This Valentine's Day I'll be heading to Brilliant Corners, 7pm to midnight, to select records to mark the 48th anniversary of David Mancuso's Loft. I hope you'll join me--last year was both moving (David had passed a few months earlier) and joyous.
There are many reasons for the longevity of the Loft, which is still running strong in NYC, with Loft-inspired parties also flourishing in London, Sapporo, Lisbon, Rome, Dublin, Berlin and beyond, but the simplest one is that it began with a purpose: to bring friends together in an intimate and warm environment primed to maximise the interaction of David's guests, and thus enhance the potential for the floor to become a space of socio-sonic exploration and transformation.
Admittedly the Loft's run hasn't been seamless. David's relocation to Avenue C during 1984 inadvertently landed the Loft in peril after Reagan slashed a budget set aside to regenerate struggling inner city areas; David ended up losing something like two-thirds of his invitees overnight, many of them female dancers who were understandably fearful of venturing into the heroin-zone end of Alphabet City. The struggle that followed led David to go on an extended sabbatical beginning in 1988, only to lose his space on his return. By the time I started to interview him in the autumn of 1997 he had become a relatively unknown figure. I'd certainly never heard of him, even though I fancied myself to be quite knowledgeable about dance culture and had even moved to NYC in part to be closer to the heart of the dance scene. David had recently started to sublet a space on Avenue B and I got to my first Loft party soon after our first interview. There might have been five people in the room that night, but by the time David hosted his 28th anniversary party in 1998--how young the Loft was back then!--the room was packed. Then, just as David started to think up ways of securing the space, the person from whom he was subletting was kicked out. David found himself living in a tiny walk-up that was only big enough, if memory serves, to hold one Klipschorn speaker, a slimmed down record collection, a bed and some bare essentials.
During this period there were several occasions when I was drawn into conversations about the future of the Loft. Although the details shifted, they always involved people wanting David to make some kind of compromise or other in order to get the Loft going again. Time and time again, David refused, to the point where I also began to experience a sense of frustration with the singularity of his purpose, because surely a compromised party was better than no party at all. But David was clear: here the two of us were, going through this intense interviewing process as I tried to understand the influence of the Loft within the broader history of NYC party culture, and David understood that it was more important to protect the uniqueness of his audio-vision than make some late-in-life change that bring in some extra "green energy" (as he liked to describe money) but would leave him full of regret.
There's always more to tell and there are always other stories. But I'm fairly clear that David's rigorous purpose and the rootedness of that purpose in an egalitarian, participatory and transformational philosophy and practice has enabled a major historical reassessment to catch fire. When I moved to NYC and started to embark on my little history project, everyone seemed to believe that Larry Levan/Frankie Knuckles and the Paradise Garage/the Warehouse were the most influential DJs and venues in US party history. A few decades on, there's now a broad understanding of the foundational role of David and the Loft.
It's to David's credit that he always insisted that the Loft merely brought together several existing influences, from the rent party tradition that took root following the mass migration of African Americans to Harlem, to innovations in audiophile sound, to the emergence of loft living during the 1960s, to the influence of Leary's LSD writings and party gatherings.
David once told my close friend, colleague and party collaborator Jeremy Gilbert that, as Jeremy paraphrases in his book Common Ground (2014, p. 213), he "sometimes felt that there is really just one big party going on all the time, and that the participants in actual physical parties simply try to tune into it for a while."
I'll be trying to tune into this "one big party" when I head to Brilliant Corners on 14 February. Many thanks to Amit Patel and Aneesh Patel for the invite. It's always wonderful to be able to share music in a friendly environment that just happens to be equipped with four lovely Klipschorn speakers :-) I think I'm right in saying that when Brilliant Corners opened Amit and Aneesh even used to have a copy of Love Saves the Day sitting on one of the shelves in the bar that customers and members of staff could borrow. I'm not sure what records I'll take along with me, but I have a hunch that one of them will be Lamont Dozier's "Going Back to My Roots"...