‘The 1970s club scene in New York was special’: Nicky Siano | Travel

I started going to bars when I was 16. Kids weren’t allowed in, but I was tall. I’d look through the windows of certain clubs and see the inside. They always just looked phoney, trying to be really groovy and, well, posh. To me, they looked tacky. Then I went to David Mancuso’s place, the Loft, and was just overwhelmed by it.

I was into sound but, oh my God, I had never heard sound like that before. The whole setup at The Loft was different. It was just like being in someone’s living room, but a nice living room with big cushions and lamps and old chairs.

My second night at the Loft was a pivotal moment in my life. I was dancing and all the lights had gone out, apart from a lamp on the perimeter of the dancefloor between two chairs. All of a sudden, the horns came in on the song and the lamp just dimmed and went out. Everyone went crazy. I flipped out. I realised David was controlling everything in the room – the sound, the light, the air conditioning. I said: “This is it. I have to do this. I wanna control the atmosphere in a room, I wanna make atmosphere.” That’s how I looked at it; making atmosphere.

Nicky Siano

My brother and I opened The Gallery in 1973 for $15,000. Because property was so inexpensive in New York back then, we could open our own club and do something really good. All of a sudden, here was this down-home feeling with a new style of music in environments that were different from the usual clubs. The 1970s club scene was special because it was the first time [ordinary] people were doing things like that. In the 60s, it was only open to the high class and the rich, like authors up on the Upper East Side.

The first time Grace Jones ever performed was at The Gallery. She was signed to Island Records that same week because the PR man saw her there that night. The first time Loletta Holloway ever sang in a club was at The Gallery, too. It was absolutely tremendous. She did all the songs on the first album, to an audience of 1,600 people who went absolutely wild. I’ll also never forget the night that Liza Minnelli sang happy birthday to Steve Rubell in Studio 54. That was a real magical night for me.

Studio 54 was definitely all about drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. People came to party, do drugs and maybe pick someone up and have sex downstairs. I was DJing there but I didn’t agree with the direction it was going in and its door policy. Although it had a lot of magical things about it, people didn’t come to hear the music – that’s what the Loft and the Gallery were really about.

A-1 Records, New York

A-1 Records, in Manhattan’s East Village

Good Room and Le Bain are about the only two places I really like to go. Good Room has a great soundsystem and the dancefloor is in a separate room, so the lighting is very controlled. It’s very down-home, dusty rafters and all. It’s also where I hold my new party, Native New Yorker. At the last one we decorated the place with balloons and, despite the torrential rain, 700 people showed up. People said it felt like the 70s all over again.

Le Bain has an almost 360-degree view of New York. It’s on the top floor of the Standard hotel. The soundsystem is good, and the atmosphere and the people are very friendly and lively. For live soul, Black Flamingo, in Brooklyn, is the best.

View from the top floor of the Standard Hotel, New York City, US.

View from the top floor of the Standard Hotel Photograph: Alamy

Williamsburg is like New York in the 70s. It’s just happening. You can walk down the street and club hop. That’s where all the clubs are opening. At Output, Danny Krivit does a night called 718 Sessions. I know that whenever there’s a party there, it’s good; when Danny’s there it’s a different vibe, it’s better. House of Yes on the outskirts of town does great work. It has aerialists and shows that are incorporated into the night. It’s very cool to watch, to be there.

I’m always at A1 Record Shop in the East Village. It has been around since 1996 and has the best selection. If they don’t have it out on the floor they’ll find it for you. There are bins everywhere with an incredible selection of music. Turntable Lab has the best equipment for DJs and decent records. I also really like Academy, in the Flatiron district, which has been around since the 70s.

Nicky Siano is at Gala festival, 28 May, in Brockwell Park, London, thisisgala.co.uk

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