Earlier this week, the world's community of music lovers lost another hero in David Mancuso. The legendary founder of New York party, The Loft, and intrepid selector, has long been celebrated—worshiped even—for an esoteric attention to acoustics and atmosphere. Since the tragic news of his passing, countless forms of remembrance have poured in from artists, writers, DJs dropping nostalgic tribute mixes, dancers, and those who occupied David's coveted inner circle. In a time where the country and world are more divided than ever, honoring David Mancuso's legacy has never felt more necessary. So, in further celebration of his tireless focus towards making the dance music community—as well as world—a safer, peaceful, and musically fine-tuned place, we asked some more important voices to share what David and The Loft meant to them.
Love saves the day.
Nicky Siano (DJ, Founder of The Gallery)
Revered as one of the world's pioneering DJs who's credited as the original Studio 54 resident as well as founder of seminal nightclub, The Gallery, New York-native Nicky Siano was one of David Mancuso's earliest disciples. Below, Siano shares his own personal path through The Loft and a friendship with David that spanned decades.
David Mancuso, my friend and mentor of 47 years, was a true child of the 60's, a hippie to the core of his soul. On February 14, 1969 he gave his first party at his home, a loft at 647 Broadway. He never gave the party a name; people just called it "David's Loft."
In 1970, I was speaking to my brother's girlfriend, after she heard me play several soul records that were reserved for these very new dancefloors in Manhattan. We were at my brother's Brooklyn apartment when she turned to Robin, my best friend, and I asking, "would you like to come to a place where they play this music?" "We would!," "but you have to be 18 to get into bars at the time," Dale quickly answered. "The only place we get to go is the Firehouse," we said. (At that time the drinking age was 18, the Firehouse didn't serve liquor and was geared toward gay youth). "This isn't a bar, it's my friend's David's house; it's his Loft. It's only open Saturday nights, at midnight," said Dale.
The next weekend I was behind her, climbing the stairs to the Loft at 647 Broadway. We paid our $2.99 admission fee, and the door opened into a dark room, where people were dancing frantically. Mostly filled with people of color, I felt immediately at home. There was a warmth and a welcoming feeling I had not experienced at the Firehouse.
I danced under the largest mirrored ball I had ever seen, until David played "Here Comes the Sun" by Nina Simone at about 6:30AM. Then people hung out and talked about the music, and how good it sounded in that room. I was star struck when I saw David come out of the booth and smile at our little group. Then he mounted a few stairs and disappeared into a tiny room above the DJ booth, I later learned that was his bedroom. This was the loft, and it was David Mancuso's house.
I was there every Saturday night until the Gallery opened in 1973. When David returned from Spain in the summer of '73, the Gallery was already open. He visited us right before restarting his Saturday night parties. He came up to the booth and said "Hi, I'm David, I brought you this." He handed me a plastic bag with a record in it. "I brought everyone in our DJ group back a copy." Two other DJ's, Michael Capella, and David Rodriguez, who he already knew, were sitting behind the booth, and he said hi as he handed each of us the record.
That record was the first album by Barabaz, with the hits "Woman", and "Wild Safari." It would be about six months before our playing it caused [the songs] to chart in Billboard—they had not even been released yet in the states. That was our power back then, we all stood together, united. And we shared information, and rare vinyl when we secured extra. I returned that favor later in the year with the import of "Soul Makossa," when I bought every copy from a small record store on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn.
After a year of co-existence, one Saturday night, the usual crowd of about 600 seemed to be building as people filed in from The Loft at 647 Broadway which was closed by the building department. The Gallery on West 22nd Street was closed six months after that. We struggled to look for a new spot, and we found the perfect environment at 172 Mercer Street, around the corner from David's new address, 99 Prince Street. When we decided on the site, we didn't know David was going to be that close. He quickly visited. "Nicky you shouldn't move to Soho," David said. "The people around here are very hard to deal with, very active at the community board."
I had no idea, but I knew our licenses had been granted without a problem. So I shrugged my shoulders and said "it's a done deal."
David looked at me a long moment, breathed deep, and moved on by saying, "do you know we can buy a building on the Lower East Side for a dollar? All we have to do is pay the taxes!"
I looked at him, thinking of the burnt out buildings on the Lower East Side—at the time, 25% of them were condemned and drug addicts stood on every corner selling heroin. If you went down there at night, you got mugged. It was considered the worst neighborhood in downtown Manhattan. I finally answered, "who would want a building on the Lower East Side?" David had the vision, he had a different take on reality; a panoramic view.
When 99 Prince Street first opened, The Gallery was already giving parties for a couple of months. Prince Street started with a traditional "club" set up, speakers in four corners, the DJ booth was up, over looking the center of dance floor. People would come back saying, it isn't what it used to be. But, David's friends were extremely loyal, and they stuck with it because David had a vision.
Within a few months he moved the booth onto the dance floor, the location David and I agreed, was where the DJ had to be. "You needed to hear and experience in order to adjust the equipment correctly," I would tell club owners over and over and over. Then in a huge departure from how club systems were being set up, he crafted a wall of sound. And the wall faced the DJ booth. [David] heard exactly what his dancers were hearing on the dance floor. Clubs continually put the DJ behind the sound. How do you adjust a sound system you cannot hear correctly?
David changed all his amplifiers to the very expensive Mark Levinson hand crafted amplifiers. He inserted moving coil cartridges into his turntables. There were 12 stacks in the wall at the end of the room, then there were four stacks—two on each side in the center—and four more, two on each side at the end of the room. And the secret ingredient? A digital delay on the speaker stacks, so you heard the 12 stacks of the wall first, while the others were delayed by a microsecond, and at a lower volume. It sounded as if all the sound was coming from the wall, you couldn't even tell the center and backs were on, until you turned them off, then you noticed the gap in the sound.
David was a genius of sound, and generous with the information to anyone who had an interest. The installation at 99 Prince Street became legendary. It was known as the best sound in New York City. I worked for David after The Buttermilk Bottom closed in 1982, until 1984, when I left all club life to get clean.
But David continued on, and I visited often, from 99 Prince to the theater on third street, which became The Choice for a while. Then, onto the space that reminded me most of the first loft, the Ave. A location. As you all know, David's has been giving parties four times a year on 2nd ave until now. The Loft has been in session for 48 years, and it will continue on, because the Loft is a family.
The Loft is David's house. And wherever David's extended family chooses to congregate, that will be the Loft. It's a feeling, in your heart, in your soul, a place where you know Love Saves the Day.
RIP my good friend.
Dennis Kane (DJ, producer)
Founder of Disques Sinthomme and Ghost Town, as well as one-half of SIREN alongside Metro Area's Darshan Jesrani, Dennis Kane has longtime roots in New York's dance music community. While he traversed his own career playing parties worldwide and making records, Kane also developed a close relationship with David Mancuso that he discusses below.
Oh boy, how to start and frame this after a day and night of texts and phone calls and Skype chats. You realize the impact immediately, and you are grateful for the people you can reflect and share and commiserate with.
David Mancuso had a lifelong project, The Loft, and it stands iconically as one of the more beautiful artworks of modernity. David created a space that enacted its legend—love was truly the message. With sensitivity and fortitude he and his group of devoted participants built a unique environ that was made for dance, for fidelity, for sociability, and for joy. I can remember so many transcendent moments at his parties and I can also remember seeing others having a similar experience and simultaneously thinking how beautiful everyone looked in that state. The mundane, pettiness, regret—the whole spectrum of the everyday was alleviated, a better self got to get all the way the fuck down.
The 3rd Street Loft was my introduction; I had missed the Broadway and Prince Street incarnations and I had no idea what to expect, when a friend brought me along. I'm always ridiculously uncomfortable and shy in new spaces, and comically for a DJ, clubs often give me a touch of vertigo, especially when in full swing. This was something utterly different, like some fantasy party you would fabricate while awaiting sleep. People were friendly and the sound had a subtle clarity, I could hear the music, it wasn't over compressed or too loud. I felt like I was in someone's home—albeit a home with amazing records, where people were really dancing and interacting with each other. I heard songs I had played at home and never considered playing out. As Danny [Krivit] eloquently said in a chat earlier today, "The Loft fostered a level of sophistication and patience, songs could grow there and find their place, people could like a song, or not yet like a song and still be fully present."
I met David while he was hanging around/working at a place call Dub Spot, which was run by twin Japanese sisters whose names I am regrettably forgetting. Sometimes David would hand me a few records to listen to. I remember once putting one back and he touched my hand gently and said "No, no, no, take that home, it will grow on you." He was spot on. I brought him a Greg Perry record and found out he was my neighbor, so we started talking about music and became friends. He would come to my house and deride my speakers and their placement; I would go to his apartment and give him grief about everything but his speakers. We had some great times together and I was able to get him a lot of records he liked: Hudson People's "Trip Through Your Mind," Debbie Peter's "Baby It's All Right", and Banda Black Rio's "Been So Long." He was always generous with his collection and told me I could borrow [records] if I wanted, which I never did. Sometimes bringing him records I would run into Danny Krivit who was also dropping stuff off. The vibes were always positive.
David always called me on holidays and my birthday. He knew I had lost my parents early in life, and was very sensitive to the feelings those celebrated dates could prompt. He had been in an orphanage himself, and I was always moved by how one aspect of the few favorable memories he had from that experience—balloons to celebrate birthdays—became an essential part of his project. Years later when my son (thanks to Douglas and Hugh) got to release the Balloons at the party, I remember being so moved. He left me a message the next day: "How many balloons are in your home this afternoon?"
What he engendered was a sense of familial warmth and community. It had a high-water mark; utopian intent. It was amazing talking to Doug [Sherman] today about how he met his wife Soraya there, and how his daughter grew up there, or seeing Luis Vargas and his Mother Josie helping set up on Saturday, and both throwing down on the dance floor on Sunday. You build something intently and with purpose over forty years and the glow accrues.
David and I were talking about parenthood once and I said it was amazing how exponential the love was. I said I felt more in love as a father each day. He said, "of course as he grows there is more of him to love, his consciousness is expanding. I feel exactly the same way about the people at this party; I've seen them grow and feel profoundly grateful to have been there for that."
François K (DJ, Remixer)
François is revered as one of the most prolific remixers and producer to ever grace a soundboard, with credits on tracks ranging from Dinosaur L's seminal "Go Bang," to LCD Soundsystem, David Gilmour, and Joni Mitchell. As a DJ, he was amongst those like Larry Levan who came of age in celebrated clubs like the Paradise Garage and Studio 54 Today, he's still touring the world and throwing his beloved Deep Space party that's recently moved to a monthly night at Output. Below, François has allowed THUMP to include a personal essay that he recently posted on his Facebook.
It is with great sadness that I reflect on the untimely passing of one of the most gifted and passionate music lovers I have ever had the honor to personally befriend.
While it is an understatement that he had a profound and continuous musical influence on all of those who have been lucky enough to meet him, it isn't easy to describe how far-ranging his thoughts, approach and philosophy really have been. Not the least because they now seem so obvious that we often take them for granted.
Even beyond this, I remain awestruck by what a gentle and humble person David Mancuso really was, with a sense of generosity, self-effacement and kindness that pretty much dwarfed that of most anyone else I have ever met. While being the person behind so many "first" ideas like the creation of DJ record pools, the idea of keeping his parties totally private, or playing "back-to-back" DJ sets with a few friends he'd invite, he never really seemed interested in taking much credit for any of them.
This insistence on disappearing in the background and only being a vehicle for the music to be heard in as clear and unadulterated form as possible should be a required study from anyone who aspires at being a music selector. David's genius and serene confidence finding a great record, that most DJs would pass over because it was "too weird" (only to see them blow up into massive club hits) was legendary. So many like Eddy Grant "Walking On Sunshine," "Time Warp" Sun Palace "Rude Movements" or Otis Gayle's stunning remake of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now", all remain timeless classics today.
His uncompromising stance in the face of degraded standards of audio excellence and his championing of great recorded performances never wavered in the face of the public's increasingly utilitarian consumption of music. Where everyone else only seemed to aspire at playing at ear-splitting levels, he would make a point of doing it with utmost respect, elegance and delicate restraint, in a manner that would always let music's natural beauty shine through.
"Music Is Love"
He continued to prove throughout his entire career that what made a party truly special was first and foremost the people themselves, the community that naturally forms itself around any gathering if we only allow it to do so.
David founded and nurtured The Loft, which has been going on and thrived as a party for over 45 years. Even more of an incredible feat is that this movement appears to be able to successfully carry on and thrive well beyond his having left us.
There is nothing else out there in the ephemeral world of clubs that quite compares to such a legacy, the wondrous realization that somehow what he created will outlast him; The Loft will go on, continuing to inspire and entertain future generations of the unique community of dancers and music lovers affectionately known as "Loft-heads." All with a very simple motto, one which we've all been deeply touched by: "Love Saves The Day"
Here is the one person I can honestly say many of us owe our entire careers to, because he showed us a path that was full of tantalizing possibilities, as he was trailblazing through it like no one else ever did. He dedicated his entire life to this music he so cherished, and to the countless friends he made at the Loft throughout the years.
On a personal note, it was his contagious enthusiasm and unconditional support that often times inspired me to do a lot of what I managed to accomplish with music. Going into the studio and pretty much doing certain things to a mix because I knew they would sound so good on the system at The Loft. Then bringing an acetate of it there and seeing it happen; such mind-blowing togetherness of spirit, so many treasured memories of magical moments in time, including those we shared together behind those turntables—like when he's suddenly turn around and would tell to me to throw the next record on, only to reappear half an hour later.
And it's no accident that when we decided to start a party of our own called Body&SOUL about twenty years ago, this "one-on-one" approach to collectively sharing the decks became our normal operating mode from the start, so in that sense we are very much indebted to his selfless approach.
During our many conversations on the topic, Larry Levan was unequivocal in declaring that David was by far the best and most exceptionally visionary DJ there ever was, the one he would always be looking up to for inspiration. How ironic that Larry [Leva] would say this about the very person who didn't even bother using a mixer at all, since passing signal through its circuitry would degrade the sound. And look up to him we all did!
There is so much more I really want to express that made David such a very special, vibrant and inspirational person to spend time with, but it feels as if this would require an entire book to do so. Far from his legacy being forgotten, it is my belief that history will only validate many of his ideas further as they progressively take vibrant hold into the mind of others.
Thank you David for all the love you've given us, and this incredible music you so sweetly shared with us during the course of your entire life.
"There Is No Greater Love."
November 15, 2016
Caroline Polachek (singer, songwriter)
Caroline Polachek is a member of Brooklyn-based electronic duo, Chairlift. She also records and performs under the solo alias Ramona Lisa, and co-wrote and co-produced Beyoncé's 2013 song "No Angel." Below, she reflects on the first time she went to The Loft, in 2013, and how it changed her relationship with music and dancing forever.
In 2013 I was lucky enough to be invited to The Loft by my friend Dave Shaw, and had a revelation while dancing to the extended edit of James Brown's "Sex Machine" back to back with Kraftwerk's "Computer Love." I loved both those songs, but had never truly heard them til that night. I was stunned that they'd been made in any other time but the future! (How could anything this good exist and not be all people cared about?). The sound was so enveloping, speaking a language that every body understands, and the lyrics were so elemental. I've never felt so much like an animal, and by that I don't mean "clawed and furry" (although people are), but that I understood myself to be a fragile and short-lived thing, ultimately out of control of it's own fate; bridging one moment to another by dancing as simply as a cow stands in a sunny field of grass as the weather changes.
And this dancing, non-goal-oriented boogieing, is what this animal does when all other needs are temporarily satisfied. It's a way of feeling time, one's own body, and the mesh of coexistence with others. And dancing became the opposite of performing: it's feeling and receiving, making oneself a passive conduit for life to flow. I don't know any other way to say this, but I felt the soul of humanity and it's evolution through time, with it's own reason and trajectory that we're all subject to and mostly unaware of, and these songs—"Sex Machine" and "Computer World"—were direct transmissions from that soul itself. The message: "We're all surviving together, doing the best we can. Living requires no other goal. Onward we go into the future, together!" And then I understood what "Love saves the day" meant, printed on every invitation to The Loft.
Every part of The Loft tradition had been finely tuned over decades, from the speakers to the arc that the music took over the night, to the legendary rules (no phones on the dance floor, no talking on the dance floor, no drinks on the dance floor), and was there serve this kind of revelation and the freedom that followed. David Mancuso will live in the traditions he's started, and these seeds will grow and grow and grow. And despite the humility that everyone leaves with, face sweaty and shoes dusty with baby powder, this is how the world changes.
Because my relationship with music and dancing has been changed since that night in 2013, I thanked David Mancuso on the inside of the last Chairlift album, but was too shy to ever tell him anything but "thank you for the beautiful time."
Kerri Chandler (DJ, producer)
David was the reason I do sound checks the way I do; to push myself beyond what I hear to make it a feeling. I ran in to David a lot over the years DJing in Europe. My favorite was catching up with him in Paris years later, and DJing the sound check [with him] was the love. His selection and why he did it was even better.
Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys (DJ, live artist, producer)
Every DJ has been influenced by David Mancuso, even the ones that don't know it. Mancuso was arguably the first person ever to view a DJ set as a performative art, or perhaps more fitting would be to say that he viewed a DJ set as a sonic journey, best experienced collectively. My own interest in Mancuso though, perhaps has more to do with his obsession with the search for perfect sound. But unlike many audiophiles of his generation, he seemed to believe in the value of all music, from all cultures. He was always smashing at built up musical canons and cultural historiography. That's his lasting legacy.
Bruce Tantum (journalist, DJ)
Whether by accident or by design, and I'm pretty sure it was by design, David basically invented a kind of nightlife that hadn't existed before. Sure, he played amazing, emotionally affecting music over a great sound system at the Loft, but his legacy stems from something greater. He was a conduit for the music's power—and somehow, he managed to harness that power and unite the room floor in ways that went far beyond simple revelry. It was clubbing as community, clubbing as sanctuary, clubbing as oneness...it was clubbing as love.
Steve Weinstein (journalist)
A longtime writer with roots in New York's queer clubbing community, Steve Weinstein has provided THUMP with a number of important features on the progression of the scene he's been a part of for years. Below, he touches on the Loft's important ideals and values.
While many others liked to talk the talk about the dance floor as a community, David Mancuso could be truly said to have walked the walk. From the first iteration of the Loft to later, grander, international projects, he always maintained the same "loft-y" idealism of fostering inclusion and love through music and dance. In the face of obstacles that would have daunted anyone else, he refused to compromise. Technique never triumphed over technics (although no one better understood the intricacies of how to construct the highest-quality sound system). No matter what anyone else was spinning, monotony never replaced melody, nor synthetics instead of lyrics. In a horrible coincidence, his death comes at the dawning of a dark time. But we can all take heart from his example and strive to build a better world — on and off the dance floor.
Paul Raffaele (DJ, label owner, Love Injection Zine founder)
The minute I stepped foot into my first Loft party became truly obsessed, and I don't think a day has gone by since that I haven't thought about David, mentioned his name, or played/discovered/purchased a record that reminded me of him and/or The Loft.
I am so grateful for Tim Lawrence's documentation of David's life, procedures, and ideas so we could be inspired by them. Also for Colleen Murphy & Douglas Sherman who have spent their lives amplifying David's message respectfully and making beautiful new things of their own from it.
The moment I think about David and The Loft, my heart fills with love and my mind with inspiration.
Barbie and I cite The Loft as a place where we shared our first dance together, our 2 groups of friends became one, and even took our parents there to meet for the first time.
He seemed so close in some ways. Many friends of ours knew him personally, though we did not. I sent 2 copies of Love Injection to Douglas every month, one for David. Doug said he enjoyed reading them, especially the feature Barbie did on Colleen :)
I only wish I had the opportunity to meet him and let him know how he changed my life. I am one of many, it seems.
An orphan who spent his life perfecting an environment where people could feel safe, dance and smile. A brilliant, complex soul. The maestro of the dance party. A pioneer in social progress.
"For me the core [idea behind The Loft] is about social progress. How much social progress can there be when you're in a situation that is repressive?"
A true original. Rest in peace, David.