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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

British Author Tim Lawrence Talks Culture Identity and House Music

On May 2, the University of Massachusetts Boston welcomed Professor Tim Lawrence from the University of East London, United Kingdom, to speak about his book, ”New York Party Culture 1980-83: Conjecture, Queens, Women.”

Lawrence’s event was hosted by UMass Boston’s Professor Aaron Lecklider, who teaches American Studies and has an area of expertise in gender studies. The event was co-sponsored by the American Studies Department; Africana Studies; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; the History and Anthropology Department; and UMass Boston’s College of Performing Arts. Both undergraduate and graduate students attended, while dance music was playing in the Campus Center’s Ballroom where the event was being held. Copies of Lawrence’s book were also available for purchase that day.

According to Lecklider, in Lawrence’s book, “Lawrence discovers queer interracial spaces,” as he exposes a culture in which many Americans have been “sidelined.”

“Tim Lawrence’s book has finally put dance culture at the center,” said Lecklider in his introduction speech.

Lawrence completed his postgraduate degree in English/Literature at Columbia University after moving to New York from the UK, where Lawrence was inspired to write his book.

“I wanted to experience more of the culture,” he told his audience Tuesday.

The book, as Lawrence said, examines the “migration” of a “polysexual, multicultural” scene that came about in the ’80s as a result of the the evolution of house music.  According to Lawrence, this evolution was also the evolution of a new culture. Lawrence recounted the history of house music and claimed that it was first recognized in Chicago in 1984. But the history of the genre dates back further than the ’80s.

Lawrence said that house music actually began in the 1970s as a “form of rebellion against ’70s disco.” The era is well known for its disco music, a genre that usually contained elements of pop, jazz, and funk. Because the genre contained these diverse elements, Lawrence said that the ’70s became an “open period,” when the culture also equivalently became “democratic.”

According to Lawrence, disco clubs during that time invited the gay, white community, and homosexuality was beginning to be more socially acceptable. This continued to be the case over the next decade.

Lawrence said that while the democratic culture and disco music of the ’70s  became very much “an open period,” there was also a “riot” expressed by those who were even more disadvantaged, including  African-Americans (both men and women), the African-American gay community, and the Queer community as well.

“The riot became an expression for the dispossessed working class,” said Lawrence. This movement, according to Lawrence, launched the “complex migration” as many people of different identities began to slowly become part of one culture.  

The Loft was the first underground party to open in New York City, and it was organized by David Mancuso, a disc jockey who threw his first party called “Love Saves The Day.” The Loft opened in 1970 and became an immediate success, as Mancuso continued to throw parties every day.  

According to Lawrence, Mancuso gathered with many independent and developing artists in New York, who each had their own claimed identities, to create a new fuse of music. The music eventually became what is now called and recognized as house music, which was influenced by disco but also incorporated electronic elements. According to Lawrence, house music became the expression for a transcendental experience for many.

Although there were people of many different backgrounds, “the energy was the same,” Lawrence said.