WORDS BY SIMON E. SMITH
David Mancuso changed night-life forever in New York. His weekly dance parties at his downtown apartment were the stuff of legend. If you’ve never heard of him, now is the time.
When it came to house parties in 1970’s New York City, music revolutionary David Mancuso was the guy. The self-described “musical host” changed the face of dance music with his high standards yet low-key approach. Mancuso died at his Manhattan home on November 14. He was 72.
Like many pioneers, Mancuso quit school early. At the age of 16 he left college and began working random jobs before renting his own loft apartment in New York. The year was 1965. The loft was on Broadway near Bleecker Street – a place made famous a year earlier by the Simon and Garfunkel song of the same name. Manusco played songs for his friends but he didn’t just use any bog-standard speakers. He invested in a pair of Klipschorns, well-known for maintaining clarity even at high volumes.
Strapped for cash, business-minded Mancuso decided to sell tickets and give out invitations for what were basically rent parties. In case you don’t know, these are events to raise money to pay rent by charging guests for attendance.
After purchasing another two Klipschorns speakers, the first party was held on Valentine’s Day, 1970. The name of the do was called Love Saves the Day. No prizes for guessing the significance of the initials there.
But as much as Mancuso loved spinning tracks the shy hippy with the encyclopaedic musical knowledge didn’t call himself a D. J.. He was a reserved, understated sort of chap who preferred for the music to speak for itself. “I would play everything from jazz to classical and everything in between,” he told the website Discomusic.com in 2003.
Unlike many D. J.s knocking around today who love the sound of their own voice, Mancuso played songs from beginning to end, untouched and unaltered. He felt the vibe of the party and responded accordingly with an uninterrupted wave of music and integrated light show. Parties at The Loft – the nickname for Manusco’s apartment - would last until dawn.
The give an example of how influential he was, contemporary D. J.’s would flock to his apartment after they’d finished their event. For them, The Loft would be an education on the sonic and social potential of a party.
“It was amazing to go to a place that was playing records I’d never heard before and putting them together in a way I’d never heard before,” said Vince Aletti, who covered the disco scene for The Village Voice. “He heard connections between very different songs and music and could put them together over a period of time, creating a sense of movement through the night that was nonstop.”
As the years passed Mancuso limited his parties to just five or six a year at a rented location in New York. His attitude never changed, “It’s to support a lifestyle,” he told the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun in 1998. “It’s that simple. It’s nonprofit, self-supporting. I always like music, and I always like people being together.”