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In conservative, authoritarian Almaty, a small techno event aims to create a safe space for activists and the LGBT community

It is a rainy spring night in Almaty, and in a small back-alley club a young DJ is playing dark British techno while wearing a T-shirt that could easily land him in jail. Im in a crowd of about 200 at ZVUK, which for the past three years has been a remarkable outlier on the limited clubbing scene of Kazakhstans deeply conservative commercial capital.

My visit to the city coincided with rare political ructions in a country where little dissent had been tolerated during 30 years of autocratic rule by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. His sudden resignation in March and stage-managed elections in June had led to two protesters being jailed for 15 days for holding up a banner at the Almaty marathon that read: You cannot run away from the truth. Days later another man was arrested for holding a banner bearing a line from the constitution: The only source of state power is the people. Protests, which reignited after Nazarbayevs chosen successor was elected in June, have been met with more violence and arrests by the security forces.

Never compromise Nazira Kassenova, founder of ZVUK. Photograph: Kasia Zacharko

ZVUK is the only party collective in Almaty with a political-activism element, and the night I attended all of its members wore T-shirts bearing the slogan, You cannot run away from the truth. As a friend of the collective put it, in Europe, people like us can express themselves and stand against the government in safety. Here we can be jailed for it.

ZVUK is the brainchild of Nazira Kassenova, an upbeat, intelligent and humorous 28-year-old DJ originally from the small southern city of Taraz. These days she splits her time between Almaty and Berlin, where she is a resident at Room 4 Resistance and a host on Radio Cmeme. She has played at De School in Amsterdam and Berghain in Berlin arguably Europes two best clubs and in January reached another milestone by contributing to Resident Advisors podcast series. The mix is a great primer for her sound: tough, angular, clattering techno and bass music with a constant, addictive groove.

Part of what made this unlikely journey possible was four scholarship-funded years at university in St Andrews. During that time she made frequent trips to the Sub Club in Glasgow, which she cites as a defining influence. She returned to Almaty galvanised and ready to do her own thing. There are three other crews in Almaty doing moderately good stuff, she says, but none of them do anything musically, politically or socially challenging. I think thats fine in places that already have liberal laws and values, but not here.

Since starting ZVUK, Kassenova has brought in two other DJs Aisha, who mainly plays acid and electro, and ET, who loves rhythmic, brutal deconstructed club music as well as four non-DJ members. It is clear that for all six recruits, as well as the partys devotees, ZVUK is a life-changing sanctuary. ZVUK inspired me to pursue my dreams and live my life the way I want, and now Im a full-time writer able to support myself and my family, Gera Nogaibayeva, the collectives operations manager, tells me.

I am a part of the LGBT+ community, she says, and we are in often life-threatening danger in our country. To be a part of something that openly celebrates my community and strives to provide a safer space to be yourself is a huge deal.

The fact that much remains to be done regarding LGBT rights had been vividly demonstrated to me earlier that week at a party organised in support of the two jailed activists. The vibe was like that of a bohemian, artistic, politically engaged gathering, but a conversation with Kassenova led to an eye-opening moment.

A life-changing sanctuary ZVUK. Photograph: Yura Matiyun

Almost the whole country is homophobic, she said, even some of the people at this party. She then collared the first person who happened to be passing, a party-hearty, vodka-swilling sculptor in his 30s. What do you think of gay people? she asked. He replied without hesitation: I think they should go and do that in some other country. We dont want that in Kazakhstan.

The ZVUK party I attended was excellent by any citys standards, with tight, challenging sets and a deeply engaged and passionate crowd, all in the perfectly sized club Object, the only such independent clubbing space in the city. One of Kassenovas masterstrokes in building ZVUK has been to inject new perspectives via knowledgeable, thought-provoking international guests, among them Giant Swan, Via App and Dont DJ. In May the French/Northern Irish producer Zo Mc Pherson flew in to play, and, like many previous guests, also held a production workshop for a rapt audience a couple of days before the party.

Mc Pherson spent 10 days in Kazakhstan and offered interesting takes on the experience as we walked around Almatys top brutalist hotspots. I met a 17-year-old boy on a hike in the mountains, she said. We became friends and he came to the workshop with his mother, and the whole family came to the club night. It was the first time he had been to a club, and his mother told me I had opened her ears to a new world of listening.

She was similarly effusive on the crowd at ZVUK who were mesmerised by her hypnotic electronics-and-vocals set. I have never had a crowd dance together as one like that. Rhythmically, my stuff can seem experimental and awkward and many crowds get confused, but at ZVUK they knew how to rave very naturally to it.

With Kassenovas DJ career taking off thousands of miles away, she is determined that ZVUK will continue to be a driver of change in Kazakhstan. For a long time I lost money running ZVUK, and even now we just break even on most parties, she says. But for me compromise has always been the number one thing to avoid and it will always be that way. I could easily start flying more straightforward, commercial techno acts in, move to a bigger venue and turn ZVUK into a business. But that wouldnt help change anything, so fuck that.

Five key ZVUK tracks, chosen by Nazira Kassenova

Giant Swan IGOM

The Bristolian heavy techno duo Giant Swan played here in November and were amazing one of the best performances weve had for sure. But it was long before that that their music was played at the party and at least one GS track is played at every ZVUK, this being a big favourite.

MESH Follow & Mute

ET and I are really into whats nowadays called deconstructed club music, and this is a good example of something thats at the more experimental end of what we would play at the party.

PTU Castor and Pollux

Acid is an integral element of ZVUK, and two of our resident DJs are really into this sound. This track is a good representation of the type of acid youll hear on an average ZVUK night.

Griffit Vigo Gqomu 5

All of us at ZVUK love super-rhythmic drum tracks, but many people think they always come from the usual European or American techno sources. This is from South Africa and shows that you can find these sounds coming from almost anywhere in the world, if you look.

Jensen Interceptor Horner Acid

Electro is another signature sound at ZVUK, and this is a great example of the kind of electro we love.

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Powered by chip fat, this enormous crane rescued from Bristol docks is about to become the festivals dance hotspot. We have no idea if it will work, say the duo behind it

The idea, says Pip Rush, is to take over the sky. Were standing on a 140-tonne crane, 30 metres above the Glastonbury festival site. Rush and his collaborator Bert Cole are sanguine as they take in the view, but Im clutching the railings, summer breeze blowing through the jasmine of my freaking mind.

From its birth in 1975 until it was rendered obsolete by bigger kit, this crane lifted loads at Avonmouth Docks in Bristol. Rush and Cole bought it for an undisclosed sum, chopped it into two pieces, and trucked them 30 miles to Glastonbury. It was quite a performance, laughs Cole. Police escort and everything. Then we had to put it together again. He points out all the boltings and weldings, as well as the 10-metre-deep pilings that hold this beautifully incongruous monstrosity in place. Nice, though appreciating the workmanship is hardly a cure for my vertigo.

This crane will form the centrepiece of the Arcadia art collectives latest installation, Pangea, which premieres this week at Glastonbury and will remain on the site for four years. It is the pairs response to the question: how do you top a 50-tonne, fire-breathing spider?

The Spider bewitched festival-goers for the best part of a decade. Michael Eavis, who created the festival, remembers being approached by Rush and Cole. They said, Give us a cheque for 20,000. I said, But I dont know who you are. They said, Well do a show and if it falls on its face, youll get at least 10,000 back. It didnt go wrong, did it?

Anatomically, it was very incorrect Arcadias spider at Glastonbury in 2017. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Originally a tripod, the creature evolved into an arachnid. Anatomically, it was very incorrect, says Rush. Real spiders dont have built-in fire cannons. Nor do they have abdomens made from jet engines, legs from Customs scanning machines, claws from log-grabbers, and bodies from helicopter tails. We wanted to change the festival experience, says Rush. Instead of looking at the backs of peoples heads while a band plays, youre part of the action.

By 2015, the Spider had evolved into a multimedia spectacular called Metamorphosis, firing flames and laser beams up into the sky. The DJ stood in the abdomen/control booth, which hung above the dancefloor, while acrobats, dancers, performers and puppeteers shimmied up, over and across the creature on tightropes, as Tesla coils generated four-million-volt lightning arcs.

Although it takes four days to set up and four articulated lorries to transport, the Spider has toured to Miami, Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei and Perth. The Australian trip blew my mind, says Rush. The indigenous Australians we met told us their ancestors performed an ancient song about the spider spirit, how its web symbolised community connectedness. They hadnt performed it since 1901, after a member of the British royal family was rude about it.

They brought members of the Noongar tribe over to perform this song when the Spider visited Londons Olympic Park last year. It was a wonderful moment, says Rush.

Were all in the zone until Monday morning Bert Cole and Pip Rush with Pangea. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

From a platform on the Pangea crane, DJs including Carl Cox and Fatboy Slim will play to a 60,000-strong crowd, on a dancefloor ringed by huge speakers. Itll be like a giant audio Stonehenge, Rush says. Flames will shoot from the speakers into the night sky. Isnt that a health and safety nightmare? It certainly is, says Cole. But weve been dealing with the challenge of atomisation for a long time. Eh? Youve got to atomise the fuel before you set fire to it, so that you burn all of it and none of it comes back down afterwards.

Greasy machinery, millions of volts, flames rising higher than the surrounding hills, a generator running on recycled chip fat, tens of thousands of revellers who perhaps arent all sober are they worried things could go wrong? We run a tight ship, says Rush. People are always amazed when they visit us during the festival. Its a very sober scene. Not at all what you expect from a rave. Were all in the zone. Well, until Monday morning.

From 30 metres up, we survey Pangeas realm. To the south is Dorset, to the north Bristol, and five miles to the west is Glastonbury Tor, surmounting the legendary Arthurian fairy-land of Avalon. If you climb up that ladder to the top of the crane, you can see the sea, says Rush. Theres a really amazing view to the Bristol Channel and Avonmouth. I look up at the rickety ladder, rising another 20 metres into the sky, and take his word for it.

Pangea, Rush says, is named after the prehistoric supercontinent where every land on Earth was one and the future had yet to be written. It was a time of possibility. A blank canvas? Yeah, that fits with our thinking. We have no idea whether it will work.

Before we return to Earth, I sit in the drivers seat of the crane, wondering what sort of carnage I could wreak with the touch of a button. We got in touch with a guy who was an apprentice when the crane came into service, says Cole. Hes been teaching us how to operate it. Maybe, I suggest, the crane could lift dancers and take them on 360-degree rides. Were certainly thinking about having performers dangling from the boom, says Rush. We dont know what it will become over the next few years, adds Cole. Thats the thrill.

Glastonbury runs until 30 June. Read all of our stories about this years festival.

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They have a fearsome reputation for excluding eager clubbers but as a documentary about Berlins doormen is released, three of them explain why their policies are all about tolerance

The door policies for Berlins nightclubs are some of the most talked about in the world. Online forums detail appropriate clothing, what to say and how to act in line in order to get in. In the German capital, bouncers dont just play the role of security, but also curator, sussing out who can handle the extreme depths of hedonism and who might gawk or yuck at what they see.

Today, far removed from the sexual freedom, relentless techno and ample substance use that defines Berlins nightlife, Im sitting in a plain white room with grey carpet and unforgiving lights. Across from me are three men whove become infamous for this curation, playing a key part in creating the renowned and secretive door policies. Theyre the subject of a new documentary, Berlin Bouncer, by German film-maker David Dietl: a humanising look at people who have reached this bizarre level of celebrity.

In the early 90s all I did was party, says Sven Marquardt, the face-tattooed doorman of the citys most revered club, Berghain. Just party non-stop. Coming from the east Berlin neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, Marquardt spent his youth photographing the counterculture communities in communist Germany. When the wall fell, he was eager to embrace the heightened freedom that lay on the other side; going out so frequently ended up landing him a door job.

The trailer for Berlin Bouncer video.

The two men sitting beside him followed the same path: finding fun and then employment in the lawless DIY parties that occupied the citys squats and abandoned buildings. Frank Knster moved from Herzhausen to Berlin for university before nightlife eclipsed his studies he worked at now-defunct clubs like Cookies and Delicious Donuts before becoming the bouncer and eventually owner of King Size Bar, which shut its doors in 2017. Smiley Baldwin, an ex-American GI who was stationed at the east-west border, also did a long spell at Cookies, and now owns his own security company.

Berlin Bouncer pulls back the curtain to reveal the personal histories and artistic ambitions of these figures, and the realities of living and ageing in a city once again undergoing rapid change. Knster is filmed putting logs of wood on his fire, Baldwin going home to visit family, Marquardt shopping for black designer T-shirts: these mundane moments are reminders of the regular people that stand between clubbers and a weekend of debauchery.

Its an absurd profession, Knster explains in the film. Im giving people something. Thats why people give me positive attention. While he seems to enjoy this significantly more than the other two, not shy to share pictures of young girls flashing him at the door, all three are keenly aware of how temporary the admiration is. You have to separate between private and professional life, fake and real friends, Marquardt says in a soft Berlin accent. Sometimes people approach me or yell from the queue: Hey, Sven we took a picture together once, remember? and I have no recollection of that person whatsoever.

Secretive door policy … Berghain, Berlins most revered nightclub. Photograph: Image Broker/Rex

While some people could view door policies in Berlin which rely mainly on a bouncers intuition to decide who comes and goes as infuriatingly exclusive or absurdly random, others view bouncers as the original stewards of safe spaces. Marquardt says he has a responsibility towards the guests and protecting their freedom of expression. I try to create an environment where no one feels threatened by their sexual orientation and disposition. Whats important is the combination of different people. If curated well, then I am sure you can say its political. Its all about tolerance.

Its an absurd profession … Frank Kunster. Photograph: Flare Film GmbH

Marquardt insists my use of the word curation makes them sound pompous, but all agree that the most satisfying part of the job is when they know the people theyve selected fit perfectly together, and the night has been euphoric as a result. When you see the crowd inside, and what you curated rises up into ecstasy, and you know you played a part in that, thats special, Knster says.

As Berlin goes through another period of regeneration, with people from wealthier German states, western Europe and north America pouring in to get their taste of the wild weekends and cheap rent, many wonder if its nightlife will survive another increase in gentrification. Courts may have ruled that Berghain must receive the same generous tax breaks as other German cultural institutions such as museums and theatres, but smaller venues face problems unique to Berlin, as Baldwin explains.

Most big cities have a party area where all the club licenses are given out, and everythings there. Berlin, on the other hand, allowed the licensing to be done just about everywhere. And if a neighbour says that the music is too loud, even if the neighbour moved in after the club, the person who is complaining has the right. (A residential noise complaint ended up being the nail in the coffin for Knsters King Size Bar.)

Its all about youth culture and youth power … Smiley Baldwin. Photograph: Flare Film GmbH

A citys party scene is inevitably shaped by its slickness and gentrification, Marquardt says. The more gentrified, the more slick, the more boring the citys party scene. He cites a recent trip to Australia. In Sydney, for example, there simply is nothing going on.

They now see the DIY energy that carved out Berlins niche cropping up in neighbouring countries. Eastern Europe has a thriving, wonderful club scene that is somewhat reminiscent of Berlin in the 90s, Marquardt explains. Belgrade and Tbilisi are amazing for partying right now. And in their own city, they remain optimistic that a new generation of club kids will carry the torch. Its all about youth culture and youth power, and it always was all about youth culture and youth power, Baldwin says. I just hope it keeps going. I want to find my space within that power.

The interview wraps up, and I leave with Marquardt down the long staircase of the Berlinale Palast theatre. The staff guarding each floor joke with each other: Should we let him in? Its a gag hes all too aware of. I always imagine when I depart from this life, Ill enter an intermediate circle of hell. Like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, he laughs in the film. Ill have to repeatedly knock. And theyll say, No. Not you.

Berlin Bouncer is out now.

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Artist Kate Bones combines film and digital technology to create vibrant gif portraits like these from Glastonburys gay nightclub

Kate Bones shoots her subjects on a hacked 1980s 3D film camera and brings them alive as animated gifs. These portraits taken earlier this year at Glastonburys NYC Downlow, the festivals gay nightclub, give a close-up view of performers usually only photographed on stage.

A warehouse-warming party for the new London home of the cult clubs creators, Block9, will be held on 9-10 December at the Silver Building. The event will also raise money for LGBT frontline charities All Out and Kaleidoscope Trust as well as the Disasters Emergency Committees east Africa appeal.

Carley Hague
Jonny Woo
Jordi Hulshof
Ginger Johnson
Lucy Fizz
Fred Sausage
Mykki Blanco
Ellis D

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Artists and housing activists say that safety matters, but crackdowns on warehouse spaces will displace already vulnerable communities

The devastating Oakland warehouse fire has provoked threats of mass evictions of artist communities and low-income residents, raising concerns that real estate developers will exploit the tragedy to shutter old buildings and displace vulnerable tenants.

Just days after the fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse that killed 36 people, city officials and community leaders in Oakland and cities across the US have begun targeting underground spaces that they say pose similar hazards and should be closed.

But artists and housing activists including in Baltimore, where dozens were abruptly evicted from an arts building two days after the Oakland fire said the crackdowns are hurtful and unproductive and will disproportionately impact LGBT communities and people of color.

It feels like a double dagger in our gut, said Sarah Sexton, an Oakland-based music booker. First we lose our friends and then we lose the spaces that weve bonded with them in.

The Friday night fire which ignited in an arts space that was filled with wood and lacked basic fire safety mechanisms has already prompted officials in Oakland and surrounding California cities to scrutinize other warehouses.

An Oakland barbecue restaurant held a press conference on Wednesday to call on the city to investigate a neighboring warehouse. Earlier in the week, a fire inspector visited a different Oakland warehouse, telling a tenant the city was investigating a complaint and taking steps to prevent a terrible tragedy.

In Richmond, a city just north of Oakland, the mayor Tom Butt wrote an op-ed raising concerns about an an unpermitted, unlicensed night club that he called our own Ghost Ship.

Artists said that efforts to improve the safety of underground venues and non-traditional housing are important, but argued that launching aggressive shutdowns will disrupt already marginalized communities and force some to become homeless. The debate comes amid an extraordinary housing crisis in Oakland where skyrocketing rents and tech-induced gentrification has led to mass displacement.

Its just so insulting that this is happening, said Lisa Aurora, co-founder of Naming Gallery in Oakland. We need to stand up for the people whose lives were taken, who were about creating spaces for people.

On Monday, Baltimore shut down a building called the Bell Foundry, citing safety violations and deplorable conditions, forcing many to immediately vacate.

Although Baltimore officials claimed the Oakland fire was not the impetus for the shutdown, affected tenants said it seemed obvious the city was using the tragedy as an excuse to clear out the property so that it could be redeveloped for a more profitable use.

They are being opportunistic about that travesty in order to flip a building, said Person Abide, a 29-year-old tenant, adding, The Bell Foundry functions as a place for queers and people of color to find support.

Flowers and candles placed during a vigil for those who died in a warehouse fire in Oakland. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Abide posted video of the eviction, showing a police officer repeatedly refusing to allow the tenants to re-enter the building to retrieve their cat.

These types of evictions are a significant problem in low-income housing across Baltimore, not just for arts spaces, added Abide, who was friends with one of the Oakland fire victims.

I dont have anywhere to live. I dont make much money and cant afford traditional rent, said a local activist and evicted resident who goes by the name Koala! Largess.

Aran Keating, artistic director of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, a group that occupies the first floor of the Bell Foundry building, said it was wrong for the city to claim to be a supporter of the arts but then refuse to find a way to work with the pivotal group of artists.

When an arts community is building itself and bootstrapping itself in order to make huge impacts on the community, it gets stabbed. It gets pushed down.

Some of those involved in underground art scenes argued that a wave of shutdowns would only further discourage people from speaking out about legitimate safety concerns.

For venues putting on community-oriented shows that dont make a lot of money, it can also be difficult to navigate government bureaucracy and in some cases financially impossible to transform a building in a way that complies with municipal codes, which are often outdated.

Sexton said there were no easy solutions, but suggested the creation of a fund to help venues comply with building codes or a non-profit group that can work with fire marshals and arts organizations.

Annie Campbell Washington, an Oakland city councilwoman, said city leaders were committed to preserving art spaces and their housing.

Artists in Oakland are so important to our way of life, she said, but added, Obviously, human life and human safety has to be our number one issue.

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The DJ behind legendary disco club the Loft, who died on Monday, would talk of music as if it had magical powers and, in his hands, it was almost possible to believe he was right

In Bill Brewster and Frank Broughtons definitive 1999 history of dance music, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, there is a lovely, heartfelt tribute to David Mancuso. If disco and the music which came after has an angel, it is the raggedy figure of David Mancuso, they write. If it has a birthplace, it is his club, the Loft.

It is beautifully put, and, after news of his death at 72 broke on Monday, there were plenty of DJs, producers and artists saying much the same thing. But theres always the chance that Mancuso himself would have argued with that interpretation of his legacy. For one thing, it describes the Loft as a club, something he would never have done. It may have been a pivotal, definitive venue of the disco era and beyond, but he was always at pains to point out that it was an invitation-only party, held in his home and not run for profit. For another, you get the feeling he might have thought agreeing with it was egotistical, contrary to his keenly honed ideology, in which the dancefloor was a kind of egalitarian utopia, devoid of celebrities or leaders. Certainly, he had no time for the idea of the DJ as a superstar. A party is made of many components: the group, the music, he said in 2003. It doesnt revolve around one person. Once that starts to happen, forget about it.

But then Mancuso was always the most complex and anomalous of dance musics early-70s pioneers. He defined the latter-day notion of a DJ not as someone who played records, but as someone who could manipulate music to create an atmosphere and tell a story; to in that oft-abused cliche take the crowd on a journey.

A host of revered DJs would happily admit to effectively being his proteges, shaped by the emotional experience of hearing him play at the Loft: Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries, Francois Kervorkian, David Morales. But Mancuso remained, somehow, apart from the world hed helped create. He could mix records, and did for a time, but came to believe that doing so compromised their purity. Instead, he would play tracks from beginning to end, leaving a gap between them: his friend and collaborator Colleen Cosmo Murphy recalled that the Loft eventually had no headphones or DJ mixer, which Mancuso felt affected the sound quality. The atmosphere of the Loft inspired umpteen legendary clubs, including the Paradise Garage and the Warehouse, but the man behind it professed not to care much for nightclubs: I dont like to go in situations that are overcrowded; where you cant dance or where the sound system is so overpowering that your ears are ringing or where beer costs $7 a bottle this is what I am rebelling against.

In fact, Mancuso always seemed rather more a product of the summer of love and hippiedom than the burgeoning club culture of post-Stonewall New York. Before the Loft, he was a regular at psychedelic venues the Electric Circus and Fillmore East, and a friend and disciple of Timothy Leary, who had begun experimenting with LSD when it was still legal.

He had a tendency to talk about music in mystical terms, telling journalist Vince Aletti that his DJing was inspired by listening to birds, lying next to a spring and listening to water go across the rocks there were times when it would be intense, and times when it would be very soft.

It wasnt just the acid-fuelled mind-expansion that made him talk like that. You didnt have to dig too deep into his past to realise why Mancuso might have believed music to have magical powers. He was brought up in an orphanage in Utica, a city in New York state that later earned the grimly dramatic soubriquet the city that God forgot. His happiest memories of his childhood there revolved around a nun called Sister Alicia, who, he remembered, would find any excuse to have a party, filling a room with balloons, handing out juice and putting out a record player and a stack of records for the children to dance to.

He left the orphanage at 15, reunited with his mother and got a job shining shoes, before moving to New York City and working as everything from an interior decorator to an antiques dealer. But something of the orphanage hung over the invitation-only parties he began throwing in 1970 as a way of paying for the loft space he lived in (illegally) at 647 Broadway. He filled the room with balloons and squeezed orange juice for his guests. Tellingly, the invites were decorated with images of the stars of Our Gang, a series of comedy shorts about poor neighbourhood children running wild that broke new ground in US cinema by treating black and white characters as equals.

The crowd Mancusos parties drew were pansexual and racially mixed about 60% black and 70% gay, according to one estimate a gathering of the disaffected and disenfranchised, as Brewster and Broughton put it. It cost $2.50 to get in. I wanted a situation where there are no economic barriers, meaning somebody who didnt eat that day or only has a few dollars in his pocket can eat like a king drinks are included, you see your friends, he later said. Theres no difference if you have a lot of money, or a little.

The Loft in 1980. Photograph: Waring Abbott/Getty Images

People were drawn to the the Loft (as the various homes Mancuso threw his parties in over the years came to be collectively known) by the incredible sound system which was built to his own exacting specifications and the music, which was always much more eclectic than the disco tag suggests. Mancuso saw himself as a kind of curator he loved black music, had a particular penchant for Latin rhythms and African-influenced tracks. But his tastes ran from jazz to rock, and the fabled list of 100 Loft Classics that Mancuso and Murphy compiled contains not just the expected disco and soul anthems, but records by Ian Dury, Demis Roussos and Van Morrisons Astral Weeks. He was a curator blessed with golden ears, big on finding the one great track by an otherwise obscure or uninspiring artist and turning it into a dancefloor hit hence Roussos, or indeed The Mexican, discovered by Mancuso before it became an anthem on the nascent hip-hop scene, a solitary funky moment on an album by a prog-rock band from Hatfield called Babe Ruth.

Mancuso could, by all accounts, get people to dance to the most unlikely music by intuitively knowing exactly the right moment to play it: he had an innate understanding of how to string records together in order to generate, and then change, a mood. Eventually, his influence became such that he could turn a record into a hit across America, as happened with Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango. It started life as the B-side of an obscure French single celebrating Cameroons success in the 1972 African Cup of Nations. Mancuso found a copy in a West Indian store in Brooklyn, it became a hit at the Loft, then across New York, then the US: so many covers proliferated that at one point, nine different versions of the track were on the Billboard chart at once. Eventually, its central chant was repurposed by Michael Jackson on Wanna Be Startin Something.

Mancuso DJing in London in 2001. Photograph: PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

The Loft long outlived the disco boom, but its fortunes faded in the late 80s: Mancuso moved to the crime-ridden Alphabet City, which put all but the most hardened dancers off. Then, having lost a lot of money in bad business deals, he found it increasingly hard to discover affordable spaces to live in downtown Manhattan.

He was forced to go on tour, much against his will. But, if nothing else, his global DJing stints must have brought home to him very forcefully how far the legend of the Loft had spread. At one London date to launch the 2001 compilation David Mancuso Presents the Loft, the crowd was so overawed to be in his presence, they applauded at the end of each record.

The Loft is a feeling, he once said. It was another of his mystical pronouncements, but one that anyone whos ever experienced that incredible, sometimes life-changing, sense of transcendence that the right music at the right moment with the right people on a dancefloor can bring will understand.

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When nightlife expert Tim Lawrence came to the city to promote his book about the early 80s, the clubs he went to revealed how much has (and hasnt) changed

The timing and location of the nights entertainment Grandmaster Flash at House of Yes was entirely coincidental. On the eve of a week that would see New York City host a handful of events to celebrate and spotlight the release of Tim Lawrences new book, Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983 a study of what the author convincingly identifies as the citys cultural renaissance, when hip-hop, new wave and dance music collided in clubs like Mudd and the Paradise Garage one of the books characters was making a rare Brooklyn appearance at a space in Bushwick.

Though theres rarely a lack of nighttime activity in the city that supposedly never sleeps, on paper it seemed like an especially great match. Unlike many New York clubs in the post-Rudy Giuliani era, House of Yes tries hard with its musical bookings, setting and entertainment acumen. Billing itself as part disco, part circus theatre, it features DIY dcor, psychedelic projections, dressed-for-cabaret employees and an audience always ready to let loose.

Flash, meanwhile, is riding his third wind. In the mid-1970s, he helped perfect record-scratching as one of the cornerstones of the Bronx culture that came to be known as hip-hop. Now he is one of the executive producers of The Get Down, Baz Luhrmanns colorful Netflix show that recasts the creation myth of rap and modern DJing as a fairytale musical. (And is a wonderful fact-meets-fiction preamble to Lawrences historical account.) So, while Flashs stock as a local legend never fell off, its been a minute since it paid such high market dividends.

Understandably, the packed House of Yes crowd an impressive congregation of young and old, black and white, straight and gay went wild. Flashs skills at cutting up records, and his interpretation of the cross-genre flow at the heart of the citys original sound (disco, rap, funk, dance-punk, Latin, mutant electronic, all in the mix) were rapturous and timeless.

The scene played out like a simulacrum of the very bygone moment that Lawrences book documents. Reading Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor as a clubber in the city is to reflect not only on whats been lost over the past three decades, but on how the sounds, events and characters at the center of Lawrences story still influence NYCs nightlife. At House of Yes, one of this tales endless postscripts played out as real-time legend. In fact, through sheer circumstance, over the course of a single week in October 2016 you could watch and listen to urban folklore cement as history. Better yet, you could dance to that transformation.

There was always a sense of New York in my imagination, said Lawrence in one of our numerous conversations during his visit. The wiry 49-year-old may have grown up in the London exurb of Winnersh and teaches cultural studies at the University of East London, but theres little question that New Yorks late 20th-century nightlife has served as his muse. Life and Death is the third of Lawrences books about the citys rhythms, joining the disco scene-redefining Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music, 1970-79, and the quasi-biography, Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92. He also credits the citys house music scene for his initial focus on the meaning of the dancefloor.

Lawrence first escaped to New York in the early 90s at a sensitive time in his life, following the sudden death of both parents and an early crisis of professional faith at BBC Newsnight. He studied a doctorate in English literature at Columbia University by day, and clubs by night. Love Saves the Day began as a dissertation on house music and postmodernity, mutated into a quickie book about dance music culture, before his research brought him face to face with the then little-known story of a musical host named David Mancuso, his private weekly gatherings at a Soho loft, and all the DJs deeply influenced by it (including the legendary Larry Levan, and father of house music, Frankie Knuckles). That party, nicknamed the Loft, basically launched global DJ and club culture; and in presenting its details, Lawrence suddenly had a career documenting the founding corner of contemporary dance music.

Life and Death on the New York Dance Floorbegan as another attempt to write that history of house, but ended up as a 500-page dive into a three-year period that exemplified the melting pot idea that had been synonymous with New York, yet hadnt been written about. Popular history claimed the citys dance scene died under the strain of the forces that killed the disco craze. Yet as Lawrence writes, the influence of Levan and his club, the Paradise Garage, was already being felt at art-punk discotheques like the Mudd Club and Danceteria, where DJs such as Johnny Dynell and Mark Kamins were creating a new mix for a new, mixed audience.

Larry Levan photographed in the DJ booth at Paradise Garage in 1978. Photograph: Bill Bernstein/

The Garage, meanwhile, was home to not just the gay, black dancers historically placed there, but also young art-punks and nascent hip-hop kids, whose music found life on Levans turntables. The records that came out of these borderless scenes soon became the soundtrack of the entire city and beyond, with Blondies Rapture, Afrika Bambaataas Planet Rock, the Peech Boys Dont Make Me Wait and Madonnas Holiday effortlessly crossing genres, cliques and, soon, oceans. New York club music had gravitas, with everyone from Bowie and the Clash to New Order and Herbie Hancock pulled into its orbit.

As Lawrence writes, the Downtown communitys cross-cultural collaborative spirit was not limited to clubs. The East Villages Fun Gallery, co-founded by arts doyenne Patti Astor (one of the stars of the first hip-hop film, 1982s Wild Style), presented the Bronxs finest graffiti writers next to future fine-art legends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Around the corner, the budding British impresario Reza Blue and Michael Holman, Basquiats bandmate in the no-wave group Gray, began throwing a weekly party at the Second Avenue club Negril that brought together the DJing Bambaataa, his Zulu Nation MCs, breakdancers and the Fun Gallerys graffiti writers. Haring, meanwhile, was also painting murals on the walls of Danceteria and the Garage, when not helping the actor and performance artist Ann Magnusson program multi-sensorial happenings at Club 57. According to Lawrence, such creative intermingling had few precedents.

The research suggested that there were a lot more connections between these scenes than was supposed historically, he said. I started to get a sense of the Downtown scene, of different art coming into this moment, of an interesting coalition of artists, musicians, choreographers and DJs. The whole artistic world seemed to be descending upon downtown New York.

Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards at the Danceteria in 1980. Photograph: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

It didnt last long. Lawrence dug into the three years between the decades dawn and the oncoming midnight of the crack and Aids epidemics, before Ronald Reagans neoliberal policies and Manhattans first real-estate boom took hold of New Yorks cultural life. Like The Get Down, Life and Death unearths a golden moment when living was cheap, the crowds diverse, the community strengthened, creativity mutating and freedoms flourishing.

The mythology was that New York was this hellhole of dysfunctionality, crime, murder, and garbage piled on the streets, says Lawrence. Yet to a person every one Id speak to would say that far from uninhabitable, theyd never want to leave it. Every single night something was going on that seemed essential.

We did not want to go out to see something we wanted to be a part of something, said Johnny Dynell. He was seated in a seminar room at New York Universityon a drizzly Saturday afternoon, decked out in a leopard-print suit and lightly tinted shades, imparting wisdom to a gathering of grad students, zine writers and ageing bohemians treading memory lane.

A lesser-known character in Lawrences book, Dynell has been one of the Downtowns connectors for nearly 40 years DJing at the Mudd Club, Danceteria and Area; recording the 1983 electro-rap cult single Jam Hot (still sampled regularly); and, in the 1990s, with his wife Chi Chi Valenti, creating the weekly party Jackie 60, one of the citys last 20th-century hurrahs in Manhattans Meatpacking District, not yet gentrified. Dynell still plays around town, but on this weekend, he and a coterie of other artists and gallery owners, DJs and musicians, writers and editors, club owners and scenesters, were detailing the circumstances of Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor to a rapt audience. They were also reaffirming a set of values by which the city of their era lived and, at times, still tries to.

Dynells panel, entitled Lifecycle of the NYC/Downtown Party Scene, was part of an all-day symposium at NYU that placed Lawrences book in broader historical contexts, one of 12 events on the authors one-city book tour. Those included panels at three institutions of higher learning (NYU, CUNY and Columbia), book-signings at three club nights (the Loft, 718 Sessions and Better Days), talks at two galleries (Howl and Steve Harvey) and two record stores (Rough Trade and Superior Elevation), as well as one museum presentation (at MoMA, which hosted a panel after a screening of writer Glenn OBriens majestic lo-fi film, Downtown 81, starring Basquiat). Simply following the authors itinerary was like getting a masters primer of the citys recent cultural accomplishments.

As the discussions of long-gone clubs gave way to movement on living, breathing dancefloors, the weight and spotlight of the citys history could be felt everywhere, in the crowd and in the DJ booth. At times, it seemed a continuation of the classic New York story one that was interrupted by Mayor Giulianis zero tolerance policies of the 90s, which included a moral crusade on nightlife by excavating and enforcing a race-dividing civic ordinance from the 1920s called a cabaret license at others it was a brand-new one with familiar roots. The last 30 years have seen the citys meaningful party scene on the brink of extinction during one of the panels, Krivit put the number of cabaret licenses issued during the early 80s at 4,000; in 2016 it is around 120. The insights of Lawrences book provided a reflection on the state of the party and the purpose it serves.

Many participants of the Life and Death tour came to that weeks installment of the Loft, at 46, the planets longest-running classic club night. Though no longer a weekly or commandeered by Mancuso (that nights DJ duties were split by Douglas Sherman and Colleen Cosmo Murphy), the Loft has retained a utopian, communal private-party vibe unlike any other, an older, mixed-race clientele, and an aspirational old-school positivity in its music and atmosphere that in America 2016 comes in extremely handy. (The party took place the night of the second presidential debate, which made Shermans selection of Sympathy For the Devil beyond pointed.)

By contrast, the same evening marked the end of the 13-year weekly run of DJ Franois Ks Deep Space party at Cielo, in the Meatpacking District, which in 2017 is moving to Output, a Berlin-style club in Williamsburg. Franois Kevorkian is one of the New Yorks beloved dance music elders, bridging todays city to the one depicted in Life and Death (he rose to prominence as a DJ and remixer in the early 80s), continuing to champion musical multiplicity, balancing new and old (at his Cielo swan song he presented Scuba, a popular British DJ who plays minimal techno). Franoiss long-cultivated following pursues the DJs sonic whims wherever it takes them.

Deep Space is a party that, like the Loft, could be classified as much as a community social as a rave it took place on Mondays and had free entry before 11pm. Yet, what changes when you leave a longtime residence? Economics for one but also demographics. Whether its the clubs or the thriving warehouse scene, youth and internationalism rules Brooklyn nightlife, alongside layers of social privilege. And where Life and Death-era musical programming actively attempted to cut across genres and audiences, todays club nights are more tailored to individual sounds, textures and BPMs. Nowadays, the notion of a DJ running the gamut from dub to hip-hop to disco/house to techno to African sounds, playing to a large crowd that takes it all in, is less norm than its own peculiar lane. The origin of that lane is the New York described in the pages of Lawrences book.

Another pair of parties that took place during Lawrences week here directly reinforced this lineage. Both were DJ sets by older English men that lasted upwards of six hours. One featured DJ Harvey, who spent a few years in New York learning his craft at the feet of Levan. The other took place in a Bushwick warehouse, and marked the long-awaited return of Andrew Weatherall, who came of DJing age in acid-house London and Manchester (helping produce some of that eras greatest records) and continues to mix moods tinged with dub and psychedelia. Both sets were epic exercises of form, stamina and musical arc, featuring records beyond simple classification. And audiences that were hard to pinpoint too more Caucasian and younger than at Flash, but hardly monochromatic, ready for a long haul, and, to echo Dynells self-assessment, determined to be active participants rather than tourists. These were one version the best version of a new New York dancefloor.

Emotionally, critically, intellectually, its hard to say that New York is the kind of mecca for dance music that it was in the 70s and 80s. Then, people came here from all over the world on pilgrimages, said Lawrence. It feels like times have changed. But in a way that is because of New Yorks success; because its influence helped grow dance scenes all over the world. This is a good thing. But as word was spreading, New York had a difficult period.

To simultaneously participate, observe and process history through all of ones biases is a difficult task. To do so during late nights, in dark, sensorially overwhelming clubs, keeping all of ones faculties intact makes it more so. It may be why real-time critical context for club music has always been rare. Yet whatLife and Death on the New York Dance Floor makes acutely obvious, as both volume and prism, is not just the cultural value of the citys party scene, but how it also serves as a moral compass and how it still can.

My sense of it is that there is a will in New York to bounce back [from] the low point of the Giuliani period, Lawrence added. Were seeing that difficult period shifting into something more engaged and hospitable. Its clear that there are people who are invested [in the scene], and want this to become even more re-energized.

Time to (re)build.

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With long lines of expectant attendees, these nights illustrate both the necessity and demand for unapologetically open and inclusive clubs

At an unmarked location in Bushwicks industrial zone on Thursday night, GHE20G0TH1K (pronounced Ghetto Gothic) has taken over. A blue neon sign declaring Play With My Pussy encircling a biohazard symbol lights up the dark warehouse.

Inside, more than 500 people dance half-naked with sweat pouring from their bodies as they mosh to the music of experimental rap collective Divine Council. GHE20G0TH1K is part of a new trend in Brooklyn nightlife one that is created by and for LGBT people of color. In the midst of New Yorks rapid gentrification, Brooklyns nightlife seems to be getting more diverse.

GHE20G0TH1K. Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian

As one of the earliest parties that strove for diversity on the DJ lineup and the dance floor, GHE20G0TH1Ks goal is to provide safe spaces for queer and trans people of color. Since it was founded in 2009, its influenced a swathe of similar parties in Brooklyn including iBomba, Azucar, Papi Juice, Fake Accent and Shock Value.

Anuradha Golder is a staple at GHE20G0TH1K and frequently commutes from the Bronx to attend. For Golder, these parties are a few hours of communal celebration in which club-goers can get a short reprieve from judgment, hate speech, and sexual harassment. These nights do so much, from fostering a safe space where everyone is encouraged to enjoy themselves no matter where they are from or what gender and sexual orientation they identify with to providing visibility for under-recognized queer artists and POC artists. Plus, theyre definitely some of the most energetic parties youll find in the city, she says.

For Anuradha Golder, these parties are a few hours of communal celebration in which club-goers can get a short reprieve from judgment, hate speech and sexual harassment. Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian

In the aftermath of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, organizers say the protection of these safe spaces is more important than ever. For many members of the community like Dion McKenzie, a DJ and founder of the party Fake Accent, the dance floor is a sanctuary and functions as one of the few places that offers the freedom of self-expression.

Pulse nightclub happened and it shakes our community to the core and there is no way we can turn a blind eye to that. You feel you were spared, you were saved because it couldve happened to anyone that night. Everyone that night was celebrating. We were all out.

After moving from Jamaica to New York four years ago, McKenzie established Fake Accent, a monthly event to showcase under-represented DJs. New York is a plethora of ethnicity, she states, Why would you want to just play one genre of music when you want to include everyone in the community? I play dancehall, I play club, I play ballroom, I am eclectic about my music selection so I dont alienate people.

Dion McKenzie: Why would you want to just play one genre of music when you want to include everyone in the community? Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian

Papi Juice, a dance party with a self-described mission to affirm and uplift queer and trans people of color, originally began in the small performance venue and neighborhood bar One Last Shag with 300 supporters in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. In the three years since it started, it has grown and moved locations to the music venue Babys All Right in Williamsburg, which attracts crowds of up to 750 people.

From reggaeton to cumbia to R&B, the array of music chosen at Papi Juice reflects the diverse ethnicities and backgrounds of attendees. Having people play that kind of music, party founder Cristobal Guerra says, it feels like theyre telling my story.

The parties offer an alternative to Brooklyns rapidly whitening nightlife landscape one more inclusive of a community now being displaced by increasing rents and cost of living. The neighborhoods where these parties are based are all included in the top 10 gentrifying areas on an annual housing and neighborhood data report released by the NYU Furman Center on Urban Policy.

Williamsburg/Greenpoint tops the list with a 78.7% average change in rent from 1990 to 2014, closely followed by Bushwick at 44% and Bed-Stuy at 36.1%. The centers research analysis also notes a large decrease in the black population of gentrifying neighborhoods as well as a decrease in the Hispanic population of Williamsburg/Greenpoint.

Cristobal Guerra: Having people play that kind of music, it feels like theyre telling my story. Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian

McKenzie says the sense of displacement residents feel is similar to that of LGBT people. Gentrification is pushing out a community from their land. For the queer community, we have always dealt with displacement. Were always feeling like were being pushed out of spaces. To have some balance and stability, we need to find a space that we can call our home, she says. And that is within the club.

Parties such as Fake Accent and Papi Juice follow a historical precedent of New York Citys dance floors being safe spaces for self expression. Derived from the ballrooms of Harlem, voguing rose to prominence in the late 1960s nurtured by gay black and Latino performers. From the South Bronx, hip-hop, MCing, and b-boying (breakdancing) blossomed in poor black and Latino communities during the 1980s. Such underground movements resuscitated the citys nightlife after the first wave of the Aids epidemic and counteracted violence at the height of gang activity.

As nights like GHE20G0TH1K strengthen, with long lines of expectant attendees like this past Thursday night, it illustrates both the necessity and demand for inclusive club nights.

When people talk about our parties and what we do, they talk about how authentic it is and how unpretentious it is. It is unapologetically open and inclusive, McKenzie proudly reports. You can be from the Bronx, you can be from the neighborhood, you can be from Flatbush, but when you enter that space, you feel unified.

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The festivals gay nightclub designed by Block9 is a recreation of a Meatpacking District warehouse, featuring a disco, sauna and sides of (fake) beef

The NYC Downlow, Glastonbury festivals first gay nightclub, opened in 2007. Its the brainchild of set designers Steve Gallagher and Gideon Berger. They run Block9 both a field in Glastonburys late-night party corner in the south-east of the site and the name of their company, which produces stages and sets for performers such as Skrillex and Banksy. They also built the Dismaland Castle the centrepiece of Banksys 2015 show in Weston-super-Mare.

The original NYC Downlow was set as a crumbling tenement block in Manhattans Lower East Side in the late 70s where many of the original NYC gay clubs were. As that area gentrified in the early 80s, the gay community and club scene moved across Manhattan to the rundown empty warehouses of the citys Meatpacking District. This year, Gallagher and Berger decided to move the NYC Downlow, although the present-day Meatpacking District is now one of the swishest areas of New York home of Soho House and Diane von Furstenberg boutiques.

Around 50,000 people enter the Block9 area over the weekend. Theres space for about 1,200 inside the club where DJs play classic house records and drag queens perform shows through the night. About 700 people work on Block9 as a whole and it takes about four weeks to construct the set, which Gallagher and Berger began building in April.

The Block9 teams scoured the archives to cover every detail. From old American civil engineering books covering the architecture to classified ads in the back of old gay porn magazines.

The Try it, you might like it billboard is made from an image that Gallagher and Berger found online that featured in an old gay magazine. They found an original copy of the issue and had it FedExed to the UK to scan in and blow up.

Surrounded by hanging sides of beef (not real, thankfully), dancers entertain the winding queue at the loading bay to get into the club. The dancers were recruited via a competition to find the best gay butchers at east London gay club The Glory. There were entrants from across the world. They take turns dancing from the moment the club opens at 8am to closing time (weve never lasted long enough to find out when that it is).

The site also includes Maceos, for staff on the site only, and the Meat Rack, a 120-capacity dancefloor that Gallagher describes as a black sweaty box with a fat soundsystem.

Being on the downlow is a gay slang term referring to men who identify as straight but have sex with other men. The clientele inside the NYC Downlow is very mixed. Its quite clearly a gay club, says Block9s Andrew Stevens, and the imagery we use and the music draws upon early gay culture, but its completely inclusive. Its like the act of sticking a moustache on as you go through the door gives you permission to be someone else. I think lots of people do things they might not normally do and they might not do again.

As well as a functioning meatpacking warehouse and gay disco, the Downlows scenery also features a gay sauna the West Side Bath House. The imagery includes an authentic etiquette guide featuring advice such as: Yes means yes, and no means maybe later. The baths set is a nod to the gigs that legendary DJ Frankie Knuckles played at New Yorks Continental Baths. In 2014, David Morales paid tribute to Knuckles with a set at the NYC Downlow that was so popular the entire Block9 area had to be closed off.

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