When I moved to New York I wished that its legendary dance scene, the one from the seventies and eighties that people never shut up about, was still alive—that I could pop in at Paradise Garage or The Gallery or The Loft, maybe wearing tan polyester poplin leisure pants or something pleathery with lots of studs in it, and writhe the night away. I don’t know why I wanted this. It takes three drinks to get me to look at a dance floor with anything other than fear. But I’d listen to the music from this era on my 160 GB iPod Classic (still ticking, thanks be) convinced that I’d been born too late, dreaming up names for twelve-inch house and disco tracks while I walked around. “Susurrations of the Heart.” “Avenue Days, Boulevard Nights.” “Our Ribbon Cutting (Snip-Snip Vocal Mix).” There were other even stupider ones, I don’t know. I’d pass by the old locations of these clubs and think, Well, Dan, that’s where it all happened, alright. I was a disco tourist, guilty of romanticizing a New York I never knew: one that wasn’t made for me, one whose return was made more impossible every day as people like me (straight, white, male) moved here in untenable droves, and I knew that. But I forgot it whenever I put on Dexter Wansell’s “Life on Mars,” or Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face,” or Ashford & Simpson’s “Stay Free.”
Those tracks are all on David Mancuso Presents The Loft, a two-disc compilation that I kept in heavy rotation the first year I lived here. Mancuso, the impresario behind The Loft and thus someone who can legitimately claim to have thrown some of the best parties ever, died this week at seventy-two.
Others—people who were actually there, rather than pretending—have told his story better than I could; actually, in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy this summer, Mancuso told it pretty well himself. His Loft, which started officially in 1970 with a party called “Love Saves the Day,” wasn’t a commercial space. It was a private party every Saturday night, catering largely to the LGBTQ community and boasting, where sound quality was concerned, the kind of audiophile production values that can turn dance music from a hobby into a religion.
If religion is too strong a word, philosophy definitely isn’t. Along with Nicky Siano and Larry Levan—who ran The Gallery and Paradise Garage, respectively—Mancuso defined and protected a utopian vision for club culture, one that bears repeating. As the electronic-music site Resident Advisor notes,
The private party kept an egalitarian ethos at its core. “I want a situation where there are 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,” Mancuso told Disco Music. “There’s no difference if you have a lot of money or a little.”
Mancuso’s death affords us a chance not just to remember that ethos but to reconstruct it at 140 beats per minute seven nights a week, because god knows it could use some reconstruction right now, times being what they are. If you’re trying to change the world—even if you, like me, are just another New York transplant—you could do worse than pick up a pair of Klipschhorn speakers, two turntables, and some hot-fire Patti Labelle promo pressings. Mancuso said The Loft’s guiding principle was “social progress”: as we head into a long, cold winter, it should be our party line, too.
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.