David Mancuso invented the format of modern nightclubbing, by accident, when he started holding parties in his Manhattan loft in 1970. David, and The Loft, are still going strong.
How did you first come to put on parties?
Well I always liked music, and friends of mine also liked music. It goes back as far as I can remember, as far back as when I was nine years old, that’s the first time I remember actually having some friends over to my house and putting some records on the record player. That would be 1953, so already there was this whole breakout of rock ‘n’ roll and doo wop, so the musically had dramatically started to change, and all the songs were about a new dance and so forth, so I just grew up in a very musically transitional time. And I just always wanted to socialise.
So that was the first Loft?
Kind of. As I got older I just continued that. In the mid sixties, I got a loft space which was not something people did back then. It was just an old factory converted partially for living, and I thought that was a good opportunity. I was already into audio, and I had a sound system, so I just started making tapes and inviting friends over and that was my lifestyle. Then around 1970, economics changed for me dramatically, and in order to give parties, I started to do rent parties to support the rent, and my friends contributed and my lifestyle got a bit more organised so I could support myself as well as having fun.
And is that why you had this great atmosphere, because it was all friends coming?
It was very real, it was a scene built on friendship, on love and on music. I wasn’t going into the club business or the cabaret business, it was much more real to me and my friends than that. And there was much more social freedom, because we were doing it from our point of view, from our ideals. Then, as far as the external things that were going on at that time, there was a lot of networking going on with social causes or political causes.
And what about the music you played, was it a conscious decision to play all different kinds of music?
DJing was not what was happening. Anything that is meaningful, that was musical, that was danceable, anything that had life energy in it, you’re drawn to it. If you’re into music, you’re into music unconditionally. It can’t really be compared to DJing today, and the way things are going in general, that is not what I wanted to achieve. The last thing in the world I was interested in was being a DJ, it was just about keeping the parties going and having fun, the DJing part was just that we needed someone to put the records on the turntable. It was about the music and my friends, performing as a DJ isn’t how I perceive this whole thing, it’s more like being a musical host.
And getting a message across with the records you played, was that always important?
I think there is a message in music. If you take a record like ‘There’s a Message in the Music’ by the O Jays, that will explain it better than I can. There’s an obvious story in there, or it’s like opening up a box with a puzzle in there, and you have to put them together, there’s always a story. I just go with the music, I didn’t invent this way of playing records, I position myself in a manner that when I’m involved in music, which I see as a miracle, if you will, or a gift from the gods, I respect it as such, and that’s my approach. The point is that to share with people music and an appreciation of music, then everything falls into place. I think it takes discipline, I think it has to be technically on point, and I think that it’s important to let the music do it’s thing, to make us happy, to let it be our friend, and it is our friend, unconditionally. I don’t think my approach to music is different to anyone else’s, we all may have different roles in the moment, and that’s what makes it wonderful, because we’re all into it together.
So the DJ and the crowd and the musicians who made the record are all collaborating? Is that the right word?
I’ve said this before in many interviews, and I don’t mean to be repetitious, but we’re all playing in the same band. When you and a friend of yours hear a song and you both like it, there’s a twinkle in both of your eyes, there’s a feeling in that moment, and I think that feeling is very powerful. Am I making any sense?
It’s a very humbling thing.
Can I ask about the sound quality thing? Why is that so important? Does that lead on from the ideas about sharing music?
Of course. That’s a good question and a seemingly simple one. Let me just say this: I cannot believe it when I hear music being played and it’s distorted. You know, when we go to a restaurant, we eat with our eyes. If it don’t look right, you’re not going to eat it. If music doesn’t sound right, it’s not appealing. Sound, for it to be musical, it must be as the artist intended it. Louis Armstrong said something once, he said, ‘If it sounds good, it ain’t bad’ which makes a lot of sense. If there’s some music that it’s hard for you to tolerate, that you don’t like, you can tolerate it if it’s cleanly reproduced. And the opposite of that is true, if there’s a song that you love a song from the bottom of your heart, and you hear it distorted, that upsets you, so it’s only logical to reproduce music the way it’s intended. It’s just better that way. It’s like your writing: if you write something, and the printer distorts the printing, so that I can’t read the words, what good is it? The purpose of writing is to communicate, and the purpose of music is to communicate and if that communication is distorted then it’s not going in the direction intended. Good sound is important. The human race wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t have certain perceptions of sound. You know, if you’re walking through the woods, and there’s something behind you and to the left that might attack you, you have to know exactly where that something is to survive. If that’s distorted, and you can’t figure out where it is… sorry, I’m really rambling here.
No, I see what you mean. And not mixing the records is an extension of all that?
First of all, I’m always looking at this thing as each song, each record is a prayer, if you will, is a piece of art. The mix is ultimately with the musicians, each one making their sound and the mix between them makes the music. If you’re going to go in there and change things, well, that’s one approach. I don’t believe in that approach at all, I find it turns me off, and I can’t react to the music. It’s the same thing as with sound, if you walk into a room and there’s music being reproduced electronically, you do not want to hear the sound system, you want to hear the music. Once you start detecting that the music is being reproduced, there’s a variation there. If the sound is clean, and you walk into that room blindfolded, you can’t tell how many speakers are in there, and where they’re placed etc. etc. all you know is that you’re enveloped in music. That to me, from my perspective on how music works, makes sense.
So it’s about keeping the link between the musicians and the people listening?
I don’t think I should interfere, and be judge, jury and executioner, with something that you may love. If you want to go into a situation where it’s not important to know which records playing, or the tonalities of a song, and it’s a whole different mix, that’s between you and yourself. If that works, for you that’s fine, but Jack, the key thing for me is that I have to stay close to home as far as the original intent goes. with drum machines and all that other stuff, we’re losing a little bit of spirituality in music - all these records that start of with a drum machine and sound like every other frickin’ record. Take your heartbeat, there’s no two heartbeats the same, and when we’re in the womb and we’re experiencing that vibration and it’s going into our consciousness, that’s a reference point. Mixing records and all these things are fine, but once we start thinking that this is the way to do things, and lose that original reference point, that I think is totally crazy. What’s the result of all this? Did we have a good time last night? We went out to have a good time. Even when you’re at home, you have a sense of where you want to sit, what you want to listen to and what you like. It’s about you, it’s not about me. Music is supposed to be for all of us. Oh, I get too serious about all this, I’m sorry.
I don’t think you can really get too serious. Can I just ask one more question? Is The Loft still running today?
What I’m doing right now is looking at locations. Things have changed radically in Manhattan. I’ve been downtown for years, and that used o be a cheap place to live, but that’s all changed. I’m trying to relocate, and get The Loft going again on a regular basis. This has been a difficult time for that to happen for various reasons. I’ve been offered various situations, but I feel that if the basic purpose that got me into doing this is compromised, I’m not going to be into it. The intent, that lasted for years for me and my friends, I don’t want to disturb that. I’m not so much into the club business, especially the state it’s in these days. I don’t mean to be negative, but it’s come full circle. Part of the reason for the parties was that people didn’t have to go “out”, because for one reason or another — whether it’s clubs taxing you to death with high prices, or telling you can do this but not do that — that’s not the way some people want to socialise.
So, it was always much more a party than a club?
Part of it was rebelling against the whole social status quo. Anyway, I do expect to resume, and hopefully the opportunity will present itself. I believe it will, because it always has in the past. I’m just not going to jump into anything. I’m very much in touch with all the people who’ve been coming over the years, because it’s been built through friends and that thing about six degrees of separation means there’s a whole network of people out there ready for it.
So are there people who still come from the first party you did?
If I was to put on a party tomorrow, you’d see people there from day one, or even friends from before. I’ve been very blessed that when I’ve made friends I’ve kept them, I’m very fortunate that way. And it’s to do with the young and the old. Friends of mine grew up, got married, had children and brought them along to let them know that there’s this different option available to them when they go out. I’ve seen three generations of one family on the dancefloor at the same time.
That must be unique.
I’m sorry I sound so hard-headed about all this, but I just can’t help it, I strongly believe in music, that’s the main thing.