn up every Friday and know that you would know so many faces there.
March continued: “Everyone that was a part of the club, from the team that put the night on, to the artists and those of us that lost our minds on the dancefloors or just hung around in the room above room 1 through that decade still feel such a sense of belonging. All together by the amazing memories we shared.
“A huge part of that was down to the way Shaun looked after every single person who came through the door. Shaun was a legend and the best curator of a night of quality music you could ever hope to go to and I would really love one last lock in until Saturday afternoon…”
Ben Mortimer said: “Picturing Shaun, on the door at Fabric, walkie-talkie in hand, is such a striking memory from one of the best periods of my life. He was such a positive man, and a true nightlife character, who made a huge impact on dance music. But more than anything, he was a very dear friend to me and my wife Julie. We’re really going to miss him.”
Our music community and industry is a better place for the passion, kindness and humour that Shaun put into it
Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers’ Ed Simons have also shared their memories of Roberts with Music Week.
Fatboy Slim said: “Our music community and industry is a better place for the passion, kindness and humour that Shaun put into it. The world is a better place for his passion, kindness and love.”
Ed Simons commented: “Shaun was the best of men, he helped us out many times and was a good friend. We were desperate to DJ at Fabric for years but didn't quite fit in with the schedule. Shaun along with Bugged Out got us booked for a Friday night. I remember we were nervous, but he met us from the taxi, gave us that reassuring smile and a can of Red Stripe and we never looked back. He would pop up in the booth exactly at the right moment full of bubbling enthusiasm. We went on to play many many amazing Friday nights there, always with Shaun everywhere. He became a dear friend, as he was to so many people. I think of Shaun as someone who knitted a whole community together, I'll miss him a lot. He touched so many people's lives and it’s comforting to know he got to see how loved he was, at the fundraising event last year at a roadblocked Fabric and in the outpouring of love for him over the last couple of tough years.”
Before we present more industry tributes to Roberts, Fabric's Cameron Leslie shares his memories of more than a decade working side by side with the promoter and weighs up his impact, not only on UK club culture, but the music industry as a whole.
Shaun Roberts, photographed at Fabric
Firstly, how did Shaun impact UK clubbing and dance music, what is his legacy?
Cameron Leslie: “He started as a flyer boy, which seems to be the rite of passage for the best bookers and promoters that I’ve ever seen, they understood that street level side of the business. They saw the crowds coming out of different venues and the types of venues and artists that were playing. It gave them a deep rooted understanding of the DNA of the nights that were being put on and could be put on. So he had that schooling. That’s how he came into Fabric, he was a flyer boy with us for quite a while and then became a promotions assistant under Steve Blonde when FabricLive started. The thing about FabricLive is that it’s always been such an eclectic mix of different scenes and genres and what made Shaun so special is that he was at the heart and the vanguard of that. It’s one thing when bookers and promoters can pick up things that are hot and jump on the bandwagon of scenes that are doing something and think, ‘Oh god, I’ve got to go and book that,’ but he was naturally at the heart of these things before they were hot.”
How did he help scenes to develop?
“He was able to incubate, give these things a home to allow them to flourish. He wasn’t just at arm’s length booking them because he’d seen them on the cover of Mixmag or DJ Mag, he was booking them because he’d seen them in a tiny loft party somewhere, or a little back street warehouse with 50 people. He’d book them for room three and then trust them and build them up to the point where they’re holding their own night, then he’d build something around them and their scene. He was right at the heart of so many different scenes, so a lot of artists trusted him with the trajectory of their growth. He was also able to splice and fuse them with other scenes to be able to create the mix that FabricLive is. You could have R&B in room one and drum&bass in room two, they couldn’t be more different, but they’d be on the same night. You’d have UK hip-hop and drum&bass, very disparate crowds that worked, it was a real clash of scenes, and that’s what FabricLive was about. This wasn’t some quarterly thing you build up, this was a weekly event, to do that 52 weeks a year, year-on-year for over a decade shows a real deft skill of constantly evolving and knowing when you need to move something on. That is why he was a very, very skilled curator and booker.”
What was he like to work with?
“He never got above his station or thought of himself as the kingmaker or lynchpin of the night, he’d be the one who was checking the posters were straight or making sure the set times and line-ups were correct. He didnt think, ‘That’s for the assistants.’ That’s where his training was and, at the heart of it, he was just a really nice person. When you’ve got that as your modus operandi, you will treat people well. So when you have those difficult conversations when you don’t want something, you can’t afford somebody at a particular price, you don’t think they’re worth that price or you don’t think they’ll pull in the tickets they used to… Those conversations are very personal, so to be able to navigate that and still retain relationships and friendships, that’s why I think there’s been such a strong outpouring, because he treated people well and did things in the right way. And it wasn’t just one or two people, it was everybody. That’s the way he did things. People see the way perhaps others in the industry operate and Shaun did things in his own way. It was done in a pleasant way, particularly given it was so fast paced and there were so many moving parts and variables when booking a weekly event with up to 30 artists on one night. You could have 12 weeks of live shows on sale at one time, when you calculate the variables across that and still be trying to book ahead, it’s a real complex thing to be constantly juggling. He was able to do all of that, do it successfully and retain the human touch. That’s quite a skill.”
Shaun had this ability to support artists rather than drop them quickly, he didn’t treat them like a fad
His tenure dovetailed with a real boom in UK club music, how would you sum up his influence on the development of that talent?
“Look across the scenes he was really at the heart of, drum&bass, breakbeat, dubstep, grime, UK hip-hop, to name a few. The big names within all of those were all given an early platform at FabricLive with Shaun. He was just able to know which ones needed to be incubated, grown and nurtured. He was at such an early stage in a lot of their journeys. The way these nights work in clubs, there can always be a little bit of a reaction if a night doesn’t work, when you look at the deal sheets or the budgets and think, ‘That one didn’t come up to forecast.’ He had a commitment to saying, ‘You’ve got to stick with this, it’s a longer term investment, we’ve got to support this.’ He made impassioned pleas when things perhaps weren’t getting the traction they should. Then they would start to bite and he had this ability to support things rather than drop them quickly, he didn’t treat them like a fad. These were scenes that had to be supported and cared for, not just exploited, rinsed and monetised before moving onto the next hot thing. That’s what gave his relationships strength and longevity. Artists weren’t just picked up and dropped, they were cared for in a way that was quite unique. It still is now, probably even more so, that’s what set Shaun apart.”
Read on for more exclusive tributes to Roberts, plus a selection of those posted on social media in the aftermath of his death.
Matt Everitt, presenter, BBC Radio 6 Music: “Shaun loved music, Fabric and everyone who queued and danced there. And in return, that brilliant club and its many friends and fans loved him back. For Shaun, there was no ‘us and them’; no real divide between the dancefloor and the booth or backstage. No difference in his endless affection and enthusiasm for the big hitters or the brand new faces, and his help made many of the latter into the former. Everyone was invited, often even if they officially weren’t, and everyone was welcomed. That wasn’t an attitude or a stance, that was just how he was as a person. And that open-heart and open-door brought a world of joy to the music world and everyone that was lucky enough to meet him.”
Richard McGinnis, Warehouse Project, Parklife, Chibuku, Lovebox: “I first met Shaun in the corner of the balcony bar at Fabric, drinks tokens in pocket, radio in hand, in 2004. I had managed to break into the complex and guarded world that was the Fabric booking team in the 2000s. My first club night Chibuku was holding its own in the North and I was invited to their big disco to add our twist on things. We held a residency there for years and working with Shaun we became much more than friends, we became family.
“There were too many gigs to list, but I remember one that sticks out was when Mark Ronson asked us to stage one of his first ever live performance and he brought out a demure and very sweet Amy Winehouse for what turned out to be the first ever times that many of the tracks from Back To Black were performed. DJ Swamp nearly burnt the club down with an unapproved fire show. Jazzy Jeff, Jeru the Damaja, DJ Premier and countless hip-hop luminaries created sell out after sell out on Charterhouse Street.
“As Shaun’s booking star rose in London, ours too rose in the North. Together, swapping notes and tips we pioneered a countless number of acts between our events. It was an unspoken partnership and the ripples through modern culture from underground acts to chart bothering sensations was undeniable. Shaun had his finger firmly on the pulse in London and what was happening on his watch on a weekly basis was dictating not just other clubs in the UK, but globally, from Womb in Tokyo, to warehouse parties in Brooklyn.
“When Shaun gave me the news everything changed. He was committed to fighting his cancer. Through a very brave lady called Cordelia Taylor who had just been given the all clear from a brain tumour we got plugged straight into some very cutting edge and alternative and treatments to run in paralell with his NHS treatment. Dr Jack Kreindler from Act For Cancer was with Shaun every step of the way helping navigate every piece of news.
“We are so gutted Shaun has passed. We loved him so much. A total one off. Stoic and selfless to the end.”
What was happening on Shaun's watch on a weekly basis was dictating not just other clubs in the UK, but globally
Andy C: “Shaun, such a beautiful soul, he brought people together, made us all feel at home and built the community spirit at Fabric.
“A champion of underground music, he was instrumental in pushing DnB to new heights in London, helping to launch careers and cement its foundations.
“I’ll always remember our lock ins, our nights after the last set… the stories he could tell and laughs we had. What a legend.
“He believed in me enough to book my first ever All Night set, I’ll never ever forget that.
“Neither will the countless other artists and labels that he believed in to propel their careers and help put them on the map.
“I’m just one of many, many people that will recount these feelings, the great times, the tales and the love we all have for Shaun, an absolute legend of our world that will never be forgotten x”
Jesse Rose, partner, OCA: “It was Shaun who, when Fabric first opened, gave me the chance to warm-up, which was both the best school to learn the craft and also kick-started my career. We grew together and as I started touring the world he got me to do a Fabric compilation, which to any DJ is a stamp of approval on their career. This story is honestly the same for so many DJs, it’s unusual to find someone who supported so many that went on to have massive careers. His love of music and supporting the next generation really stood out. As a friend I already miss him dearly, he was the type of friend that was always there when you needed a smile or a shoulder to cry on.”
Tom Schroder, agent, Wasserman Music: “I have always loved the fact that Shaun and I followed similar paths through our professional trajectories. I was a brand new, utterly clueless agent, and Shaun wasn’t that much better – that was definitely the starting point. Alex Hardee and Steve Ball had this great relationship when Fabric launched, and they really bounced off each other with the programming. Shaun and I were that bit younger and desperate to show them both that we were hungry for it and even more desperate to try and find the early wins that would help define our career. We lived together for a good chunk of it – we would be sat in the living room, laptops on our laps, firing fierce emails to each other, trying to assert authority. ‘Cup of tea?’ was always the icebreaker after these exchanges. Maybe it is rose tinted glasses, but I can't think of any point where the inevitable friction of professional life crossed over into our friendship.
“Shaun loved music – he loved the game, we all love the game – but he really loved music. A fair chunk of it flew over my head, but he had a skill to find those golden underground tracks that lasted years, not minutes. Keith was the perfect mentor – obsessive and fanatical with music, a passion not a business – and Shaun never lost that.
“I am from London and definitely carry the cynicism this city breeds. Shaun had had a different upbringing, and I think he brought down an openness and enthusiasm from Durham, to the London club scene. There was no posturing, no fakeness. His business relationships were as authentic and genuine as his personal ones – and indeed, there was a huge crossover between the two. We used to debate it all the time – can you really be mates with business acquaintances, artists, clients, industry folk. He was right, and I was wrong – and the tributes we have all seen since his passing illustrate it wonderfully. Shaun has a wonderful family which was everything to him – but he had a huge friendship circle that showed how important he was to so many. He changed club culture – and though I have no doubt there will be many tributes explaining that in more detail – more importantly to me, he changed the culture of relationships in the music industry. He showed me you could be real, honest, fair, creative and a maverick, that there really was no need to be an arsehole. I will hold him close to me forever, and continue to strive to get anywhere close to the example he set. I will miss him terribly.”
Alex Hardee, agent/partner, Wasserman Music: “A lot of people were responsible for the Fabric’s success, but as well as being the promotions manager, Shaun was the face of the club. He was front of house, he greeted you, made sure you were looked after and would be there at the end of the night to make sure you got home.
“Under Shaun’s tenure the Fabric was the best club in the world. He packed a lot into his 47 years and is going to have to lower his standards now he has been headhunted by heaven way too early.”
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Our Shaun…— fabric (@fabriclondon) December 27, 2022
As a team and a family we are devastated at your loss.
The dearest friend to us, a cherished fabric family member, professional raver, passionate music lover, full of strength, determination and so much more. We love you very much. pic.twitter.com/ZXsOInrF9a
The amount of checkin in Shaun Roberts did with me health related whilst he was going through it. He was persistent to help and was a selfless character who wasn’t accepting my attention or care back. I checked in lots recently only got a response a week ago, I’ll miss you ♥?— chloé robinson (@chloerobinsondj) December 26, 2022
RIP Shaun Roberts. Nothing but good times whenever he was around. Opened the door for me to play Fabric for the first time. Was instrumental in Dubstep & Grime being represented in the club.— Plastician / Stish (@Plastician) December 27, 2022
But first of all, just a genuine guy. He’ll be sorely missed. ??
RIP Shaun Roberts. Such a beautiful human being. We’ve really lost a good one ????— Madam X (@DJmadamX) December 26, 2022
Rest well, Shaun Roberts. My heart is with your friends and family today xxx— Lauren Laverne (@laurenlaverne) December 26, 2022
Very sad to hear that UK club land has lost one of the nicest, most genuine people, to his battle with cancer.— Sacha Lord (@Sacha_Lord) December 26, 2022
Integral to @fabriclondon success, he was responsible for creating many artists careers.
Known and loved by everyone in the industry.
RIP Shaun Roberts.
RIP Shaun Roberts pic.twitter.com/zCoO0Cwhgg— DJ HYPE (@DJHYPE_PLAYAZ) December 26, 2022