David Mancuso, Legendary NYC DJ and Club Innovator, Dead at 72

Founder of underground venue the Loft created safe space for LGBTQ community, paved way for Paradise Garage

David Mancuso, an influential New York City DJ and founder of the revolutionary club the Loft, has died at the age of 72. Credit: Allan Tannenbaum/Getty

David Mancuso, the pioneering DJ and founder of the groundbreaking New York club the Loft, died Monday, according to a Facebook post by Kid Recordings owner Craig Shifty. He was 72. The cause of death is unknown.

"My heart is broken," Shifty wrote of Mancuso. "He will be greatly missed but, thankfully, he left the world a lasting vibrant legacy that continues to inspire and influence countless generations of music lovers and clubbers … and what a gift that is!"

Mancuso hosted his first Loft party in 1970 in New York City. The private, underground bash was one of the first of its kind and was designed to foster diversity and provide a safe space for a primarily LGBTQ audience, who were often harassed at other clubs. Mancuso was able to avoid police interference and skirt NYC's oppressive cabaret laws by not selling food or drink at the Loft, eventually winning a lengthy administrative trial against the City that paved the way for future clubs including Paradise Garage, the Gallery and the Saint.

"If disco – and the music which came after – has an angel, it is the raggedy figure of David Mancuso," Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton wrote in the essential dance music history book Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. "If it has a birthplace, it is his club, the Loft." 

"David Mancuso, a pioneer [and] titan of of NYC nitelife," tweeted Mark Ronson, while venerated electronic label Ninja Tune wrote, "RIP David Mancuso. NYC's original disco DJ, bringing egalitarianism to the dancefloor since 1970."

"A lot of times I wouldn't enjoy things about going to certain places, from the sound system to the door policy," Mancuso told Red Bull earlier this year. "I was able to prevent that, and by having a certain way of doing things, we promoted social progress. To this day, there's no dress code. There's no age control. You don’t have a liquor license. 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. The music also had a lot of crossover. We had all kinds of music being played, from one end of spectrum to the other, and people found out that, 'Hey, I like Led Zeppelin and I like James Brown.'"

As a DJ during his own Love Saves the Day parties, Mancuso eschewed typical beat-matching and pitch-shifting. Instead, he played songs in their entirety over his state-of-the-art sound system. His eclectic collection played no favorites, blending rock, pop, funk, soul, Latin, jazz and anything else that would keep dance floors full. His was a world where Loft staples Steve Miller Band's "Macho City," Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" and future b-boy anthem Babe Ruth's "The Mexican" all found a home.

Mancuso also helped develop the record pool system, a method of distribution that allowed labels and artists to bring new releases to a central location where they'd then be handed out among influential DJs.

In 1999 and 2000, Mancuso collected an array of cuts spun during his Seventies heyday on a two-part compilationThe Loft. Other playlists featuring Loft favorites are also available to peruse online. Even after Mancuso stepped away from the decks, the Loft continued to throw several parties around the world each year. 

New York dance music group Hercules and Love Affair summed up the feelings of many Loft attendees: "David Mancuso gave the Loft to the world as a celebration of music with a spirit of inclusivity and was all about the best version of humanity."