New York Stories: David Mancuso

May 26, 2013

David Mancuso’s Loft is one of New York nightlife’s most everlasting contributions to late 20th-century Western culture. It helped set the standard for a positive clubbing atmosphere (the art of the DJ, the top-notch sound system, the friendly audience) and defined the diverse sound of the city’s discotheques. But it also aspired to a revolutionary communal experience, one that operated under psychedelically driven, ’60s-flower-power ideals. And for the most part, it succeeded. In 2007, Tim Lawrence (author of Love Saves the Day, the definitive book on the Loft and the NYC disco scene) sat down with Mancuso to discuss the social nature of the party and how it differed from other clubs. Intended for the German magazine Placed, the interview never ran in print. We present it here, in an edited narrative format.

Clubs are set up for the purpose of making money. This is not what The Loft is about. The Loft is about putting on a party and making friends. That doesn’t mean you can’t put on a party and make friends in a club, but these places are structured to make a profit, and that’s a whole different head. Without a doubt, that has a bearing on how things happen and how far things can go. For me The Loft is all about social progress. With my own parties you can bring your own alcohol and your children can come along. If I couldn’t find a location where these things could happen I’d be at the end of my road.

For me the core [idea behind The Loft] is about social progress.

In New York State, any person who walks into a liquor store or a bar that has a liquor license has to be served by law. The laws vary from situation to situation, but in general you have to be open to the public as long as they are orderly. Now that takes a whole different head, and I don’t have the head for that. I’d rather grow grapes on a farm and make wine. I’m not trying to create divisions here – it’s just the way I was raised. Maybe a lot of us were insecure but we found a way to make each other secure. What I’m doing has to do with something very personal and it shouldn’t be compared to a club. It doesn’t mean that one thing is better than the other. They’re just different, and to me there’s no doubt that The Loft is more intimate.

For me the core [idea behind The Loft] is about social progress. How much social progress can there be when you’re in a situation that is repressive? You won’t get much social progress in a nightclub. In New York City they changed the law for [entry into clubs, from] 18 to 21 years old; where can this age group go to dance? In my zone you can be any age, a drinker or non-drinker, a smoker or a non-smoker. And that’s where I like to be. It’s also extremely important to me to avoid economic violence. In the last 3,000 years we’ve made very little progress as a human race, so if there’s a little bit out there that’s happening then this is very important. To me the parties represent a way of making social progress because I’m not limited by a lot of laws. Safety laws always apply, but I haven’t got a liquor license because when you’ve got a liquor license you go into another category. More laws come into play and the stakes are much higher as far as making money goes.

Having to pay five dollars for water, never mind ten dollars for a drink [in a club], can be very unaffordable. When you weigh what you can get for a contribution to come to a Loft party, it’s good value. There’s food, you can bring your own alcohol, and you don’t have to pay to check your coat. It’s all-inclusive. It’s a community support kind of thing. Once you get a liquor license, there are so many regulations, your overheads get raised so high, and all sorts of costs follow. Not having a liquor license allows me to keep costs at a minimum and make the parties affordable for everyone, and that’s very important to me.

As long as you act like a human being you can do what you want. That’s the deal. We don’t have any fights. We don’t have the usual problems a lot of places have. That tells you something. People can be trusted. People who drink alcohol at Loft parties do it by bringing their own with them, which makes it affordable to drink and relax. To see alcohol being consumed and not have problems is social progress.

As long as you act like a human being you can do what you want. That’s the deal.

[Who comes to The Loft is] up to the sponsors’ list. I don’t rule, the majority rules. Two-thirds [are] guests of people who are on the mailing list, and if someone on the mailing list sponsors you, you can also get on the mailing list – unless we’re over capacity, in which case you have to go on the waiting list. Some people go back 20 years and can reappear, so we have a grandfather clause. The people who go back 20 years really get a preference over someone who is new. They have seniority and you have to give them that respect because they helped build this castle and have been [our] friends for a long time. So whoever gets sponsored can be on the mailing list unless we’re full, and I think it’s wonderful that I don’t have to be in a situation where I’m in control [of the list].

There are three signs if the parties are going well. First, if people want the parties to continue they will support them with a contribution. We don’t advertise or promote. The income comes if people want to contribute and be there with their friends. Second, if fights started to break out I would seriously wonder if I’m doing something to contribute to this violence. The final factor is if the door ever became a place where people had to be searched, or if metal detectors were set up, as they were at The Paradise Garage – I don’t want to have to be part of that. If I have to do any of those things then it’s not like I’m going over to my friend’s house after school. Yes, there’s a business side to The Loft, but it’s orderly and simple. If for some reason the Loft ended or reached its conclusion, I still would have a lot to be thankful for. I have been doing this for [43] years. And I always know that no matter what happens there’s going to be at least one more party. I have a back up plan where I could throw a party real quick and call it a day if necessary.

A version of this article appeared in The Daily Note, a free daily newspaper distributed in New York during the 2013 Red Bull Music Academy.

Header image © Kate Glicksberg

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