As the 1970s gave way to the 80s, New York's party scene entered a ferociously inventive period characterized by its creativity, intensity, and hybridity. Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor chronicles this tumultuous time, charting the sonic and social eruptions that took place in the city’s subterranean party venues as well as the way they cultivated breakthrough movements in art, performance, video, and film. Interviewing DJs, party hosts, producers, musicians, artists, and dancers, Tim Lawrence illustrates how the relatively discrete post-disco, post-punk, and hip hop scenes became marked by their level of plurality, interaction, and convergence. He also explains how the shifting urban landscape of New York supported the cultural renaissance before gentrification, Reaganomics, corporate intrusion, and the spread of AIDS brought this gritty and protean time and place in American culture to a troubled denouement.
Part I. 1980: The Recalibration of Disco
1. Stylistic Coherence Didn't Matter at All 11
2. The Basement Den at Club 57 30
3. Danceteria: Midtown Feels the Downtown Storm 48
4. Subterranean Dance 60
5. The Bronx-Brooklyn Approach 73
6. The Sound Became More Real 92
7. Major-Label Calculations 105
8. The Saint Peter of Discos 111
9. Lighting the Fuse 122
Part II. 1981: Accelerating Toward Pluralism
10. Explosion of Clubs 135
11. Artistic Maneuvers in the Dark 155
12. Downton Configures Hip Hop 170
13. The Sound of a Transcendent Future 184
14. The New Urban Street Sound 199
15. It Wasn't Rock and Roll and It Wasn't Disco 210
16. Frozen in Time or Freed into Infinity 221
17. It Felt Like the Whole City Was Listening 232
18. Shrouded Abatements and Mysterious Deaths 239
Part III. 1982: Dance Culture Seizes the City
19. All We Had Was the Club 245
20. Inverted Pyramid 257
21. Roxy Music 271
22. The Garage: Everybody Was Listening to Everything 279
23. The Planet Rock Groove 288
24. Techno Funksters 304
25. Taste Segues 314
26. Stormy Weather 320
27. Cusp of an Important Fusion 331
Part IV. 1983: The Genesis of Division
28. Cristal for Everyone 343
29. Dropping the Pretense and the Flashy Suits 369
30. Straighten It Out with Larry Levan 381
31. Stripped-Down and Scrambled Sounds 400
32. We Became Part of This Energy 419
33. Sex and Dying 430
34. We Got the Hits, We Got the Future 438
35. Behind the Groove 449
Epilogue. Life, Death, and the Hereafter 458
Selected Discography 515
Selected Filmography 529
Selected Bibliography 521
"Tim Lawrence brings the authority of his deeply sourced disco history Love Saves the Day to club culture's great melting-pot moment, when hip hop, punk, and disco transformed one another, with input from salsa, jazz, and Roland 808s. If you never danced yourself dizzy at the Roxy, the Paradise Garage, or the Mudd Club, here's a chance to feel the bass and taste the sweat."
Will Hermes, author of
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever
"Tim Lawrence connects the dots of a scene so explosively creative, so kaleidoscopically diverse, so thrillingly packed with the love of music and the love of life that even those of us who were there could not have possibly seen or heard it all! Now we can. Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983 is not only a remarkable account of a remarkable time, it is a moving memorial to all those who left the party much too soon.
Ann Magnuson, writer, actress, and former Club 57 manager and NYC Downtown performance artist
"Tim Lawrence’s powerfully pulsating and enthusiastically researched book, Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-83, vividly captures the cultural revolution I took part in that had New York City under creative siege! The book flows like a time-capsule master-mix whisking you from club to party in those few no-holds-barred fun-filled years as a multiethnic mash-up of us grooved together to the DJ’s beat while the world clamored to get on the guest list."
Fab 5 Freddy
"Tim Lawrence has followed his now-classic Love Saves the Day with a magnificent account of one of the most fertile and influential periods of New York City's long musical history. He manages to capture with striking accuracy the unique and stunning meshing together of styles and genres that defined this period as one of the key moments in modern popular and club culture. A must-read for anyone curious about how modern dance music got to where it is."
François Kevorkian, DJ, producer, and remixer
"The focus here is clearly music. Mr. Lawrence even includes some D.J. playlists for the listener to investigate. But Life and Death is more expansive than that — it takes you deep into a time and place, the good-old-bad-old-days of pre-Rudolph Giuliani New York, which many have valorized for some time now. If the 1970s have been thoroughly examined, the early ’80s have been left relatively unexplored, and while Mr. Lawrence provides a lot of minutiae, he also delivers a story with some sweep."
New York Times
"Life and Death provides the most intensive mapping of this brief era of New York subculture we've yet seen. The book's strength is its depth of research, drawing on the realtime journalism of the era as well as many new interviews. The detail is fascinating, as Lawrence salvages ephemeral events, forgotten people, and lost places from the fog of faded memory."
"[I]f you have no abiding love for New York, disco, hip-hop, studio techniques, or fast and dirty real-estate shuffles—there must be such people, statistically—perhaps Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor will not hold you. But if you care for any of those things, and even if that concern borders on the obsessive, you will benefit from Lawrence’s investigations."
The New Yorker
"Lawrence goes into remarkable depth to portray this world which, during its few short years, gained expansive popularity and had a significant impact on art, film, literature, and culture. His meticulous research, with details on the leading figures, trends, events, places, and music that made it all happen, also provides critical/analytical commentary on the social backdrop of the times, the genesis of the emerging and eclectic music/dance styles, and the essence of this artistic renaissance. In addition to the well-selected photographs, notes, and bibliography, set lists, discographies, and a filmography add to the title's impressive breadth. Cultural historians and those familiar with the 1980s milieu will find this informative and insightful."
Carol J. Binkowski
"The cast of characters in the book can be staggering, the exhaustive accounts overwhelming — Lawrence interviewed or corresponded with more than 130 people, and he makes room for their voices — but that's part of the point: He wants a crowded and motley party. This is a scrupulously researched, marvelously detailed history."
"Exceptionally accessible (the author’s passion for his subject shows through on every page; it’s easy to imagine how his knowledge and genuine interest opened many a door and got people talking, telling tales recorded here that might not otherwise have seen the light of day), the raw, new energy of the city is accurately captured and conveyed. No small feat.... Seriously, when’s the last time you read a book you could actually dance to?"
Lambda Literary Review
"[A] compelling tale, beautifully told. As one who was fortunate enough to have landed in New York during this timeframe, Lawrence does a cracking job capturing a time when even listening to the city’s black radio stations at noon could change your life. It was a surreal, magical period of ground-breaking activity which now seems hard to believe could actually happen at the same time in the same city. Finally, here’s the proof."
"Through a comprehensive and lushly detailed text stuffed with original photos from dance floors, DJ booths, and parties, Lawrence imparts the mood, the music, the faces and the places from that remarkable era, with a nostalgic nod to nights where 'a new kind of freedom was set to rule the night.' ... Dance music historians will want this book for reference, while others who recall these days with a sense of longing will close its covers and dream of the days when nightlife amounted to a line of cocaine, a Madonna remix, and a dark, packed dance floor in a basement club in the Village."
Bay Area Reporter
"What a wonderful piece of work! I think this may be the definitive Bible for NYC and Dance Music during that era."
"[O]ffers fresh detail and insight on the clubs, DJs, parties and recordings that emerged from the scene. He even offers DJ playlists from different clubs."
Wall Street Journal
"Tim Lawrence's Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-1983, the definitive history of that fabled time in the city, is already taking on the status of a sacred text."
"Reading Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor as a clubber in the city is to reflect not only on what’s been lost over the past three decades, but on how the sounds, events and characters at the center of Lawrence’s story still influence NYC’s nightlife. . . . [W]hat Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor makes acutely obvious, as both volume and prism, is not just the cultural value of the city’s party scene, but how it also serves as a moral compass – and how it still can."
"Life & Death defines New York's unnamed era of invention. When Boy George was nicking from the cloakroom at Blitz, and everyone else was at The Batcave, this is how it ran in NYC. With hundreds of interviews, deep research and enlightening playlists, it's almost as invigorating as being there."
"Lawrence has mustered convincing evidence for the case that Madonna was not the most important cultural creation of early 1980s New York. . . . Lawrence is most convincing when he documents the remarkable variety and genre-blurring fecundity of sounds available to tuned-in city dwellers, a diversity that was even more bracing when contrasted with the monotonous airwaves stifling the rest of North America."
"Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor is a remarkably intense piece of 'community history writing.' It breathes life into an iconic historical epoch and sociocultural scene without ever retreating into nostalgia or naive celebration. In fact, there's something unexpectedly electrifying about reading Lawrence's exceptionally well-researched historical studies. It is the sensation of remotely yet meaningfully becoming part of something hitherto only secretly known. One becomes slowly yet unequivocally aware of how that specific era's cultural and sociopolitical conditions, so thoroughly reconstructed in these works, resonate with the current sense of cultural and political impasse."
Niels Van Tomme