"The Garage opened my eyes to the future of club music. I don't think I'd be where I am now if I hadn't gone there. It was that influential. There wasn't a vibe in the British clubs at the time. Here it was all about what you wore and how you looked. In Paradise Garage it was all about the music, the sound system, and the dancing."
- Paul Oakenfold
VII. WORKIN' THE BIG APPLE
In '70s NYC and, indeed, America it was relatively easy to enjoy a "bohemian" lifestyle. One could work to live, not visa-versa. It was OK to wash dishes and spend one's more important energies studying literature or art, dancing all night, painting, writing, making music, and a host of activities that many view now as commercially unviable and soft-minded. Rents were cheap, and even if one couldn't afford an apartment if you were smart and moved in the right circles you could always find a place to crash. Further, it was bad form to talk about educational background, careers, money and all the other status stuff people seem to be invested in these days. Being uneducated and poor wasn't a tremendous handicap, at least in the underground scene, if one had a talent.
Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, two very important figures in the development of house music and the modern dance scene, were two black teenagers from Brooklyn who, like a lot of other gay kids, were workin' the big apple at the dawn of gay party culture.
Larry was a tall, skinny kid, a year older than Frankie. Frankie was heavy set. I always thought Larry was, on the whole, the more attractive of the two. Not that he was what one would label "beautiful." But he had electric eyes, enormous native intelligence and creativity, and a wild, free, impulsive magnetic personality. Larry lived for the moment. Frankie, on the other hand, was more prudent and future-oriented.
Larry told me the two first met in their mid-teens through the underground drag ball competitions in Harlem that had been going on in NYC since the turn of the century. Both of them were put to work sewing beads on a gown for a diva, and a life-long friendship began.
A. THE LOFT
One night while our boys were hanging out at the Planetarium, a club in the East Village, Larry was cruised by David Mancuso, who had an affinity for black boys, and the two had a brief affair. The relevancy here is that through this fortuitous meeting Larry and Frankie were introduced into the world of dance music, DJs and producers through Mancuso's legendary Loft parties.
David Mancuso was, is, a great person, DJ, producer and a devoted lover of the fellowship of dance and music. Then he was a hippie type activist with long hair and a beard.
David opened a private gay dance club in the early '70s at his loft on Broadway in the SoHo district. It came to be known as "The Loft". The Loft later moved to 99 Prince Street, which was where I first attended some parties.
You could only get into the Loft by private invitation. This was not because Mancuso wanted to create an elitist environment. The space was limited. And he intentionally wanted to bring together diverse groups of gays who wouldn't ordinarily party together to create a democratic, integrated venue. David was powerfully attracted to black music and culture as well as men, so this Loft party was instrumental in bringing together wealthy, white gay men, many of them music executives, with this black musical dance culture he adored.
"The Loft was very different, because it was a very black, very gay crowd, and it was only one night a week. It was a house party; it lasted from midnight to seven A.M., and that was it. It cost two bucks to get in, and everything inside was free: coat check, spreads of food you couldn't believe, and the best punch you've ever tasted." - Steve D'Acquisto
Because of New York liquor rules The Loft served no booze. But, as was the custom at the time, there were lots of drugs - amyl, weed, LSD, MDA, coke - and some say that the memorable punch was laced with LSD.
The Loft quickly became the center of NYCs underground dance music scene. David spent a ton of bucks to create the best sound system available. Everything was custom made: amps, turntables, speakers, even cartridges. It was all designed specifically for his spaces, and the ranges from low basses to clear highs was unlike anything I had experienced before. David was also a great set designer and the ambiance of the place was an ever-changing array of color. He used theatrical lighting, among other things.
The play list and the DJ technologies here were not much different from the Sanctuary or other gay clubs at the time. The Loft just refined and built the music with its unparalleled sound system and unique, integrated, and soul-moving party vibe. Importantly, here lasting impressions were made and important connections facilitated for a lot of the talent that was to build electronic music.
Larry and Frankie were regular attendees at The Loft. Mancuso taught them much about what went into creating a perfect dance space: sound, lighting, production, music and DJ techniques. And it was at The Loft that the music underground got to know them.
Another regular at The Loft was Nicky Siano, another gay teenager from Brooklyn. Nicky was preparing to open his own gay club, the Gallery. Nicky met both our boys at Mancuso's and invited them to work at his new club.
B. THE GALLERY
Siano was a very serious, passionate and excellent DJ. When he was living at home in Brooklyn he spent most of his time trying to perfect that seamless mix. When he opened his club he installed not two, but three turntables so he could use an effects recording -- for example with industrial sounds, wind, drums, roaring aircraft engines -- on one turntable to create "noise" whilst moving form one record to the another on the other two tables, thus obscuring the gap between the two sounds.
He also introduced some new music into the scene that had until now danced to a mix of soul, Motown and rock: Philly soul.
Both Larry and Frankie learned to DJ under Nicky's instruction. Nicky also had a brief affair with Larry, I understand.
Larry's first job at the Gallery was club decorator and promoter. Larry's genius for creating a unique and engaging total club vibe caught fire here. His atmospheric concepts were wild and off the hook. He became an expert with the light board. And he did stuff like spiking the punch with LSD.
Nicky's innovative techniques soon attracted more than happy dancers. Industry types began frequenting the Gallery and he, along with Larry and Frankie, developed important relationships with key people at major labels. Nicky asked these execs to provide free records to try out at the club, and they agreed, and the practice of demos soon became standard practice.
Interestingly, when Nicky, Larry and Frankie created the successful Gallery club parties they were all under legal drinking age.
Both Larry and Frankie learned Nicky's three turntable techniques and acquired his taste for Philly soul. They were soon ready to move out on their own.