I was very happy to have been interviewed about Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor by Jarek Ervin of IASMPUS, now published here. It's all gone quite well with L&D, I guess I should write another book...
It'd be lovely to be able to wish David Mancuso "happy birthday" over the phone or even in person, but as this is the first year when that's not possible, at least 20 October can be a day of remembering. It's a little surreal to think that if David were still around he'd be 73; it seems like only the other day that we were spending time together in London in the run-up to a Lucky Cloud Sound System party and David reflected on the milestone of having recently turned 64, that being a big birthday for any Beatles fan.
It's David's birthday so I had to pick out a picture with balloons, so here's a picture of David at the Light in London in 2007, almost certainly during preparations for our Lucky Cloud Sound System summer party. Below I'll paste a little book extract that opens with a reflection on "Loft time" before describing the importance of balloon's to David's party environment--an environment that, beginning in Japan and continuing on Second Avenue before it also took root in London, could travel (with care).
Love saves the day...
The absence of clocks contributed to the dance dynamic. In the everyday world the clock signifies the unstoppable forward movement of teleological time, but party time unfolds in a different dimension—thus Mancuso’s decision to print Salvador Dali’s melting watches on the Love Saves the Day invitation. When clocks are nowhere to be seen, time starts to dissolve, and this provided the dancers at the Loft with an opportunity to forget their socialized selves—the person who has to get up at a certain time, go to work at a certain time, take lunch at a certain time, leave work at a certain time, etc.—and experiment with a different cycle. "Once you walked into the Loft you were cut off from the outside world," says Mancuso. "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."
Time, though, didn’t simply stand still, but went into symbolic reverse thanks to Mancuso’s practice of decorating the Loft with hundreds and hundreds of balloons. "Everybody loves balloons and they don’t cost a million dollars," he says. "There were always lots and lots of balloons." The decor created a reassuringly familiar setting, drawing guests into the therapeutic and nostalgic domain of their childhood and the set-piece birthday party. "It was a childlike experience, not childish. You could let yourself go." Inflated with just the right amount of air and/or helium, the multicolored balloons either drifted just below the ceiling or bobbled along at chest height, encouraging dancers to participate in the creation of a bewildering display of Brownian motion. "It was a very safe environment. People could regain what might have been lost."
From Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music, 1970-79, 24-25.
Basquiat was a major figure in Life and Death on the NY Dance Floor, so I was delighted to be asked to feed into the Barbican's forthcoming Basquiat: Boom for Real season in several ways plus write this piece, just published, which contextualises it all, http://bit.ly/2iMdx0K
In addition to offering bits and pieces of help with the show itself I've been co-curating a music night, featuring Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Arto Linsday, Justin Strauss! That'll take place on 7 October. There's more info at http://bit.ly/2eLkElG
Earlier that day I'll be heading to a free screening of Downtown 81, the downtown film starring Basquiat, after which I'll be chairing a discussion with downtown designer/producer/scenester Maripol and (last I heard..) August Darnell of Kid Creole and Arto Lindsay. All were heavily involved with Downtown 81, Basquiat and the wider downtown scene.
In-between I'll be working with five young directors who'll be creating short films as part of the Barbican's Too Young For What? Creative Learning programme-which is what it's all about, in a way, http://bit.ly/2vxwHNQ
The basic argument of the article: we might like to think of Basquiat as a genius, but he only became Basquiat because of his immersion in the wider downtown scene, so creativity is in many respects collective, and we might do well to think more (in Eno's term) of scenius than genius...
Some belated many happy returns are due, first to Lucky Cloud Sound System, which has been a big part of my life since David Mancuso approached me along with Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy back in late 2002 or early 2003, just as Love Save the Day was heading into production, and suggested we start to put on Loft-style parties in London. With Jeremy Gilbert, Nikki Lucas and Adrian Fillary joining us, we held our first party in June 2003 and, following a helter skelter journey through the Light and Rose Lipman, turned 14 on 18 June, just as London was entering its hottest week for 40 years. Colleen selected some great seasonal tracks, among them Candido’s “Jingo” and Loverde’s “Iko Iko”. The dance floor was furnace-like, all the more so because we had to close the room's windows earlier than usual to avoid neighbour complaints. Some found it a bit much; I loved the loosening intensity of it all. When I told artist/friend Martin Beck about the night he recalled last summer’s NYC Loft party, where dancers rubbed ice cubes on each other’s necks in a “communally caring exchange”. If you want to sample the atmosphere, reservations for Lucky Cloud Sound System’s autumn party on 24 September are now available at www.loftparty.org.
A few weeks earlier, on 1 June, Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin celebrated the 250th Mister Saturday Night party--wow. “Since January of 2009, we’ve loaded our sound system into and out of over twenty-five back yards and lofts, acquired way too many records, spent nearly two thousand hours in the DJ booth, and–most importantly–found a family of people who love music as much as us,” the guys recount. “While we’ve never been ones for anniversaries or birthdays, throwing our two-hundred-and-fiftieth party at the venue we’ve been building from the ground up feels like something worth celebrating.” Paul Raffaele and Barbie Bertisch made the party the cover story in the latest issue of Love Injection. I recommend, http://bit.ly/2uZBzY4.
I'd already quoted Mister Saturday Night in Life and Death on the NY Dance Floor's epilogue, citing them among the dissenting voices that are wondering what it might have been like to participate in the “rich culture of dancing” that “existed before the Giuliani regime,” as Justin and Eamon commented back in 2015, http://bit.ly/2uhy2qz. Then, in May, @mrsatnight posted a photo of the L&D page where they're quoted on Instagram and wrote: “Such a lovely surprise to read the final pages of Tim Lawrence’s excellent ‘Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor’ and stumble upon a brief mention of the Mister amongst optimistic and forward looking commentary on the state of dance music culture in our city today. We called our own space Nowadays because we believe in now, the present and what can be achieved today and tomorrow. We have to understand and take direction [of] our culture’s legacy but equally, if not more importantly, we also need to look forward and make it happen in the only moment we have which is NOW.” I commented: “Couldn’t agree more—history is a tool to understand and shape the present!”
It turns out Justin and Eamon are going to be playing at York Hall in Bethnal Green on Sunday 27 August. It won’t be straightforward but I'd love to go....
Finally, happy anniversary to Joy, which turned six around the same time LCSS turned fourteen, and which I managed to visit during the penultimate leg of my recent L&D on the NY Dance Floor tour of the States. I’d wanted to go to Joy for a while, having heard it had been inspired by the Loft, that long-time Loft devotee and musical host Douglas Sherman was a central figure, that a group of Japanese Loft devotees (including host Nari Oshiro) had got the party going, and that the parties were smaller than those staged in the NYC’s current location on Second Avenue. I'd slowly learnt that some of the folks that I’m closest to in NYC— Jane Lerner, Joshua Fried, Martin Beck…—were Joy devotees. While I was selecting some records at Brilliant Corners on 14 February just past to mark the 47th anniversary of the Loft a young woman came up to me and asked about other parties that were going on, so I told her about Lucky Cloud Sound System and she of course told me about... Joy.
Somehow all of the connections and info fragments seemed to promise the kind of intimacy that defined David's first parties on Broadway and that I'd experienced when I first went to the Loft back in 1997, at which point David was hosting parties in a compact space he was subletting on Avenue B. (The run was short-lived and it turned out to be the last time David hosted parties in his own home…)
I knew I had to go and when it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to coincide my spring L&D on the NY Dance Floor book trip trip to the States with a Loft party I started to bug Douglas about Joy dates. Douglas confirmed a party was happening on 29 April, so I arranged to be able to fly from Iowa to NYC that morning in order to be able to do a talk in Jersey City on the Monday. That morning I got up at 4:30am, made my way to Cedar Rapids airport in Iowa, caught the 7:00am flight, arrived in at JFK at 1:45pm, basked in the summery temperatures as I made my way to cousin Jane’s (Iowa had been unbelievably wintry…), and tried to grab an hour’s rest. I needed it. The talks had gone well in Seattle, SF, LA and Iowa, but I was sleep deprived, jet lagged and physically broken, plus I wasn’t in the best place psychologically. Jane and I headed out to have an early bite with Joshua before heading to the party. I kept thinking that I wasn’t going to last long. I also kept telling myself that the party couldn’t live up to expectations.
What followed is hard to explain, exists on an amorphous plane, defies language. Here’s what I remember…
On entering I wasn’t quite sure what was in front of me—and that feeling continued even after Hiromi Kiba, a dance floor devotee I’d met during my autumn trip to the city, came up to me, expressed her surprise that I was back in NYC, and gave me a hug. The space resembled a squashed funnel, with three Klipschorn speakers and the dance area located at the wider end, the lounge area at the narrower end, and the turntables dividing the two zones. Somehow the three Kipschorn speakers seemed to loom unusually large, maybe because the room was darker than Rose Lipman and had lower ceilings than Second Avenue; maybe because the wooden structures that framed the speakers while doubling up as false walls to direct the bass back into the room were coated with a deeper than varnish than usual, or were even larger than those used at Rose Lipman and Second Avenue; or maybe because I couldn’t straightforwardly recognise what kind of situation I was entering, even though I’d been heading to Loft parties since 1997.
I noticed other things. When arriving around 7:30/8:00pm the room was barely half-full, even though the party had started around 5:00pm and was due to wrap at 12:30 or 1:00. I soon clocked that it was going to fill up a bit, but not to the point where it’d come even close to the density of the Rose Lipman and Second Avenue parties, which mean there'd be no critical mass of bodies to usher the party into a certain kind of intensity. It seemed as though the volume levels were lower than I’d become used to at Rose Lipman and Second Ave, or maybe the quality of the sound was simply gentler, or maybe I was once again losing my bearings. The music was locked into a 108 bpm groove. Perhaps 30 people were dancing, all of them lost in the music, happy and relaxed, peaceful and free, self-contained yet connected to those around them to an unusual degree.
I sat on a bench near to the entrance, still tired, not ready to dance, wondering if I’d stay there for an hour or two before making my excuses to leave and get the good night’s sleep I needed so desperately. Then I crossed paths with Joshua and swapped early observations. He was already hot with dancing and unbothered by the tempo. He told me that another regular had described the speakers and the sound they emitted as resembling a big, warm hug (or at least that’s what I remember—Joshua?). I made my way over to the booth and then the lounge area, somehow got into talking about Prince Street and Third Avenue Loft history with Douglas and Elyse Stefanishin, and then caught up with Jane. There was simply something incredibly contained, relaxed and mellow about the occasion. It was a house party.
Slowly acclimatising, I headed to the dance floor and started to pay more attention to the music. It was unusually mesmeric and cohesive, yet still seemed too be locked in the 108 b.p.m. groove, so when I next bumped into Joshua I asked him if the party would take off at some point, thinking to myself about some of the records David used to introduce to signal the shift into a new energetic phase of a party. Then I realised the question was totally irrelevant. Joshua was into the flow of the music and the questions I was asking hadn’t even crossed his mind.
I began to wonder if I’d ever experienced a more definitely gentle environment, at least on the dance floor. Even if the tempo seemed slow, the selections contained a mesmeric funkiness that suggested ways into spiralling, dipping and swaying, so I started to move. I also began to appreciate the way in which Yuji Kawasaki, musical host that night (Yuji rotates with Douglas and Takaya Nagase), seemed to be so protective of the room’s exquisite equilibrium each new record proposed only the subtlest shift in energy. I clocked that Yuji was playing a lot of records I didn’t now and a lot of them had great vocals—something that can seem to be increasingly rare in dance. It slowly dawned on me that I recognised a lot of people on the floor among them I began to recognise more familiar faces from the NYC Loft, among them Luis Vargas, Ernesto Green and Archie Burnett. Folks started to come up to me to introduce themselves and their friends. I forgot that I was tired. My mind cleared. I entered the dance.
Soon after Yuji selected was might have been the perfect take-off record for that moment in that environment, the Larry Levan mix of “Is It All Over My Face?” by Loose Joints, a track that perfectly fitted the insistent, gentle, funk aesthetic that had so far defined the night while opening the possibility of a shift in energy. Dancers responded by dancing that bit harder and singing along, improvising new lines in response to the song’s chorus. Having just flown in from Iowa, where I’d participated in an Arthur Russell symposium and headed on a day trip to Arthur’s hometown, Oskloosa, before doing a book talk at Prairie Lights, my heart was brimming with Arthur, so to hear that record within that community of dancers, a decent number of whom would have danced to the track when it first came out in 1980, was magical. I sneaked out my phone, cupped it in my right hand palm and pressed record, keeping the screen against my thigh. The recording captures the moment--shame the file is too large for FB.
Against every expectation I stayed until the final record, fluttering my eyelids at Jane and Joshua when they wondered if it was time to leave just a little bit earlier. I wasn’t going to get to do this again for a while, I explained. Yuji had already played Arthur’s Dinosaur L recording of “Go Bang” when, as one of his very final selections, he picked out “Hold On to Your Dreams”, which filled me with a sense of oneness, and not merely because I was going to head to the Arthur Russell “Do What I Want” show at BAM the following day. I briefly found myself wondering if it might be possible to move to New York, just to be able to head to Joy every other week, and if not move to the city then find a way to head back much more often. The absurd impracticality of the idea were neither here nor there.
So happy anniversary to all the good people who make Joy, Lucky Cloud Sound System and Mister Saturday Night. I’m lucky to be part of this community!