Daniele Baldelli interviewed by Tim Lawrence

I interviewed Daniele Baldelli twice in 2006, once in London in May and a second time in his Italian home in Cattolica, near Rimini, in July. The first interview followed a rare international appearance by Daniele at Plastic People, where his trippy-funky sound and mesmeric mixing combinations blew away a small but ecstatic gathering. The second came during an extended visit to Rimini and amounted to one in a series of interviews conducted with Italian DJs following a request by Maurizio Clemente, the Italian publisher of Love Saves the Day, that I write a history of Italian DJ/dance culture (Amore salva il giorno?). Although much of the interviewing was fascinating it soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to get around to writing that history . In large part it was because I had too many other books that felt more urgent, beginning with the Arthur Russell biography and continuing with the book that’s become Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-83. As soon as it became clear that the new book wasn’t going to get past 1983 I realised that the Italian book simply wasn’t going to happen, and although that came with all sorts of regrets, I recall also concluding that I didn’t feel that the recording side of Italian dance culture filled me with enough enthusiasm to want to pursue that project; indeed even the Italian DJs I interviewed seemed to have at best fleeting interest in Italian domestic music releases. Along with the challenge of conducting interviews/research in Italian, that seemed to foreclose the Italian history—a history that I hope someone else will write, because there are important stories to be told. But there’s no reason to let all of those interviews gather dust, so I thought that I’d try to publish some of them, beginning with the one I remember most clearly. Electronic Beats agreed to run with the idea and the full version of the interview is available here.

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You first started to DJ in 1969 at Tana Club in Cattolica. How did that come about?

In Cattolica there was a little club called Tana club and I was there like a client, a dancer. I think it opened maybe at the beginning of ’69, not before. Tana was the first discotheque in Cattolica. Everyone used to say that the man who opened Tana club worked in Paris for many years and he saw the discotheques there. I was very young. One boy played records and after three months this boy went away and the owner of Tabu asked me if I wanted to play records. He noticed me because I was looking at the DJ all the time. So I started, but the owner of the club bought the records and he told me how to play. He stacked like a newspaper and said, “You start from this and you follow the line and when the line is finished you can choose another line. He made the programme. There were no headphones, no mixer, no monitor. You just put the record on at the beginning and when it was finished you started the next one. It wasn’t a problem if there was silence between the records and there was no issue around b.p.m. At the time the people were used to dancing to a song and then stopping and then dancing in a different way to the next song.

What music did you play?

Most of the music was rhythm and blues. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas, Ann Peebles, Arthur Comely. This is what we called black music but there was also white music, from UK more than the States, so I played the Stooges, Atomic Rooster, Pink Elephant “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’”, Desmond Decker “Royal Lights”.

So what year were you born?

In 1952.

And you lived in Cattolica?

Yes.

Were there other clubs in Cattolica?

In 1969 there were dance halls featuring live groups that played music. But after Tana club a lot of little clubs opened. The Adriatic Coast was was full of little clubs in that period. You found one every kilometre. At the time everyone liked to go to clubs. They were something new. Either you went to the cinema or to the club. Because Cattolica was a tourist spot there’d be 15 clubs open in the summer and three in the winter.

From Tana you went to a club called Tabu—is that right?

Yes, maybe in November or December 1969. I went to this other club and the owner of the club never bought records. I said, “Listen, we need more records!” It’s always the same, so I told him, “Listen, you pay me more money and I buy the records.” So all the money I got I spent on records, because I was going to school, so it was a passion. I spent more on records than I made playing records. I didn’t like things that sounded very commercial, so if I bought a top ten record it was because I liked the B-side. Nobody told me what to do. This was my instinct. If I liked something I followed it. I played at Tabu from 1970 until 1976. The technology was also developing. During this period I started to use a mixer with two slides, which was a novelty. I don’t remember when I started using headphones. But I had two turntables. ELAC is the name—it’s a German turntable. It was automatic. You pushed a button and the arm went by itself. So we had to think how much time it needed to get to the record. Then came the Lenco turntable. It had a little lever for 33, 45, 78 and 16! After a short while I learnt that if I took the lever not exactly on 45 and a little bit nearer 78 it turned faster, so I tried to adjust the speeds, just to reduce the difference between the tempo, but without mixing.

Baldelli on the Tabù dance floor, 1972.

Baldelli on the Tabù dance floor, 1972.

What was the dynamic of the night at Tabu?

At the beginning all the DJs played not only fast but also slow music for slow dancing. The method was to play five fast records followed by three slow records, all through the night. After one year, by maybe 1971, we played maybe ten fast and three slow, until we arrived at a part of the night where we would only play fast records, with one break in the middle of about ten or fifteen minutes where we played slow. Baia degli Angeli opened in 1975 and there they played fast music all night long. So we started to do the same around 1975 or 1976. We played like this because it was normal to do it like this.

What music were you playing at Tabu?

Black music and white music. I lived in Cattolica so I bought 7" singles in shop in Cattolica. I was working for 2,500 lira a night and at that time one 7” cost 600 lira, so if I worked one night I could buy three 7” singles. An album cost 3,300 lira, but it was very dangerous to buy them, because you couldn't listen to them, so we spent a lot of money hoping that there’d be a good song to play, sometimes buying an album because it had a nice cover and we thought that maybe there’d therefore be a good record inside. The shop in Cattolica wasn’t a specialised shop. It just sold the hit parade—I was bought records like Desmond Dekker “Israelites”. But at the same time, my crazy mind was looking for something different and so—I don't remember how—maybe the boss of Tabu, Renzi Lino, told me, “I know a shop, in Switzerland there is a shop, Radio Lugano, where they have import records.” He took me there in his Porsche. Maybe he was going there anyway to see some girl and thought it would be good if I bought records. I ended up going back maybe three of four times by train. The records I found in Radio Lugano were very different. In Cattolica 90% of the shop was Italian pop. But in Radio Lugano I found disco. Then in about 1975 a big shop opened in Rimini, the Dimar. It was a big shop and they stocked everything—a lot of classical music, pop, indie, polka, rock, disco, everything. But you couldn’t listen to the music. You just had to look at the covers and speak with the salesman. You’d say, “Hey, do you think this is good?” And he’d say, “Of course, this is very good!”

Can you remember some of the records you played during this period?

Some records from this period are important. For example, “In Zaire” is an African song from Johnny Wakelin. I played this in Tabu and then later in Cosmic and I still play it today. I also play today Johnny Taylor “Who’s Making Love”. I also play Rufus Thomas, Earth, Wind and Fire, the live album [Gratitude]. And of course there was James Brown. In Tabu I played a lot of James Brown. Tabu had close circuit TV and the first video recorder, a huge machine. It was the only place where they transmitted live concerts, so we recorded a live concert of James Brown and I played the concert on the TV and people danced. I played the audio and the video exactly as it was. You can dance to everything by James Brown. 

Was this period important to the way you developed as DJ?

I was doing everything instinctively so I didn’t think a lot. But when Baia opened we saw for the first time these two DJs executing mixes. Of course at that time mixing meant mixing maybe three or four beats, and sometimes they just cut.

This is Baia degli Angeli, right? Can you tell me how you heard about it and what made it different?

I went to Baia some months after it opened because everybody was speaking about it. I heard about it first when a young barman at Tabu was contacted and asked to work there, so I knew something very big and very different was coming. We also started to see all over Cattolica and maybe also Rimini the logo of the club, the angel, without any writing. So we looked at this and thought, “What is this?” Then after a few months everybody started to say, “Now Baia degli Angeli is opening!” It was also a beautiful club. Everything was white, whereas in Tabu everything was dark. Because of that the spotlights were very effective; if there was a green light then the whole club turned green. Seeing the whole club change colour had a really big effect. And another thing that was different is it was the only club that stayed open until 6am, even 7am; all the others closed at 3am. Then the other big difference is they had these two American DJs, Bob Day and Tom Season. They came from New York and for at least the first six or eight months they had music that we’d never heard before because import/export hadn’t started. They had everything from TK Records, the Philadelphia Sound, a lot of 12” singles, a lot of free promotional records that nobody knew.

So Baia created a big impression.

The first time I went was the summer of 1975. Then in the summer of 1976 I went regularly. I worked until 3am and then at 3:30 I went to Baia and stayed for one or two hours. I looked at 2,000 people—beautiful people, beautiful girls—and I also became friends with the DJs. We thought Bob and Tom were crazy because they played with records that were warped. One afternoon they came to Tabu when I was playing. I was afraid and at the end of the afternoon Tom came to and said, “You are very good, but why don't you take away the rubber?” To mix with your hands you have a slip mat but when you buy the turntable there is rubber and the vinyl can’t slip, so you take away the rubber and replace it with a slip mat. But at the time you couldn’t buy slip mats, so they took away the rubber and put a 45 single instead. This was why their records were all wobbly.

How come they came to Baia?

Because Giancarlo Tirotti was rumoured to be lovers with Carmen D’Alessio [a New Yorker who worked in fashion and became Valentino’s PR chief in Rome]. He went to New York and met Tom, who was a friend of Carmen’s. At the time there were a lot of little underground clubs in New York and Tom and Bob had maybe played the first hour in some important club. Tom came to Baia because he was known by Carmen and Tirotti. Bob came two months later because he was a friend of Tom. They were both gay men and they mixed records, and it was the first time I heard this. Sometimes the mixes were good, sometimes not, but this was their style.

Did they have a mystique about them?

Yes, of course. In Italy everything that was not Italian is the best. The United States was the leader in disco and rhythm and blues and was very important. Italian music is rooted in Pavarotti and the waltz. We don’t have a tradition of blues music, rhythm and blues, and funk, so all the music we got we got from the States or the UK. Only after did us Italians become better, ha ha!

So was Baia the most important discotheque on the Adriatic coast?

I think this club really changed nightlife in Italy. It was the first club that created this kind of musical situation that nobody had heard before, it was open until 6am and it was also this fashionable place. Everybody came from all over Italy. After that big, beautiful clubs started to open all over, but Baia was the first.

Elevator DJ booth at Baia, 1978.

Elevator DJ booth at Baia, 1978.


Where was it located?

Gabicce, which is a little hill near Cattolica. It's a little tourist town. There’s Cattolica, then Gabicce. It’s a very beautiful spot. You can see all the Adriatic coast. I cycled there! It was only two kilometres. Baia was opened as a high end restaurant and sporting club, then it became a disco. The disco came later when Tirotti concluded that the restaurant wasn’t busy enough. It was a restaurant with a small disco. There was a swimming pool inside as well as outside, and the inside swimming pool became a dance floor.

What happened to Bob and Tom?

I don't know exactly. Maybe Giancarlo was tired of what was happening. He thought of Baia as a club for people who loved music but it changed. It became too crowded and there were too many drugs, so he sold Baia. The club was finished and one of Tom and Bob had a boyfriend in New York and the boyfriend wanted him to return, or something like that, so they decided to go back to the States. When Tom and Bob were about to leave they came to me and said, “We have said to the new owner the you can go to work for him.” At the same time someone else spoke to Mozart [Claudio “Mozart” Rispoli], who had also started to DJ, so we found ourselves together. They asked me if I had a problem with Mozart. I said, “No, this is good,” because I was afraid to be the sole successor to Tom and Bob. Before Tom and Bob left I asked them to give me their copy of Loleatta Holloway’s “Hit and Run”. I said, “Give it to me, please, I can’t find it anywhere!” Everybody was looking for this record. They gave me their copy, autographed.

What drugs were going down?

Heroin. Before people went out they might smoke, maybe take a bit of cocaine, but when the club became famous all over Italy a lot of people came from Veneto and Lombardia. All of the drugs came from Holland—the north—Holland then Germany and then Brennero, Bolzano and Verona. Verona became one place where drugs came into Italy, so people from Vernoa started to experiment and they came to Baia and at Baia there was a heavy heroin and cocaine scene. This wasn't in the mentality of Giancarlo. He didn't want to create a drug hangout. He wanted la musica. Personally, I didn’t take the drugs. I smoked a joint and I was sick. I tried cocaine and I couldn’t have sex. I drank and I was sick. So I took nothing.

So you started DJing at Baia.

I started in October or November 1977 and I stopped in August 1978 when Baia closed for good. I was together with Mozart and then Mozart had to leave for military service in February 1978. He came back after three or four months, so I played alone during that period. After it closed it reopened in 1979. At that point it was just Mozart and it lasted only one summer.

How did it work with Mozart when you played together?

We usually worked one hour or 90 minutes and then changed. We played midnight to 6am so we place twice each. I played 1977 and 1978.

What were you playing?

I was playing different kinds of styles—disco music but I didn’t play records with a lot of vocals or melody. I played more instrumental records, more aggressive records. Also, I don’t know if all the songs I played were disco. For example, I was even playing a song by J.J. Cale, “She Don’t Like, She Don’t Like Cocaine”. He’s like a country and western singer. This song was very popular. I also played Timmy Thomas “Africano”. John Forde was also a hit, and so was “New York City” by Miroslav Vitous, “Ju-Ju- Man” by Passport, “Spaciula” by Dogs of War, “Gluttony” by Laurin Rinder and W. Michael Lewis, etc. etc.

Was your taste different to Mozart’s?

At that time Mozart was maybe more funkier than me. But I also played funky records. When I played all night by myself I played ”Bolero” from Ravel, the long version of Kebekelektrik, a group from Canada - they made Bolero of Ravel the whole side of an LP, 15 minutes, and when I played this song as the last song of the night I introduced a lot of effects from Pink Floyd, Jean Luc Pontoon, some African chanting. The sound was disco, funky disco, some Eurodisco, some electronics. One of the records I played was Bunny Sigler, “Baby It’s Time to Twist” [from the album Let Me Party with You]. Another was The Destruction of Mundohra by Final Offspring, which was a disco track that sounded like it was the soundtrack for a space film. I called this “space disco”.

So if this is 1977 was Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” a big record for you?

Yes, in the beginning, but if a record like that ended up being played on Italian radio then I would play it for a month or two before being attracted to something different, something more strange, something not so easy. I like everything—everything—but what attracts me is always something that’s different. When The Destruction of Mundohra came out it was really different to the other records I was playing and this appealed to me. “I Feel Love” was a good song but it wasn’t as emotional for me as “Love to Love You, Baby”. Also, we were used to playing songs that were three-and- a-half minutes long, so when “Love to Love You, Baby” came out on the whole side of an album it was like listening to a whole story.

When you were playing at Baia did you pre-programme what you were going to play for the whole night?

Yes, I prepared a lot of things but I also left space for improvisation. The first night I prepared a track list and maybe during the night I realised that the dance floor wasn’t really appreciating what I was trying at one particular moment, so I changed what I was playing, of course. In the end I developed a lot of track lists but changed from one track list to another, depending on the mood of the dancers. I don’t know why but I was crazy about mixing. I always wanted to make the perfect mix, but this was sometimes impossible, because the records were recorded live and tempo was always changing. It was a really big problem and meant that some records were terrible to mix together. So at home I would put one record on a turntable and on the other I would try a hundred records, looking for the perfect mix, not just in terms of the beat but also what was musical to the ear. I would make notes on the speeds and how records would mix together. When musicians play they write down the music. I mixed in this way.

Can you tell me more about the crowd that went to Baia?

For me the people in Baia were classy but also freaks. They had good clothes but they danced for me. They came for the music. Later, maybe when I started to play with Mozart, there were more working class, people were wearing more casual clothes and there were more young people. But the danced with the same energy—although not the ones who took heroin, of course.

And there must have been a seasonal rhythm…

That was the case with most of the clubs on the Adriatic cost during this period. In the winter they were only open on Saturday night, although some of the smaller clubs also opened Friday and Sunday. During the summer all the clubs were open every night during July and August. Only Monday nights would be quieter. During the winter people would come from Verona and Brescia and Bologna and Rome, even Germany and Holland.

Can you tell me more about Mozart’s style?

When we were working together maybe he was a little bit more funky than me. But he also played disco. Afterwards we both changed a lot. After one year I went to Cosmic—this was in April 1979—and then in 1980 I changed everything. During that time he was maybe more into electronic music and jazzy funk, like Don Cherry. But after Baia we lost touch with each other. I played at Cosmic for four years and he played all over.

How did you get on with Mozart while you were at Baia? I hear there was a rivalry.

We became friends at Baia because we were working together. We didn’t have a problem with each other. I remember I appreciate his style. He was more immediate. Whereas I was better prepared he just came and played. I think he had studied piano for five years, so maybe for him it was easier to mix. I didn’t have a musical education so I had to teach myself how to do it—writing, preparing, listening, trying the mixes. So I found my own way. As for the competition, that was created by the people.

How come Mozart played alongside you at Baia?

There were five owners of the second Baia. Bob and Tom introduced me to one of the new owners. At the same time another boss of the club heard about Mozart. I remember them asking me, “Daniele, do you have a problem if you also play with Mozart? I said, “No, no, OK, OK,” because I had seen him play at New Jimmy’s and he had come to Tabu.

So your last night in Baia was in August 1978. Was there a big last night party?

No, because nobody knew that Baia was going to close. The next morning we woke up and were told that we had to close. By this point there was a new owner—Diego Leoni. The people said, “The police have been up there and arrested Diego Leoni.” I was only thinking that now I’m without work. I had in fact a bad period, until January.

What did you do during this period?

I played a few gigs but really it was a bitch. I was playing what they wanted to hear just to get some money. So in December 1978 or January 1979 I was spoke with Lino Renzi, the boss of Tabu, and he said, “Why don’t we make a party here in my club with you?” “OK, OK, OK, yes, yes, yes.” So I made a few calls to friends from Bologna and Modena, and I said, “Hey, now I play in Tabu again, come on, come on.” For the first night 600 people came to Tabu club. For the second Saturday, 600 people come to Tabu and 600 waited outside because the club was full. The third Saturday, 1,200 people. The police went to Renzi Lino and said, “You close by yourself, or we make you close.” So the story finished again. 

So how did Cosmic happen?

I was working in Tabu, in one of these parties, and a big man came in with his wife and some friends. They introduced themselves to me. They said, “We are from Lago di Garda, Verona. We are opening a new club. We listened to you during the summer in Baia and we like your style. We would like you to play in our club. We'll open in the spring.” This was December, I think. And I said, “OK.” At that point it was something strange, because at that time if a DJed worked in a club he was the resident for life. But I said, “OK, I’ll come. I want the money you’re offering and I want a house. Please, not an apartment, a house, because I have too many records.” And so they found a little house by Lake Garda. I made about 50 journeys in my Citroen to take everything over.

So you moved to Verona.

Yes, because I was thinking, “Listen, if I play for you, I want the same money for the winter and the summer. I don’t care how many nights you're open. I need this money because I buy the same number of records in the winter as the summer. Then, if you’re open every night, 365 days a year, I don't care. This was my approach. And I said, “I want to work for me and my girlfriend; - she was my girlfriend and she became the girl of the cassa, the cashier.

And you ended up marrying her?

Yes.

Did you meet at Baia or before?

In Tabu, in Tabu. We were very young—18, 16. She was the girl who danced all night long, you know? She was crazy about music. 

What's her name?

Margherita. 

And when did you get married? Or if you are married?

Yes we are married from ‘85. We wait a lot of time. We just married because we had a son. And you know the grandmother they have, uh, tradition [laughs]. We just do it in five minutes, with not big ceremony [laughs]. 

So who was the owner of Cosmic?

Enzo Longo, and his wife, Laura Bertozzo. Enzo Longo is the son of a well-off family. His father was a famous dentist. He is also dentist. At the time he was 33 years old and he worked with his father. Laura Bertozzo had two Fiorucci boutique shops, one in Verona and one on the Garda lake. They opened Cosmic because they went to Baia and they liked it. They found this place in Lazise, which is the name of the town on Garda sea. This club was called the Mini Piper. The story he told me is that he bought this club, he left it closed for one year because he wanted all the people forget what it was before, and then he started to build Cosmic. He was thinking about it being a dance club—he liked to say, palestra da ballo, a dancing gym. The club was maybe for 700 people, and the dance floor was for 600 people. There was no place to sit down; only the dance floor and the bar.

Was it unusual to have a club without a place to sit?

Yes, very. And another very unusual thing is that because he really wanted to make something clean, for the first year no alcohol was served. So there was no alcohol and no place to sit down. The sound system was made up of a Macintosh amplifier and GBL loudspeakers. The lighting equipment was also very good and the dance floor was like the one in Saturday Night Fever. The DJ booth was like the helmet of an astronaut. After two years he made a new book that looked like a starship.

So Cosmic opened in April 1979. What can you tell me about the opening? What were your impressions? How was it different from Baia? 

The music was similar to what I was playing at Baia, so funky disco. The only memorable thing is that the opening was scheduled for a Thursday. So many people came that there were maybe 1,000 people inside and 1,000 standing outside, so they gave the people who couldn’t get in a ticket and said, “With this you can come to the opening night we’ll hold for you on Friday.” On Friday so many people came again they organised another opening for Saturday. Then they did one on Sunday as well.

Cosmic DJ booth, 1979.

Cosmic DJ booth, 1979.

How did the atmosphere compare to Baia?

I was nervous, but I'm always nervous when I work. The booth was low, so I could only see the 10 people standing in front of me because the DJ booth was on the same level as the floor. The second booth was a little bit higher.

So you were the only DJ at the beginning?

Yes. Then at the start of 1980 I had to leave for military service, so the boss of Cosmic asked me if I knew someone who would work with me and substitute? I knew this guy, Claudio, Tosi Brandi Claudio, who called himself TBC. He was from Riccione. I asked him to come and they gave him the same treatment—a house, a job for his girlfriend. He also had all my records at his disposal! After two years we fought with each other and so for six to eight months another guy called Marco Maldi worked with me and TBC went away. This was in 1982. Then after six, eight or nine months Marco Maldo stopped DJing and then TBG came back. We worked together until the end of 1984, when the club closed.

How long were you in military service for?

It was supposed to be 24 months because I was in the navy, but I was 28 years old when they called me and I told them, “Please let me work.” I did a lot of illegal things to not to be a soldier. It was all fake. I stayed in the hospital pretending to be ill, pretending to be a drug addict, because the last thing they wanted in the army was a drug addict. I said I was toxic dependent. They said, “How?” So I made holes with an empty needle to make my arms violet and said, “Look!” I also took a drug that put me to sleep during the day and another one to keep me away at night. In hospital I would run out and go to work. You could make a soap opera about my military service. After 6 months I was discharged but for five I was always finding a way to go back to play. When I was away for that month I know that they made a party for one night for Mozart, Rubens and Ebreo—just one night.

So were you aware that there was this backlash against disco in 1979? 

I didn’t understand what had happened. I was working every Saturday night and during the week I stayed at home on this nice hill with a beautiful panorama—all of Lago di Garda—listening to records. So how I went from disco, funk and the Philadelphia Sound to Depeche Mode, Gary Numan or Klaus Schulze, I don't know. I didn’t care what was happening outside. I was living on my hill, listening to music.

So the backlash against disco passed you by…

Yes, but what I think is that the music of disco in fact is really different. Until 1978 disco was a good sound. But then they started to mass produce records and it became different. It wasn’t as beautiful as before. But I think Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, Klaus Schulze, Brian Briggs, Jean Michel Jarre, Phil Collins, Mike Oldfield, or Sky Records—they didn’t make music for the dance floor. They made music just to make music. So this is how music came to me and once I had it I played it in the club.

Can you tell me more about how your music selections changed in 1980?

I would select “Bolero” by Ravel and on top of this I would play an African song by Africa Djolé, or maybe an electronic tune by Steve Reich, and I would mix this with a Malinke chant from New Guinea. Or, I would mix T-Connection with a song by Moebius and Rodelius, adding the hypnotic-tribal; album of Cat Stevens, and then Lee Ritenour, but also Depeche Mode at 33 instead of 45, or a reggae voice by Yellowman at 45 instead of 33. I would play a Brazilian battucada record and mix it with a song by Kraftwerk. I would also use synthesizer effects on the voices of Miriam Makeba, Jorge Ben, or Fela Kuti, or I would play the Oriental melodies of Ofra Haza or Sheila Chandra with the electronic sounds of the German label Sky. I was continually listening to the records at Disco Più in Rimini. Maybe I saw the new record by James Brown. I would say, “OK, James Brown, I know him, I’ll listen to this record,” and I would think, “It’s quite good.” But then I’d listen to a record by Gary Numan and I would ask, “Who is this? Ah, this is nice. It sounds strange and beautiful. I like it. It’s got a very nice break. I’ll buy it.” I bought a lot of records in this way. Also, I started to buy records for little parts that I could loop and re-edit using a Revox—a reel-to- reel tape machine. So I started to make tracks by cutting together 15 seconds of a record.

Did you buy the Revox in 1980?

Yes, I started this in Cosmic.

Did you buy the Revox specifically to do this?

I bought it specifically to make edits. I had been to studios and seen the way they were doing this and I thought I could do something similar. From the album Perfect Love Affair by the Constellation Orchestra on Prelude Records there’s a record called “Cosmic Melody”—it’s a disco record. It had the line, “Cosmic-cosmic- cosmic-cosmic, me-lo- dy, me-lo- dy.” I thought, “I need this sentence for Cosmic, you know?” But it was also too much fast—maybe it ran at 130 bpm. So I recorded it with the turntable at minus-10 and then I looped it together many times, so it lasted for three minutes. I also made these tapes and on every tape I included “Cosmic, cosmic, cosmic…”

Did you start to use any other electronic gadgetry at Cosmic?

In 1982 or 1983 I also bought a drum machine and because the brother of my wife is a musician I said, “Please set up the bass of Richard Wahnfried’s ‘Time Actor”, so he programmed this line for me. Then I asked a friend who was a drummer to create a specific pattern for me. I would play the drum track and mix in maybe 30 records—Antenna, RAH Band, others—so the drum machine and the record were playing at the same time. I never left the drum machine to run alone. When I took away a record I was immediately ready to put on another one. It became like a little show that I did for maybe three years, but only for ten minutes. If I did it for an hour people would say, “Go back home!” So it was like a little show during the DJ set. I’d also bring in some keyboard effects; I was making keyboards. Then when the first sample keyboards came out in 1983 or 1984 that opened a grande apertura, a big door. When I went to the shop where they sold musical instruments the boy said, “This is a sample keyboard?” “What’s that?” “You can record your voice and then you play your voice with the note.” So I said, “You mean that if I make, ‘One, two, three, four, James Brown,’ then I can play, ‘One, two, three, four, James Brown?’” “Yes, you can do it.” “OK!” So when I was playing 1984, 1985, 1986, I took my own turntable, my own mixer, my own monitor, three keyboards, two drum machines and two sample keyboards. I was really a DJ band! It’s for this reason that I always had a big car…”

What drum machine were you using?

The Roland TR-808 and also the TR-909, which I bought in 1982 or 1983. At first I used the Korg, which was like a typewriter. This drum machine only had preset loops and you could only manipulate the speed control. So you could choose “rock” and it played a rock pattern or “cha cha cha” and it would play a cha cha cha pattern. But you could speed it up or slow it down. I used to play a pattern from the drum machine, just to introduce something strange, something different.

And you also bought a keyboard in 1980?

Yes, a Yamaha CS-10, and because TBC was a little bit more musical than me—he could play the guitar—I said, “Hey, if I buy a keyboard maybe you can do something?” But I also wanted to be able to play and so I went to the brother of my wife and like a child learnt how to play, learning some parts to play in songs that I liked. I would say, “Teach me this melody!”

Did you introduce any other technical innovations?

I started to play with four turntables but I needed a partner to do this so I did it with TBC. I played the first turntable, mixed the second record with the second turntable and then had TBC put on a third record. When the three were playing together I would prepare a fourth record and then take away the first, so there were always two or three records playing at the same time.

And what music were you playing at this point?

Music was changing. I don’t know if there was a genre like folk or punk but I took from everything. I was playing all the electronic music from Germany and from England. The best label was Richard Wahnfrieds Innovative Communication and also Sky. There were artists like Klaus Schulze, Jean Michel Jarre, and there were lots that were less famous such as Clara Mondshine. Then there were these strange groups like Tri Atma—this was a group of German musicians with all the innovative keyboards or synthesisers, but they introduced also percussion and flute from India, so they mixed their own electronic music with ethnic music which was perfect for me. I also played a song by Paul McCartney, “Secretary”, and I’d maybe mix this with Olatunji, “Jingo” or Cat Stevens Izitso. I also played Brand X, who made a type of electronic jazz. I also played African music like Touré Kunda, Pierre Akendengue, Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango. Then there were elements of Brazilian music—Gilberto Gill, Jorge Ben, Tania Maria. All of this was the style that people started to call the Cosmic Sound in 1980.

I can see why you’d play Gary Numan in 1980 because Gary Numan was new, but how come you started to mix in Olatunji, which was from 1959, or Manu Dibango from 1973?

I did this without thinking, but now I think that music is timeless. It’s not necessary to only play records you bought the day before. I was being these records from Dimar, the famous shop in Rimini, which stocked all kinds of music. And if I maybe discovered a Jorge Ben song that would give me the impetus to look for others and so I had explored all the artists from Brazil—Gilberto Gil and so on. And then maybe I would also buy a record with only shit on it!

So you were still buying music in Dimar?

No, not only. When I was playing at Cosmic in Verona sometimes I would come back to Rimini, to Cattolica, and I would go to Dimar. Sometimes Disco Più would send me packages of records. Then I found a shop in Brescia and then LeDisque, a record store in Verona. Also, I knew this guy, this music lover, would go around the shop, like a collector, and he would come to me and say, “Daniele, I have found this record in the shop, do you want to buy it?” “Let me listen… Oh, this is nice!” When he saw what I liked he started to come to me with a lot of records. He didn’t work in the shop. He was just a collector—like a pusher.

Can you remember other records you were playing at Cosmic?

A lot of Cosmic music came from Japan, such as the Yellow Magic Orchestra—Ryūichi Sakamoto is the keyboard player—and also Logic System. I played OMD “Promise” and “VCL XI”, I played Liasons Dangereuses “Los Ninos” and “Avant Aprex Mars”, I played Tony Banks Charm. In the winter I played darker music and in the summer I played sunnier music—more reggae. I also played Roxy Music “Angel Eyes” slow at 33.

Do you know if other Italian DJs were conducting similar experiments?

I don’t know. At the time everybody was saying that Cosmic was more electronic, Mozart was more funk, Ebreo was more Brazilian. Maybe I was the one who mixed more types of music together. I made this big crossover. The exploration of the past to go into the future chimes with the work of many Modernists. Picasso drew on traditional African art… But a lot of artists have done this. The Rolling Stones recorded an album in Morocco. Try Atma are electronic musicians and they play with musicians India. David Byrne made an album with African musicians. So yes, we want to go into the future, but with the roots of the past—Lamont Dozier, “Going Back to My Roots”.

So how central was African or Latin music to the Cosmic sound? Or was it occasional?

Every year at Cosmic had its own character. In 1980 the music was electronic and dark. By 1983 it was maybe more Brazilian. In 1984 there was more funk, electro and fusion. 

Italo music was starting to come through more strongly at this point. Did you play much of that?

I played Gino Soccio “Dancer”. It’s strange but most of the records I bought had an Italian in the line-up somewhere. There’s always an Italian in the middle. But in terms of music made in Italy, I played Klein & MBO a lot when it came out—the instrumental; I played Koto “Tokyo Revenge”—maybe I played the B-side instrumental and played it at 33 instead of 45; I played Easy Going “Baby I Love You”; I played Gaz Nevada “Japanese Girls”, which wasn’t a big track but ran at 103 bpm and was strange enough for Cosmic; and Koto “Chinese Revenge”, which came out in 1983, although this is really an electronic song that happened to come out in Italy. Otherwise I played the Cosmic Sound. I didn’t know what italo disco was. When Italians tried to record disco music it was considered commercial. Of a hundred productions maybe I’d play two. I never played Alexander Robotnick’s “Problèmes D’Amour” because it wasn’t the Cosmic Sound, but I played “Love Supreme” by Giovanotti Mondani Meccanici with Alexander Robotnik. I think people from America and the UK listen to a shit sound from Italy and it sounds new. I know this sounds a bit nasty. But us Italians look abroad and are very influenced this music, so maybe we are too critical. Maybe we didn’t realise that we were also doing something good. I’m also a victim of this. But when I listen to records in a shop the first thing I do is listen to the sound. I wouldn’t say no to something just because it’s recorded in Italy. Generally I thought italo was too commercial.

So how did the dance floor response to what you were doing?

One of the big things about Cosmic is people came to listen what I was doing. I think people came with the idea of, “What will Danielle Baldelli make us listen to tonight?” Before I would start to play people would talk and drink. Then I would start with my signal, some electronic effects that I put together—the sound track of Flash Gordon, a violin solo by Jean Luc Ponty, some effects—and they would start to listen and dance. It seems as though you also slowed down the tempo when you went to Cosmic. I did this a little bit at Baia and also in Cosmic. For the first half an hour of the evening I would play slow. It was the same in Baia, because there were some nice disco records that ran at 105 or 108 beats per minute. It was normal to start the evening with slow music and then to go faster. But in 1980, 1981 and maybe also 1982 Cosmic was only slow, by which I mean it never got to 120 beats per minute. At the most it would get to 115. At the start it would be 95, 98, then maybe 100 or 105 for two hours. Maybe it was because era bella, it was nice in this way, and maybe also because of the kind of drugs people were taking. They smoked a lot so they couldn’t jump like little goats. Now, looking back, I think that we played slow because it seemed natural to play slow. It wasn’t that people were smoking. It seemed that after uptempo disco playing slow was new, a novelty. Then there was also a matter of making mistakes, say putting on a record at the wrong speed and realising that it sounds nice. After that I tried this with all the records I bought.

Were you responding to the crowd, or was this where you wanted to go musically? Because a lot of heroin was being consumed, wasn’t it?

No, in that period we played slow because it seemed natural to play slow.

Did TBC play at a higher tempo?

Of course, because I would play for the first hour and leave him at 110 bpm and then he would play a higher tempo. Cosmic closed at 1am so I played 10-11, he played 11-12 and then we played half an hour each for the last hour.

Can you tell me more about the club setting and the crowd?

In 1979 there was no alcohol, nowhere to sit and the people who came to Cosmic were kids of upper-class parents who were mostly well-dressed. The owner of Cosmic said that people from Veneto drank too much and he didn’t want to have fights. During 1979 we didn’t have any problems with alcohol or drugs. Then in 1980, because the club became very famous, everybody came to look from different parts of the north—Bologna, Brescia, Venezia—and during the summer, the holiday season, they’d also come from the south because Garda lake is a holiday resort. People would also come from Austria. After one year the club started to sell beer and because of the music that was coming out at the time, changes in drug culture and changes in the crowd, the club became druggier. But the drug problem didn’t happen inside. It happened outside, because maybe there were 1,000 people inside, but outside there would be 2,000 people in the parking area with tents, loud speakers and so on. It became a place to meet and they would play tapes of my DJ sets.

Can you tell me more about the tapes?

It was a good business. I started doing this in Baia but the real business of selling tapes started in Cosmic. From 1980 onwards it was really a boom. Every week there’d be a new tape and I’d sell a thousand copies. One boy would come from Torino. He never came inside Cosmic to dance. Instead he arrived in the afternoon and said can I meet Baldelli and he came back every couple of months to buy all the tapes. He came back once with a Citroën Pallas and he told me, “This is what I’ve bought from selling your tapes in Torino.” At one point the authorities found someone who had bought the tapes and they made me go to a judge. My lawyer said, “OK, we have to do something but what has Baldelli done? We have to know the quantities involved. To work that out they had to listen to the tapes, find out the titles, ask the labels for information and then make a charge. After four years there was an amnesty.”

What happened to you working with TBC and then Marco Maldi? And how did Cosmic close?

TBC and I fought for the first time in 1982. One evening in the DJ booth he got upset and left without finishing his DJ set. This kind of prima donna behaviour made me cross. And I was even more upset because I let his personality overwhelmed me. Probably there was a kind of jealousy between us because people said that I was “the brain” and he was the showman. So the competition was about this. But the boss didn’t like Marco Maldi so much and eventually he said, “Come on, you and TBC were the perfect combination, so we started again until Cosmic closed. Police had already closed the club once and they shut it down again in 1984.

Baldelli Discography
Alan Parsons Project "Stereodomy"
Tony Banks "Charm"
Bazaar "Oriental Wind"
Birth Control "Hoodoo Man"
Carte De Sejour "Ramsa"
Fuhrs & Frohlilng "Strings"
Gandalf "Journey To An Imaginary Land"
Grauzone "Eisbaer"
Manfred Mann's Earth Band "Chance"
Neuronium "Invisible Views"
Ambrose Reynolds "Greatest Hits"
Irmin Schmidt "Film musik Nr. 2"
Conrad Schnitzler "Con 3"
Robert Schroeder "Mozaique"
Klaus Schulze "Macksy"
Shadowfax "The Dreams Of Children"
Tribute "New Views"
Vangelis "The Dragon"
Za Za "Za Za”

Selected Mixes

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C01 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c01-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C02 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c02-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C03 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c03-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C04 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c04-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C05 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-005-1979-daniele-baldelli/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C06 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-c06-daniele-baldelli-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C08 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c08-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C10 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c01-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C11 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c01-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C12 - 1979
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c12-1979/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C01 - 1980
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c01-1980/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C 02 - 1980
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c-02-1980/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C03 - 1980
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c03-1980/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C24, 1981
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c24-1981/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C25, 1981
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c-95-1984/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C33, 1981
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c33-1981/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C57, 1982
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c57-1982/

Cosmic - Baldelli & Marco Maldi C79, 1983
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-marco-maldi-1983/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C 95, 1984
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c-95-1984/

Cosmic - Baldelli & TBC C 110, 1984
https://www.mixcloud.com/Italian_AfroFunk/cosmic-baldelli-tbc-c01-1979/

Daniele Baldelli - 11th December 2015 By NTS Radio
https://www.mixcloud.com/NTSRadio/daniele-baldelli-11th-december-2015/

Daniele Baldelli * 3 Hour Boiler Room Mix
https://www.mixcloud.com/Tourist/daniele-baldelli-3-hour-boiler-room-mix/

Electronic Beats has published a shortened version of the interview here.

Remembering David Mancuso and the Loft

 
David Mancuso outside Prince Street Loft, New York, 1988. Photo by Pat Bates

David Mancuso outside Prince Street Loft, New York, 1988. Photo by Pat Bates

 

When David Mancuso passed away on November 14, 2016, he left behind a legacy that enjoys no obvious precedent. Celebrating the Loft’s 46th anniversary this past February, he oversaw what must surely be the longest-running party in the United States’shistory—and perhaps even the world’s—having hit upon the right combination the night he staged a “Love Saves the Day” Valentine’s party in his downtown home in 1970 and initiated Loft-style parties in Japan and London 16 and 13 years ago, respectively. With all three manifestations rooted in friendship, inclusivity, community, participation, and collective transformation, the host has secured the life-after-death future of the party while demonstrating the effectiveness of a simple vision, the purity of which he never knowingly compromised. In this manner, the Loft has come to offer consistent light to a darkening terrain.

In one of the numerous interviews I conducted with David, I once asked him to explain how he would advise a newcomer to start a party. First, he replied, it’s necessary to have a group of friends that want to get together and dance, because without that there’s no basis for the party. Second, the friends need to find a room that has good acoustics and is comfortable for dancing, which means it should have rectangular dimensions, a reasonably high ceiling, a nice wooden floor, and a level of privacy that will enable people to relax. Next, the friends should piece together a simple, clean, and warm sound system that can be played at around 100 dB (so that people’s ears don’t become tired or even damaged). After that, the friends should decorate the room with balloons and a mirror ball, offering a cheap and timeless solution. They should also plan to prepare a spread of healthy food in case dancers become hungry during the course of the night. Finally—and as far as David was concerned, this was really the last thing to put in place—the friends should think of someone to select records that those gathered would want to dance to. Ultimately there could be no room for egos, including his own, if the party was to reach its communal potential.

Also rooted in friendship and the desire to party with freedom in a comfortable, private space, the Loft—as David’s guests came to name the party after it had been running for a few months—didn’t amount to an original moment so much as it pointed to a time when a number of practices, some of them decades’s old, came together in a new combination. The children’s home where David was taken days after his birth imbued him with the idea that families could be extended yet intimate, unified yet different, and precarious yet strong. Sister Alicia, who took care of him, put on a party whenever she was able to, and even went out to buy vinyl to make sure the kids were musically fed. The psychedelic guru Timothy Leary, who invited David to his house parties and popularized a philosophy around the psychedelic experience that would inform the way records came to be selected at the Loft, also became a power echo in David’s party scenario. Co-existing with Leary, the civil rights, gay liberation, feminist, and the anti-war movements came to manifest themselves in the egalitarian, rainbow coalition, come-as-you-are ethos of the Loft. And the Harlem rent parties of the 20s, in which working-class African Americans put on shindigs in order to raise money to pay the rent, established a template for putting on an intimate private party that could bypass the restrictions of New York City’s widely loathed cabaret licensing regulations. These streams travelled in different directions until February 14, 1970—when they met at 647 Broadway.

The homemade invitations for the February party carried the line “Love Saves the Day.” A short three years after the release of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” the coded promise of acid-inspired things to come swapped The Beatles’ gobbledygook with a declaration of universal love. The invitations also reproduced an image of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory,” which suggested not Sister Alicia nor the children’s home—because David had yet to have his latent memories jogged into revelation—but instead, the chance to escape violence and oppression by entering into a different temporal dimension in which everyone could leave behind their socialised selves and dance until dawn. “Once you walked into the Loft, you were cut off from the outside world,” explained David. “You got into a timeless, mindless state. There was actually a clock in the back room but it only had one hand. It was made out of wood and after a short while it stopped working.”

When David’s guests left the Valentine’s Day party, they let him know that they wanted him to put on another one soon, and within a matter of months the shindigs had become a weekly affair. Inasmuch as anyone knew about them—and few did, because David didn’t advertise his parties, because they were private—they acquired a reputation for being ultra hip, in part because 647 Broadway was situated in the ex-manufacturing district of downtown New York, where nobody but a handful of artists and bohemians had thought about living. The artists (and David) moved in, because the district’s old warehouses offered a spectacular space in which to live as well as put on parties, and the inconvenience of having to have one’s kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom hidden from view (in order to avoid the punitive eyes of the city’s building inspectors) turned out to be a nice way to free up space in order to do things that weren’t related to cooking, sleeping, and washing. Outside, the frisson of transgression was heightened by the fact that there was no street lighting to illuminate the cobbled streets, and because David didn’t serve alcohol, he was able to keep his parties going until midday (and sometimes later), long after the city’s bars and discotheques had closed for the night. “Because I lived in a loft building, people started to say that they were going to the Loft,” remembered David. “It’s a given name and is sacred.”

From the beginning, David constantly sought to improve his sound system, convinced that this would result in a more musical and therefore a more socially transformative party experience. Having begun to invest in audiophile technology, he asked sound engineers to help him build gear, including tweeter arrays and bass reinforcements, so that he could tweak the sound during the course of a party, sending extra shivers down the spines of his guests. Yet by the time the technology had come to dominate discotheque sound, David had concluded that such add-ons were unnecessary with an audiophile set-up and instead headed deeper into the world of esoteric stereo equipment, adding Mark Levinson amplifiers and handcrafted Koetsu cartridges to a set-up that also featured Klipschorn speakers. “I had the tweeters installed to put highs into records that were too muddy but they turned into a monster,” David once said to me. “It was done out of ignorance. I wasn’t aware of Class-A sound, where the sound is more open and everything comes out.”

As David relentlessly fine-tuned his set-up, the energy at his parties became more free flowing and intense. “You could be on the dance floor and the most beautiful woman that you had ever seen in your life would come and dance right on top of you,” Frankie Knuckles, a regular at the Broadway Loft, once commented in an interview. “Then the minute you turned around, a man that looked just as good would do the same thing. Or you would be sandwiched between the two of them, or between two women, or between two men, and you would feel completely comfortable.” Facilitating a sonic trail that was generated by everyone in the room, David would pick out long, twisting tracks such as Eddie Kendricks’s “Girl, You Need A Change of Mind” and War’s “City, Country, City,” gutsy, political songs like The Equals’s “Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys” and Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” uplifting, joyful anthems such as Dorothy Morrison’s “Rain” and MSFB’s “Love Is the Message,” and earthy, funky recordings that included James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” and Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa.” Positive, emotional, and transcendental, these and other songs touched the soul and helped forge a community.

The influence of the Loft spread far and wide. At the end of 1972, a Broadway regular opened the Tenth Floor as a Loft-style party for an exclusive, white gay clientele, which in turn led to the opening of Flamingo, which went on to become the most influential venue in the white gay scene. Objecting to the elitist nature of Flamingo’s self-anointed “A-list” dancers, another Loft regular founded 12 West with the idea of creating a more laidback party environment for white gay men. Meanwhile Nicky Siano, another Loft regular, launched his own Loft-style venue called the Gallery that mimicked David’s invitation system, hired his sound engineer, and even borrowed a fair chunk of his crowd when he shut down his party for the summer of 1973. The Soho Place (set up by Richard Long and Mike Stone) and Reade Street (established by Michael Brody) also drew heavily on David’s template. When both of those parties were forced to close, Brody resolved to open the Paradise Garage as an “expanded version of the Loft” and invited Long, considered by many to be New York’s premier sound engineer, to build the sound system. Meanwhile Robert Williams, another Loft regular, opened the Warehouse as yet another Loft-style venue after moving to Chicago. Heading to the Loft, where they danced and bonded, Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles went on to become the path breaking DJs at the Garage and the Warehouse, where they forged the outlines of what would later be called garage and house music. Other influential dance figures, including Tony Humphries, François Kevorkian, and David Morales, would look back on the Loft as an inspirational party. In short, the Loft was an incubator.

Like any party host, David had to face some unexpected hitches during his party’s 46-year run. In June of 1974, he moved to 99 Prince Street after city regulators pressured him into leaving his Broadway home. Ten years later, he bought a promising building in Alphabet City, only to see the neighbourhood slide into a virtual civil war. By the time he was forced to vacate a floor he was subletting on Avenue B towards the end of the 90s, things were beginning to look quite grim. But before he was forced to leave Avenue B, David received an invitation to travel to Japan, and although he was reluctant to put on a party outside his home, he ended up travelling on the basis that it could help him purchase the Avenue B space. Unfortunately, the purchase never came to pass. David returned to Japan to put on regular parties with a new friend he made during his initial trip, and he also started to put on parties with friends in London after he approached me and Colleen with the idea while “Love Saves the Day”—the book that charts his influence—was going through production.

As he went about putting on these parties, David stuck to the principles that have driven him from day one: stay faithful to your friends, find a good space for the events, get hold of the best sound equipment available, and smile when people welcome you as a guest. In the process, David drew on the life shaping experience of his orphan childhood to realize a profound philosophical lesson: homes can be built wherever you put down roots and make friends. Returning again and again to Japan and London, David realized his own universal vision, which was previously constricted to New York, but has now captured the imagination of partygoers across the globe.

Shortly after making his first trips to Japan and London, David hit upon a hall in the East Village that became the new home of the Loft, and though the parties were held on holidays rather than a weekly basis, David was convinced the dance floor that remained was as vibrant and energetic as ever. The fact David didn’t live in the space was a little inconvenient in that, with the help of friends, he had to set up his sound system each time he played, but even though he didn’t sleep in the hall, he was more comfortable in that space than any of his previous homes. “It’s in the heart of the East Village, which was where I always used to hang out,” he said. “I might have lived on Broadway, but for the other five or six days I was in the East Village. This is where I’ve been hanging out in the area since 1963. My roots are there. My life is connected to the area.” Forging new roots and connections, grandparents started to dance with their grandchildren on the floor of the New York Loft.

Thanks to David’s overdue recognition as an underpinning figure in the history of New York dance, it has become easy for partygoers to assume that the Loft has come to resemble a nostalgia trip for the halcyon days of the 70s and early 80s. Since February of 1970, however, David always mixed new and less new, even old, music, and he maintained the mix right to his final turns as a musical host. New faces in Japan and London might have arrived expecting a trip down disco alley, but that’s not what they got with David, because the party never became a fossil. Throughout, David remained committed to selecting records that encouraged the party to grow as a musically radical and diverse community. This sonic tapestry could sometimes sound strange to dancers who had become accustomed to a political climate in which communities were so casually displaced by materialistic individualism and nationalistic war, but the countercultural message was always powerful. “After a while, the positive vibe and universal attitude of the music was too much for me, but this moment of hesitation and insecurity only lasted for a few minutes,” commented a dancer following one party. “Then all the barriers broke and I reached the other side. Like a child, I stopped caring about what other people might think and reached my essence, through dancing.”

Confronted by the tendency of dancers to worship him—even though he never thought of himself as being a DJ, and was resolute in his belief that this kind of attention detracts from the party—David positioned his turntables so that partygoers would see the dance floor, and not the booth, as they entered the room. In a similar move, he also arranged his speakers so they would draw dancers away from the booth and towards the center of the floor. Admittedly in London (much more so than in New York), dancers tended to face David all the same, even though the effect was the equivalent of sitting with one’s back to musicians during a concert. At the end, dancers would applaud him as if in the presence of saviour, when he preferred to see himself as the co-host of a party whose job it was, when positioned behind the turntables, to read the mood of the dance floor. Reinforced by popular culture, which encourages crowds to seek out iconic, authoritative, supernatural leaders, the adulation made David feel deeply uncomfortable. “I’m a background person,” he noted.

Even if utopias can’t be built without a struggle, and can never be complete, the mood at the London parties was thrilling to behold during David’s visits and, in the ultimate test of his anti-ego philosophy, remained powerful after he stopped travelling on doctor’s orders. While some endowed David with a halo, a significant counter-group related to him as a friend, and the continuation of the applause in-between records and at the end of a party—when Colleen Murphy along with Simon Halpin/Guillaume Chottin picked up musical hosting responsibilities—suggested David’s argument that it was directed towards the music rather than him might be correct.

Ultimately, the party revolved around the simple idea of friends and friends of friends wanting to dance together in a comfortable and contained setting, with the music piping through clean, warm audiophile equipment, and a little talc helping participants get into the musical journey. David had indeed started the parties in London through friendship and during his time never once worked with an alternative set-up on the basis that one should stick with one’s friends. These foundations came to define the events. “It’s unbelievable,” one female dancer told me after her first party. “The people here—they make eye contact!”

David was all about contact. When he travelled to London, he was ready to accept a lower fee in order to be able to spend five nights in a hotel, not because he wanted to live it up but because he wanted to be in the city before and after each party so that he could build relationships—relationships that would feed back into the party and through the party back into the cosmos. This way of being imbued the way David related to strangers he’d meet who had nothing to do with the party. Whether we were going into a shop to buy groceries or visiting a hi-fi company to check out equipment or heading to his hotel at the end of a party, he invariably engaged with strangers as if they were all potential friends. He loved the telephone as a form of communication and for a while he was heavily drawn to the connections made possible via the Internet. Ultimately, however, he believed in the higher plane of the party.

Relationships built over a lifetime burst forth in the hours and days that followed David’s passing. Many knew David personally and spoke of him in the warmest possible terms. Others came forward as participants in a party who knew that they had entered into a nurturing environment in which social bonding and transformation were never compromised. It meant that David could live on in the knowledge that he had brought joy and hope to an incalculable number of people. “I don't want to go into the ‘I won’t always be here’ thing, but if I’m not here tomorrow, we now know what to do and what not to do,” he told me during a 2007 interview. That has come to pass as three parties in three cities in three countries in three continents are totally set to carry forward the Loft tradition in its remarkably pure form.

During dark times the Loft provided light and it will continue to do so. David understood the communal underpinnings of the party and its relationship to the universe like nobody else I ever met. Let us hang onto his words, his insights and his practice. In deepest grief, gratitude and joy, David, love is and will remain the message, music is and will remain love, love saves and will continue to save the day. 

 

This essay is an adaptation of a 2007 article originally written for Placed. The magazine folded before the issue was published. Tim Lawrence is the author of "Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture (1970-79)," "Hold On to Your Dream: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92," and the newly published "Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-83." He is also a founding member of Lucky Cloud Sound System, which started to put on parties with David Mancuso in London in June 2003. 

David Mancuso's art of parties

 
David Mancuso outside Prince Street Loft, New York, 1988. Photo by Pat Bates

David Mancuso outside Prince Street Loft, New York, 1988. Photo by Pat Bates

 

Disco historian Tim Lawrence, author of Love Saves The Day, remembers the late party purist's selection policy at parties in New York, London and Sapporo

David Mancuso made an incomparably profound contribution to the development of contemporary party culture. His vision was the simplest one he or anyone who knew him could imagine, and it inspired many. Yet as the culture stretched out his vision of the role of music within party culture went through turns and somersaults, a number of which took it to the point where it was barely recognisable to Mancuso. In ways that could seem dogmatic yet ultimately resonate as being profoundly ethical, insightful and even mystical, he barely wavered from his original vision during an unprecedented run that dates back to Valentine’s Day 1970. Inevitably he made some false turns as he made his way, yet any deviation only led him back to a path already established. When he passed away a week ago he left a legacy that was almost monk-like in its purity.

Mancuso’s musical philosophy placed music as a central component in a universe that in essence amounts to an unfolding party. Shaped through experiences that ranged from growing up in a children’s home to participating in the kaleidoscopic energies of the countercultural movement, he began to host private parties that combined the Harlem rent party tradition, audiophile stereo equipment, Timothy Leary’s LSD gatherings and downtown loft living with music capable of providing a form of life energy to enable his social gatherings to go further in their journey towards communal-transcendental transformation. Not even Francis Grasso, whose work at The Sanctuary paralleled Mancuso’s early efforts, was this far advanced. And Mancuso was only just starting out.

Prior to Mancuso, DJs were paid to “work the bar”, or whip crowds into a hurried frenzy before “killing the floor” with a slow number that contained the subliminal lyrics “It’s time to drink now”. There was no conversation, no flow. But Mancuso went about his work in the privacy of his own home, not a public space, and with alcohol set aside for the kind of stimulant whose initials inspired him to write “Love Saves the Day” on invitations to his February 1970 gathering, he was able to select music in relation to the energy of his dancing guests. The result amounted to a form of collective, democratic, participatory, improvised music making that was rooted in antiphonal conversation rather than virtuoso monologue. The practice of dancing to pre-recorded music had taken a great leap forward and there could be no shuffling back.

From that night onwards, Mancuso introduced an improbably wide range of sounds into the New York City party scene, with selections such as War’s “City, Country, City” , Chicago’s “I’m A Man” , Eddie Kendricks’s “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind” and Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” becoming elements in a sonic tapestry that wove in Latin, African, rock, gospel, breakbeat and even country while prioritising explorative records that reached dramatic crescendos. The discovery that long records enabled the party to enter into a deeper socio-psychic plane spearheaded a collective desire that culminated in the innovation of the 12" single. Meanwhile Mancuso placed records on the turntable according to the signs and signals of his dancing guests, conscious that a ‘third ear’ combining the consciousness of everyone gathered would ultimate lead to a journey that loosely followed the three bardos of intensity outlined by Leary in his notes on the acid experience.

The practice of mixing between two records – a technique pioneered by Grasso at the Sanctuary – seemed somewhat insignificant within the context of The Loft, as guests came to name Mancuso’s parties. Instead Mancuso remained more interested in the way records could be knitted together according to instrumental signatures, lyrical themes, production values and energy patterns to form an unfolding journey that by the early 1980s could last for up to 18 hours. The means of segueing from one record to another was just a technical matter that shouldn’t become more important than the music itself.

Mancuso related to music within an ethical framework that sought to bring social progress to the world, albeit on a local level. He co-founded the first record pool, the New York City Record Pool, in order to help his peers receive free copies of records to play/promote without record company support. He refused to play bootlegs on the basis that the original artists wouldn’t get their share of the sale. He declined to speak of his music selections or his playlists, preferring to attribute everything to the collective endeavour of The Loft. When asked about his approach to playing records, he’d wonder about the premise of the question because the truth of the matter was he couldn’t even play a musical instrument. He kept sound levels to 100dB because anything louder might damage the ears of one of his guests, and why would he want to harm someone entering a social situation?

In order to take the party deeper and higher, Mancuso devoted much of his life to the perfection of The Loft’s sound system. He introduced audiophile stereo components from the get-go, and by the late 1970s had established the core element of a system that included Klipschorn speakers, Mark Levinson amplifiers and Koetsu cartridges. Early into The Loft’s run he also hired sound engineers Alex Rosner and Richard Long to respectively design tweeter arrays and bass reinforcements that enabled him to give records a frequency injection at key moments in the party, yet he ditched the kind of innovations that later became a major feature of discotheque sound system design aftter concluding that music was perfectly capable of speaking for itself when channelled through a sufficiently accurate system.

Such was his faith in the emancipatory power of music, Mancuso even removed the mixer from his set-up in the early 1980s, finally convinced that such equipment introduced unnecessary stages in the electronic circuit that lay between the needle and the loudspeaker. Why only go 97 per cent of the way up a mountain when you can reach the summit, Mancuso once asked me. Ultimately he came to believe that the system’s sole purpose was to reproduce the original recording as precisely as possible so that the music would “play us”.

From the very beginning through to the very end Mancuso thought of himself as a musical host rather than a DJ. His reasoning was simple. Whereas DJs usually operated as for-hire freelancers who entertained crowds by deploying a set of technical skills, Mancuso was the host of an entire party, an entire environment, with music just one of his responsibilities. Indeed he lacked the technical skills that most DJs could draw on, didn’t get paid for his work, and didn’t even see himself as an entertainer. Rather, he compared himself to the host of a rent party who in less developed settings turned to a record player tucked away in the corner of the room in order to give guests something to dance to. And while the peerless clarity of his sound system threatened to bestow authority upon Mancuso, he remained firm in his mind that the newfound power of music confirmed his humble place in the universe. As he told me in an interview conducted in 2007:

“I’m just part of the vibration. I’m very uncomfortable when I’m put on a pedestal. Sometimes in this particular business it comes down to the DJ, who sometimes does some kind of performance and wants to be on the stage. That’s not me. I don’t want attention I want to feel a sense of camaraderie and I’m doing things on so many levels that, whether it’s the sound or whatever, I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a DJ. I don’t want to be categorised or become anything. I just want to be. There’s a technical role to play and I understand the responsibilities, but for me it’s very minimal. There are so many things that make this worthwhile and make it what it is. And there’s a lot of potential. It can go really high.”

Save for the creation of the New York City Record Pool, Mancuso remained remarkably focused on his own parties, perhaps because the countercultural movement’s wider aspiration to change the world had in many regards ended in disappointment, with state repression playing a significant part. Yet the power of his parties attracted a dedicated crowd of dancers as well as a significant number of discotheque DJs, who’d head to The Loft once they were done for the night, and although each step only amounted to a baby step, by the end of the decade it would be possible to cite The Loft as the most influential party of its era. Many of the most influential party spaces – private parties such as The Tenth Floor, The Gallery, Flamingo, 12 West, The Soho Place, Reade Street, The Paradise Garage and The Warehouse – were modelled directly or vicariously on The Loft. Meanwhile many of the most influential DJs and remixers of the period – Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, Nicky Siano, François Kevorkian, David Morales, Tony Humphries – absorbed the “Love Saves the Day” vibes as they headed to The Loft on a regular basis. Even if he sometimes wondered about the way his model was adapted in some situations, especially when exclusionary policies crept in, Mancuso was largely happy for the message to spread. It’s like a good joint, he once told me, you pass it around.

Mancuso’s belief in the centrality of the party versus the musical host/DJ received its ultimate test when he was unable to play at a party himself. The first time this happened in London, where he had started to co-host events with myself, Colleen Murphy and Jeremy Gilbert, Colleen was able to step in seamlessly. The parties in London as well as Sapporo, Japan, also continued with barely a hiccup when a doctor suggested to David that he stop travelling internationally a few years later. Around this time David had started to effect an incremental, monk-like withdrawal from his own parties. The result is that, at the time of his passing, David had overseen the creation of three Loft parties in three cities that had been running for 46, 16 and 13 years respectively and were all set to continue along the purist lines he had maintained for a lifetime. He had fulfilled the dream of being able to disappear in the middle of a beautiful party.

As he told me in an interview: “I don't want to go into the ‘I won’t always be here’ thing, but if I’m not here tomorrow, we now know what to do and what not to do.”

Lucky Cloud Sound System party in London. Photo by Tim Lawrence

Lucky Cloud Sound System party in London. Photo by Tim Lawrence

The article can be accessed here (online) or here (pdf)

Life and Death on the Pulse Dance Floor: Transglocal Politics and Erasure of the Latinx in the History of Queer Dance

Life and Death on the Pulse Dance Floor:

Transglocal Politics and Erasure of the Latinx in the History of Queer Dance

 

Abstract

 

Although the dominant response of politicians, journalists and campaign groups to Omar Mateen’s 12 June 2016 massacre of forty-nine people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando revolved around the repetition of already established arguments about terrorism, this article will outline how the massacre amounted to a specific attack on the Latinx community.1 It will also argue that, although distinctive, the discursive erasure of the specifically queer Latinx finds a partial echo in the way that Latin culture has been marginalised in writing on dance culture. An outline map of the somewhat opaque Latinx contribution will be offered as a small tribute to those who have lived for and now died on the Latinx dance floor. The account of the dancers who gathered at Pulse, the music they danced to, and the unstable, marginalised and dynamic networks of musicians, dancers and party spaces that preceded them will be considered within J. Blake Scott and Rebecca Dingo’s (2012) evocation of the “transglocal”. If transglocal encounters “can generate new meanings and subject positions” (Blake Scott and Dingo: 7), so the dancers at Pulse can be seen to have moved resourcefully, dynamically and creatively between the local and the transnational as they sought out new modes of expression and community in a darkening global terrain.

 

Keywords:

Pulse, Orlando; Latinx; LGBTQ; DJ culture; terrorism

 

Deepening divisions in the US political landscape (Berman: 2016), combined with social media’s decimation of the once seemingly frenetic twenty-four hour news cycle (Alejandro 2010), fueled the near-instantaneous rationalisation of the Pulse massacre through the prism of ongoing debates about terrorism and gun control. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had already thrown out the casually fascistic suggestion that all Muslims should be banned from entering the US when he tweeted: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” (Trump 2016). Obama described the attack as “act of terror and an act of hate”, and although he remarked that the place where LGBT Americans “were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights”—he maintained that “this could have been any one of our communities”, that an attack on “any American […] is an attack on all of us”, and that the massacre served as a “further reminder” of the need for gun control (Time 2016). Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton framed the massacre as both “an act of terror” and an “act of hate”, and pointed to the need to defeat “international terror groups” and keep guns “out of the hands of terrorists” (Briefing 2016). The New York Times summarised the massacre as “a tragedy that combined gun violence, a hatred of gays and ties to Islamist terrorism” (Shear 2016).

Talk of terrorism, the nation and the West escalated to the point where the specificity of the massacre became hard to discern. Barely twelve hours after it had elapsed Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee declared that evidence indicates “an ISISinspired act of terrorism” (New York Times 2016). The following day FBI Director James Comey noted that despite there being no indication of outside direction the intelligence community was “highly confident that this killer was radicalized at least in part through the Internet” (Shabad 2016). Two days later the FBI agent in charge of the investigation called the massacre both a hate crime and an act of terrorism (RT.com 2016). Meanwhile it took the Republican governor of Florida Rick Scott almost forty-eight hours to recognise that the massacre was perpetrated against the LGBT community, with Florida’s attorney general Pam Bondi equally evasive (Wolf 2016). In the UK commentator Owen Jones left Sky TV’s studios when presenters insisted that the attack wasn’t homophobic, after which the Irish Independent rounded on Jones for failing to point out that the homophobic attack was “religiously motivated” and for propagating “identity politics at its most exclusionary and grotesque” (O’Doherty 2016). Some weeks later the FBI maintained that the investigation “hasn’t revealed that he [Mateen] targeted Pulse because it was a gay club” (Goldman 2016). Even if the scale of the shooting was undeniably shocking, it also became commonplace to overstate Mateen’s spree as the “deadliest” in US history (Breen 2016; Broverman 2016; Guardian 2016; Ravitz 2016; Teague 2016), situating it as an attack on the nation while papering over bloodier massacres perpetrated against Native Americans.

In fact, the framing of Mateen as an Isis-inspired terrorist was based on spurious evidence. He attended his local mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, but only infrequently. He twice went to Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage in 2011 and 2012 to perform umrah, making him one of six million Muslims who do so annually. In 2013 he claimed to be aligned to both al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, and citing two groups who are sworn Sunni-Shiite enemies. Concerned when it heard about these claims, the FBI investigated Mateen only to close its inquiry when he explained he had made the comment in response to being teased for his Muslim faith. A further FBI investigation into possible links between Mateen and a US citizen from the same mosque in Fort Pierce who took part in an al-Qaeda affiliate attack led nowhere. Mateen’s claim to know people who were linked to the brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing turned out to be fictional. On the Saturday before the massacre he posted messages declaring his allegiance to the leader of Isis, calling on the U.S. and Russia to stop bombing Isis, but the declaration bore no relation to patterns of strict religious conduct or ideological support of Isis. All the same, a CBS poll published on 15 June showed that three-quarters of US citizens believed Mateen’s attack was either an act of terrorism or an act of terrorism as well as a hate crime, while Wikipedia reported matterof-factly that the massacre constituted “the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S.” since 9/11 (Salvanto et al 2016; Wikipedia 2016).

 The depiction of Mateen as typical of the Orientalist male outlined by Edward Said (1995)—effeminate yet sadistic, simple yet duplicitous, outwardly functional yet psychologically unstable, intelligent yet irrational—provided further presumptive evidence that his actions were driven by so-called Islamic terrorism. Abusive behaviour within his first marriage appeared to affirm long held views about patriarchal violence within Islam while parallel stories of his pursuit of sexual encounters with other men via the gay dating app Grindr as well as the Pulse dance floor raised the thought that the massacre was rooted in his inability to reconcile his sexuality with his religion, which was repeatedly cited as being intolerant of homosexuality. Reports of Mateen’s increasingly angry demeanour, including a certain broodiness displayed during some of his visits to Pulse, pointed to an individual wrestling with conflicting cultural affinities and desires that were bound to culminate in an uncontrollable explosion. Citing no sources, the Guardian linked the massacre to Islam when it reported that Mateen was “said to have enrolled in online courses taught by a homophobic imam” and added that “homophobia and jihadism are anything but mutually exclusive” inasmuch as “Isis executes people it says are gay, stones them and throws them from roofs” (Ackerman and Siddiqui 2016). Particular prominence was given to Mateen’s father’s Facebook video comment that “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality” (Sullivan and Wan 2016). Referring to the father’s story of his son’s expression of revulsion when he saw two gay men kissing while spending time with his second wife and son, the Washington Post noted that if Mateen was “interested in men, it would have been difficult to tell his father” before asking: “Was it Islamic State ideology or some personal demon that drove him to target gay people?” (Sullivan and Wan 2016).

The overall depiction reaffirms Jasbir K. Puar’s argument that constructions of terror and terrorist masculinities are “metonymically tied to all sorts of pathologies of the mind and body” as well as permeated by “perverse, improperly hetero- and homo- Muslim sexualities” (Puar: xxiii–xxiv). Puar and Amit Rai note how the personality defect model has been developed within Terrorism Studies as one of two main explanations of the “terrorist mindset”, with terrorists assumed to display pathological defects that are rooted in unconscious feelings of hostility towards their parents (perhaps because of abuse or adolescent rebellion) or of exaggerated identification (perhaps because of perceived suffering experienced by their parents) before the pathology becomes narrow, extreme and absolutist in adulthood. It follows that if terrorism is a symptom of a deviant psyche, or the breakdown of the psyche of the heterosexual family romance, then monster-terrorists are products of a form of “failed heterosexuality” (Puar and Rai: 124).

Yet people who experience sexual conflicts or display psychotic symptoms don’t inevitably go on to carry out terrorist attacks, just as the people who carry out such attacks aren’t necessarily conflicted or psychotic, and while it remains possible that more compelling evidence will come to light, for now Sima Shakhsari is right to suggest that Mateen’s lastminute declaration of allegiance to Isis might well have been made to give a “heroic” gloss to his homophobia, with Isis a “deterritorialized imagined community where anyone who wants to defy certain social rules can claim belonging (or is assigned belonging)” (Shakhsari 2016). Ultimately the terrorist label stuck to Mateen because of his Afghan background and Islamic heritage, just as, conversely, no terrorist sympathies were attached to the white man who was arrested before carrying out a planned attack at Pride in Los Angeles on the same day as Mateen carried out his massacre. “The Muslim feigns patriotism and practice of American customs, but it is a trick, so he must be watched for signs of savagery as he prays in the mosque and goes about his business”, notes Roqayah Chamseddine of the Orientalist view of the Muslim. “The Muslim American is a hyper-visible yet invisible being who will have his American-ness stripped from him the moment he errs” (Chamseddine 2016).

 The rush to affirm Mateen’s pathological terrorist intent just so happens to support a nationalist discourse that positions the US as the hub of global democracy, liberalism and morality, with a generalised Islamic East posited as an overt or covert threat to those values and their associated way of life. In perhaps the most remarkable of these interventions, Trump, not previously renowned for his dedication to LGBTQ rights, figured the attack on “gay and lesbian citizens” as “a strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation” because it enabled him to figure the liberal West as being at war with illiberal Islam, thereby justifying his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US. “The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here”, he argued, adding that Mateen’s father comes from a culture where 99% of people support Sharia Law (Trump 2016). “That is a fact, and it’s a fact we need to talk about”.

As much as Trump’s claims to liberalism might amaze, his contention sits within a widely accepted discourse that gives the US permission to enact illiberal policies, ranging from foreign wars to the maintenance of Guantanamo Bay to the policing of people of colour, in order to defend its claim to being the bastion of western liberalism. To point this out is not to argue for the equivalence or non-equivalence of the US vs. the Rest so much as to note that, for all of the talk about US tolerance, including freedom for its LGBTQ citizens, levels of homophobia, racism and sexism remain high—one might even say surprisingly high given these underpinning claims to liberalism. Puar (2007 2) also points to the relatively recent rise of homonationalism, or a form of nationalism that embraces the idea of LGTBQ rights and policies around, say, gay marriage so long as those embraced under this banner are willing to articulate the nationalist concerns of the political establishment. In this manner queer liberals have been coopted to a cause that is quick to support the introduction illiberal measures to defend liberalism.

Meanwhile Muslim countries, intent on preserving relations with the US, lined up to denounce Isis and distance themselves from its ideology; Saudi Arabia’s problematic ties with Isis along with the United States’s generally strong diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia passed all but unmentioned; and the silence surrounding the bombing campaign in Syria also escaped scrutiny (even if the post-Pulse panic strengthened its underlying rationale). Nor was any mention made of the fact that the horrendous death toll recorded at Pulse continued to be matched on a near daily basis in Iraq, as tracked by Iraq Body Count.2 Such are the power relations that underscored the way Mateen came to be defined in the hours that followed his attack. “In a war-on-terror world, there is an injunction to grieve in public for American lives lost to terrorism in order to ward off suspicion and further targeting”, points out Maya Mikdashi (2016). “This injunction applies as well to the dead in France or Belgium, but not to victims of terrorism (state or otherwise) in Iraq or Nigeria or Syria. This phenomenon is directly related to the ways in which US political discourse on the war on terror has starkly divided the world into victims (Europeans and Americans) and perpetrators (Muslims and Arabs)”

As it happens the men who described their interactions with Mateen painted a picture of someone who enjoyed friendships with gay men and drag queens as well as someone who was able to differentiate between his own religious beliefs and the more conservative ideas of his father. In the longest testimony, a man going under the name of Miguel told Univision that he and Mateen had a relationship that was akin to being “friends with benefits” and that they met some 15–20 times in a hotel room over a two-month period before the relationship came to a close in December. “He say Muslim religion is a beautiful, beautiful religion”, commented Miguel. “It’s a religion where everything’s about love, where everybody’s welcome—gay, trans, bisexual, hetero, everybody”. He noted that Mateen never appeared to be violent. “He [was] looking for love”, added Miguel. “To be embraced”. Miguel hypothesised that Mateen carried out the attack as an act of revenge, angered that he might have become infected with HIV (even though the test came back negative) (Univision 2016). Other Pulse regulars remembered him as a sullen character, yet none recalled an individual unable to reconcile his desire with his religious beliefs—or a person who, assumed to be a frustrated gay Muslim, might channel his pent-up frustration on the very people his religion “forbade” him to desire, and in so doing give succour to the fake idea that being Islamic and queer could only result in that kind of rampage. Nor was there so much as a hint that Mateen lived his life according to the kind of hardline Wahhabist strictures advocated by Isis that might have made him want to carry out an attack on the group’s behalf.

The gay community’s response to the massacre expressed deep emotional shock while avoiding the easy temptation to characterise Mateen as a conflicted Muslim terrorist. At vigils staged across the world, speakers argued for the need to oppose those who sought to use the massacre as an excuse for anti-Muslim prejudice (Browne 2016). Yet they often did so from a compromised point-of-view, such as when Advocate editor Matthew Breen (2016) argued that talk of Isis was a “goddamned red herring” and that Mateen’s hatred was “homegrown” inasmuch as it expressed societal homophobia, yet also recirculated the possibility that he was fuelled by Islamic extremism, with the Latinx identity of the Pulse crowd left invisible by his broader evocation of a generalised LGBTQ community. Courtney Fry (2016) followed up with a piece that noted the mainstream media’s reluctance to identity the night as a queer night yet again generalised the attack by maintaining that all LGBTQ party spaces were now in “extreme danger” and that “a place that has always been known as an oasis from the bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, physical threats, assaults, and murders that happen in the outside world, has now been torn to shreds”.

The colourblind response spread to The Atlantic, which published research showing that “LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be the target of a violent hate-crime than Jews or black people”, and “more than four times as likely as Muslims, and almost 14 times as likely as Latinos” (Green 2016), as if LGBTQ people couldn’t be Jewish or black or Muslim or Latinx, as if killers could only be motivated “on the basis of one strand of hatred”, and as if white LGBTQ people are “more vulnerable than other minority groups”, as Jack Halberstam (2016) points out. A few days later the New York Times presented FBI data showing that LGBTQ people were the second most targeted group in 2005, behind “Jewish” and ahead of “Black”, “Muslim”, “Hispanic”, “Asian” and “White”, and were the most targeted group in 2014, only to note at the very bottom of the article the that “vast majority” of LGBTQ people killed were “black or Hispanic transgender people” (Park and Mykhyalyshyn 2016)—providing further evidence of the need, in Halberstam’s words, to “challenge this sense of an amorphous homophobic threat that separates homophobic violence out from the particular, convulsive expressions of racialized hate” (2016). As research (Waters et al. 2016) on attacks carried out against LGBTQ people between 2012–15 published by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reveals, white gay men were in fact the victims in eleven of a total of eighty-eight homicides, with the rest distributed between black transgender women (39), black gay men (11), Latinx transgender women (8) and other (19).

It was primarily left to members of the Latinx queer community to note the erasure of the specificity of the attack.3 AM Foiles Sifuentes (2016) expressed her anger at the way “the same people that forced queer people of color to the margins are the ones hosting these public places of grieving” before asking: “Even in death—why is it okay for you to continue to force queer people of color to the margins? How can you find comfort in ignoring your collusion in their erasure?” Acknowledging the difficulty inherent in critiquing more powerful figures in the LGBTQ community because they also “shared in the vulnerability and trauma of the incident”, Ramón Rivera-Servera pointed out reactions nevertheless “distanced themselves significantly from the specificity of this as a Latino, primarily Puerto Rican, experience” (Kornhaber 2016). Several writers cited Christina Hanhardt’s (2012) research into the way past LGBTQ calls for anti-violence measures have often led to forms of increased policing that endanger queer people of colour and wider communities of colour. “The white LGBTQ community doesn’t face the criminalization and policing that our community faces every day”, remarked Jorge Gutierrez, founder of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Vasquez 2016). “Not just at Pride, but every day, everywhere we go. That’s our life”

The everyday homophobia and racism experienced by queer people of colour offers a more obvious explanatory context for Mateen’s actions than any last-minute declaration of sympathy for Isis. There have, of course, been gains in the US in recent years, including the Supreme Court June ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that effectively made same-sex marriage the law of the land, the White House LGBTQ pride reception where transgender immigrant leader Jennicet Guttiérrez pointed to the plight faced by LGBTQ immigrants held in detention centres, and the Black Lives Matter movement’s demanding an end to police violence and anti-black racism (Waters et al. 2016). Yet during the same period a slew of anti-LGBTQ initiatives swept the nation in the form of “religious freedom bills” and “bathroom bills” while racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric spiraled. If anything the backlash intensified during 2016, with eighty-seven bills aimed at limiting LGBTQ rights introduced in legislatures between January and June—a marked increase on previous years (Mason et al. 2016)—with police shootings of black men continuing apparently unabated. “Outside, they call you an abomination”, author Justin Torres (2016) noted the day after Mateen’s attack. “Outside, there is a news media that acts as if there are two sides to a debate over trans people using public bathrooms. Outside, there is a presidential candidate who has built a platform on erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico — and not only do people believe that crap is possible, they believe it is necessary. Outside, Puerto Rico is still a colony, being allowed to drown in debt, to suffer, without the right to file for bankruptcy, to protect itself. Outside, there are more than 100 bills targeting you, your choices, your people, pending in various states”.

Figure 1: Flyer for Pulse’s Saturday night parties.

Figure 1: Flyer for Pulse’s Saturday night parties.

In terms of his personal location within this culture, Mateen sought out employment in violent settings and, perhaps not coincidentally, reproduced violent behaviour. He worked as a state prison guard at the Martin Correctional Institution and then for multinational security company G4S, a “hotbed of routine abuse, sexual violence, extremism and homophobia” where the “routine protection of violent, racist tendencies among its security officers appears to be an institutionalised global problem”, according to Nafeez Ahmed (2016) of the Institute for Policy Research and Development. Mateen was sufficiently obsessed with the idea of working for the New York Police Department he took a series of selfies dressed in one of its shirts. Some acquaintances remember a person who littered his speech with the invective of hate. He took excessive quantities of steroids as he built himself up into a muscle machine and was a wife beater. He also committed his hate crime not against the United States, but against the Latinx LGBTQ dancers who congregated at Pulse that Saturday night—otherwise why travel two hours to Pulse instead of one of the city’s two-thousand other bars?

Shakhasari (2016) wonders if it was Mateen’s “performance of a homophobic and misogynistic American masculinity enabled by everyday militarism, and constructed vis- à-vis the ‘failed masculinity’ of the Muslim other, that led to this massacre”. The critic acknowledges that the existence of violence, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny in the Middle East shouldn’t mask the “hypocrisy of an exceptionalism that assumes the US to be the bastion of freedom and progress”. Mateen’s expression of homophobic and violent sentiments might not offer final proof of his motivations, but in the final instance his actions were much more obviously homophobic and violent than inspired by the ideology of Isis.

 

Writing the Latinx Dance Floor into Pulse and the History of Dance Culture

 

 What, then, of the population that Mateen attacked—a population that has been, to varying degrees, left out of accounts of the massacre? Barbara Pomo and Ron Legler founded Pulse in 2004 in honour of Pomo’s brother, John, who died from AIDS in 1991, evoking his heartbeat in the club’s name. Located at 1912 South Orange Avenue, the venue promoted itself as “the hottest gay bar in Orlando”. Regular theme nights included Noche Latina on Mondays (featuring a Reggaetón dancehall soundtrack), Twisted Tuesdays (a talent night hosted by Axel Andrews and Kai’ja Adonis), College Night Wednesdays (hosted by Angelica Sanchez and weekly guests), Tease Thursdays (a burlesque show hosted by Lady Bri and Blade Matthews), Platinum Fridays (a hip hop night hosted by Angelica Sanchez) and Upscale Latin Night on Saturdays (hosted by former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Kenya Michaels). Offering three rooms and a chic interior, the venue carried the promise of style, fabulousness and an escape from hardship. “Guests are free to choose which best suits their present mood”, Diego Wyatt (2016) of Next Magazine reported in February. “Some fall under the spellbinding mystery of the Adonis Room, an intimate space filled with beautiful male and female go-go dancers. Some head to the Lounge, complete with a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system, a dance floor, VIP area and the main bar. And others go for the patio, which is undergoing some sprucing up to accommodate the relaxed atmosphere. Each area has its own DJ and vibe. Translation: There’s something for everyone”.

Prior to the attack the club attracted an eclectic crowd made up of LGBTQ people and straight friends of all ages and ethnicities, with Saturdays particularly popular with queer Latinx dancers. “I was too white to fit in with Latinos and I was too Hispanic to fit in with white kids”, one told Matthew Rodriguez (2016) of mic.com. “But on Latino Night on Saturdays I didn’t feel that way. It was just literally a time and place where everyone could be together and enjoy yourselves”. Numerous drag performers got their start at the venue and indeed two trans women of colour were featured on publicity for the party that started on 11 June and ended with the massacre. Queer women were also a notable presence and, as Trish Bendixson (2016) notes, featured among the victims of the attack. Non-Latin migrants— including Mateen—were admitted into the mix. “I think Pulse differs from tourist clubs, as well as other local clubs, for a couple of reasons”, Pomo commented in an interview with Billboard the day after the killing spree (Gray 2016). “One of our biggest goals was to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere that was family-like, with people who shared my vision”.

Continuing the legacy established by pioneering party spots such as the Loft, the Sanctuary, the Haven and the Limelight in early 1970s New York City (Lawrence 2003), Pulse operated as cross between a home, a refuge, a community centre and a pleasure palace. “Growing up in a black and brown community where hyper-masculinity was acted out as a form of survival, I actually grew up hating on Pulse”, dance floor regular Daniel Leon-Davis (2016) recounts in Fusion. “In my community, like in so many others around the world, my identity as a gay man was viewed as a form of weakness. So much so that even when I cam out, I refused to go to gay clubs because it meant that I would be one of ‘those gay men’ ”. Everything changed when he went to Pulse. “Over the next several years, Pulse became the place where my best friends learned to be themselves”, he adds. “Pulse was where I learned to love myself as a gay man. Pulse was where I learned to love my community”. Pomo also made a point of supporting local charities, raising funds for entertainers who wanted to enter pageants, educating around HIV/AIDS prevention and working in tandem with the straight community (Gray 2016). “We were never exclusive of any person’s cause”, she maintained in her Billboard interview. “Our doors were open to everyone”. Pomo added: “People who aren’t out, people who are exploring, people who are transitioning need a place to do this without judgment, they need acceptance; this is what Pulse was always about”

Operating at the intersection of race and class as well as sexuality and gender, Pulse is also rooted in the intertwining forces of colonialism and neoliberalism. With an estimated 1,000 Puerto Rican families currently relocating to Florida every month, the state is close to surpassing the total Puerto Rican population of New York (Alvarez 2016), and Orlando remains one of the primary destinations for this transitory population. The underpinning reasons for the movement are clear: Congress has historically refused to act on the unincorporated colony’s seventy-billion dollar debt, leaving it unable to file for bankruptcy; its economy has stagnated since 2011; its population is declining; and its unemployment rate is twice as high as mainland US, with poverty three times as severe (Chappatta 2016). As US citizens Puerto Ricans are also free to travel to the mainland, with Florida offering them the nearest landing point in the US as well as access to employers such as SeaWorld Orlando Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, Walt Disney World Resort and Legoland. In August 2015 the New York Times observed that the current wave of migration “is transforming a corridor of Central Florida that is increasingly viewed as economically powerful, culturally diverse and politically pivotal” (Alvarez 2015). LGBTQ Puerto Ricans joined the migration to Orlando in part because of the city’s nightlife, with its ten-plus gay bars matching the total in Detroit, a city three times Orlando’s size, and Pulse offering queer migrants an opportunity to escape the “compulsory heterosexuality” (Rich 1980) of the city’s theme parks. Pomo notes that LGBTQ holidaymakers would head to the club as well (Gray 2016).

Saturday 11 June started out as a regular Latin night with DJ Ray Rivera, a.k.a. DJ Infinite, selecting a mix of hip hop, R&B and reggaeton, or “old school” as he put it in a Facebook exchange (Rivera 2016), with DJ Flawless and DJ Simo holding down the other two rooms. When Mateen began his rampage Rivera initially thought that someone was letting off firecrackers, reports Asawin Suebsaeng (2016); then he turned the music down and understood what was going on. Sourced from the biographical testimonies and photographs posted on social media by lovers, family members and friends, a person-byperson roll call of those who died conveys the connectedness as well as the pluralism of the social coalition that gathered on the floor that night (Mirkinson et al. 2016). “Maybe your Ma blessed you on the way out the door”, Torres writes in his tribute to the dead, imagining the multiplicity of circumstances that might have preceded their congregation (Torres 2016). “Maybe she wrapped a plate for you in the fridge so you don’t come home and mess up her kitchen with your hunger. Maybe your Tia dropped you off, gave you cab money home. Maybe you had to get a sitter. Maybe you’ve yet to come out to your family at all, or maybe your family kicked you out years ago”.

Figure 2: Flyer for the Saturday night party at Pulse on 11 June 2016.

Figure 2: Flyer for the Saturday night party at Pulse on 11 June 2016.

Torres offers further scenarios that articulate the way the sonic and social underpinnings of the Pulse dance floor stretch across time and space in transglocal fashion, to cite J. Blake Scott and Rebecca Dingo’s (2012) evocation of culture combines the global and the local while “moving through space or across lines, as well as changing the nature of something”, in the words of anthropologist Aihwa Ong (1999: 4). In the run-up to Mateen’s attack the Pulse floor connected the disparate yet intertwining experiences of, to reference Torres’s diverse community further, the dancer whose lover decided to stay at home to the one who is allowed to stray, the one who is flush to the one who is broke, the one who doesn’t speak Spanish to the one who barely speaks English, and so on, until he finally asks after the dancer who might be undocumented, a common experience in the Latinx community, not solely in terms of the estimated eleven-million migrants who lack authorisation to live in the US (Kronstad and Passel 2015), but also in terms of societal location.

The lack of authorization extends to Latin music, which until recently barely figured in a field that was assumed to consist of a binary exchange between black and white musicians and listenerships. John Storm Roberts addressed the erasure when he argued that “Latin music has been the greatest outside influence on the popular music of the United States” (Roberts: ix), and Ned Sublette developed the analysis by showing how the “commonplaces of Cuban music became commonplaces of American music” (2004: 571) by 1951. Raquel Rivera carried the analysis to hip-hop, noting how New York Puerto Ricans were “integral”to the culture since its inception (2003: 3). Ed Morales went on to trace the Latin influence on rock, hip hop and other sounds in Latin Beat: The Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music from Bossa Nova to Salsa and Beyond (2003), and Jim McCarthy and Ron Sansoe extended the analysis in the Voices of Latin Rock (2005). César Miguel Rondón’s Spanish history of salsa came out in English three years later (2008), after which the authors of Reggaeton (2009) pointed to how the sound emerged as a transnational Jamaican, Nuyorican, Panamanian and Puerto Rican music with no singular place of origin. More recently, Juliet McMains (2015) has tracked the development of salsa dance in New York, Los Angeles and Miami as well as its relationship to salsa music. However, the Latin influence on DJ culture, disco, house music and other electronic dance sounds remains largely undocumented, and that left the impression that either the sound of the music or the sexuality of a significant number of its makers weren’t sufficiently Latin, or weren’t primed for easy integration into stories about national and diasporic musical movements. In this manner the queerest strand of Latinx culture has passed under-historicised, right up to the point when Mateen’s assault on the culture revealed just how easy it remains to erase Latinx queerness

Ramón H Rivera-Servera argues that the analysis of the utopian space of the queer Latinx dance floor requires an “engagement with the cultures of pleasure that characterize the club” as well as “the cultures of struggle that mark the multiple trajectories and negotiations undertaken by dancers on their way to and as a precondition for the utopian experiences of the dance floor” (2004: 271) What journeys, then, were undertaken in order for the dancers to congregate at Pulse on 11 June 2016, not only in terms of how they and the music they danced to coalesced that night, but also how previous generations of dancers and musicians (including DJs) combined to make Latinx dancers and Latin sounds become an integral part of DJ-led dance culture in the first place, from the pre-disco formation of the opening years of the 1970s through to the rise and fall of disco through to its mutant aftermath and the subsequent rise of house? While Rivera-Servera (2012) has developed an insightful ethnographic analysis of the Latinx dance floor that unfolded in eight clubs located in New York, Rochester, San Antonio and Austin between 1998–2003, and while José Esteban Muñoz (2009) has elucidated crucial aspects of Latinx performance in club settings, a history of the culture that locates its development within the broader conjunctural landscape of DJ-led dance culture has yet to be written. The point isn’t that key Latinx figures never get to be mentioned in other accounts of queer dance culture so much as their contribution tends to be mentioned in passing, as if they were incidental, when in fact it could be argued that, to adapt Sublette’s phrase, the commonplaces of Latinx music have become commonplaces of dance music.

Although it is beyond the scope of this article to provide a detailed analysis, a post-Pulse survey of DJ culture and disco during the 1970s confirms the extent of a Latinx presence that has only crept into writing on the culture. Any historical account would need to being begin with the year zero beginnings of contemporary dance music culture in 1970 when David Mancuso and Francis Grasso, spurred on by a convergent crowd that articulate the energies of gay liberation, civil rights, feminism, anti-war protests, the broader countercultural movement and bohemian culture, pioneered the practice that saw DJs begin to select records as part of a democratic, antiphonal conversation with the dancing crowd (Lawrence 2003). Although there were no Latin-specific discotheques in operation at the time, Latinx dancers formed a key contingent at the Loft and to a lesser extent other venues, their presence traceable to the “Great Migration” of Puerto Ricans to the US mainland during the 1950s and the passing of Hart Cellar Act in 1965, with the latter loosening up restrictions on non-European migration to the US. Their communicative presence can have only encouraged DJs to select records with varying degrees of Latinness into a mix that was largely yet by no means exclusively composed of African American recordings, with tracks such as Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican”, Barrabas’s “Wild Safari” / “Woman”, Joe Bataan’s “Latin Strut”, Chakachas’s “Jungle Fever”, Chicago Transit Authority’s “I’m a Man”, Gil ScottHeron’s “The Bottle” and WAR’s “City, Country, City” offering Latin elements. Publishing the first article to point to the rising number of DJ-led dance venues in the city, Vince Aletti (1973) described the emerging sonic amalgam as ‘‘Afro-Latin in sound or instrumentation, heavy on the drums, with minimal lyrics, sometimes in a foreign language, and a repetitious chorus”. How did Latin influences make themselves heard in these records? Who were the musicians and producers who spearheaded the development? What journeys did the recordings make en route to the New York dance floor? To what extent were the DJs who played them rooted in Latin culture?

Although Italian Americans dominated the formative years of the DJ profession (thanks in part to the Mafia’s presence in a number of discotheques), and although African Americans such as Tee Scott and Larry Levan became increasingly influential as the decade progressed, Latinx DJs also made their mark, with David Rodriguez (the Limelight) and Richie Rivera (the Firehouse, the Anvil, Flamingo) the most notable, and John “Jellybean” Benitez, Armando Galvez, Hector Lebron, Freddie Mendoza, Mike Mora, Eddie Rivera and Ray Velazquez also significant during this period. These DJs cultivated a range of styles that articulated their diasporic subjectivities in sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit ways. Calling himself the Contessa, Rodriguez selected records with unprecedented attitude as he told tempestuous stories by interweaving the lyrics of songs (Lawrence 2003). Meanwhile the shyer Richie Rivera emerged as one of the city’s most compelling DJs as he played alternate weekends at Flamingo, the most influential private party for the white gay male crowd, introducing such a high level of Latin percussion he acquired the nickname “Boom Boom Rivera”. Based at the Cork & Bottle, Eddie Rivera might have been the first DJ to introduce Latin imports into his sets, among them “El Bimbo” by the Chocolate Boys, a 1974 import (Aletti 1998: 87). Meanwhile John Benitez, whose mother migrated from Puerto Rico to the South Bronx during the early 1950s, integrated recordings such as the Latin-jazz-disco of “What You Need Is My Love” by Cindy Rodriguez (Aletti 1998: 231).

Latinx sounds became more prominent in disco during the second half of the 1970s. Van McCoy led the charge when he scored a number one hit with “The Hustle”, which tapped into the revival of the Latin dance style in suburban discotheques. Formed with the ide of Latinising the Philadelphia Sound after its Jewish-Syrian owners had mined the Latin import market, Salsoul proceeded to bring Roy Armando, Andy Gonzalez, Manny Oquendo and Peter “Choki” Quintero as well as conga player Larry Washington into the studio, so whereas Philadelphia International house band MFSB used only one conga/timbales player (Washington), Salsoul went “very Latin”, according to vibes player and producer Vince Montana (Lawrence 2003: 170). With Tom Moulton accentuating the Latin percussion in his extended mix of Patti Jo’s “Make Me Believe In You”, Vicki Sue Robinson heightening the percussion and flight in “Turn the Beat Around”, Karen Young combining Afro-Latin rhythms with jazz and R&B in “Hot Shot”, Walter Gibbons foregrounding congas, timbales and dramatic expression in his mix of Salsoul Orchestra’s “Salsoul 3001”, and Richie Rivera emphasising an insistent woodblock in his mix of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell”, the kind of syncopation, colour and contrast that was more obviously typical of Cuban music than the R&B groove and swing that shaped early disco came to overtly infuse disco during the second half of the decade, with scores of other records incorporating the shift. Meanwhile Gibbons demonstrated how DJs could generate a Latin-inflected style behind the turntables when, paralleling DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx, he pioneered the technique of extending the percussive break by mixing between bongo heavy tracks such as “2 Pigs and a Hog”. With the partial exception of the salsa-ification of Salsoul, these significant developments have at best been acknowledged only in passing in writing about disco.

Certain institutional gains paralleled these developments, all of them unfolding within straight settings. On the discotheque front, the Copacabana, the Cork & Bottle and the Ipanema all targeted a Latinx crowd, with DJs such as Freddie Mendoza, Tony Gioe, Mike Mora and Eddie Rivera mixing disco with Latin tracks. As secretary of the New York Record Pool, an organisation co-founded by Mancuso to distribute free promotional records to DJs, Rivera convened a separate Latin Music Department before forming a breakaway organisation, the International Disco Record Center (IDRC). Straight Latin DJs followed Rivera while LGBTQ ones stayed with Mancuso and subsequently joined Judy Weinstein’s For the Record after Mancuso wound down his pool. Lacking a night marked as their own, LGBTQ Latinx dancers continued to head to the Loft as well as other private party spaces that catered to mixed crowds, including the Gallery and the Paradise Garage. “It [the Gallery] was never clearly defined along black gay lines”, notes DJ Nicky Siano of some of the non-normative aspects of Latinx queerness that require further examination (Lawrence 2003: 104). “There were so many people who were just sexual. A lot of black men would have sex with other men but didn’t consider it gay sex. Puerto Rican men, who would never have been caught dead in a gay club, were ‘Just hanging out, man, getting blow jobs, fucking some ass’. It wasn’t about gay or straight. It was about, ‘Hey, let’s party!’ ”

 By the end of the 1970s, as a national backlash threatened to wipeout disco, Latinx protagonists could reflect that they had little to lose given that their profile was already subjugated. Admittedly the most influential New York DJ of his generation, Larry Levan of the Paradise Garage, would soon cite David Rodriguez as one of the “the school of DJs” who had most influenced him (Harvey: 30). Meanwhile Richie Rivera held down his positio at Flamingo and Salsoul remained a hallowed label in the opinion of New York City DJs. Yet the LGBTQ Latinx dance crowd remained largely invisible to the wider public, in part because of its racial profile, in part because of the subterranean character of the private party network, while the Latinx contribution to the sound of disco barely registered as discussions framed the genre as either black (African American disco) or white (Eurodisco and the Bee Gees). It followed that when sales started to decline and the backlash gathered pace, the debate about disco’s status revolved around the argument that a culture born out of African American R&B had abandoned its roots by producing a bleached sound for a white audience. That, in turn, established the bifurcated framework that would enable the rise of rap music to be interpreted as a black working-class response to disco’s journey into white commercialism, itself an oversimplified analysis of the relationship between these two sounds (Lawrence 2016). The ongoing marginalisation of the Latinx weakened the position of Eddie Rivera when he attempted to persuade the wider Latinx music community of the benefits of supporting party DJs and making records that could be played in discotheques (Fernandez 1982; Billboard 1982).

A history of Latinx dance culture that extends to the 1980s and 1990s might take account of several key developments, including the rise of John “Jellybean” Benitez as one of the most influential party DJs of the early 1980s; the contribution of Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” to the emergence of freestyle as a uniquely Latin-flavoured dance floor sound, including Nayobe’s breakthrough contribution; the manner in which “Little” Louie Vega made a name for himself on the New York freestyle scene before becoming one of the most influential house music DJs of the 1990s; the game-changing impact of Vega’s Masters at Work and Nuyorican Soul collaboration with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, which saw the duo frequently team up with Latinx musicians as they established themselves as the most influential house music remix/production team of the decade; the contribution of Chicago Latinx DJs and artists, including Jesse Velez, Ralphie Rosario and Liz Torres, and New York DJ/producer/remixer David Morales; the pioneering role played by Cutting Records and Nervous Records when it came to showcasing Latinx house artists; the ongoing fluctuations of the New York dance floor, which included the rise of the House of Xtravaganza as the first Latinx ballroom house and the closure of the Garage; and the opening of a number of queer Latinx and cross racial party spots, including Escuelita and Suspect in Manhattan, Krash in Queens, and the Warehouse in the Bronx. Any analysis would need to consider the relationship between the straight and the queer as well as the white and the racialised. “The sexual economies of commercially driven Latin culture, generally assumed and marketed as heterosexual, are queered at the site of the local, reconfigured under a different cultural economy”, notes Rivera-Servera (2004: 282). “Likewise, the often unquestioned whiteness of the gay club is challenged by the virtuoso demands of the Latina/o dancer”.

Following Alexandra Vazquez’s call for an analysis of Cuban music that refuses attempts to craft the country and its culture “as a fixed, immobile, and nonchanging object” (2013: 11), so an account of Latinx dance needs to remain alive to the borders through which the music bleeds, the instrumental combinations it stimulates and the cross-genre flights it encourages, if only because these very qualities are compelling to Latinx dance crowds that often experience life as unfixed, mobile and disjunctive. As Vazquez further suggests, we also need to listen in detail to the music, including to deceptively incidental moments in any recording, such as the sound of the woodblock in Anita Bell’s “Ring My Bell”, originally written and recorded by Frederick Knight for Juana as a slow track before Henry Stone, the owner of TK Productions and distributer for Juana, came to decide, perhaps through breathing the Miami air that passes from Puerto Rico and Cuba to Orlando, that the Knight record would benefit from a Richie Rivera mix (Discoguy, undated)—after which Rivera accentuated or even introduced the woodblock. As they reveal the power relations that structure how music is recorded and how it circulates, these details can inform the analysis of Latin party music while encouraging us to learn more about its submerged history—including, as I have come to understand while researching this article, that Rivera also mixed latinised disco tracks such as Melba Moore’s “Standing Right Here” and Two Man Sound’s “Que Tal America”. How did the work of “Boom Boom Rivera” and others contribute to a viral economy of songs and moves that prepared the terrain for Pomo and others to congregate at Pulse?

Figure 3: Nuyorican Soul led by “Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez

Figure 3: Nuyorican Soul led by “Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez

If the sonic and social underpinnings of the Pulse dance floor stretch across time and space in a transglocal fashion, so do the threats that Latinx dancers face as they engage with the culture, with homophobic and racist violence hardly new, and the dance floor never straightforwardly constituted as a safe LGBTQ space. After all, until the New York law that forbade two men from dancing with one another was repealed in 1971, police officers routinely threatened to close establishments unless they received a payoff. An ensuing perio of relative tolerance faltered when the economic slowdown of the late 1970s engendered an overtly homophobic anti-disco backlash. By 1983, as gentrification gathered pace, New York City intensified its regulation of the city’s nightlife (Hae 2011) and within a couple of years a neighbourhood association forced the owner of the Paradise Garage Michael Brody to announce he would close the party when his lease expired. As crack-related violence spiralled, Brody also installed a metal detector. Meanwhile the AIDS epidemic led to a clamp down on all-male bathhouses and clubs, with Reagan’s drawn-out refusal to talk about the disease widely interpreted as a sign of queer disposability. Offering no obvious respite, Mayor Giuliani clamped down on party spaces as part of his “Zero Tolerance” campaign. Throughout and beyond, dancers of all persuasions faced the threat of fire, even if the blaze at New Orleans LGBTQ hangout the UpStairs Lounge in 1973 remains the only one to have been caused by arson. Jessica Ravitz (2016) surveys other attacks carried out against queer venues, some of them successful (Eric Rudolph’s bombing of a club in Atlanta in 1997), others unsuccessful (an attempted arson attack on a Seattle club in 2013). In terms of sheer concentration, however, Mateen’s act remains the most violent of all and has resulted in a heightened sense of precariousness

If the safe space of the LGBTQ dance floor has only ever been relatively safe, and if Pulse continues to welcome its LGBTQ crowd into a purpose-built environment with increased security measures, perhaps not that much will change. The Daily Beast might have introduced the strapline the “day the music died” into an article about the massacre (Suebsaeng 2016), but of course forty-nine people died on the Pulse dance floor, not the “music” or the broader desire to gather and dance to music with friends, and the commitment to continue the ritual has become pivotal to the LGBTQ community’s response. “‘Safe space’ is a cliche, overused and exhausted in our discourse, but the fact remains that a sense of safety transforms the body, transforms the spirit”, Torres (2016) notes of the culture’s inevitable bounce-back. “So many of us walk through the world without it. So when you walk through the door and it’s a salsa beat, and brown bodies, queer bodies, all writhing in some fake smoke and strobing lights, no matter how cool, how detached, how over-it you think you are, Latin Night at the Queer Club breaks your cool. You can’t help but smile, this is for you, for us”. Torres adds, poignantly: “The only imperative is to be transformed, transfigured in the disco light. To lighten, loosen, see yourself reflected in the beauty of others. You didn’t come here to be a martyr, you came to live, papi. To live, mamacita. To live, hijos. To live, mariposas”.

On hearing the news of the massacre, I couldn’t immediately imagine how Pulse might re-open and concluded instead that the mayor of Orlando should fund the opening of a new, purpose built LGBTQ venue while converting Pulse into a museum dedicated to the victims of the massacre as well as the history of queer dance culture. Having opened the venue as a life-affirming gesture in the first place, Pomo understood much more clearly that the show had to go on, and also established the onePULSE Foundation, which is committed to contributing 90 percent of funds to the National Compassion Fund and the remaining 10 percent to the creation of a memorial. Meanwhile the Orange County Regional History Centre collected some 3,500 items related to the massacre from inside the club as well a spontaneous memorials. Although no quick decision will be taken on the future of the collection, some items will be included in the pre-planned exhibition “Pride, Prejudice & Protest: GLBT History of Greater Orlando”. “This touched thousands of lives”, Michael Perkins, manager of the centre’s museum, told the Orlando Senitel (Hudak 2016). “We are trying to preserve it for generations”.

The totality of these elements show how Pulse negotiated the precarious divide between loss and creation, between violence and love, from the day it opened, and not simply the night Mateen entered the venue armed with a gun. Just as José Esteban Muñoz (2009) points to the way that queer racialised hope and loss come intertwined, with the work of building a utopia left to those whose lives have been damaged, so Pulse dancers have long been habituated to negotiating the violence of homophobia, racism and poverty. If Mateen’s attack took their experience of violence to levels none of them can have imagined, the utopian worldmaking goes on because it was already mandatory, because it cannot be extinguished, and because violence breeds resourcefulness. Pulse’s purpose has never been more urgent, its task to negotiating the local, the national and the transnational never clearer. At the same time, queer latinidad voices and sounds are resisting their erasure. Anger and grief are fuelling joy and resistance. As Pomo’s new motto puts it, “Our hearts are broken but our Pulse is strong”.

Figure 5: Pulse’s post-massacre flyer. Art by Meghan McDunnah

Figure 5: Pulse’s post-massacre flyer. Art by Meghan McDunnah

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Graham St John for encouraging this article and for comments as well as further editing suggestions by Jonathan Karpetz.

 

Notes

1 Latinx is used as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino that also references agender, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, queer and trans Latin people. Like Latinidad it understands connections that exist between Latinx people without reducing them to an essential characteristic.

2 See https://www.iraqbodycount.org/              

3 Exceeding the idea of Latinness, or the idea of a shared geopolitical identity, the floor amounted to a Latinx space that reflected the complexities and contradictions not only of immigration, colonialism, race, colour, legal status, class, nation, language and the politics of location, but also queerness, in line with Juana María Rodríguez’s framing of the queer latinidad (2003).

 

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This article was published on Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, you can download it here (pdf).