With the passing of David Mancuso, DJ culture has not only lost one of its’ founding fathers, but also a man who understood, arguably better than anyone else, the importance of sound and environment in creating the perfect party.
Most will know the basic story. From the early 1970s onwards, Mancuso threw parties in a succession of New York loft spaces, opening his doors to the city’s marginalised party people: gay, black, Hispanic, or merely just left behind by the pace of social and economic change, everyone was welcome.
The Loft, as Mancuso’s parties became known, was one of the events that helped define and shape the disco movement. Those who went and danced during those formative years still heap lavish praise on the quality of the sound systems Mancuso used, the balloon-filled rooms he used for the events, and his very particular take on DJing.
At a moment in time when DJing, in the sense that we know it today at least, had yet to fully develop, Mancuso understood the need to warm up a crowd before reaching for the records that would really get the party started. He didn’t mix in the traditional sense, instead choosing to play records from start to finish. His commitment to New York’s growing DJ scene intensified as the years went on, and he was famously involved with one of the world’s first record pools (a kind of promo service, where labels would offer up records to be distributed to key club and radio DJs).
I was first introduced to the legend and legacy of David Mancuso through Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s brilliant history of the DJ, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. Their championing of Mancuso’s legacy was important, as during the early 2000s it helped introduce the great man to a whole new audience. Props, too, to the Nuphonic Records team, who persuaded the New York legend to put together a number of compilations of records he championed at The Loft. Crucially, they also brought him over to the UK so that he could bring the unique vibe of The Loft to London.
It was on one of these occasions, quite early in my career at IDJ magazine, that I was given the opportunity to interview him. After travelling over from Bristol to Shoreditch, I arrived at the party venue at the allotted time, only to be told that David wasn’t yet in the building. Instead, I was handed armfuls of balloons and told to blow them up with the aid of an electric pump. I did this for a good 45 minutes, assisting where I could with party preparations, before being ushered upstairs to finally meet Mr Mancuso.
Perhaps it was a test. Maybe he just wanted me – and by extension, the magazine’s readers – to know how much care and attention he put into every single event. Either way, it made a big impression, as did the gentle giant of a man that greeted me in the upstairs of that East London club space.
I’d be lying if I said that I remember all of the intricacies of the 90-minute conversation we had, and which formed the basis of my IDJ magazine piece. It was mainly about his history, the story of The Loft, and his continuing love affair with throwing parties for people. I distinctly recall that he was the most cosmic person I’d met up until that point – softly spoken, friendly, and more than a little intergalactic in ethos. This was clearly a man who had explored the cosmos over 40-odd years, but who had never lost his love for music, dancing, or ensuring that his guests – and that’s what Loft attendees were – had a hell of a good time.
Meeting Mancuso was certainly inspirational. It was at a time when I was beginning to dig into the history of dance music – and particularly disco and boogie – for the first time in my adult life. I was also taking my first steps in party promotion, and the Loft ethos – friendly, laid back, and founded on love and respect – chimed with me, as it had done with countless others before. It epitomised the key ethos of dance music culture: like-minded people, united under a groove.
Others are in a better position to accurately pay tribute to Mancuso’s legacy, and you’ll find a selection of interviews and features at the Red Bull Music Academy Daily site. Suffice to say that dance music and DJ culture has lost a true one-off, and someone who shaped the way we dance today.