In the 1970s to early 80s, New York’s influence on the creation and sculpting of the sound of disco is undeniable. Disco represented freedom and a community that didn’t reject those already rejected by the city’s tough environment at the time. Devotee’s apartments, previous parking facilities and rough bars turned clubs transformed into places of ritual dance where freedom of expression was championed and open minds welcomed. Although the heyday of disco only lasted a few short years up until it’s untimely ‘death’ in 1979, it’s impact on popular culture and music is unquestionable. Everything we do at Future Disco is effected or inspired by this era and there’s no understating the importance of NYC’s club scene on todays music. Here are 5 of the long gone disco havens in the genre’s capital, New York:
1. Studio 54
A pillar of hedonism and debauchery, Studio 54, was one of the most renown clubs of the disco scene. Opened in 1977 at the height of disco by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the club quickly became the go to destination for A-list celebrities and hopeful punters alike. The door staff were notoriously picky on who they would let in and even if you were a known name there was no guarantee that you would be granted entry, which ironically inspired one of the biggest disco tracks ever; La Freak (hear the story in disco legend Nile Rogers’ own words here). Studio 54 closed in 1980 after the owners were caught evading taxes, it then went through the hands of two new owners and was closed down for good in 1986. Despite being closed for over 35 years, Studio 54’s notoriety still echoes on to this day.
2. Paradise Garage
Open from 1978 to 1987 and home to resident DJ Larry Levan, Paradise Garage was set in New York’s bohemian SoHo neighbourhood and was markedly a utopia and incubator for the LGBT crowd and culture. The Garage was one of the first clubs to champion dancing over pure socialising paving the way for modern club culture, it also did not serve alcohol so the club could be granted a licence to stay open after hours. The club’s layout was reportedly modelled around its sound system, which is said to have been the best in New York City at that time and described by DJ François Kevorkian as a “temple of music”. Not only was Paradise Garage a proprietor of disco, the eclectic style of music spun is where the term ‘Garage Music’ was first coined (although this is not to be confused with UK Garage).
3. The Loft
It was the year 1970 when David Mancuso found himself short on money to pay rent, so he decided to throw a party in his Manhattan loft apartment charging $2.50 on entry (with coat check, food and beverages as a given) and the rest was history. The Loft became one of the most influential dance parties of the 1970’s and even outlined the ideology for Paradise Garage, with it’s exclusivity in invitations but inclusivity of sexuality and culture, audiophile quality sound system and no alcohol served. Manusco rejected the DJ norm of beat matching and mixing, instead he would let records play from start to finish – “[At The Loft], even house records are played with intro and outro beats, and are sometimes eight, nine, 10, 11 minutes long,” said Paul Raffaele.
4. The Gallery
Opened by brothers Nicky and Joe Siano, This & That Gallery (colloquially known as The Gallery) was strictly a private club and where the illustrious Grace Jones made her debut. Nicky was a skilled DJ and was just 18 at the time of the clubs opening. Dance music royalty Frankie Knuckles stated that he and Larry Levan “spent a lot of the time hanging out in the booth, watching Nicky’s every move. He pretty much taught us what we we’re doing.”. Its first location was opened from 1972 to 1974 (and was closed for the venue’s lack of emergency exits) and the second location opened from 1974 to 1977 had room for almost 2000 people, a balcony over the dance floor and the first three tier lighting system. The Gallery supplied temporary relief from the harsh outside reality of minorities, both of ethnicity and of sexual orientation.
5. Better Days
One of the lesser known but still massively influential of the New York clubs was Better Days. Singer and producer D.C. Larue said that “It was in a very rough part of town. Right across the street there was one of those typical, big West Side parking lots with a chain-link fence around it… that area was seedy beyond belief.”. Despite being in a rough club in a rough area, Better Days hosted a roster of master DJs including Frankie Knuckles, Francois Kevorkian, Kenny Carpenter and it’s first true resident, Tee Scott. After arriving on his first day on the job to find nothing but Sony amplifier with a Phono 1 and Phono 2 button to switch between the turntables and no headphones, Tee convinced the club’s owner who (reluctantly) enlisted the designer of The Gallery’s system, Alex Rosner, to rebuild the clubs sound system. Better Days partied on until it met its demise in 1990.