Douglas Sherman playing at The Loft last week. Photo by Fatik.
It’s hard to imagine a party where the DJ doesn’t mix. It’s even harder to imagine a party where people stop and clap after every song. But four times a year, it happens, and it’s probably the best party you’ll ever go to in your life.
The party is The Loft. To try and describe the impact that The Loft has had on the world is like trying to describe the impact of the nuclear bomb, it changed everything. The seminal ‘Love Saves the Day’ party was started by David Mancuso 46 years ago on Valentine’s Day in his NYC loft and every modern-day dance music party has been inspired by it in one way or another.
Douglas Sherman has played a large part in the party for the past 35 years and for the past 3 years, under the mentorship of Mr. Mancuso, he’s been its musical host. He started as a dancer but soon after began to help decorate, then helped out at the coat check and later assisted David with playing records at the parties. Douglas has seen the parties evolve through the years but he said the feeling is still the same, its love.
With love and balloons, he’s launching a music series at Good Room this weekend; Adventures In Flight (buy your tickets here). Douglas will travel across a more experimental path where the “music will reach the listener’s ear and inspire the dancer’s heart, creating an atmosphere where every record stands on its own and the music plays us.” We asked Douglas to share a few stories ahead of the party to learn more about his life as a dancer, a musical host and most importantly, his deep respect as a lover of music and musicianship.
You were 10 years old when you first started buying records right? In a city like New York, how do you find the space to store them all?
I don’t have as many as you might imagine, maybe 2500 records that are stored at my home. I stopped buying records when I had my daughter. The cost of providing her with vocal and dance lessons took priority. I wasn’t buying or playing records for about six years but that changed again when David asked me to assist him during The Loft parties sometime between.
Do you still have some of the earlier records that you bought?
The first album I bought was the soundtrack from Shaft and I still have it. It’s playable but with a lot of pops and ticks on it. I have acetates (records) from my parents who were folk singers and performed as Larry and Trudy Sherman. They were close to landing a record deal but that fell apart when they got divorced. During their years together they composed their own songs and practiced a lot at home. They performed around Greenwich Village at places like Folk City, The Bitter End, Village Gate and other similar venues. Greenwich Village was an amazing place where you could discover all kinds of music. For me, it was a lot of fun as a kid, getting dragged along to some of those shows. I didn’t get dragged up on stage with my parents though, I’m not a musician but I did get drum lessons, guitar lessons and piano lessons. I never excelled at it because I wasn’t a disciplined kid who would practice every day.
Music was something I always gravitated to though. My father had a pretty good sound system at the time and he played a variety of music. I was fascinated with it maybe in part because it was an escape from all the emotional stuff going on in my household with my parent’s divorce. As a child I couldn’t intellectualize all that stuff.
Were you a dancer back in the day?
As I got older I began to gravitate towards more soul, R’N’B and jazz. I just loved dance-driven music, so it could be anything in that realm. When I got into it, I’m not a professional dancer by any means, but I took Hustle lessons. I got so good that I ended up teaching it briefly at a dance school called Dancing Oasis on 57th and Lexington. It was right down the block from where I went to the High School of Art and Design on Second Ave. I kind of stumbled across this dance school one day on the way home from school. The owner of Dancing Oasis was very gracious and allowed me to hang out in their studio and learn how to dance. The Hustle was popular at the time and I really got into it but eventually I moved away from the whole thing and got into freestyle dancing.
Tell me about your first Loft party. What sucked you in at that first experience?
It was 1979 during my college years and a friend of mine had an invitation to The Loft and asked if I wanted to go. I was aware of the parties and it was the first time I had the opportunity to go. As it turned out, it was a totally different experience from anything I had been to before in terms of a party, a club, anything. It took a while for me to get my head around what David (Mancuso) was doing musically. It was a real culture shock for me. And up to that moment, I thought I knew dance music fairly well but after going to this party, I realized I knew nothing about playing records. It was a revelation of sorts and I basically had to empty my mind and start all over again. I remember there was a moment when I was leaving the party and I thought, what the hell did I just experience? I didn’t have a ringing in my ears like I got in most clubs at that time from music being played too loud. I got there at 2am and came out at 11am on Sunday morning. I walked outside and the sun was out which felt amazing. There was intensity on almost every level; the music, the dancing, the food, and the people. Some of them were the best dancers I had ever seen at a party. Man, they got loose! After that experience I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I was hooked!
Besides the change in address, how authentic is The Loft experience now compared to when you first went in 1979?
It’s still an underground and private event. I would also add that it’s more of a feeling and the feeling to me is the same, its love. It’s the idea that it’s a celebratory experience, together with everyone. You shed the ego and realize there’s a freedom where dancers and the music come together. It’s all about the music; it really doesn’t matter who’s behind the turntables if they connect on this level. In the end, it’s a collaboration of everything, from the person at the front door or the coat check, to the food, the music and what you bring in terms of that feeling and energy. In that regard, it’s still the same.
How did you get involved at The Loft?
Well, after I got hooked on the parties, I became friendly with some of the staff. The Loft parties have always remained private and by invitation only, so I was reliant on someone getting me in. At one party I was celebrating my birthday and Buddy Hoskins, who has since passed away, used to do the door with Steve D’Aquisto. Buddy and I struck up a friendship and on this night I mentioned to him that it was my birthday and in turn, as a gift, he sponsored me for an invitation. So now I had my own invitation to The Loft and I’d want to go and hear the very first record David would play. The Loft opened at midnight and on this one weekend I got there early. They were still setting up for the party and the staff were very friendly, so they allowed me in and at some point David came over and asked if I would help with the decorations. Of course I said yes and he handed me a bagful of balloons, a bunch of rubber bands and a giant red electric balloon inflator. I thought this is awesome but I have no idea what to do (laughing). David and the staff showed me how to put them up and that was my introduction to getting involved, I just offered to help. That was around 1980.
I became more deeply involved with the Loft after David relocated to a new place on the Lower East Side somewhere between 1982 and ‘83. David had purchased a building that was formally a theatre. He renovated it and restarted his Loft parties but close to two thirds of his following peeled off. Many of his friends and guests were fearful of going into that area at night. It was a rough neighborhood and a long walk from the train. At one point, David had a shuttle bus to pick up guests from the train and drop them off too but people were still uncomfortable with the neighborhood, so he lost a lot of his following. I was a dedicated Loft-head and I thought the parties were even better than before David moved. The theatre space was superior acoustically and sounded magical when David played records.
I just continued to help and before I knew it I was helping with the coat check and became more involved. There was one Saturday when David wasn’t going to be available to play and he asked a trusted friend, Elyse to play records in his absence. She agreed to do it but she didn’t know the music that well. She was aware that I knew David’s record selections and said she would do it if I could assist her. David agreed and Elyse and I did two parties together. After that Elyse told David she thought it was silly for both of us to be behind the turntables with me handing her records to play. It’s important to note that I never asked to be in this position. In the 35-plus years that I’ve been involved with David and The Loft I have never asked him to play records. It just happened organically. There was never a push because David would never allow that.
From a Loft perspective, the only way that things can germinate is organically. If you allow egos to get in the way or attempt to promote things, David will put a stop to it. The Loft is really sacred ground and not about promotion or commercialism or anything like that. It just comes back to it being an underground, private party, that’s it. There’s always been a sense of freedom among people at The Loft; to lose yourself on the dance floor. Alcohol wasn’t sold or served; it’s always been BYOB, whatever you wish to bring to elevate that sense of freedom. For me, it was a change of clothes because I would sweat so much from dancing.
What do you think is the significance of The Loft?
David wasn’t the first but the climate at the time made his parties unique and special. A heightened climate of social change was happening all around the country and I think, to an extent, The Loft served as an incubator for social progress. There was a sense of freedom where men could dance with men, women with women, black with white and so on, and that’s where things on a social level can get started or elevated. For many people, that was social progress.
The Loft has inspired hundreds of parties around the world, including Joy. Can you tell me a bit about that and how you got involved with that crew?
My friend, Nari, had been doing parties for a number of years. He is an audiophile who loves dance music and was originally hosting parties in his home in the Bronx with a small group of friends. His lease expired and he had to move, eventually finding a new place. It was during that transitional period that I became more involved with his parties along with our friends, Takaya and Yuji.
Nari encouraged me to share the ideas and concepts that I had learned from David and the Loft around safety, acoustics, food, and so on. Nari also liked what I did with balloons and I’ve always had an idea to decorate a room using all Mylar-foil balloons. We all put together our ideas and our skills to make it work. It started with small clusters of balloons and eventually we got the whole ceiling covered.
Nari is originally from Japan and when he first came to New York City, one of the early parties he went to was The Loft. It happened to be on a night I was covering for David and he told me later that he always remembered me from that experience. It was maybe seven or eight years later that we finally connected and began to collaborate on JOY.
If you came home after work one day and you wanted to sit down and relax, what kind of record would you put on?
It really depends on my mood. I love all kinds of music and I do a lot of homework listening to different labels, musicians, vocalists, and producers. I was recently at A1 Records (a used record store on the Lower East Side), and they were playing a record by Shuggie Otis called Freedom Flight. I thought the music was amazing and wasn’t familiar with the artist. Like Prince, Shuggie Otis composes and performs all the music and instruments on the album. I asked if the record was already spoken for and it wasn’t, so I bought it and listened to it several times over the next few days at home. I also got into Prins Thomas’ latest 3-LP release, a more ambient listening experience. I do spend hours just listening to music and for the past few weeks, I’ve been heartbroken over the death of Prince. He was the consummate artist and we danced to many of his songs that David played at the Loft over the years.
What’s the idea behind your new party, Adventures in Flight?
I was invited out in LA to do a private party with Music for Dancers, a private event hosted by Thomas Klepper and his partner Joshua Thomas. They are audiophiles who were interested in the Loft and its influences as an underground party. Thomas is also a recording artist who records his own electronic music. I brought this Orbital record with me called Semi Detached and when we listened to it during our sound check it created a moment where we all kind of connected musically and out of that Thomas came up with the name, Adventures in Flight. So out of that came the idea for the series where I can try out new and unfamiliar records with an audience. But the basic underlying concept remains the same; that a record should stand on its own. By the way, I couldn’t mix records to save my life. That’s a skill left to others.
You describe yourself as a musical host, what does that mean to you exactly?
I think, in that regard, I want to feel worthy of the records that I’m playing. Again, I am not a musician. The responsibility I have is to allow the record to be heard the way the artist intended. I don’t consider myself a DJ because a DJ will do things to manipulate a record and there’s nothing wrong with that. Francois (K) is a master at that. He can remix on the fly. I’m on the opposite side of it, that it would be nice to the whole record. It’s a great record without the manipulation.
Douglas Sherman is playing all night long in the Bad Room on June 4 at the launch of his new party ‘Adventures in Flight’. Tickets available here.