DJ History - Part 2
Disco’s very birth was the result of the big bang between contradictory impulses: exclusion and inclusion, glamour and dilapidation, buying in and dropping out, engagement and withdrawal, earnestness and frippery.
David Mancuso grew up in an orphanage where a nun would often hold parties for the children, playing records in a room decorated with balloons and crepe paper. He spent a lot of time in the surrounding countryside listening to birds, lying next to a spring and listening to water go across the rocks, where he was inspired on the continuous flow of one sound into another. He started making tapes where he would take a long song and as soon as the song ended, he would put some kind of sound effect and the next record would come in, so it was one continuous flow of some kind of sound information. He would invite friends over to huge parties at his loft in an abandoned warehouse. On Valentine’s day 1970, David decided to make his parties a bit more formal. The “Love Saves The Day” party was heralded by and invitation decorated with the reproduction of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence Of Memory”. His invitation-only parties (which soon became members-only parties, with free membership) came to be known as the Loft, where the ceiling had hung balloons and colored streamers, a Christmas tree lit year-round. Mancuso controlled the party from a booth above the dance floor that was designed like an old Wurlitzer jukebox. He is credited with what may very well be the foundation of the disco sound to New York’s DJ community.
The legendary Loft sound system with lights that shimmered, thanks to an array of tweeters that faced north, south, east and west, and lows cocooned the dancers.
Where Grasso was dazzling dancers at the Sanctuary and the Haven with his skill and working them to surging peaks of musk and sweat, Mancuso was using similar techniques to almost the opposite effect. He may have defined Disco as a certain kind of rhythmic drive but Mansuco created it’s lushness and elegance. While they shared many songs on their play-lists, Mancuso would play them in a different way: He would let them build and crash, rather than focusing on, and extending, the groove. He discovered an obscured record “Soul Makossa” by Cameroonian jazzman Manu Dibango and added it to a gentle flux mix with a song called “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba (Drums of Passion and some James Brown grooves. This elongation and elastication of the funk was the disco aesthetic in a nutshell and other variants of this theme would become minor disco classics. He is credited with introducing what may very well be the foundation of the disco sound to New York’s DJ community.
While radio DJn was an honest and respectable business, the underground DJ was an underground pariah who only brought unwanted focus on the seamier side of the music industry and was dealt with accordingly. Mancuso wanted to change this and set about organizing New York’s DJs and chartered the Record Pool in 1975. The idea was that the record companies could save money by sending promotional material to one centralized office and wouldn’t have to deal with the DJ rabble coming to their offices in search of free records. The DJs would get all the new records without having to trek around the city and without being rejected because of their club wasn’t important enough. Many of the DJ who were part of the Record Pool were inspired to spin because of Mancuso and The Loft. DJs like Nicky Siano, Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, David Rodriguez and Tee Scott were all second generation disco DJs who built on the foundations that Mancuso and Grasso planted and codified the sound and attitude of disco. David Rodriguez , along with Michael Cappello, was the DJ at the original Limelight in 1972. He was perhaps the first of the storyteller DJs, linking his records thematically rather than by beat or groove.
Nicky Siano opened the Gallery in 1973. Siano built on Grasso’s turntables innovations and took them to new realms of expressivity and intensity. Playing on three turntables, while controlling the club’s lights with foot pedals, he would take records and stretch them completely out of shape. He is also credited with pioneering the use of varispeed turntables in club Djing. Taking advantage of the turntable’s ability to vary its speed, and thus the pitch and tempo of the record it’s playing, Siano was able to craft mixes and blends that were almost letter-perfect. In Siano’s hands, the transitions were now taut, well-defined, and smooth. It would be hard to overstate the impact of this on the Djing scene. A whole new world was created. He also shaped the direction of what would soon be called disco music. He loved deep, deep bass and Alex Rosner design him a sound system with forbiddingly dark bass reproduction and crossover points on is mixing board so he could isolate the treble, midrange and bass of a record. More than any DJ before him, Siano homed in on the break of a song. While the percussive breakdowns of records were focal points in the sets of Grasso and Mancusso, Siano pushed this aesthetic over the top. Grasso and Mancusso both built up to the breaks, but Siano attacked them right down from the get-go and played his favorite parts of a record over and over and over again by using two copies at once.
Condensed by Johnny V
Focusing on the DJ, dance floor, lighting and sound aspects.