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What David Mancuso taught me about playing records

Mancuso protégé Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy played the legendary Loft parties and continues their legacy today

  • Words: Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy | Photo: Dave Swindells
  • 18 November 2016
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After a brief period of experimentation David opted not to mix records for several reasons, one of which is technical. Instead of using a DJ mixer, he used a Mark Levinson ML-1 preamp that had two phono inputs and very simple circuitry without a headphone jack. The simplicity and incredibly high quality of the preamp allows for a purer sound. As somebody who has mixed records in club settings, I have witnessed another huge difference with the Loft ML-1 preamp set-up aside from the higher quality sound. Selecting without headphones to cue up the next record (you steadily place the Koetsu stylus on the record by eye) allows the musical host to be in the same musical moment as the dancers. We all hear the same thing; we are on the same trip.

When I started going to The Loft, the party lasted for 12 hours. In fact, I remember when David held a weekend-long memorial party for Larry Levan that carried on until Monday. Long ‘sets’ allow for deeper and more dynamic music journeys where there can be a beginning where the dancer is organically and warmly lured onto the dancefloor by subtle means, lifted up with peaks and highs and into the self with dips and troughs and then back again until the end is reached and the dancer is gently guided to re-enter the ‘real’ world. As there is no mixing, these journeys are not ruled by BPMs or musical styles. Instead songs are linked lyrically, musically and sonically with an intuitive flow.

The most important lesson I learned from David was how to be a ‘musical host’ rather than a DJ. David never considered himself a DJ as he felt that accolade was often related to an ego and he wanted to remove the ego from the party and didn’t want his own ego to get in the way of the music. Instead, David channelled music and we often talked about the synchronicity that a selector can feel with a dancefloor or a radio audience – a concept akin to a ‘third ear’. You cannot pre-program the records to achieve this higher musical state as it is a telepathic give-and-take conversation. In this sense, there isn’t one person in charge or in complete control but rather someone who facilitates. David always said the parties were not about him and that is why these parties will continue with the template he created. Once the ego is removed, everybody is on the same trip and then my friends, we have lift off.

I understand that these principles will not be easy to adhere to in the normal ‘club’ situation, but hopefully there are insights that will enable you to think in a different way about how to play records. And I can only hope that I can impart a fraction of what my dear friend and mentor David Mancuso has taught me. Love saves the day.

Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy co-produced The Loft compilations with David Mancuso and is a musical host of The Loft. Along with Dr. Jeremy Gilbert and Tim Lawrence she runs the collective Lucky Cloud Loft Parties, which they started with David Mancuso in 2003 after she moved from NYC to London. She's also the founder of Classic Album Sundays.

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