The Lucky Cloud Loft Party began with David Mancuso, who has been running private parties in downtown New York since Valentine’s Day 1970. I met David while I was researching my book on the rise of DJ culture in downtown New York. He became the key figure of that book, and as it was going into production David said to me, "How about we start putting on parties in London?" Since June 2003, Colleen Murphy, Jeremy Gilbert and I have been running the party according to the principles of David’s New York parties, which aim to enable people to dance and relax in a physically and socially comfortable setting. For the first 11 years we held the party in a converted power station with springy wooden floors. We decorated the room with hundreds of balloons, just like we were putting on a kid’s birthday party, to evoke a time of joy and freedom. We put on a spread of food to give guests energy for the marathon dance. And we set up the room so that the first thing a dancer would see would be the party room and not the booth, because the dance floor is the focus of the party, not the person selecting records.
David has never called himself a DJ. Instead he prefers to call himself a “musical host” because he is a party host who also happens to select music that he thinks his friends will enjoy. The sound system is almost entirely analogue and is made up of high-end stereo equipment that is highly efficient and sensitive, including Klipschorn speakers and Koetsu cartridges. It only supports vinyl playback because vinyl is the warmest and most detailed medium. The overall aim is for the system to reproduce the original recording as accurately as possible because the energy of the party will rise in correlation to the musicality of the experience.
Whether the role is taken up by David or by someone else, the musical host will play the entire party, from 5pm to midnight, drawing on a wide range of sources that stretch from acid rock to disco to house to minimal techno--because the world is diverse and magical so why restrict the music to a single genre? Records are also selected according to an arc of intensity that matches the arc of an acid trip, because LSD was the drug of choice when David held his first dance party on Valentine’s Day 1970—he wrote the words “Love Saves the Day” on his party invites for a reason. David learned from the acid guru Timothy Leary that the acid trip is comprised of three stages, or three “bardos”, so he selected his selections so they would match the intensity of these phases: the gentle, playful beginning; the deeper, more introverted transcendental circus that follows; and the more open, more social, more uplifting experience of the re-entry. David was the first person on the downtown party scene to take dancers on a musical journey and although that’s become something of a lost art in contemporary club culture the remains important to us, whether we chose to take LSD or not.
Whatever the stage of the party, the musical host won’t take the sound system above 100dB because anything above that can start to tire or even damage the ear. That might not sound terribly important but if the ear starts to get tired it’ll need to have the volume turned higher in order to get the same kind of impact from the music and this process quickly follows the law of diminishing returns. Early on we found that quite a few people would come up to us and ask if we could encourage David to play the music louder—because we’d all become used to hearing loud bass music played at 120dB and above. What’s interesting is that we no longer get anyone asking us these questions. Instead we have this very clear experience where the music comes through very powerfully but we can also have a conversation on the dance floor without having to shout. Our have adjusted to a new way of listening.
Another distinguishing feature of the parties is the absence of a mixer in the sound system. David decided to get rid of this piece of equipment after he concluded in the early 1980s that a musical signal becomes more powerful if it has to pass through the least number of electronic stages possible as it passes from the vinyl to the ear. He decided that the musicality of the experience was more important than his ability to mix records or, as he put it, interfere with the intensions of the recording artist. Getting rid of the mixer also enabled David to shift the attention of the party from the booth to the dance floor. Of course it’s become mandatory to have non-stop mixing in contemporary party culture and people assume that any gap between records would lead to a decrease in the energy of the party. But what we’ve found in London is that the pause has become a moment of heightened intensity, when people can clap, scream and whistle, showing their appreciation of the music. It’s really quite thrilling.
David had to stop traveling to London a few years ago and at that point Colleen stepped into the role of musical host. Since then Simon and Guillaume, two members of Lucky Cloud Sound System, the collective of friends who make the parties happen, have also selected records at parties. It’s a testament to the soundness of principles of David’s set-up that the parties have continued to go from strength to strength.
For more information, www.loftparty.org