First Leonard Cohen, now this.

David Mancuso, one of the most influential figures in New York City nightlife, has died less than a month after his 72nd birthday. The Loft, an underground club that Mancuso operated out of his home in Noho, then Soho, and finally in Alphabet City, was celebrated for its invite-only after-hours parties, fueled by a cutting-edge sound system and a spirit of racial, sexual, and social inclusiveness. The vibe influenced later clubs like the Garage and even Studio 54.

Mancuso was born on October 20, 1944 in Utica, New York, and came to Manhattan when he was 18. He frequented East Village venues like the Fillmore East and Electric Circus, where he saw acts like Nina Simone and Timothy Leary. After visiting the psychedelic guru’s League for Spiritual Discovery center in the West Village, he was inspired to host acid-bathed happenings of his own, at his commercial loft at 647 Broadway, near Bleecker. Mancuso would create “journey tapes” consisting of everything from Moody Blues to classical music, Tim Lawrence wrote in Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–1979.

Eventually, the intimate happenings turned into “mixed-media parties”—bimonthly bashes aimed at raising the $175 that Mancuso paid in rent for his 500-square-foot loft. In 1970, he threw his first big party, called Love Saves the Day, and they soon went weekly.

The vibe at The Loft was dark, sensual, and joyous, with a focus on dancing rather than posing or jockeying for status. The minimal decor consisted of hundreds of balloons, a disco ball, a yoga shrine, and a buffet of fresh-squeezed juices, bread, fruit, and organic nuts. Mancuso, who at one point worked at a health food store, didn’t start drinking until his mid-20s. He didn’t sell alcohol at his parties, which allowed him to skirt cabaret laws. That, in turn, allowed his friends—whom he described as “gay, straight, bi, black, Asian”— to party from midnight to 6am (and well into the afternoon, once the parties became more popular) without fear of Stonewall-esque police action.

“I tried to create a situation in which there was no economic inequality,” Mancuso told Lawrence in Love Saves the Day. “If someone couldn’t afford to pay the contribution at the door then they would write me an IOU.”

Unlike other DJs, Mancuso came to eschew mixing, believing that mixers compromised the audio quality of the vinyl he spun. Instead, he played songs all the way through, joining them together with a reel-to-reel tape containing sound effects such as tropical rain. Artists on his play list included Arthur Russell’s Dinosaur L, Joe Gibbs, The Gap Band, Edgar Winter, The O’Jays and so on. Lawrence described a typical set: “While Mancuso’s extended set usually opened with a range of esoteric selections that slowly built into a fully charged session of African and Latin rhythms, driving R&B and danceable rock before ending on a calmer note, the ‘musical host’ (as Mancuso preferred to think of himself) was never afraid to mix things up, throwing in an expected Nina Simone song here and a sound effect there.”

Though he was a fixture at the city’s house parties and record stores, Mancuso has been described as shy, mysterious, even reclusive. He didn’t seek the spotlight or pursue massive profits. But his infectious playlists and his obsession with achieving crystal-clear sound by deploying an array of tweeters and subwoofers influenced many regulars at The Loft who went on to become legends of New York City nightlife. Frankie Knuckles later became the “Godfather of House Music,” Nicky Siano became one of the house DJs at Studio 54, and Larry Levan became similarly influential at Paradise Garage, a venue that adopted The Loft’s posi, populist, music-forward vibe.

Knuckles told Lawrence that “you met all types of people” at The Loft: “Artists, musicians, fashion designers, bankers, lawyers, doctors. Male, female straight, gay, it didn’t matter. The Loft was like a microcosm of New York.”

In 1974, in the wake of a vacate order that landed Mancuso on the front page of the New York Times, he was forced to leave his home on Broadway during the height of its popularity. “Everybody is asking everybody else if he has a membership in the fabulous Loft, the jewel of ‘private parties,’ a pinnacle only a few get to reach,” Mark Jacobson wrote in a New York magazine article about the “return of the New York disco.”

When The Loft reopened in 1975, it was at 99 Prince Street, near Mercer. In a move that would influence countless underground promoters, Mancuso protected himself by legally establishing with the Department of Consumer Affairs that the venue wasn’t a cabaret, since it operated as an invitation-only party that didn’t sell booze. He positioned 18 speakers around the room to create an impressive “wall of sound”—one of his many audiophile innovations over the years.

Disco came and went, but The Loft had such a devoted following that it was largely immune to nightlife fads. In the early ’80s, after he was forced to leave the Soho space, Mancuso bought a building on East Third Street, between Avenues C and D. “That was when Alphabet City was the worst neighborhood in the entire United States,” he told Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton in an interview that appears in their book, The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries. “I knew some of the grandmothers. I shut down. It was so bad over there. Business was tough.”

Eventually, Mancuso’s parties became occasional affairs. He threw one-offs all over the world, while keeping a place in the East Village, on Avenue C. When he spoke to Broughton and Brewster in 1998, he met them in the neighborhood. “A softly spoken mystic, it’s easy to imagine David Mancuso inspiring devoted followers,” they wrote. “Talking to this shy man sipping minestrone in an East Village diner it’s harder, however, to picture him as the most influential figure in nightlife history.”