'If this DJ has played any music that isn't bouncy, it must have been before I arrived' said a partner whose insights I value. She'd been there most of the evening, so it was a serious criticism -- and a disappointment.Sadly, the art of putting together an evening of tango music for dancing is a mystery to me. Of course I know what I like and don't like, and I write to explore that. Writing is a way of looking for answers.
ten years ago tango wasn't easy to find. If record shops had tango
sections, they were for Piazzola, with maybe some Pugliese. Tango wasn't
that easily available online, either. But it seems that about ten years
ago record companies discovered a new product they could market. It's not a kind of dance music most of us grew up with, and it's amazing how fast it has become familiar to dancers here.
about five or six years ago the quality of an evening's music had
become a regular topic for conversation during milongas. The
a frequent reason people go to a particular milonga here these days: I came
because so-and-so is playing, and I like her/his music. It's also a
reason I've heard for not going to other milongas. Since a few years ago, a vast
range of excellent tango has become easily available, and hard
drives have become huge, so music doesn't have to be compressed. I think
there's an audible difference: 78s may sound a bit scratchy,
but the sound quality of the music is often quite good. Heavy compression makes music dull. You might not notice it at first, but compressed music sounds dreary after a few hours. DJs put in a
lot of work collecting different versions, new high-quality
transfers, and the days when they played evenings with a limited
range of low-quality recordings from five or ten CDs are gone.
Buenos Aires DJs organise an evening that draws you into a
marvelously satisfying musical space is a mystery. It's an art that
some European DJs have mastered too, but I guess that long practice
and life-long familiarity with the music are a big part of it. I
asked Silvia Ceriani last summer when she was in London if she had a
system of tagging the music on her laptop. She laughed. 'No! I know
my music!' Thousands of tracks, and she can pick out tracks to make coherent tandas,
and fit them with each other.
(I include the UK in Europe. Make of that what you will.)
So why the evening of bouncy music? It's a paradox that just when a huge range of music is available, it seems that there are DJs who play long sequences of similar music. Yes, there
is bouncy tango, but to play it all evening is exhausting for many
dancers, and it's a style of DJ practice that looks more to the 100
Club than to the milonga. I'm sure it's well-meant – keep it lively, keep
people on their feet. I've heard it's the expected DJ style at some
events. I get the impression
that there's a move in Europe in general to play a much simpler range
of music, whole evenings when the tempo and emotional range of the
music are simplified, avoiding in particular the slower, more emotional music. It's easier to keep moving to a regular
rhythm and to straightforward music, so no Di Sarli! No D'Agostino! No
Fresedo! Probably no Troilo! Much too difficult! But if this is a
temptation, I think it should be avoided. Perhaps you can live on
beans on toast, but it would be a pity to miss out on a very much
wider range of food and flavours that nourish you in many different
There's an amazing range in the music, from the bouncy to the sublime, the sophisticated to the
simple, the energetic to the laid back. There's emotional music,
there's lively music, there's beat music, there's melodic music. &
some music – Troilo in particular – often combines many ranges.
An evening of one kind of music or one tempo gets tedious. Each kind of music
provides a setting for another kind, a contrast. The real genius of the DJ is in
knowing how to assemble a sequence of music that keeps the ear (and the rest of the body) happy
for hours, and it takes DJs with a wide and intimate knowledge of the
music to make each tanda exciting, so your eyes eagerly search out a partner. DJs like that are very much welcomed by dancers!