Sunday, June 24, 2012

The music that Irene and Man Yung want to dance to at milongas

We are not DJs.  We don't want to be DJs - or organizers, or teachers, or tango professionals.

We just want to dance.

But often we hear music at the milongas that makes us want to sit down.  Sometimes the sitting down periods get so lengthy and our tense, silent, passive-aggressive enduring of same becomes so unbearable that it no longer makes any sense for us to continue to go to the milonga with the abundance of "sitting down" music.  So we go somewhere else.

Maybe you, as DJ/organizer/tango professional:

A) Don't really give a rat's ass if we stay or go.

Or maybe (and we hope!) B) You say (with sincerity - because some of you aren't really sincere and you are more like A) above) : "But I want your $10.00 entrada x 2 people x 52 weeks in a year!  Tell us what you, as traditional tango dancers who have traveled to Buenos Aires to hang out with the milongueros and have perhaps developed tastes in tango music that are quite like the people you hang out with - what would you like to hear at our milonga?  What would you like to dance to?"

Would you really like to know?  I mean, really?  Or do you want us to shamelessly flatter your music choices?

I know what you really want is flattery.  But you aren't getting that.  Not today anyway.

So without further ado, we hereby present to you:


1.   We would like to dance to music that is not a health hazard

On our trip to Hong Kong this past February, the DJ at the last milonga we went to played weapons-grade "Tango-like" noise.

Whenever a tanda began (and they were all utterly horrible, off-the-scale wacko tandas - more of our whining about choices of music later) it was like someone had set off a small nuclear explosion in the speakers.  People would literally be jumping in their seats with their hair standing on end as the sound blast shattered their eardrums.

The DJ either a) didn't care or b) was too busy socializing, because it would take at least one or two minutes before he would amble slowly over to his station and turn the volume down.  The evil eye didn't work in making him adjust the volume any faster - god knows we tried, and most of the "regulars" we talked to had kind of given up too.

A few days later, safely back in Toronto, Man Yung was still complaining about the cacophony.  "My ears are still ringing from that godawful noise!  Remind me never to go to that milonga again - ever!"

Indeed, you may be the best tango tanda arranger in the universe - but if the quality of your sound sucks, people would only remember what a horrible time they had, and what a horrible DJ you are.

Please, Mr. and Ms. DJ - constantly adjust the volume and the balance of your music so that it doesn't hurt the patrons of your milonga.  We don't want to feel like we had walked into a death metal rock concert, or a sonic frequency weapon-testing session.  We don't want to hear high-pitched ear-piercing dog-whistle frequencies, or earth-shaking bass either.  And we certainly don't want to hear reverb, or screeching feedback.  There's medical evidence that prolonged exposure to noise pollution will cause raised heart rates, high blood pressure, headaches, nosebleeds, even cancer.  Even if you want to slowly murder Irene and Man Yung, you can't possibly want to slowly murder everyone in your milonga as well.*

* Luckily in Toronto some DJs monitor the quality of their sound very carefully.  The ones that don't - we thought they were just being callous and uncaring, but now we realize that they may be partially deaf.  For example, the factory one block away from our condo makes this whistling noise all night - I can hear it, but Man Yung can't, because he is ancient and his hearing is going. So it could be that the aurally-challenged DJ didn't even notice that the Di Sarli tanda was loud, brassy and totally ruined for everyone.  Or that the D'Agostino tracks had been copied and converted so many times Angel Vargas now sounds like a constipated chipmunk.  We see these poor deaf DJs continue to joke around and socialize and dance at the milonga with nary a care, completely oblivious to the terrible noises coming from their iTunes.

2.  We want to dance to music that isn't really, really (and I mean really) boring.

Hey, you DJs who recycle your playlist week after week after week - your music is boring.  You might switch one or two tandas here and there from week to week, but if we know what is coming next - down to the orchestra and the singer and the track - you are boring us.

Another variation of boring?  The total lack of variation.   If we hear a tanda of "bap-bap-bap-bap" Biagi, the last thing on earth we want to hear is a tanda of "bap-bap-bap-bap" D'Arienzo right afterwards.  And one of our worst nightmares will come true when the whole night is nothing but "bap-bap-bap-bap", tanda after tanda after tanda after tanda after tanda....

Mr. and Ms. DJ: You hold the hopes of all tango dancers in your hands.  Some of us like rhythmic music, some of us like lyrical music, some of us just want to boogie-on-down (these should have gone to a disco, but what could you do?), some of us want a little romance.  If you play a tanda of rhythmic music, give us lyrical music lovers something to hope for by playing something totally 180 degree opposite from 100% hardcore rhythm the next tanda - and vice versa.  Mix it up.  Don't play the same kind of music all night, or 70% of the night (because it will feel like the whole night to us sitting it out and waiting for the right music to appear).  Don't play the same playlist week after week.  And don't play the same goddamn Di Sarli/D'Arienzo/Donato/Malerba etc. tanda all the time - there's more than one way to put a tanda together, you're the expert, don't always use the same darn tracks in your tandas with only slight change in order, because we can tell (and we are bored with it)!

3.  We only want to dance to Canyengue music in extreme moderation.

We visualize that when some DJs put their music playlist together, it goes something like this.

Hmmmm.....Miguel Calo - played that last week.  Di Sarli with Rufino - played that two weeks ago.  Pugliese Instrumentals - play them all the time.  Ditto Varela, Rodriguez, De Angelis, Troilo, D'Agostino...How can I make myself "different" and "special" compared to all the other Tango DJs, when I am playing exactly the same music as they are?*  Wait a moment - I have tons and tons of music from the 1910's, 1920's, 1930's...the tracks are a bit scratchy and obscure, but I think people haven't heard these before!

* Don't fool yourself - you will not be more "unique" just because you have dug deep into your obscure catalogue of Canyengue tracks.  You will be just the same as all the other bad DJs who have "dug deep into their obscure catalogue of Canyengue tracks".

And the next thing you know, we'll be sitting on our asses most of the night with our eyes rolling at the Canyengue music every second to third tanda.  It is the "bap-bap-bap-bap" of the Canyengue sort, with bad fidelity and tinny, bottom of a tin can singing.  Yes, it's music that we have not heard before - and even if we have heard it, we would promptly forget it, because it all sounds the same and is soul-suckingly boring.  And - no, we don't really care for the Canyengue version of ______________ or ________________ or __________________ because THE CLASSIC "GOLDEN AGE" VERSION IS STILL AND ALWAYS KING.


4.  We don't want you to play music that will shoot us down mid-flight.

When the music starts to play and we take to the dance floor, we want to fly, fly, fly - and not land until the last 'chan-chan' of the last tango of the tanda signals that it's time for us to land into reality.

So if I get up to dance to Calo, or Troilo, or De Angelis, or Di Sarli, or whatever - I expect that the first track you play to be indicative of the tracks that would follow in the tanda.  That's how I maintain altitude in my flight.

What I don't want is false advertising.  If you are playing Di Sarli with Duran, say "Porteño y Bailarin", to begin with, I don't want to come crashing to the ground again and again when you play a Di Sarli Canyengue the second track, followed by "Bahia Blanca" the third track, and then Di Sarli with Florio the fourth track!  (OR WORSE:  Throw in a little Fresedo or D'Arienzo or something completely different, just for fun!)

For god's sake stick with it the whole way through! * I got up for Di Sarli with Duran. When you play anything else different within the tanda, and especially lumped onto as the last track, I feel cheated, like it was a bait-and-switch scam.  You want to keep it consistent, so we have the time within four tracks to get into the mood, to fly to the feeling and sensation of dancing to the music of Di Sarli with Duran.

* Preferably Di Sarli with Duran from the same year.  We say "year" not to be fussy, but because the best consistency comes from music recorded in the same period of time.  There may be performance, preservation or recording technology differences for tracks recorded ten, five, or even one or two years apart, and the music can sound very very different.  Even Picasso had different periods in his art! You think you have enough "ear" or "talent" to make a consistent tanda otherwise?  Sorry to break it to you, but you don't - see #1 above, you might actually be slightly deaf and oh yes, we are frowning gravely at you and seriously considering going somewhere else to dance next week.

The best DJs will actually not only create consistency within a tanda - they will even tell a story with the tracks they choose.  The first track will be strong - to pull the dancers onto the dance floor.  The second will continue the mood set by the first, maybe go slightly towards the hopeful and uplifting, or towards the moody and melancholic - and the third will continue with that, with a twist.  The last track has to be strong, continuing the thread again, but also bringing the tanda to a brilliant climax. 

Only then can the dancer experience smooth flight, with plenty of thrills, and a satisfying landing.

Mr. and Ms. DJ:  Please!  Consistency (or, if we are really lucky, a story) within a tanda!

5.  We don't want to dance to anything strange.

Want to dance to "Summer Mountain Valley"?  "Infinite Shoreline"?  "Rain into Water"?  
Now you can - coming to a milonga near you!

Why are Tango DJs always looking to playing something "different" just to be "special" or more "individualistic" (See #3 above for another manifestation of this disease) and end up becoming bad or mediocre weirdo Tango DJs, instead of GREAT Tango DJs* who always play the danceable tried and true?

* For example, there is a general consensus that Dany Borelli (Lo de Celia, Nuevo Chique, Los Consagrados) is a GREAT Tango DJ - many say, the "Best DJ in Buenos Aires" . I don't think it is coincidence that he plays traditional, danceable, classic tangos.

The Hong Kong DJ we mentioned in #1 above played some pretty strange stuff.  Indeed, we have some DJs in Toronto striving for the mantle of "Most strangest stuff ever played in a tango setting".

But I tell you, Irene and Man Yung can beat all of you, and I mean ALL OF YOU, in "strange" and "weird".  And HA! we can dance to it too.

The harmonica stylings of Hugo Diaz and concert recordings of Pugliese?  No sweat.  The Platters, Janis Joplin, Mayumi Itsuwa?  Piece of cake.  Wind, rain and bird noises of Naturespace?  Child's play.

We dance to this kind of stuff from time to time at our own private practice each week just for the hell of it, just to see how far we can test our musicality.

But we don't want Tango DJs to play this stuff at a milonga.  Heck, if we were Tango DJs, we won't play this stuff - or any other "stuff" that is not strictly classic, traditional, danceable tango.

In Tango, there's music for dancing - and music that's not for dancing.  In the Golden Age, most tango music was composed and arranged specifically for dancers to dance to - and orchestras traveled from milonga to milonga every night to play for dancers.

Man Yung was dancing with legendary milonguera Myriam Pincen during a tanda of De Angelis last October when some "not for dancing" tango music started playing.  Myriam graciously finished the tanda with Man Yung, but gave us some advice.

"Now, the music that just played was not for dancing.  See how the singer's singing is emphasized - and the compas is diminished - in that tango?  When we as tango dancers dance, we dance to the compas.  The singer in singing, is trying to take you somewhere else altogether.  Dance to the compas - not to the singing."

Tango DJs have a responsibility towards Tango to play Tango that was created for dancing.   How else can dancers learn how to embrace, how to walk, how to feel what the compas is supposed to feel in your feet, body and soul?

Mr. and Ms. DJ:  Please, don't make things more unnecessarily complicated by playing Gardel, Narcotango, Gotan, Sassone, Hugo de Carril, what have you.  You have a responsibility to Tango and your Tango community to be the keepers of the flame of danceable Tango.  Don't forget, most dancers are still flailing helplessly to something as simple as Biagi.

See here and here for more of our thoughts on DJ-ing, music and playlist creation over the years. 


jessiechung said...

Dear Irene and Man Yung,

Big hands to this article you wrote. I share your views on Tango music at the milonga 100%. When the music is rich and well put together, my heart flies even if I don't get to dance much. Yet, when the music is uninspiring and awkwardly put together, I find myself lacking interests in dancing, consequently, I go home feeling empty. for the dancers. Give them what they love....give them the music that lights the fire within them.


Anonymous said...

I think I know who that HK DJ is! I went to his milonga on a trip to HK several years ago and hated his music! Sadly I hear that a lot of local dancers still go to that venue. I had come to two conclusions - either the locals have different tastes in Tango music, or they just don't care about the music.

Send us a message next time you go to HK, I've visited a number of milongas there but there's a lot of new ones and I hear often only advertised on Facebook ...

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Jessie,

We hope that music will continue to improve in milongas around the world - without good TANGO music (and not all the other stuff, like tracks from Naturespace!), how would people learn how to dance Tango well?

Thanks for your comment and a very happy Canada Day to you and Dorian!

Irene and Man Yung

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Yabotil,

So sorry to hear that your ears were assaulted at the same milonga in HK!
(People must be asking, 'how do you know it's the same DJ?' We think we can safely respond - Of course it's the same DJ, you can't miss it!)

Thanks for your comment!

Irene and Man Yung

Carol said...

Thank you for this posting... as a tango DJ I work very hard to please my dancers, I think I have improved because I was guilty of playing too much canyengue (now I only play 1 tanda at the most) and Guardia Vieja (I hardly ever play any). Some of the first things my DJ mentors told me was never to mix instrumental with cantors, to always play the same cantor when you play cantor - and that the music is more important than the singing...
There are bad DJs all over - here in Sydney too... I just hope I am not one of them.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Carol,

You sound like you really care about the dancers - and limited amounts of Canyengue always improves an evening. Your DJ mentors have some good tips! Good luck with your DJ-ing!

Thanks for your comment,

Irene and Man Yung

Unknown said...

Nice post! I completely and totally agree.

Unknown said...

Nice post! I completely and totally agree.

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Susanita,

Thanks for your comment and boy do we wish that the music in Toronto will continue to improve (instead of descend into Canyengue Catastrophe)!

Irene and Man Yung

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