Friday, August 12, 2011

Aural Indigestion

The beginning and middle of the week for Man Yung is like a desert. When will we be able to make it to the next milonga? And when we finally get a chance to dance - it is really cathartic for Man Yung. The sullen, irritable moodiness he has been sporting all week disappears. Man Yung is happy, he is smiling...and he might even take me shopping at Lululemon...

Imagine this then: we go out dancing for the first time in the week, and afterwards, instead of being happy - Man Yung feels even worse than before! "I had been looking forward to dancing all week, Irene," said Man Yung. "But right now, it doesn't feel like I have danced. In fact, it feels like indigestion!"

Usually Man Yung would blame his milonga induced stomach upset on me for not following well - but now I've gotten so good he couldn't blame me anymore!

I pat Man Yung reassuringly. "Sweetie, you feel horrible because the music was particularly vile tonight!"

There's not a lot that would keep Man Yung away from a milonga. We've kept on going to places that are too hot. Too cold. Floor too sticky. Ambiance lacking. We've even continued to attend milongas where the flapping, squawking dancers have obviously escaped the insane asylum.

But there is one thing that will stop us attending a milonga. It's called "Bad Music". And there's a lot of it going around, as it goes hand-in-hand with the other ubiquitous scourge of tango - the "Clever DJ" syndrome. Whenever the music starts to go downhill, Man Yung and I will look at each other, shake our heads slowly, and say "Look, there goes another DJ trying to be to be too clever for his own good."

Why do some gringo DJs always feel this overwhelming drive to be "Clever"? Why do they have to choose music that has to be unusual, or obscure - just to show off the size of their music collection and/or musical knowledge and confound their dancers? Why can't they just play music that is beautiful, popular - and that makes people want to dance?

Once, a local DJ announced that he was open to all comments and suggestions. He actually repeated this on an habitual basis - the main thing, he said, was to make the dancers happy. He even pushed for our opinion several times.

At last, we couldn't bear it anymore. We actually told him what we thought - in a rather long email in fact, analyzing his playlist song by song and pointing out exactly what went wrong.

Was he mad? We were expecting a long-winded rebuttal - but it never came. Curious. It took him more than a week to get back to us - and when he did, it was a stock response thanking us for taking the time to email him with our thoughts.

Well, the music actually continued along the same track as before. More or less the same tandas in more or less the same order. The same kind of rhythmic music from rhythmic minded orquestras in every tanda. The same orchestra in two or more tandas in a row. Strange, brassy sounding versions of milongas with tempos that sped up and slowed down with the singing - that no-one could dance to. Jarring modern versions of the classics.

Then, the DJ started playing weird things - and coming up to me with a grin to ask if I knew what they were. Like anyone did. I shrugged my shoulders and laughed politely the first couple of times this happened. But after a couple of weeks of these quizzes, I realized that the DJ was deliberately playing obscure music so that he could "stump" me and show off that he was better than me!

So the next time he played his enigmatic gems and came over with his quiz, I told him right off. Of course I didn't know what he was playing - no-one plays this kind of music in the milongas of Buenos Aires! He was playing late late D'Arienzo, D'Agostino with any singer but Vargas, stuff from the 70's... might as well throw in some Cacho Castaña or Susana Rinaldi, or even some Carlos Gardel!

Mr. DJ: Don't think that you are good because you play something that people can't recognize and that no other sane DJ would play. That is the worst trap that DJs could fall into - the other trap being laziness and unwillingness to change tandas from week to week. Vileness in tango music playlist reaches its zenith when the DJ couldn't be bothered to change the tandas he plays - and compounds the problem by playing strange undanceable stuff* alongside it, just to prove he is clever and not sleeping on the job.

* Don't be mistaken though, that weird stuff is undanceable for us - if we can dance to violin concertos, The Beatles, and the sound of crickets chirping, we can dance to anything. But just "anything" DOES NOT A GOOD MILONGA DANCE EXPERIENCE MAKE.

The best DJs in the most popular traditional milongas in Buenos Aires are quite content to play the classics, day after day, year after year. They play music not to prove their superiority - they are there to make their dancers dance and have the sweetest, most wonderful time possible in their milongas. They love the dancers with their music - and that's why we love them back. No need to pack the Pepto-Bismol!


Tango Salon Adelaide said...

Aural indigestion - I love it! A perfect label for that condition I think of as DJ-induced grumpiness.

It's a bit sad really. Rather than leaving a milonga, glowing from the therapeutic effects of listening & dancing to great music, we sometimes head home feeling irritated & short-changed, to say the least.

Irene and Man Yung, you are not alone in your sentiments.


jessiechung said...

Hello Irene and Man Yung,

I had the similar bad experience last night. I am still speechless and still feeling sick in the stomack when thinking of the music played at the milonga. German or Italian Tango with opera kind of singing (singing Dimelo al Oido, Donde Estas Corazon..), plus symphonic contemporary music of vals feel with fading beats and uneven tempo...late 50s D'Arienzo tango so loud and harsh to the ears followed by super fast Biagi vals. The music made me nervous and jumpy. I watched the crowded dance floor wondering to myself "what is going on?" Why were they dancing to music like this as if there's no tomorrow?

Ay...should have stayed home.


Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Patricia and Jessie,

Thanks for commiserating with us - you guys know what we are talking about because you feel and understand the music too! We couldn't say the same for many of the unfortunately joyous limb flappers out there on the dance floor on a bad music night - they'd be twitching and jerking quite merrily no matter what kind of noise is is being played.

Good music not only makes a crowded, undisciplined floor bearable - it can even sometimes discipline an unruly floor! When the music is good, the urge to dance to it (instead of moving about wily-nily) can get contagious. We've seen some rare miracles happen here in Toronto. But then, we have our share of Clever DJs as well, showing off instead of doing their best to play music that people will enjoy dancing to - and bad music makes people dance badly, and poor Man Yung...well, he gets the indigestion thing. Oh well.

Thanks for your comments!

Irene and Man Yung

Toronto Weather

Buenos Aires Weather