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Without David Mancuso, dance music would be much less colourful

Bill Brewster remembers the DJ, curator and musical shaman

  • Words: Bill Brewster | Illustration: Eliot Wyatt
  • 18 November 2016

David Mancuso was the first. There have subsequently been many more famous (and somewhat less deserving) DJs than David and there have arguably been better DJs, too. But there are none that have exerted the influence over dance music that Mancuso and his famous Loft parties has. Without his input, both the sound and direction of disco (and thus dance music as a whole) would have been much less colourful and undoubtedly different.

David Mancuso was born in Utica in New York state in 1944 and raised in an orphanage by a Sister Alicia. He came to New York immediately prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and never left. Scraping a living as a shoe-shine boy, waiting tables and as a store clerk in a health food store, he began throwing parties in the mid 1960s in his loft, though what became known as the Loft did not begin until 1970. A passionate music and sound fan, he’d been amassing records and sound equipment since he was a boy, pulling apart radios to repurpose the speakers. It was his work, in conjunction with Alex Rosner, that led to the creation of the now standard soundsystem setup. David demanded extra tweeter arrays (the high-frequency speakers that hang in the centre of the room). “I didn't think it was a bad idea,” says Rosner. “but I thought it was too much. He wanted two of them which would have been eight tweeters and normally there's one tweeter per channel. I thought it would be too much high frequency, but I was wrong. It was so high up, that's not where the pain level is. The more you have up there the better. So it was actually a terrific idea. From there on, I used them in every club I worked in.”

The 1960s informed much of what Mancuso believed in: freedom, civil rights, women’s liberation and the psychedelia that influenced much of the music that Mancuso went on to play at the Loft (an often overlooked facet of disco). At first, Mancuso opened his loft up to friends once a fortnight but it swiftly became a weekly party. “I wanted it to be private, because the loft was also were I slept; where I dreamt, everything,” said Mancuso. “It was an invitation. You were not a member. It was not a club. I didn't want to be in that category. It meant different things to me. I wanted to keep it as close to a party as possible. It was like $2.50 and for that you'd get your coat checked, food, and the music. Everything was quality. And of course you would not get into this space unless you had an invitation.”

 
 
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