David Mancuso was born on October 20, 1944. Ten days later he was placed in a children's home in Utica where a nun called Sister Alicia looked after him. Mancuso's memory of the period is hazy but he recalls one aspect of the orphanage with absolute clarity: Sister Alicia's party room. "It had balloons, crepe paper, a refrigerator, a piano and a record player with records lying on top," he says. "We would wear party hats and play games around these little tables." Sister Alicia organised a party at every opportunity. "We were kids and we were bubbling with energy so she would get us together and have these parties. She gave parties as often as possible. I wouldn't be surprised if it was every day — or at least every Saturday night."
His first four years were spent in the orphanage, and then he was reunited with his mother. When he was fifteen and a half he left home. He was shinning shoes to support himself, and he soon quit school at sixteen to get more work to pay the rent.
His mother always told him to go to the other side of the train tracks because it led to the side of town where blacks and latino's lived, but he didn't listen and says, "I connected with some of the Blacks and Latino's . 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."
"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."
During the Labor Day weekend of 1962 David and a friend took a trip to New York City. "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.
Mancuso 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.
Around 1965 David 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.
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 David Mancuso 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.
At the Loft parties he would play everything from Jazz to classical and everything in between." Mancuso was not into categories and was and still is open to all forms of music. He had no set playlist and played mainly by ear and from what he and his friends would research, discover and share.
"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."
Mancuso's 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 DJ's, remixers and even club owners. People such as...
All of the above were regulars of the Loft parties.
Danny Krivitt- "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 Francois Kevorkian (Francois K)."
In 1974 David Mancuso moved the Loft parties over to a larger space 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% 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.
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.