The New York DJ and party host inspired many of house and garage music's founding fathers
The dance music world woke up to some sad news today: David Mancuso, founder of legendary NYC party venue The Loft, has died at the age of 72.
Born on 20 October 1944, David Mancuso was taken into care as a baby and grew up in a children's home run by nuns, where parties around the record player were a weekly highlight. His childhood and youth were spent going back and forth between his family home, the care system and reform school, but music was always a passion, with the young Mancuso particularly enjoying the rent parties he found among the African-American community in New York in the early 60s.
These parties, along with a passion for high fidelity sound and an interest in the teachings of LSD guru Timothy Leary, would inspire Mancuso to organise dance parties of his own, the first attracting around 100 guests in 1966. By 1971, his Broadway loft apartment had become known simply as The Loft, and throughout the early/mid 70s was home to his weekly Love Saves The Day parties, which became a Saturday night disco dancing mecca for young men such as David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan and Danny Krivit.
While contemporaries like Francis Grasso and Nicky Siano were pioneering the mixing techniques we take for granted today elsewhere, Mancuso's parties were more about the overall experience. Teams of friends would spend days 'dressing' the venue in preparation for the party each week (balloons featured prominently), acid punch was a staple and the club enforced a door policy that was all about inclusivity: male, female, gay, straight, black, white, yellow and brown were all welcome, as long as they came wearing a smile and an open-minded attitude. Alcohol was shunned and other substances filled its place, though Mancuso famously would not permit anything to be sold inside.
Musically, Afrobeat, jazz and sound FX albums would be interspersed with soul, funk, disco and rock - anything that kept the crowd moving. Famously, records were played end-to-end in their entirety, "as the artist intended," on a high-end soundsystem assembled by Mancuso with his friend Richard Long that was unrivalled in the city at the time. In Tim Lawrence's excellent book Love Saves The Day, which documents the era, the late Frankie Knuckles recalled, "David was never about the mix, and everybody knew that. It wasn't a problem. The best thing about David was that he had such an incredible taste for music, and he knew how to play that music."
Moving in the latter half of the decade from Broadway to Prince Street, The Loft became something of a rite of passage for the Big Apple's party people, and many of its regulars, such as those named above, would go on to become key players on the New York club scene in the 80s, as disco morphed into house and garage. It's fair to say that without The Loft's influence, modern dance music culture would have followed a quite different evolutionary path, and Mancuso's influence is almost impossible to overstate. The Loft is commemorated by two Mancuso-curated compilation albums released by Nuphonic in 1999 and 2000, while Mancuso himself was inducted into the Dance Music Hall Of Fame in 2005.
The cause of Mancuso's death has not been made public, but Kid Recordings boss Craig Shifty broke the news on his Facebook page late last night (UK time), and tributes have been flowing thick and fast on Twitter today, coming from veterans like Kerri Chandler and Roger Sanchez but also from younger artists and DJs such as Honey Dijon, Just Blaze and Machinedrum. Our regular columnist Harold Heath also shared some thoughts on his Harold's House blog, which you can read here.
David Mancuso, 20 October 1944 - 14 November 2016. Rest in peace.