Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983

Book Pages: 600 Illustrations: 115 illustrations Published: September 2016

Author: Tim Lawrence

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Music > Popular Music

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.


"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, Library Journal

"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." — Simon Reynolds, Bookforum

"[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." — Kris Needs, Record Collector

"With an academic thoroughness coupled with a deep personal love of dance and the culture that surrounds it, [Lawrence has] made a priceless contribution to our understanding of this critical juncture for clubs and the music played in them. Complete with playlists from Mancuso, Levan, Kamins, Sarko and Thode plus others including Afrika Bambaaataa and François Kevorkian, this is a must for DJs, dance music devotees and cultural anthropologists alike – Tim has dug real deep and his book gushes with a wealth of previously hidden information and anecdote." — Greg Wilson

"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."
  — Jim Piechota, Bay Area Reporter

"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?"
  — Tom Cardamone, Lambda Literary Review

"[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."
  — Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker

"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." — Megan Pugh, Village Voice

"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." — Michaelangelo Matos, New York Times

"[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."
  — Andy Beta, 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." — David Hershkovits, Paper Magazine

"The book does not disappoint. I’m not alone in saying that Lawrence has written one of the most comprehensive and exhaustively researched books about this vitally important period in New York’s history."
  — Paul Hallasy, The Gay Curmudgeon blog

"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." — Piotr Olov, The Guardian

"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."
  — DJ Magazine

"Life and Death is a major contribution to scholarship on cultural production. Its fineslicing of a short, fruitful period in one great city’s life helps better situate both well-known and little-known music cultures. Lawrence charts the dawn of electronic dance music with verve, detail and sensitivity."
  — Charles de Ledesma, Dancecult

"Life and Death is an inspiring love letter to the power of collective creativity, and an urgent reminder to just keep on dancing." — John Thorp, Thump

"This eagerly awaited follow-up to Lawrence’s classic Love Saves The Day is by far my favourite book of the year. A brilliantly documented and written piece that ventures into the New York party scene with great depth. A cultural renaissance that saw post-disco, hip hop and post-punk interact on many levels during a very creative time period."
  — David Cantin, Music is My Sanctuary

"Using hundreds of interviews,Lawrence intricately weaves evolving underground scenes, concurrently charting the rises of hip-hop, graffiti and electro, survival of disco, besieged gay scenes and post-punk ... awarding each chapter its own playlist. Compelling and often beautiful, his meticulous account hums with incandescent street noise." — Kris Needs, MOJO

"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." — Robert Anasi, TLS

"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, The Wire

"Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor1980-1983 reminds us that nightclubs can be generative spaces of art, community, cross-cultural pollination, experimentation, and pockets of resistance to the oppression of the daytime world."  — Alex Needham, Ssense

"Lawrence ambitiously maps the many overlapping early-80s scenes—No Wave, NewWave, post-disco, early hip hop, 80s R&B—all at once. Focusing on the usual suspects like Levan, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Afrika Bambaataa, and James Chance, he allows equal or even greater play to the many other vital ?gures who comprised these scenes: the club owners, promoters, gallerists, producers, musicians, DJs, label own-ers, ?lmmakers, bookers, record sellers, graf?ti writers, drag performers, and others who contributed to what Brian Eno terms the 'scenius' (462), that collective creative zeitgeist of the early 80s downtown community. Although Madonna still receives her requisite cameo, then, Lawrence’s broadened view reveals the importance of this larger, shifting net-work of scenesters and the concomitant power of the early 80s New York nightclub—in its many, varied forms—as incubator for cultural innovation."
  — James Weissinger, Journal of Popular Music Studies

"Lawrence provides a depth to the subject that encourages teachers and students to reimagine cultural sources. Throughout the book, Lawrence provides discographies, stressing the strength of New York's party scene and its significance in a historical context.... His success in writing this history presents a model for teaching to an audience that might see themselves disconnected from events that defined post-World War II American history but nonetheless continue shaping culture and politics in the twenty-first century." — Alan Parkes, History Teacher

Life and Death provides a wealth of valuable material for current and future scholars and enthusiasts to mine.” — Rona Cran, European Journal of American Culture

"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

"What a wonderful piece of work! I think this may be the definitive Bible for NYC and Dance Music during that era." — Man Parrish


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tim Lawrence is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of East London and the author of Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–1979 and Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973–1992, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix

Acknowledgments  xvii

Introduction  1

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

Notes  485

Selected Discography  515

Selected Filmography  529

Selected Bibliography  521

Index  537
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top