How NYC’s Loft Created The Template For Today’s Dance Music Culture

Dance Party Hero:
Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images
– Dance Party Hero:
David Mancuso, founder of The Loft, the New York City house party that helped change the world in New York in October 1974.

Fifty years ago, on Valentine’s Day 1970, a New York hippie of sorts and hi-fi aficionado named David Mancuso threw a party for some friends. “Love Saves the Day,” went the invitations – a winking reference to the LSD that spiked the punchbowl, but also a genuine mission statement. 
“It’s always about dancing and music,” Mancuso told interviewer Bernard Lopez in 2003. Mancuso’s parties, which were soon renamed the Loft, after the high-ceilinged, second-floor space on Broadway where he lived and threw the events, became an underground legend – and marked the beginning of disco as a cultural phenomenon.
So much of the ethos and essence of today’s dance music, whether at a warehouse in Berlin, an EDM festival in Brazil or an underground house music club in Oakland, was pioneered at the Loft half a century ago. This includes creating inclusive communities in safe spaces centered around dance and banging beats played on top-notch sound systems meant to bring people together as well as something of an escape from the temporal world. 
On Valentine’s Day of 2020, the Loft celebrated its momentous 50th anniversary, though Mancuso had passed away some three years earlier in November 2016 at age 72. “David Mancuso always wanted the parties to continue after his passing and in the last few years of his life,” says Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, the co-founder of the London-based Lucky Cloud Sound System, who was  influenced by the culture and ethos of the Loft.
“He still ran the parties from the behind the scenes, but preferred not to be behind the turntables. After his passing, a trusted group of us continued throwing the parties uninterrupted, four times a year.” Mancuso considered himself a “musical host,” not a DJ, per se – beat-mixing and other forms of turntable trickery didn’t interest him – but the Loft directly inspired a slew of night-spots that took its ideas into a more commercial realm, such as the Gallery (founded by Nicky Siano), the Paradise Garage (with the legendary DJ Larry Levan at the helm), and, in Chicago, the Warehouse – founded by Loft regular Robert Williams and the home, between 1977 and 1982, of DJ Frankie Knuckles. The latter venue is the source of the term “house music.” 
Those offshoots were businesses as much as communities. Mancuso, on the other hand, wasn’t interested in profits, per se. “It was basically a rent party. Private: by invitation only,” he told Lopez. “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.”
A Disciple:
Sal Idriss / Redferns / Getty Images
– A Disciple:
Frankie Knuckles, a.k.a. “The Godfather of House,” honed his DJ skills in New York City before moving to Chicago in the late 1970s where he and his friend Robert Williams opened the Warehouse, which became the source of House Music. Pictured here DJing in London circa 2000.
Although the Loft has a healthy number of members – Murphy politely declined to share exact numbers with Pollstar – atmosphere continues to be its top priority. “I’m sure David would have been proud of the loyalty and love that filled our party space,” Murphy says. “It was magical. We also continue to host the Lucky Cloud Loft parties in London, which were co-founded by David and a group of us in 2003.”
Murphy first attended the Loft in 1991, when it was on East Third Street. She’d just graduated from NYU and was working in radio when she walked in and, as she recently told NPR, “fell down the rabbit hole . . . I had to keep asking people, ‘What’s this song? What’s this song?’ It was the kind of psychedelic, emotive music I was into, but also a lot of music I’d never been exposed to.”
Murphy’s partners in Lucky Cloud are Jeremy Gilbert and Tim Lawrence, both London academics who’ve published extensively about dance music – Gilbert is the co-author of “Discographies: Dance Music, Culture and the Politics of Sound,” while Lawrence has published three books, including a pair of definitive titles on the New York DJ scene of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, “Love Saves the Day” (2004) and “Live and Death on the New York Dance Floor” (2016). Mancuso is the central figure of the former – the Loft’s 35th anniversary event doubled as its launch party. 
Mancuso was a fanatic for detail – the Loft’s sound system’s specs include “Mark Levinson amplifiers, handmade Klipschorn speakers, and Koetsu turntable cartridges, crafted by the Japanese sword-maker, artist and hi-fi aficionado Yoshiaki Sugano,” as a 2018 profile of Lucky Cloud on the dance website Resident Advisor noted. This was consistent with Mancuso’s ethos – along with hundreds of colorful balloons festooning the room’s ceiling and corners. 
The Loft, which still continues 4 times a year in NYC and Murphy is  one of the musical hosts and a member of the team that puts it together.  And Mancuso was a musical host of the Lucky Cloud Loft Parties in NYC which he helped guide and support. 
“The membership system is still the same as it was when David was hosting parties in his own home,” Murphy says. “Before one is able to apply for a membership (at no cost), one has to come along to the party with a friend who is a member. All members are responsible for the people that accompany them to the party.

“We expect our party attendees and dancers to behave in a way that aligns with The Loft principles so that it remains a safe space in which one can tap into their childlike spirit and experience the pure love of dancing and music. We still send out our invitations by post and refrain from social media so that the party can remain private and this is one of the reasons that it has survived to this day.”

The Loft isn’t the only musical gathering Murphy hosts – she’s also behind Classic Album Sundays, a “traveling festival sound system” called Love Dancin’ (after a key lyric from the Loft classic “Is It All Over My Face?” by Loose Joints), and the more recent Cosmodelica parties. But the Loft is clearly home base. One of her bonds with Mancuso was their shared love of quality sound. 
“When we started the Lucky Cloud party in London, my partners and I bought our own sound system from the Koetsu moving coil cartridges to the Klipschorn loudspeakers,” she says. “This is how my journey into audiophile sound reproduction started. Once you have experienced pure, unadulterated, analog sound, it is very difficult to go back. When people hear their favorite songs or albums on a world-class sound system, they experience the music the way in which the artist intended.
“Classic Album Sundays developed both out of my own experience of hosting events, radio shows, and artist interviews, along with my experience of setting up the Lucky Cloud sound system under David’s tutelage. I incorporate these sonic principles into everything I do.” That includes a volume limit. 
“David’s philosophy was that his guests should leave the party with more energy than when they arrived,” Lawrence told Resident Advisor. “If you’ve been bombarded with sound you go out exhausted, your ears ringing, you’re physically shattered.”
Where rock bands’ 50th-anniversary tours might signify nostalgic profit taking, the Loft’s anniversary has a different cast – a celebration of an ongoing community. Murphy describes the anniversary party as “oversubscribed more than usual as Loftees old and new [who] travelled from all over the world to take part.” 
And those Loftees are truly intergenerational. “We were over the moon to be joined by two dancers who attended David’s very first Love Saves the Day party on February 14th, 1970: David Felton, who celebrated his 80th birthday at midnight, and Tina Magennis, who first started attending Mancuso’s informal house parties whilst she was in university,” says Murphy. “Happily we also welcomed a healthy contingent of Gen-Z 20-somethings and even children in the early hours of the party. The Loft’s enduring ethos of community and sharing the life energy of music transcends all barriers of age.”