David Mancuso interview: The host of the Loft and the New York Record Pool talks to DiscoMusic.com about the 1970s New York dance music scene and his Loft rent parties. (b. October 20, 1944 - d. November 14, 2016)
Written by Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
True Origins of The Loft
While speaking to David Mancuso it is clear that certain events in his life are paramount to the Loft experience and what he wants to share with others. It should come as no surprise that great things can happen when groups of people are brought together with the right music. Music promotes a sense of well being and radiates energy, which in turn is reinforced by the group. This positive energy is then expended in the form of dancing and social interaction and gives life to a party. While one may think that only adults can tap into this energy and well being, nothing could be further from the truth as evidenced by the following story.
Shortly after the end of World War II in a room in a Catholic orphanage, twenty or so children up to the age of six gather around a table waiting for Sister Alicia to start the festivities. She takes care of the children on a daily basis and this is another of the many parties that the nun puts on for them. She's decorated the room with balloons and made it look as cheerful as possible. In the center of the table she has a record player and a stack of records all set to go. Despite the fact that some of the children are too young to even talk, the music is what brings them all together and gives them great pleasure.
One of those children is David Mancuso, who years later would organize New York's longest running parties known simply as "The Loft." Mancuso explains to DiscoMusic.com,
There was one room where these childhood parties would be held-I didn't remember the room, but forty years later when I saw the pictures of the room, they were geographically the same layout almost to the "T" of my Loft.
David goes on to say that there are a lot of associations with the past like the invitations he uses for the Loft parties, which depicts four children gathered around a table with party hats and balloons.
David Mancuso Declares Music is Therapeutic
David Mancuso was born in October of 1944 in the small New York town of Utica. His first four years were spent in an orphanage and then he was reunited with his mother till he was fifteen and a half. Leaving home and shinning shoes to support himself he quit school at sixteen to get more work to pay the rent.
Since he had no one telling him what he could and couldn't do, David was now free to do whatever he wanted. One of the things he was told not to do was go to the "other side of the tracks." This is the area that the Blacks and Hispanics lived in and Mancuso says,
I connected with some of them. It opened up a whole world for me and then I started finding out about Black music-The Shirelles, James Brown... I fell in love with these records and also made some very close friends who treated me very well. After school we would go to someone's house and listen to music and dance. It's always about dancing and music.
Asked if music was instrumental during his formative years he had this to say:
Music gave me a lot of piece of mind since there was a lot in my environment that was not stable. Music is therapeutic; it raises your life energy... If your life energy is raised then music is healing-what more can we want.
Since many of his friends were from the "other side of the tracks" we spoke briefly about the racial climate in Utica during the late 1950s early 1960s and I asked Mancuso what his thoughts were. He replies,
I didn't agree with the status quo of the environment that I was living in. I knew instinctively that it was wrong. I liked everybody.
Mancuso During the 1960s
During the Labor Day weekend of 1962 David and a friend took a trip to New York City. One of the first things that struck David was the openness and diversity of the people. It was a refreshing change from the socially repressive town of Utica. New York City was vibrant and the mixing of cultures and ideas appealed to him greatly. Mancuso says, "I immediately fell in love with the city."
During that short weekend visit, Mancuso made some new friends. One of them offered him a place to stay until he got on his feet. About six weeks later, on the first day of his eighteenth birthday and during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, David decided to move to New York City and take his new friend up on the offer.
He spent his first two months living in the Bronx. Able to find a menial job at a fast food place he soon found his own apartment in Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Asked if he had any plans when he came to New York Mancuso tells DiscoMusic.com,
I just want to live and be happy. I was happy to be able to pay my rent, to have my independence. This was like the best thing in the world for me. I had no real ambitions at this point... Just make friends, enjoy myself, and be responsible... Basically, I didn't get into any trouble. My independence was very important to me."
David remained in the Upper West Side till around 1965 moving at least twenty times. It was during this time that he began dabbling in interior decorating and later antiques through his many associations. Once he got into antiques he focused on small silver goods and traveled extensively to and from Europe and did very well at it. He continued in the antique field till around 1973.
The Broadway Loft and the Klipschorn's
Around 1965 Mancuso moved into his first loft at 647 Broadway near Bleecker Street. The loft space was huge. Mancuso recalls it being roughly 25 feet by 100 feet with 14-foot high ceilings and a wooden floor. When asked what attracted him to the loft space he had this to say, "I think it goes back to the orphanage... Somehow or another I always identified with large spaces, old buildings..." David further explains that the neighborhood at the time was very desolate compared to what it is now. After 6pm everyone would disappear since the neighborhood was comprised mainly of factories and warehouses. Since the area was zoned for commercial use people were prohibited from actually residing in the lofts. What Mancuso and others did was to hide their beds along with pots and pans from the prying eyes of the city's building inspectors who would show up unannounced.
One of David Mancuso's hobbies was tinkering with electronics and stereos, which gave way to his interest in high-end audio. One of his friends was noted audio designer Richard Long who would later create the sound system for Larry Levan's Paradise Garage. Having a large loft space allowed him to purchase two pairs of Klipschorn loudspeakers in 1966-67. The three-way horn loaded speakers were huge units that needed to be placed in a corner and had a frequency response of 33hz-17khz. The Klipschorn speakers are known for their efficiency and ability to play clearly at loud levels. These were mated to a McIntosh power amp and pre-amp and two AR turntables.
The loft space and high-end audio equipment were perfect for a party, and a party is exactly what Mancuso had in mind. The gatherings and fun that he had with friends in his youth never left him and he soon was holding parties at his loft on a regular basis. It was strictly fun, music and dancing for him and his group of friends. The parties continued till around 1970 when economic constraints forced David Mancuso to scale back a bit and require his friends to "chip in." At first the parties were held about twice a month. Within six months this was increased to every Saturday night with the parties beginning at midnight and finishing at 6am.
In the beginning there was no mixer so he merely switched turntables by using the "phono 1" and "phono 2" switch on the McIntosh preamplifier. Later he rigged two Shure phono preamps with a level control to fade between them. This eventually gave way to a custom built mixer around 1973. Apparently long overlays were never part of the equation as the mixer merely served as a means to segue from one record to the other or allow Mancuso to stitch together two copies of the same song to create a longer version. In due time however, Mancuso realized that he and his guests weren't hearing the full potential of the vinyl record or stereo system. He explains,
Getting into high end audio I realized how much nuance there was in the record and also that the record should stand on its own. I don't want to interfere with what the artist intended or the integrity of the recording cause that's the artist's message so I play the record from the beginning to the very end. Occasionally, if I had one of those DJ friendly records where it starts off going boom-boom-boom for thirty seconds or more I would time it to begin a little later... In order to get Class-A sound, you had to get rid of the mixer. So what happens is you find a way to keep the flow going so there's no space unless you intended it to be that way.
He continues by saying that he is not a beat mixer and doesn't care for BPM's and the like, and NEVER uses the pitch control.
When asked what kind of music he played at the Loft parties David simply responds,
Dance music Bernie, dance music. I would play everything from Jazz to classical and everything in between.
Mancuso made it a point to explain that he is not into categories and was, and still is open to all forms of music. He went on by telling DiscoMusic.com that he had no set playlist and played mainly by ear and from what he and his friends would research, discover and share. Many a times the guests would bring some of their records to have played at the party.
Here is where he goes to great lengths to describe what these parties were and weren't,
It was basically a rent party. Private: by invitation only. It was NOT a club-not a membership-none of that stuff. I made it very clear; this was an invitation and you made a contribution. The money only came into it because I had to do it. When the money came into it, I didn't want it to spoil it. I wanted to maintain the integrity of the party and provide as much as I could and it worked.
The Loft parties would be attended by as many as two hundred guests in the course of an evening, but around 1972-73 Mancuso was given permission by the landlord to knock down a wall and join two loft subdivisions together. This greatly increased the space and now attendance was as high as three hundred people.
A large number of these guests would later go on to prominence as DJs, remixers and even club owners. People such as...
- Tony Humphries
- François Kevorkian (Francis K.)
- Frankie Knuckles
- Danny Krivitt
- Larry Levan
- David Morales
- Nicky Siano
All of the above were regulars of the Loft parties. In a 2002 interview Danny Krivitt remarked, "The Loft was unique and being the original RECORD POOL, it was a musical center and Mecca for DJs. This is where I began my longtime friendships with DJs Larry Levan and François Kevorkian (François K)."
The Birth of the New York Record Pool
In 1974 Mancuso moved the Loft parties over to a larger space at 99 Prince Street in Manhattan's SoHo section. It was during this time that he and Steve D'Aquisto came up with the idea to unify the city's Disco DJs by starting a record pool called The New York Record Pool. This record pool would lobby the record labels to distribute the records to DJs who were members of the pool. Despite the fact that Disco DJs were becoming more instrumental in breaking new records without any support from radio, they were having a difficult time acquiring new product from the record labels. Mancuso explains the reason for a record pool,
There were about twenty six DJs at the time and it was getting harder and harder to get records. You had to be on someone's special list, there was discrimination going on as to who got in and didn't... We made an announcement that if they (DJs) wanted to meet to work things out they were welcome to come to my space to see what we can do. At that meeting I suggested a pool–somewhere we all join together and that's where the record pool concept came in.
Mancuso's love for music was usually at odds with a business mentality so I asked if the pool was a business and he replied,
Not at all. If you go by today's record pools, yes. First of all, I financed it for the first two years because DJs had no money. I had the space so I donated the space. I had moved to 99 Prince Street and it took 17 months to bring everything up to code so I had spare time to develop a record pool... We did it for the music.
He proceeds to explain that he had the record pool incorporated as a non-profit venture and did everything democratically with the members voting on issues that affected them and the pool. Mancuso was voted president and secretary while Steve D'Aquisto was vice president. In order for DJs to belong to the record pool they had to supply a letter from their employer with a corporate seal stating how many nights they worked... This was easier said than done since most DJs worked off the books. This letter helped to establish the legitimacy of the DJ to the record pool, but most importantly to the record labels since in effect the DJs had been prescreened. Some of the original members of the New York Record Pool included Steve D'Aquisto, Francis Grasso, Michael Capello, David Rodriguez, and Nicky Siano.
When asked if he realized the significance of the record pool at the time Mancuso tells DiscoMusic.com,
All we wanted to do was get music and share it and do it as simply as possible. Some of these DJs were literally working seven days a week, 12 hours and not getting paid and when they did get paid it was like $20-50 dollars a night and on top of that they had to buy their own records."
The New York Record Pool flourished and soon boasted three hundred members. This however was taking a great deal of time from Mancuso's first love, which was hosting his Loft parties. He explains, "I had enough, and I don't mean that in a negative way. It's like you can love your children and raise them, but there is a point... it's gotta go on its own... I gradually let it (record pool) go." By 1978 Mancuso had completely divested himself of anything to do with the record pool. It is around this time that a Loft staff member by the name of Judy Weinstein would take over operations of the pool. She would later begin a revamped record pool called "For the Record" to which all the top New York Disco DJs belonged. In a 2002 SpeedGarage.com interview Weinstein said, "I started to work for him (David Mancuso) at the Loft when it was on 99 Prince Street... and actually started running the record pool along with Mark Riley and Hank Williams... "
Information, Politics and Money
I didn't do the record pool for material gain or for power... There were a lot of ways to make money if I just bent the rules a bit and I never did any of that. I kept it very straight up.
This is what Mancuso said as he gets into more detail about where the New York Record Pool was heading. He tells DiscoMusic.com that he was very pleased in what the pool had accomplished, but continues by saying,
Unfortunately, things changed quite quickly and we started getting people opening up pools and record pool directors sleeping in bed with the record companies and all that sh*t. That part made me sad.
On many occasions Mancuso thought he should go back in and try to clean house, but things had gotten to the point of no return.
David Mancuso declares to DiscoMusic.com that the records released during the record pool era of 1975-1980 were the best since the feedback the record pool DJs gave back to the labels was "straight up feedback and no bull sh*t." Mancuso continues,
The feedback would be just two things, personal reaction and floor reaction. From that, the record label would go back and redo it or whatever until they got it right.
The Split With Eddie Rivera
I wanted to touch upon what I thought could be a thorny subject with David and that was the split with the late Eddie Rivera. Eddie Rivera was a DJ and member of the New York Record Pool who, for reasons we will soon find out, started his own record pool called the International Disco Record Center (I.D.R.C.).
Mancuso was kind enough to give DiscoMusic.com a thorough explanation to which I will condense for the sake of brevity. In 1976 one of the officers of the New York Record Pool did something that was not acceptable so Mancuso asked him to step down and replaced him with Eddie Rivera. Mancuso says,
I found Eddie Rivera to be very friendly, intelligent and focused. A flag went up however when he (Eddie) said we should make a Latin music department and I asked, why do you want to do that for, this is a pool? Records are coming from every different direction we should get them from all labels-period. That was my first indication that he was up to starting his own record pool."
Mancuso, who rarely missed a meeting, continues by explaining that every meeting was tape recorded as a record of events. However, on one occasion he was out of town and missed a meeting. On his return Eddie Rivera tells David Mancuso that they all decided on certain issues during David's absence. Mancuso asks to hear the minutes (tape) to which he is told none exists. Mancuso says,
I had to ask Eddie to resign. Anybody who had a hidden agenda or did anything to threaten the record pool—we were like an eggshell... We generated four million dollars for the music industry in New York and there was a lot of focus on this pool and I really wanted this thing to be right. I asked Eddie to resign, which is what I think he wanted... There was obviously a split between Eddie and I and then he decided to form his own pool, which is what he wanted to do from the very beginning.
The Move to Alphabet City
After the departure from the New York Record Pool, Mancuso devoted his time entirely to the Loft parties again. His home and the parties was now at 99 Prince Street where he remained till 1985. The gentrification of the downtown area saw rents skyrocket and available spaces and the size of them dwindle. This forced a move to a building on 3rd Street in one of New York's most crime-ridden neighborhoods known as Alphabet City. He saw a 65 percent loss in the amount of guests attending the parties, but he managed to stay there for eleven years. His attorney at the time defrauded him and several others and Mancuso ended up losing the building on 3rd Street. Moving became more frequent with brief residences on Avenue A and later B.
The Loft Parties On Tour
By 1995 Mancuso saw that it was next to impossible to find any reasonably priced spaces in downtown so he had to think a little differently. He explains, "I started to do what I thought I would never do or could do and started to do tours. I did tours and I still do, but rarely because I am very fussy about everything (music / location / electronics...). I started with Japan and I thought I would be leaving my family, but then it got down to survival... It turned out that they would respect the way I wanted to set the sound, balloons and everything so I said at least it's something-it's getting the message out there. I'm learning and growing again in a way I never thought I would."
In addition to touring around the world, Mancuso hosts his Loft parties about 4-6 times a year at an undisclosed location in New York that he rents out for the occasion. When asked why so few parties compared to the past he replies,
I can't find the space and I don't have the resources like I used to. After I lost the building on 3rd Street I have been economically restrained. I've had offers that you can't believe, but there are catches to them and I can't give in to them. I'd rather take the subway and do without the Mercedes Benz... I've known some of my guests for more than twenty-five years and I can't go away from that. The Loft parties are very personal, intimate thing. It's the thing that keeps me going in life.
When asked how long he sees himself doing the Loft parties Mancuso replies, "To my last breath-if they let me do it, sure. A party is made of many components: the group, the music... It's a whole-shared environment and there are many pillars that give it strength. It doesn't revolve around the person. Once that starts to happen, forget about it." Mancuso currently does about 6-8 tours a year.
Loft Parties in the Present Day
The topic of clubs and if he went or still goes to them came up and Mancuso replied,
I went out more then than I do now. It's now become more of an endurance test just to go out. I don't like to go in situations that are over-crowded where you can't dance or where the sound system is so over-powering that your ears are ringing or where beer costs seven dollars a bottle. This is what I am rebelling against. This is the very thing why I do what I do (the Loft parties). I'm not saying that it's wrong, but I want a situation where there is no economic barriers, meaning somebody who didn't eat that day or only has a few dollars in his pocket can eat like a king, drinks are included, you see your friends... There's no difference if you have a lot of money or a little.
David Mancuso Presents The Loft - Nuphonic Compilation CD Series
A discussion on the highly acclaimed David Mancuso presents the Loft multi-volume and multi-disc compilation on UK's Nuphonic Records enfolds. David Mancuso has always been serious about audio quality and very adamant about doing things a certain way so it should come as no surprise that he has turned down many offers over the years to do a compilation album. He tells DiscoMusic.com, "Nuphonic was very responsive, paid careful attention to pressing quality, using the full length of the song and maintaining the integrity of what the artist intended. We took it from there and then Nuphonic went bankrupt despite the fact that the Loft compilations were their best selling item in their catalogue for three years."
UPDATE: The David Mancuso Loft CDs are now long out of print, and fetching big money on the used market with prices well exceeding $100.00(US) per volume.
New Audiophile Records Project
Continuing our discussion on his dance music projects David says that he is currently in negotiations on an upcoming series of 12 inch "audiophile" vinyl record releases. When asked if they will appear on CD he says, "I don't know about the CD part. Personally I don't like CDs-I have a whole issue with them. On the vinyl side they will be high-end audiophile material—Sheffield pressing—incredible stuff. It'll be a lot of stuff that never got released or things that I know about... I have one record called One Day of Peace that was never released that is an incredible record." Mancuso doesn't have a release date yet, but it will be posted here at DiscoMusic.com when that time comes.
Take Latin music. Why has Latin music survived? With all these trends and all, why has it survived? It's live musicians. I think we drift away from the creativity or the energy that music has to offer when we rely too much on electronic devices. I don't mind if a drummer misses a beat once in a while. I'm not a perfect dancer. It's harder to find interesting life energy raising music, but those are cycles and I think things will get better.
That is what Mancuso tells DiscoMusic.com when asked about today's music. He stresses that he doesn't want to judge anything, but those are his feelings and he still finds plenty of music now that raises his life energy.
The Loft Experience
When asked what makes the experience complete Mancuso replies:
It's a vibe. You're having a peace of mind or you're not. Usually the more you shed your ego, the more peace of mind you will have. The music... that's what it allows us to be, free. The Loft parties doesn't function about how good the DJ is-it's about the music.
In closing I must thank David Mancuso for his willingness to discuss the Loft parties with the readers of DiscoMusic.com despite his busy schedule. He was most candid and forthcoming and put up with a lot of questions. It must be noted that during the time frame of our discussions the Loft celebrated its 33rd anniversary and we wish David many, many more years of spreading musical joy.
Update November 14, 2016:
According to longtime friend Luis Mario Orellana Rizzo of Legends of Vinyl, Mr. Mancuso passed away peacefully at the age of 72 in his apartment on Nov. 14, 2016.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez of DiscoMusic.com (March 14, 2003)
Copyright © 2003 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved
- The Loft (David Mancuso's Official Site)
- Frankie Knuckles Interview
- Love Saves the Day - A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979
- David Mancuso, Whose New York Loft Was a Hub of ’70s Night Life, Dies at 72 (New York Times)
- David Mancuso Message of Love (Village Voice)
* Thanks to DJ Luis Mario "Flaco" Orellana for submitting the photo of the 99 Prince St New York Record Pool DJ ID card and the scan of the letter: Declaration of Intent.