This is an article I penned in November 2016, detailing the ethos of Lucky Cloud Sound System parties and paying homage to the lineage of the late, David Mancuso.
Next weekend we celebrate the life of the late David Mancuso who sadly passed away this month.
Some really touching tributes have been posted on Faceache of late. It seems everyone has a unique take on how they were affected by David’s life story and vision. Feeling inspired, I thought I’d add my own noise to the pile; hopefully from a slightly different perspective.
WHO IS DAVID? I hear you ask.
QUICK HISTORY LESSON
Post ‘68, when the summer of love bubble finally burst, unassuming party host, David Mancuso rode the crest of the wave with an unintentional micro-scene he created in his NYC home. An egalitarian dance floor and community space with no musical boundaries which later became known as ‘The Loft’. The spiralling repercussions of his inaugural 1970 party can still be felt the world over. In short, every modern dance hall owes a massive debt to David’s lineage.[I could spend days waffling about the basic tenets of the Loft setup but being surrounded by hardcore academics, musos and die-hards makes this intimidating to say the very least! For this I’ll bow to everyone’s favourite wordsmith, Tim Lawrence whose wonderful David Mancuso obituary can be found here.]
LUCKY CLOUD SOUND SYSTEM
Lucky Cloud’s ‘Journey to the Light’ parties came along at a potent moment when I was feeling disillusioned with London nightlife. The faddy minimal techno scene of the late naughties felt incredibly prescribed and had little to offer this dancer. As if on cue, I was halfway through reading Love Saves the Day (history of American dance music culture 1970-1979) and a keen listener of Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy’s radio show ‘Cosmodelica’ before I discovered there was a London spinoff of NYC’s Loft ethos…Thus, in 2008, all these threads converged under that fated disco ball. Bizarre synchronicity in action and a sonic trail I’m still following thanks to Alejandro Acensio (who kindly made an introduction to Tim whilst travelling through South America – bless his socks!).
Being part of the Lucky Cloud Sound System family remains one of the biggest honours of my life. I can’t claim to be lucky enough to have known David personally. I often exchanged pleasantries but these crucial moments during the setup ritual could be pretty tense (to put it mildly). Think Jennifer Grey, out of her depth and entering the clubhouse clutching that infamous watermelon. Now replace the watermelon with a dusty brick for Mancuso’s turntable setup and you’re looking at this startled Lucky Cloud minion! ;-b
Bad analogies aside, so much has already been said about the audiophile setup and dramatic arc of music that frames the party. Not all of these accounts however, acknowledge David’s expression of a party as a place of ceremony.
THE LOFT AND CEREMONIAL SPACES
Around the same time I joined Lucky Cloud, I began training with various mentors in a range of shamanic healing practices, including sound therapy, breathwork and the art of crafting/holding ceremonial spaces. I was immediately struck by the many Loft similarities, particularly those found in trance dance rituals (often grounded in Afro-Brazilian culture, said to be 50,000 years old).
Here are five direct comparisons:
1. STRUCTURED CHAOS
The roots of all communal dancing experiences (including theatre) can be found in shamanic ceremony. Here, our ancient ancestors stood at the threshold of life changes to celebrate, anchor or make sense of complex emotions. Somewhere along the line, we lost our connection with these Earth-based traditions as they became engulfed by the concrete and traffic of modern civilisation. To compound things, many of us now feel out of touch with organised religion, or considered neurotic by medical ‘professionals’ as we navigate the upheavals of modern life in the urban jungle.
The modern nightclubbing ritual offers an effective means to escape reality but despite best intentions, altered states with no framework are like pissing in the wind. There’s no real benefit, no navigation point, no place to come back to and no set/setting (to quote Timothy Leary). This is where David’s approach comes in. Conscious escape from reality as a ‘rite of passage’ is the ancient way and – corny though it may sound – this is how I experience the Loft.
Shifting the focus from a business making enterprise and haven for monotheistic DJ worship towards an egalitarian space really is everything. Much of this can be traced to the co-creation aspect. Sure the music, sound and décor are all important but the main emphasis is on building communities like Lucky Cloud, which in turn spiral outward to create change (in David’s case, legions of dance industry figureheads; arguably the fulcrum for today’s global dance movement).
2. HOLDING A CLIENT SPACE
The purpose of ceremony is to stop time and lose all sense of ordinary reality. Meticulous preparation is key is to choreograph a petri dish where the most efficient and complete ‘letting go’ can occur.
In a therapeutic context, there’s a lifetime of learning in holding a strong client space. The more you’re able to facilitate a natural flow and strike a healthy balance of ‘staying fully present’ and ‘getting out of the way’, the more you’ll touch the sweet spot and walk the precarious tightrope towards success. In my own work, I rely on intuition for simple interventions such as verbal communication and hand placements. This interplay brings something interesting to a session as all physical, mental and emotional responses can be honoured and incorporated into the process.
It’s these very principles of holding space and providing subtle interventions with music that David mastered with such aplomb. On the rare occasion I wasn’t working up a sweat, I’d take a look at him and notice his eyes darting backwards and forwards, engaging the periphery and taking in the whole space. It was as if he’d accessed a flow state, or third zone of collective consciousness, beyond the micro/macro, where the beat (or shamanic drum) was boss. Here the record, unfettered and as intended, could shine at its fullest.
These techniques aren’t rocket science, but equally, they can’t be applied through linear thought or any amount of geeking around with Japanese imported tone arms (that comes later). Central to David’s approach was his sense of humility. Grounded and with a focused intent, he eschewed all opportunities for personal fame and recognition as irrelevant to the collective cause. This is precisely why his essence should be a beacon to anyone who works in a group context.
3. IMPORTANCE OF SOUND QUALITY
If you’ve read this far, it’s likely you’re well aware of the hallowed Klipschorn speaker system installed at the Loft. David’s aim was to enhance the purity of the experience by placing dancers within a high-spec, audiophile soundscape. Loft devotees frequently report dancing to ‘classic’ vinyl and noticing subtle nuances in the recording that hadn’t previously come to light.
In the spirit of the Loft, I often incorporate gong sounds into my client work. Yogi Bhajan brought knowledge of the gong, along with Kundalini yoga, to the West in the late 1960’s. He famously commented that the gong is the only instrument with the power to still the human mind (those that struggle to meditate – take note). You could say Paiste is the Klipschorn of the gong world. Manufactured by hand in North Germany, Paiste gongs are favoured by orchestras, performance artists and sound therapists alike due to the high quality of workmanship and purity of metals used in their alloys. The unfathomable sounds produce a range of harmonics, some of which are beyond detection by the human ear. Each strike blossoms and fades, mimicking the sound of the original “om”. These hypnotic drones stimulate the brain to produce theta waves, thereby inducing a meditative state where a deep healing can occur.
David grasped the notion that there’s a harmonic structure to all reality and understood the impact of increased sound sensitivity for going deep. Here’s my favourite of his quotes on the subject:
“We did a test, we took an analogue recording of a bird sanctuary. We went to another bird sanctuary and we played the recording and the birds responded—they heard all these other birds and they started making all this noise and getting all excited—something was really happening. And then they played a digital copy of the same recording and they did nothing. Like they didn’t hear anything. It’s a little revealing of the sensitivity of things.”
4. THE CHILD SPACE
A more recent thread of my studies has been around ‘Rebirthing Breathwork’; a technique discovered by acclaimed author and spiritual growth pioneer, Leonard Orr in the ‘70s. One of Orr’s many theories was that we spend our lives subconsciously seeking to recreate the womb experience using ingrained patterning from our formative years (0-7).
Nourishment in the womb is through the placenta (bellybutton) and big changes take place at birth, physiological and otherwise. During our first moments, the direction of blood flow reverses and breathing begins – this can bring up any number of primal feelings which we subconsciously carry through life and recreate through our daily interactions. We store sensory memories in the body through various tensions which link to emotions, thoughts and narratives.
David Mancuso’s life story adds credence to this theory. He grew up in an orphanage under the care of nun and ‘Earth mother’, Sister Alicia, and was traced decades later by Eddy, one of his friends from the period:
“This was 1984, just as I was moving into Third Street. I explained to him what I did in the Loft that I put on parties and he looked at the room and said, “You’ve got to see these photos!” He brought out all of these pictures that Sister Alicia had saved, and as we looked through the pictures we came across one of a party room that had a record player, records and balloons. It was a mirror reflection of my room in the Loft. We both freaked out in a very nice way.“[This was taken from a fascinating interview conducted by Tim Lawrence. A must read if you have the time.]
All roads to healing point towards our childhood. By unravelling our past we can gain fresh clarity on our story. Here we can feel into early trauma and release emotions in a safe environment. Lucky Cloud is one such place; albeit geared to celebration rather than deep psychotherapeutic purging (!). Nevertheless, it’s a really special womb-like zone for people of all ages with more similarities to a shamanic space than a conventional nightclub. Kids and carers come for the first couple of hours and the playful child energy sets the pace for the evening, ridding the floor of any adult snobbery which is inherent in so many London clubs.
5. EFFECTIVE INTEGRATION
Integration is what comes after insight – it’s a necessary component if we’re to break patterns and move beyond emotional conditioning. It’s a process that takes place on its own terms and requires a gentle easing back into everyday experience. Integration of emotional dis-ease is at odds with the ‘cure’ based approach of modern medicine. It doesn’t promise a destination but more a template for an ongoing inner journey towards complete emotional assimilation, which gradually leads us beyond the manifestation of these outer experiences.
The five elements of Orr’s Rebirthing approach are 1. relaxation; 2. conscious breath; 3. awareness; 4. integration and 5. the concept that everything works. This isn’t dissimilar to Timothy Leary’s famous mapping of the acid trip (ref. The Psychedelic Experience) or the earlier referenced “om” (the sound of creation), both of which David’s Loft journey are said to be based on.
When integration is applied to sound therapy, I always say gongs are used to frame a profound silence which can be used to transmute negative energy and assist the body in healing itself. In Loft terms, we’re talking about the gentle decline in music towards the end of the party towards a more meditative plateau. David’s arc of music is at odds with the “ONE MORE!” culture of rave where a typical night can end on a 150bpm high followed by complete disorientation and dispersal! Subtlety is important if you’re to flow across the whole spectrum of emotion (or energy in motion). This contains the vibration of the party, allowing it to be bottled and spread through the formation of community.
…So as collective intent builds with an unprecedented level of intensity this month, the December 4th party is set to “Go Bang!” in all the right ways.
See you under the balloons. 🙂
In summary, I’d like to thank David for refocusing me on the core of my own practice.
It’s a simple teaching: The place we spiral out from is massively important.
I’d also like to thank Colleen for such a priceless music education and all the lovely Lucky Clouders I’ve met over the years. It’s been a trip!
Feel free to share if it resonates.
Om mani padmi hum / Love saves the day. ♫♪
Photo credits to Jo Kemp.
Main illustration credit to Darren Morgan.
David Mancuso playing musical host at The Light Bar – photograph by Matt Cheetham.