A pragmatic guide
Tango DJing and music
I have been listening to Tango music and DJing for nearly seven years now. When I started dancing Tango in India, DJing happened because of necessity: no one really wanted to spend their time making playlists. Thence started my DJing journey.
I spent an incredible amount of time early on listening to Tango music, downloading it, selecting what appealed to me and reading all sorts of guides on the internet. Many Tango DJs are incredibly generous and post tandas they create online. Listening to these tandas and reading about why they appealed to their creators also played an important role in developing my own tastes. There is no better way to learn quickly than imitating others.
In retrospect, many of my initial playlists were awful. Not because they contained awful music (very little Tango music is actually bad, and I happen to have a decent ear for music), but for reasons that I will talk about subsequently. By 2018, however, I had received accolades for my DJing (including a standing ovation once!) from beginners, experienced dancers, teachers and other DJs in India, Sweden and Italy. Again, this was not because I suddenly started playing “great” music. It was because I finally understood what was required of me as a DJ and did not let my personal music tastes or ego get in the way of my duty as a DJ.
This is the first of a few posts on my personal view of Tango DJing and music. These posts are subjective and opinionated; feel free to take anything that helps you and ignore anything that you don’t like!
Why am I writing this now? After all these years, I think I finally have something to say that is my own. Something that is not a regurgitation of random facts about Tango music, orchestras or history that I have learnt over time.
In this introductory post, I want to outline my general approach to Tango DJing. I’m sure many would find my approach self-evident, but it is surprising how often I go to a milonga and hear the DJ doing the exact opposite.
DJs duty: Keep as many people dancing for as much of the milonga as possible.
I keep repeating this “golden” rule to myself often so that I never forget it. One of the best compliments I have ever received was
[You are DJing as though] you are dancing with everyone on the floor!
As a Tango DJ, you have to be dancing with everyone on the floor. Your enjoyment derives from the fact that everyone is having a good time dancing Tango. Any other form of enjoyment that you may derive from your DJing is secondary.
I believe a DJ is failing in their duty when they
Play what they like to hear.
This attitude embodies itself in Tango DJing in a very peculiar way. I have been myself guilty of the same, so I understand the thought process behind it. It goes something like this:
- I LOVE this song!
- I REALLY want to hear being played in a larger setting!
- Let me make a tanda that contains this song.
- Oh, there are no other suitable songs by this orchestra :(
- Does not matter, let’s make a tanda with 3 other “filler” songs!
A song that appears frequently in these kind of tandas in Pugliese’s sublime Remembranzas:
But there is virtually no other song that is even remotely comparable in the oeuvre of Pugliese with Jorge Maciel (Tandas conventionally include songs by the same orchestra-vocalist combination). Thus, the DJ will include 3 other songs (which will almost always include Esta Noche de Luna) and create a tanda for which the dancers have no idea how to create a choreography. Consequently, the tanda invariably is a 15 minute drag, and the DJ has failed in her/his duty.
The DJ also fails in their duty when they
Try to “educate” their audience
DJs are music nerds. They would not be DJs otherwise. They tend to know a lot more about Tango music than the average dancer. They will know about obscure songs or orchestras that no one else has a clue about. Inevitably, there is the temptation to show-off this knowledge to all the dancers assembled. It makes them and the 1% of dancers who know such obscure music feel very accomplished. I say this, again, because I have been guilty of the same.
The point I’m making here is not that DJs should not play obscure music. The point is that DJs should play music that makes all the dancers itch to dance. If their obscure tanda can do that, great. But more often than not, such tandas tend to be when dancers head to the bar for a quick refreshment.
In my experience, most dancers, even the most experienced ones, have absolutely no interest in learning about tango music history, obscure orchestras and such trivia. Which is fine, since they come to a milonga to have a good time! DJs must respect the dancer’s sentiment and “dance with the floor” rather than “teach the floor”.
Milongas are not places where I as a DJ should look to entertain myself with music I like or try to enlighten fellow Tango dancers. There are avenues more suited for such inclinations, like your own home or Tango music workshops. If a DJ focuses all her/his efforts on ensuring dancers enjoy themselves, there is a much greater satisfaction to be had!