“Anfang Loft: The Sonic and Social Legacy of the 1970s”. De:Bug, Germany, July-August 2010, 13.


Translated into German by Sven von Thuelen, http://de-bug.de/share/debug144.pdf, scroll to page 13.


The 1970-79 period stands as arguably the most aesthetically and socially progressive period in dance music history. A barely fathomable number of technological innovations and generic subdivisions have led to the repeated recalibration of global dance since 1980, yet the core elements that drove the culture during the 1970s remain unchanged. Studio 54 and Saturday Night Fever continue to stand as the most prominent markers of that decade, but they were merely the most commercial articulations of much deeper and more profound developments.

The core relationship of contemporary dance culture was established at the very beginning of the 1970s when David Mancuso staged a Love Saves the Day Valentine’s party that would come to be known as the Loft, and two gay entrepreneurs known as Seymour and Shelley took over a flailing discotheque called the Sanctuary and began to admit gay men en mass. Mancuso and Francis Grasso, the DJ at the Sanctuary, pioneered the practice of selecting records in relation to the energy of the dance floor across an entire night. At the same time, partygoers at the Loft and the Sanctuary broke with the age-old social practice of couples dancing, and instead began to dance as individuals-in-the-crowd.

Drawing inspiration from the private rent party scene that dated back to 1920s Harlem, Timothy Leary’s experimental LSD parties, technological developments in audiophile stereo equipment, and the social potential of New York’s abandoned warehouses, Mancuso established the private party as the primary space in which dance culture could thrive. That was because private events could run long after public discotheques were required to close for the night as well as generate a level of intimacy and continuity that was much harder to achieve in public spaces. White gay private venues such as the Tenth Floor and Flamingo adopted the foundations of Mancuso’s model for their homogeneous clientele, while the Gallery, SoHo Place, Reade Street, the Paradise Garage and the Warehouse did the same for their more racially and sexually diverse crowds. Aside from generating the most intense parties, these spaces gave birth to many of the key innovations of the period.

The basic contours of DJing were established during the 1970s. Mancuso (who thought of himself as a party host rather than a DJ) grasped the potential of linking together records according to lyrical and sonic themes across the course of an entire night, while Grasso along with Michael Cappello, Richie Kaczor, Nicky Siano and David Todd explored the technical potential of beat-mixing. Siano also innovated the practice of spinning across three turntables, and he was also one of the first spinners to interrupt records in mid-flow when the energy felt right. Walter Gibbons perfected the art of mixing between the breaks in parallel with DJ Kool Herc, if not before, and to a much higher degree of technical proficiency. Coming to the fore during the second half of the 1970s, Larry Levan blended the approaches of Mancuso and Siano, and for many came to resemble the complete DJ.

The practices of these spinners had far-reaching consequences. Their willingness to hunt down rare records established the dance floor as a space where innovative, cutting-edge music that wasn’t receiving radio play could be heard, while the willingness of dancers to go out and buy their selections confirmed the dance floor could function as an alternative to radio when it came to breaking new records. Half-way into the decade, Mancuso, D’Acquisto and other spinners came to the conclusion that New York’s record companies should begin to supply them with free promotional copies in return for their de facto marketing efforts, and the first record pool was born soon after. By that point DJs had already made a point of hunting down long records, or buying two copies of a 45-r.p.m. single in order to create an improvised extended turntable mix, and their preferences persuaded New York’s record companies to introduce a brand new format, the twelve-inch single.

From 1970-73, dance recordings didn’t have a single generic name, and when the word “disco” was introduced to try and make sense of what was happening sonically, the term referred not to a regulated set of coordinates but rather to the diverse range of selections that could be heard in a discotheque (or private party) environment. Disco would go on to innovate the four-on-the-floor bass beat as well as give new life to the break, gospel-inspired female vocalists, and orchestral music. Exploring the aesthetic potential of the breakthrough twelve-inch format, Tom Moulton, Walter Gibbons and others pioneered the art of remixing. They worked repeatedly with music that was recorded by skilled instrumentalists—the 1970s marked a highpoint in terms of the sheer number of instrumentalists who were employed to record dance music—and from the mid-1980s onwards producers and remixers in search of samples and ideas treated these recordings as fertile ground. At the same time, Giorgio Moroder anticipated future developments in sequenced electronic dance music when he released “I Feel Love”.

Turntable and sound system technologies were also more or less perfected during the 1970s. (Contemporary DJs might play CDs and MP3s on digital sound systems, yet regularly mourn the loss of feel, warmth and organicity that so often comes with analogue formats and set-ups.) Mancuso was once again central when it came to deploying high-end equipment; employing Alex Rosner and Richard Long to put his ideas into practice, he pioneered the introduction of tweeter arrays and bass reinforcements, which enabled him to introduce added emphasis to the highs and the lows of a recording at any given moment. In fact Mancuso soon abandoned these innovations in order to focus more intensely on pure audiophile sound, yet they became central features of the sound system at the Paradise Garage, where Richard Long in association with Levan attempted to combine audiophile quality with brute power. For many, that system remains unsurpassed.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the 1970s remains the social and economic conditions that enabled dance culture to flourish in New York across that decade and halfway into the 1980s. The effective bankruptcy of the city combined with the flight of industry from downtown’s spacious and architecturally dramatic warehouses allowed party hosts to set up on the cheap while catering to ethnic and queer partygoers in search of an expressive-communal space. What’s more, there was no competition from MTV and the internet, which would go on to weaken the dance floor as the primary space for discovering new music and socialising with friends. People will always seek out spaces to congregate and dance, and they have continued to do so, but the costs are now higher, and the distractions are greater.