Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy gets to play the best parties in the world. You'll find her bathed in the shimmering light of a disco ball while she's at the controls, playing red hot wax through a pristine soundsystem to a floor full of aficionados who've come to listen, dance and melt into the night.
This could be the Lucky Cloud Loft Party in London, Precious Hall in Sapporo or Last Note in Rome, all direct descendants of David Mancuso's seminal party-cum-club The Loft in New York, which started around this time 50 years ago. Perfect sound, uplifting music and loving community – this is what Colleen stands for and it's what you'll find when you seek out her sets.
Not one to rest on her laurels or her place in dance music's long, winding history as Mancuso's protégé, Colleen has been seriously active of late. Her Love Dancin' festival stage, which transports an audiophile system, wooden dancefloor and fat disco ball to the fields of England, is fast becoming a staple of the summertime. She hosts Cosmodelica, a monthly radio show on Gilles Peterson's Worldwide FM and has a residency of the same name at the Prince Of Wales in Brixton, where she goes back-to-back with friends such as Francois K, Prins Thomas and Mafalda. And she's also behind Classic Album Sundays, a listening session dedicated to seminal LPs, as well as the aforementioned Lucky Cloud Loft Party, which runs four times a year and is one of London's great cult parties.
But let's be real – her background is undeniable. She's been involved in record collecting, DJing and radio since she was a teenager and was mentored by David Mancuso after the pair became friends in New York. With his help she co-founded the Lucky Cloud Loft Party, carrying on the legacy of one of dance music's founding parties. She helped helm Mancuso's label The Loft Audiophile Library Of Mancuso and co-curated the 'David Mancuso Presents The Loft' compilation.
She's also put together her own comps, 'New York Afterhours: A Later Shade of Deep' on Nervous Records and 'The Disco-Tech Of DJ Cosmo' on Yellow Productions and 'Psychedelic Disco-Tech: They Live By The Night' alongside Ashley Beedle under the moniker of Darkstarr. Then there's her remixes of The Rapture, Candi Staton and Chaka Khan, among others. Legit doesn't begin to even describe it.
Colleen's In Session mix was meant to celebrate her Cosmodelica residency at The Prince Of Wales, which has now been postponed until later in the year. Instead, this vibrant and often euphoric selection serves to help listeners "escape the harsh realities of life. This is needed now more than ever," as she explains in the Q+A below. "Music is love".
Where did you record your In Session mix and what equipment did you use?
I recorded it in my record library using Audio Technica VMN40ML moving magnet cartridges, Technics 1200 turntables customised with Jelco tonearms and an external power supply from Isonoe, Auralex turntable isolation platforms, a custom-made ‘Cosmodelica’ 3-way isolator built by Alberto in Italy, Klipsch Reference speakers and the only DJ mixer I have ever owned - my beloved Bozak CMA 10-2DL.
What's your process for putting together studio mixes?
I think about songs for days in advance - sometimes weeks if I have enough notice - and I always have some kind of concept. I started making ‘mix tapes’ when I was 12 years old and from then through to now, programming is paramount - putting songs together that make sense and take one from A to B and maybe even C and D. I started DJing at the age of 14 but on the radio rather than at parties, and I put a lot of focus on the sequencing of songs from the introduction that leads people in, taking them up a few notches on the energy level until there is a peak and then leading back down to earth. I later found out my friend David Mancuso did the same thing as a musical host at his Loft parties.
You've titled it Cosmodelica - can you explain the concept?
For over a decade I have hosted Cosmodelica radio shows - first on Ministry Of Sound radio and Deep Frequency and now on Worldwide FM - and Cosmodelica parties which first debuted at Plastic People. Cosmodelica showcases a wide range of music: jazz-funk, spiritual jazz, psychedelic rock and R&B, dance classics, disco, soul, deep techno and house. Despite the variety of musical genres, the songs are linked by an emotive spirit, a cosmic leaning and a psychedelic twist. The name Cosmodelica was also inspired by an album that was very significant to me, Screamadelica by Primal Scream, as it seamlessly fused together so many different styles. It's one of the reasons I put a Primal Scream song at the end, lovingly remixed by the late Andrew Weatherall, a true DJ/producer pioneer.
At the Lucky Cloud parties you play records from start to finish, but you also DJ in the 'regular' blend style. What's the difference between the two?
Some records are meant for blending, some aren’t and some can go either way. There are some songs that obviously should be left alone - perhaps they have a great ambient intro or a cold finish or they just need to stand on their own because they do. And some songs are made for mixing with DJ-friendly intros and outros (although most of the music on this mix isn’t DJ friendly as it features a live band that naturally speed up and slow down, making it more difficult to mix). But overall, I just hear when it's right - I don’t know why or how. When I musically host at The Loft or our Lucky Cloud Loft Party, songs are played from beginning to end with a gap so the song really has to stand on its own. But I also love mixing when its right and some songs are better ‘in the mix’. For Cosmodelica, I do both as I don’t like hearing or dancing to the same BPM for too long. I prefer to switch it up and to give space when needed as the silence between the notes is equally important.
You're never afraid to play long tracks – how do you build up the confidence to do that and know the crowd will come with you?
First I have to ensure that it's great from beginning to end regardless of the length or timing. But I have always loved long songs that evolve from start to finish. When I was young I listened to late 60s/early 70s rock - artists like Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin - and I always preferred the longer songs as they had the element of improvisation and freedom. As a dancer, I love locking into a song, giving myself over to it and allowing it to move me and a longer song can take you on quite a journey. As far as having the confidence that the crowd will like it - well that’s just part of the job. As my late Nan used to say, “Brazen it out and the confidence will follow."
You're as likely to play deep house as you are psychedelic rock – what's your record digging process and how do you choose what you play on any given night?
Again, I start thinking about what I’m going to play for days or even weeks beforehand. I often wake up thinking about records and will set several aside in the morning before I start my day. I always have a variety of moods, sounds and styles in my record box as I just don’t know what is going to happen on a given night. It's all about the moment - reading the crowd, the atmosphere, the feeling in the air. I prepare but I don’t pre-program and come in with a complete ’set’ all ready to go. I don’t understand DJs who do that as they are not interacting with the dancers but rather projecting themselves and their ego onto them. I just don’t think that’s what DJ-ing and musical hosting is all about. For me, it's a psychic conversation with the dancer.
The first Loft party was 50 years ago. What lessons can the dance music community take from it going into 2020?
The tender loving care applied to all aspects of the party from the music to the soundsystem to the food to the decor, and most of all, the community of people from all walks of life - these are the reasons why The Loft is still going 50 years since its inception on the February 14 1970. Clubs or parties that cynically try to cash in on a sound or concept come and go. If you are doing it for the wrong reason, people will eventually get hip to it and will become cynical themselves. As David’s parties were hosted in his home for the first three decades, it had (and still has) a different feeling to a ‘club night’ in a commercial venue in which there are rules and regulations and everything is geared toward making money. The Loft is still a private party and there isn’t any commerce once you step through the door - the coat check and food are free and people bring their own alcohol and party favours. The party is all about friendship and the dance of life.
Lucky Cloud is super DIY - why is this important and what's your advice to people wanting to build their own thing?
In 2003, we started the party with David’s guidance and he was all about DIY - having a party with a group of friends and creating the best atmosphere possible. This includes the soundsystem, the lighting, the decor, the food, the welcomers at the entrance, the security, the cloak room and the guardians of the spirit. The effort that goes into Lucky Cloud is enormous and I thank our lucky stars for the dedicated team of gracious people who make it happen. They believe in the ethos of community and sharing rather than chasing money. Committed people are first and foremost - that is the foundation for building a great party.
Which other parties take sound and selection so seriously in your opinion?
I would like to mention the Last Note parties in Italy which have been running for 7 years and again, put on by a great group of people (including myself). They were started by Giancarlo Bianchi, another friend of David’s. Giancarlo came to our Lucky Cloud parties for years and with David’s guidance built his own soundsystem with the help of Alberto (the engineer who made my custom isolator). They both take infinite care with the soundsystem (I hope the same is said about my musical selections!).
Another person and place that must be mentioned is Satoru Ogawa from Precious Hall in Sapporo, Japan. I first played at Precious Hall in 1997 and was blown away by the soundsystem even at that time - one of the best club systems I had ever experienced. But then Satoru-san met David and his life changed. He got deeper and deeper into audio and with David’s guidance built an additional sound system; this time an audiophile sound system with Koetsu moving coil cartridges, Mark Levinson electronics and a ridiculous number of Klipschorn loudspeakers. The latest Precious Hall has two different rooms, one featuring the more traditional club PA (but still sounding fabulous) and the other showcasing The Loft-influenced sound system. Satoru books some of the most interesting DJs and has done so for over 25 years. You will always hear great music at Precious Hall.
What steps should parties be taking toward good sound?
The most important thing is room acoustics. I am so tired of hearing people talk about their fabulous soundsystem set up in a concrete box with metal all over the ceiling. What’s the point? Once the room sounds right, then you can work on the soundsystem and it's not that difficult to do as long as you have a decent starting point. Choosing the right venue is paramount - look for wooden floors and avoid square - shaped rooms. Materials that don’t reflect are best (although a bit of reflection is good to avoid being too dampened like a recording studio). Listen to the sound of your own voice in the room in question - you want a room tin which is sounds as your voice normally sounds. There are loads of articles on room acoustics for those that want to pursue this further.
Your Love Dancin' system and stage lit up the festival season last year. Do you have more plans for it this year or any other projects we need to know about?
Well we are suppose to bring it back to We Out Here and fingers crossed the festival is still happening as it was one of the best I have ever attended! We had such an amazing time in the Love Dancin’ tent with a great line-up of DJs and this year we are focussed on making improvements in our daytime programming, doing more Classic Album Sundays style sessions and holistic listening sessions. We are also hoping to bring Love Dancin' to Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand - another wonderful festival I experienced for the first time this past year that also has great music programming, art installations, food and wellbeing.
Now that I have the time, I’m putting together a lot of new mixes including my Audio Yoga series and also digitising my old radio shows from the 90s. They are like little time capsules of the house music scene in New York City and include interviews with artists like Romanthony. I’m also getting back into remixing and production as it has been quite awhile since I have created anything in the studio. And Classic Album Sundays is 10 years old this year! With most of us in isolation, I thought online broadcasts of live CAS sessions on our Facebook page would be appreciated so I’m working on that. Again, it's all about community.
The mix is super uplifting – do you have any thoughts on the world it's going out into given we're in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?
Music is for healing and this should be the goal at clubs, parties, album listening sessions and on mixes. David recommended a book called ’The Life Energy of Music’ that discusses how certain musicians can not only uplift our moods, but raise our life vibrations. In some cases, music can physically heal us. I believe in this and feel it's our collective duty as musical hosts to think about how the music we curate will affect people. Ultimately, we want to bring them up and take them to a new destination, somewhere to escape the harsh realities of life. This is needed now more than ever. Music is love.