Monday, December 27, 2004

Tango DJ toolkit

So, I want to start a number of people at the Tango Center as DJs. They must, of course, be dancers, love the music etc. There are a lot of people like this, and I've been trying to think of how to get them going.

So I'm going to make maybe 10 CD's, with a format like ...

... and characterize them, with a little high-level guide to adjusting the mood of an evening.

Starting the evening, "Slow, steady, lovely, interesting, easy". For me, the first two sets are often:
  Orchesta Tipica Victor
  Mid-to-late Di Sarli
  Early De Angelis
  40's D'Arienzo

Then there's "rock-solid beat, romantic":

The first waltz set and the first milonga set should also start slow.

Then, mid-evening, energy & romance ...

There's "Jazzy, fascinating, good beat":
  early Pugliese
  early-mid Canaro
  Early Calo
  Early Troilo

There's "super-romantic":

There's "super-improvisational":
  Mid Pugliese

Then there's "fast beat":
  Early Di Sarli
  Early D'Arienzo
  Fast Canaro

There's more. I'll put them together, and post the results here. Then I'll update the toolkit as it gets polished.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The tone of an evening

Usually a Tango DJ is responsible for the mood of the evening. Or, that's the conventional wisdom.

Certainly a DJ can ruin an evening with a bad ear and a bad eye. But a DJ has little other influence over the social scene. People dance with whomever they want, get tired, or get moody. The Tao of Tango: if each evening was equally delightful, it would be meaningless.

That's a convenient philosphy, of course, and shouldn't be used as an excuse for hurting an evening. For example, I think the best dancers have a community responsibility to dance with a wide range of people through the evening, peppered with dancing with favorite partners. Because it's good for the community, and because it makes the best moments. But all dancers don't see it this way.

Partner dancing is about trying your best, all the time. That's pretty exhausting, and it can't be 100% successful. It's quite important to try ... and it's of course challenging to try to be sensitive, positive, inventive, strong, community-minded, calm & playful; as well as encouraging, to yourself, to your partner, to the DJ & musicians, to the people around you. It's a tall order. But if everyone is trying ... that sets the tone for an evening!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Patterns of an evening

Sets of closely related songs give structure to the evening.

For recorded tango music, Tandas, or sets, consist of 3-5 solid, danceable recordings of a particular band (say, Di Sarli), of a particular era (say, the late 1930's), and a particlar genre (Vals, fast Tango, medium Tango, slow Tango, Milonga, candombe Milonga). Generally you try to make each Tanda coherent in itself ... playing profoundly with a particular range of moods, speeds, sounds, and rythms & melodies.

A wide range of music can punctuate the effect of a tanda.

Cortinas bridge bewteen two Tandas ... and contrast to them as well. It can be music with no relation to eaither Tanda, and which relate to other cortinas over the night. A cortina can also playfully suggest something from the previous Tanda, or suggestively lead into the next. The main purpose is to get people to stop dancing ... but also ....

The Alternative song Cortina
Sometimes a single alternative dance song fits just right in between two tandas.

If you want to play a chacarera, a salsa, swing, nuevo or alternative Tango song, later in the evening usually, it's not a bad idea to skip the cortina, and just play the alternative piece. This isn't always true ... especially if the crowd tends to dance to everything! But it is a useful pattern.

The odd song Tanda finish
Sometimes a single unrelated or alternative dance song makes the perfect ending for a Tanda.

The first three songs please you, but you can't finish it with the same band. You might find another piece, or an alternative dance piece, that complements the mood.

Tango-Tango-Vals-Tango-Tango-Milonga [repeat]
The large-scale structure of an evening

Usually you want to start an evening with a few sets of tango, and slow-to-medium speed, but exciting in some way. Then a Vals set, then one or two Tango sets, then a Milonga set ... then repeat. Approximately. Milonga sets are the only thing you can have too much of ... it depends on the number and energy of the crowd ... but this meta-structure works well.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Useful links

Robert Hauk has a nice list of solid classic CD's

ToTango has comments from Dan Boccia, "Lucia", Alex Krebs, Stephen Brown, Andrew Burt, Keith Elshaw.

Stephan Brown's excellent Tango music pages are well worth studying.

In the alternative realm: Santiago Steele's CD reviews on tangonauts, Sharna Fabiano's DJ List of Neo Tangos and Jackie Wong's Neo-Tango Music.

A list of Portland Tango DJs.

And this entry in wikipedia needs a lot of work.

Probably the most important thing for a Tango DJ, is to contribute original work -- it's quite possible to be an average DJ by reading the above pages and copying Tandas, and using nothing else. It's instructive to copy, but we need to do more, or our laziness will come across to the dancers. None of the above authors would recommend just copying - so, we go back to the albums, listen to as much as possible, and find new approaches. We test them on the crowd, and we watch them carefully. Or else we don't develop a feel for the people on the floor.

And we post it in blogs, to keep it exciting.

Some Vals Tandas

A typical Tango DJ complaint: it's hard to provide enough good Tango waltz sets ... so here are some successful ones, which are also pretty unusual:

Roberto Firpo Vals Tanda
Record Andote (Tangos Y Valsecitos)
Hacia Ti Va Mi Alma (Tangos Y Valsecitos)
Angustias Del Corazon (Tangos De Antano)
Olga (De La Guardia Vieja)

Cuarteto Palais de Glace Vals Tanda
Sonar Y Nada Mas (Cuarteto Palais De Glace)
Ilusion Azul (Cuarteto Palais De Glace)
Olga (Cuarteto Palais De Glace)
Un Placer (Cuarteto Palais De Glace)
[This album is out of print, but shouldn't be.]

Enrique Rodriguez Vals Tanda
Los Piconeros (El "Chato" Flores En El Recuerdo)
Tengo Mil Novias (El "Chato" Flores En El Recuerdo)
Isabelita (Para Bailar Sin Parar)
Llora Corazon (Tangos Valses Y Milongas)

Too late?

A Tango DJ has a lot to learn. One of the best ways to learn, besides actually DJ-ing Milonga upon Milonga, practica after practica, is to watch someone else learn.

So, this may be a little late. I can't offer a truly fresh perspective when I've done over 100 events ... and so this may not be helpful to people just starting out. But I'll try. Becuase there aren't enough Tango DJ's out there.

I'll try to convince other Tango DJ's to join me here. This is to help with one of the big problems with Tango DJ-ing: "the rut". You can play the hits, you can get people to love new hits, but you will get tired of the "hit parade" approach. Makin 60-75% of the evening out of hits seems to be prevent this ... but 25-40% is a lot of new material to generate if you DJ regularly! And the "new stuff" must be superb, and timed right, or you'll hurt the evening.

A quick colophon: I'm Greg Bryant, and I DJ at The Tango Center in downtown Eugene, Oregon, which has Milongas every Friday & Saturday night. The Tango Center itself is a community experiment, which you can read about at the Tango Center blog.