Published

12 May 2022

In summary

Prior to the research carried out by the University of East London's Professor of Cultural Studies Tim Lawrence very little was known or understood about New York City's music and art scenes during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Professor Lawrence's unparalleled 1,500-page study of music, party and art culture in New York City at that time, has repositioned the period as the most influential and revolutionary centre for cultural expression and production in the 20th Century – and not the artistic and cultural void it is routinely believed to have been.

His research takes the form of three books: Love saves the day, a history of American dance music culture, 1970-1979; Hold on to your dreams: Arthur Russell and the downtown music scene, 1973-1992; and Life and death on the New York dance floor, 1980-1983. These three works have historicised and shaped the way the period is viewed by shedding new light on the hugely creative output and interaction that took place in the city's downtown art, party and performance scenes. The research shows this was an unprecedented time and place where a cross-class coalition of people of colour, the LGBT+ community and women came together.

Professor Lawrence's re-historicisation of this hitherto unnarrated period in New York history has instilled it with a new cultural vitality and relevance; repositioning it as one of the most important cultural renaissances of the 20th century.

     

    What did Professor Lawrence explore and how?

    Professor Lawrence's comprehensive research focused on the marginalised and counter-culture voices of New York City's creative communities. These voices were largely unheard, their stories untold. Professor Lawrence based himself in New York City where he interviewed 100s of characters, people who played parts, shaped, partied and created in the 1970s and early 1980s New York scene.

    Through these conversations and interviews, he discovered the unnarrated story of Loft party host David Mancuso and the history of downtown party culture. Responding to the lack of scholarship on the city's rich history, Professor Lawrence published Love saves the day, a book on the evolution of dance/disco culture during the 1970s that established the pioneering contribution of Mancuso and the Loft (a unique dance party experience from the period) to the emergence of DJing as a new form of musicianship, and the creation of the dance floor as a space of refuge and inclusion for a rainbow coalition of people of colour, the LGBT+ community, women and their friends.

    The research for this book led Professor Lawrence to write Hold on to your dreams: a look at the life of the then little-known yet significant composer-musician Arthur Russell. Another figure from this counter-culture collective, the classically trained musician led a nomadic life, moving seamlessly between different groups within the NY arts and party scene.  In this book, Professor Lawrence, maps previously overlooked connections between downtown's compositional, disco, hip hop and punk scenes.

    Professor Lawrence's third book Life and death on the New York dance floor argued that the unprecedented output and interaction that took place within and between the city's downtown art, music, party and performance scenes amounted to one of the most important cultural renaissances of the 20th century.

    Professor Lawrence has built up a unique archive on the period featuring niche publications, fanzines, flyers, playlists and technical information. Including more than 270 illustrations and 40 discographies, the books have established a form of community history writing that is as accessible as it is rigorous.

    What is the impact of this research?

    Professor Lawrence's research has reshaped public understanding of the period within the United States and beyond. His research has generated new ways of thinking that have influenced creative practice in art, music, television and film. Love saves the day inspired New York artist Martin Beck to create a series of Loft-inspired works for a major retrospective in Vienna; musicians including lead vocalist for the Scissor Sisters Ana Matronic have cited Professor Lawrence's research as a key inspiration. TV producers have used the research as a source of information about New York City culture for shows including HBO's The Deuce, Netflix's The Get Down and CNBC's Empires of New York. It was also used as an invaluable source of reference for the film Studio 54.

    His comprehensive study of music, party and art culture in late 20th Century New York has also inspired new forms of social expression and interaction by becoming the reference point for an international network of dance parties that model themselves on the Loft. Taking place across London and Europe, these re-imagined dance parties attract 100s of guests per event with each one contributing to social and community regeneration.

    Professor Lawrence's re-historicisation of 1970s and early 1980s NYC as an epicentre for collective creativity has also enabled library and museum professionals to enhance cultural heritage preservation and interpretation. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre relied on Professor Lawrence's Arthur Russell biography to acquire and organise Russell's archive in May 2016.

    The research has underscored major international art shows at the Barbican, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Vitra Design Museum as well as numerous shows curated by smaller galleries. The chief curator for MoMA's Club 57: film, performance and art in the East Village exhibition notes the research "mapped the terrain", "shaped our approach", and "became a spiritual guide".

    His research is also taught in numerous Ivy League and state universities in the United States and in 2018 was described by the Journal of the Society for American Music as a "great service to US music studies".

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