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FEATURE: David Mancuso - The Loft

Written By Bernard Lopez of

An interview with New York Disco DJ and founder of the Loft, David Mancuso.

David Mancuso - True Origins of The Loft

While speaking to David Mancuso it is clear that certain events in his life are paramount to the Loft experience and what he wants to share with others. It should come as no surprise that great things can happen when groups of people are brought together with the right music. Music promotes a sense of well being and radiates energy, which in turn is reinforced by the group. This positive energy is then expended in the form of dancing and social interaction and gives life to a party. While one may think that only adults can tap into this energy and well being, nothing could be further from the truth as evidenced by the following story as told to me by David Mancuso.

Shortly after the end of World War II in a room in a Catholic orphanage twenty or so children up to the age of six gather around a table waiting for Sister Alicia to start the festivities. She takes care of the children on a daily basis and this is another of the many parties that the nun puts on for them. She's decorated the room with balloons and made it look as cheerful as possible. In the center of the table she has a record player and a stack of records all set to go. Despite the fact that some of the children are too young to even talk, the music is what brings them all together and gives them great pleasure.

David Mancuso: I had no real ambitions at this point... Just make friends, enjoy myself, and be responsible... Basically, I didn't get into any trouble. My independence was very important to me.One of those children is David Mancuso, who years later would organize New York's longest running parties known simply as "The Loft." Mancuso explains to, "There was one room where these childhood parties would be held-I didn't remember the room, but forty years later when I saw the pictures of the room, they were geographically the same layout almost to the "T" of my Loft." David Mancuso goes on to say that there are a lot of associations with the past like the invitations he uses for the Loft parties, which depicts four children gathered around a table with party hats and balloons.

New York, Not New York City

David Mancuso was born in October of 1944 in the small New York town of Utica. His first four years were spent in an orphanage and then he was reunited with his mother till he was fifteen and a half. Leaving home and shinning shoes to support himself he quit school at sixteen to get more work to pay the rent.

Since he had no one telling him what he could and couldn't do, David was now free to do whatever he wanted. One of the things he was told not to do was go to the "other side of the tracks." This is the area that the Blacks and Hispanics lived in and Mancuso says, "I connected with some of them. It opened up a whole world for me and then I started finding out about Black music-The Shirelles, James Brown... I fell in love with these records and also made some very close friends who treated me very well. After school we would go to someone's house and listen to music and dance. It's always about dancing and music."

Asked if music was instrumental during his formative years David Mancuso had this to say, "Music gave me a lot of piece of mind since there was a lot in my environment that was not stable. Music is therapeutic; it raises your life energy... If your life energy is raised then music is healing-what more can we want."

Since many of his friends were from the "other side of the tracks" we spoke briefly about the racial climate in Utica during the late 1950's early 1960's and I asked Mancuso what his thoughts were. He replies, "I didn't agree with the status quo of the environment that I was living in. I knew instinctively that it was wrong. I liked everybody."

David Mancuso's Move to New York City

During the Labor Day weekend of 1962 David and a friend took a trip to New York City. One of the first things that struck David was the openness and diversity of the people. It was a refreshing change from the socially repressive town of Utica. New York City was vibrant and the mixing of cultures and ideas appealed to him greatly. Mancuso says, "I immediately fell in love with the city."

During that short weekend visit, Mancuso made some new friends. One of them offered him a place to stay until he got on his feet. About six weeks later, on the first day of his eighteenth birthday and during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, David decided to move to New York City and take his new friend up on the offer.

Mancuso spent his first two months living in the Bronx. Able to find a menial job at a fast food place he soon found his own apartment in Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Asked if he had any plans when he came to New York Mancuso said, "I just want to live and be happy. I was happy to be able to pay my rent, to have my independence. This was like the best thing in the world for me. I had no real ambitions at this point... Just make friends, enjoy myself, and be responsible... Basically, I didn't get into any trouble. My independence was very important to me."

David Mancuso remained in the Upper West Side till around 1965 moving at least twenty times. It was during this time that he began dabbling in interior decorating and later antiques through his many associations. Once he got into antiques he focused on small silver goods and traveled extensively to and from Europe and did very well at it. He continued in the antique field till around 1973.

"(The Loft) It was basically a rent party. Private: by invitation only. It was NOT a club-not a membership-none of that stuff."

The Broadway Loft and the Klipschorn's

Around 1965 David Mancuso moved into his first loft at 647 Broadway near Bleecker Street. The loft space was huge. Mancuso recalls it being roughly 25 feet by 100 feet with 14-foot high ceilings and a wooden floor. When asked what attracted him to the loft space he had this to say, "I think it goes back to the orphanage... Somehow or another I always identified with large spaces, old buildings..." David further explains that the neighborhood at the time was very desolate compared to what it is now. After 6pm everyone would disappear since the neighborhood was comprised mainly of factories and warehouses. Since the area was zoned for commercial use people were prohibited from actually residing in the lofts. What Mancuso and others did was to hide their beds along with pots and pans from the prying eyes of the city's building inspectors who would show up unannounced.

One of David Mancuso's hobbies was tinkering with electronics and stereos, which gave way to his interest in high-end audio. One of his friends was noted audio designer Richard Long who would later create the sound system for Larry Levan's Paradise Garage. Having a large loft space allowed him to purchase two pairs of Klipschorn loudspeakers in 1966-67. The three-way horn loaded speakers were huge units that needed to be placed in a corner and had a frequency response of 33hz-17khz. The Klipschorn speakers are known for their efficiency and ability to play clearly at loud levels. These were mated to a McIntosh power amp and pre-amp and two AR turntables.

The loft space and high-end audio equipment were perfect for a party and a party is exactly what Mancuso had in mind. The gatherings and fun that he had with friends in his youth never left him and he soon was holding parties at his loft on a regular basis. It was strictly fun, music and dancing for him and his group of friends. The parties continued till around 1970 when economic constraints forced David Mancuso to scale back a bit and require his friends to "chip in." At first the parties were held about twice a month. Within six months this was increased to every Saturday night with the parties beginning at midnight and finishing at 6am.

In the beginning there was no mixer so David Mancuso merely switched turntables by using the "phono 1" and "phono 2" switch on the McIntosh preamplifier. Later he rigged two Shure phono preamps with a level control to fade between them. This eventually gave way to a custom built mixer around 1973. Apparently long overlays were never part of the equation as the mixer merely served as a means to segue from one record to the other or allow Mancuso to stitch together two copies of the same song to create a longer version. In due time however, Mancuso realized that he and his guests weren't hearing the full potential of the vinyl record or stereo system. He explains, "Getting into high end audio I realized how much nuance there was in the record and also that the record should stand on its own. I don't want to interfere with what the artist intended or the integrity of the recording cause that's the artist's message so I play the record from the beginning to the very end. Occasionally, if I had one of those DJ friendly records where it starts off going boom-boom-boom for thirty seconds or more I would time it to begin a little later... In order to get Class-A sound, you had to get rid of the mixer. So what happens is you find a way to keep the flow going so there's no space unless you intended it to be that way." He continues by saying that he is not a beat mixer and doesn't care for BPM's and the like and NEVER uses the pitch control.

When asked what kind of music he played at the Loft parties David Mancuso simply responds, "Dance music Bernie, dance music. I would play everything from Jazz to classical and everything in between." Mancuso made it a point to explain that he is not into categories and was and still is open to all forms of music. He went on by saying that he had no set playlist and played mainly by ear and from what he and his friends would research, discover and share. Many a times the guests would bring some of their records to have played at the party.

Here is where David Mancuso goes to great lengths to describe what these parties were and weren't, "It was basically a rent party. Private: by invitation only. It was NOT a club-not a membership-none of that stuff. I made it very clear; this was an invitation and you made a contribution. The money only came into it because I had to do it. When the money came into it, I didn't want it to spoil it. I wanted to maintain the integrity of the party and provide as much as I could and it worked."

The Mancuso's Loft parties would be attended by as many as two hundred guests in the course of an evening, but around 1972-73 Mancuso was given permission by the landlord to knock down a wall and join two loft subdivisions together.

David Mancuso and the Loft Parties On Tour

By 1995 Mancuso saw that it was next to impossible to find any reasonably priced spaces in downtown so he had to think a little differently. He explains, "I started to do what I thought I would never do or could do and started to do tours. I did tours and I still do, but rarely because I am very fussy about everything (music / location / electronics...). I started with Japan and I thought I would be leaving my family, but then it got down to survival... It turned out that they would respect the way I wanted to set the sound, balloons and everything so I said at least it's something-it's getting the message out there. I'm learning and growing again in a way I never thought I would."

In addition to touring around the world, Mancuso hosts his Loft parties about 4-6 times a year at an undisclosed location in New York that he rents out for the occasion. When asked why so few parties compared to the past he replies, "I can't find the space and I don't have the resources like I used to. After I lost the building on 3rd Street I have been economically restrained. I've had offers that you can't believe, but there are catches to them and I can't give in to them. I'd rather take the subway and do without the Mercedes Benz... I've known some of my guests for more than twenty-five years and I can't go away from that. The Loft parties are very personal, intimate thing. It's the thing that keeps me going in life."

When asked how long he sees himself doing the Loft parties Mancuso replies, "To my last breath-if they let me do it, sure. A party is made of many components: the group, the music... It's a whole-shared environment and there are many pillars that give it strength. It doesn't revolve around the person. Once that starts to happen, forget about it." Mancuso currently does about 6-8 tours a year.

Reprinted with permission from Bernard F. Lopez

-- #73 Posted on Saturday, March 21, 2009 --

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