The death of the underground New York nightlife father and egalitarian party pioneer David Mancuso brings another sombre reminder that Western club culture is enduring a struggle that it may not be able to survive.
Mancuso was the mastermind behind the widely revered invite-only parties at The Loft in Manhattan. Starting out in the early 70’s at a time when the civil rights of African Americans and members of the LGBTQ community were at the forefront of America’s mind, The Loft was a diverse oasis in which typically marginalised members of society could party in peace. Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster, authors of the 1999 respective of dance music and DJing, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” described the Loft as a place for “the disaffected and disenfranchised”.
Of course, you may raise the point that club culture has no shortage of spaces and events that thrive on exclusivity and heavyweight DJ’s packing the line ups, one obvious example of this being one of the most famous clubs in the world, Berghain. However, what separates The Loft series and most clubs today is the fundamental motivation behind the events themselves, and the maintenance of this ideology.
“How much social progress can there be when you’re in a situation that is repressive?”
Mancuso developed an intimate space where equality and freedom were wholeheartedly at the core. Although Berghain is notorious for it lack of rules and social constructs which usually results in weekend long sessions of debauchery and hedonism, the absence of an entry fee for The Loft series removed economic barriers and ensured that everyone from all walks of life could have a good time.
Once you have the different economical groups mixed together, the social progress starts to kick in. You have people from all walks of life coming together.
Although many modern day clubs and parties can start out with good intentions, often popularity and hype can corrupt the authenticity of these events. It is now rare to see spaces where all are genuinely welcome, regardless of social standing, beauty and economic status, and this is something that Mancuso managed to maintain right until his last party on October 9th of this year.
One other core value that Mancuso championed was sound quality. As a self confessed audiophile, Mancuso rejected the use of a mixer for his parties, insisting that the tracks be played exactly as the artist intended. Macintosh amps and Klipschhorn speakers ensured that Mancuso’s space was filled with high quality sound. The combination of premium sound quality and positive vibes naturally attracted dance music heavyweights such as Frankie Knuckles and François K. The Loft helped influence a multitude of clubs considered ground zero for house music, and even provided inspiration in Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix original The Get Down, which looks back at the birth of hip hop in the 70’s Bronx. Often large festivals and clubs today are criticised for their diminishing audio quality, although a revival of audiophiles within the dance music community is definitely apparent.
Of course, it must be acknowledged that in this current era of partying, it is near impossible to co-ordinate an event of meaningful quality without any significant cost being incurred. But with money often at the forefront of every promoters mind, it can sometimes be difficult to keep inclusivity at the core.
We must ask ourselves, even though we may wish to embody the founding values of underground club culture, do these really manifest? Music genres such as house, techno, rap, hip hop and blues were typically born from times in which the marginalised sought refuge from oppression. This spirit of inclusivity and freedom must be maintained in order to ensure that David Mancuso’s vision, and ultimately that the foundations of club culture do not become a relic of the past.
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