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More on the DJ

Posted: 14:39, Thursday 8 December 2005 by Megan Jones

Updated: 15:33, Thursday 8 December 2005 by Ben

A while ago I posted some notes from the Tejas Tango site about the role of the DJ, and thought I would now add some more. The last piece included comments about the DJ needing to choose music that suits the dancing crowd on the night, and the way the majority of the people there like to dance. In this piece, the ‘how’ of choosing music for the DJ is discussed further….

The choice of the music will also be influenced by the style of tango that the dancers prefer. Enthusiasts of the close-embrace styles of tango typically want to hear more of the harder rhythmic music—such as that played by D’Arienzo and Biagi. Enthusiasts of salon-style tango typically want to hear smooth music—such as that played by DiSarli, Fresedo, Canaro and Sassone. Softer rhythmic music—such as that played by Caló, Tanturi, D’Agostino, and Troilo works well for both styles of dancing. The dramatic music from the golden age of tango—exemplified by Pugliese—is typically played later in the evening. Enthusiasts of tango theatrics will want to hear newer, more dramatic music with more flexible rhythms—such as that captured on soundtracks for tango shows or recorded by the Pugliese and Piazzolla orchestras after the golden age of tango.

Whatever the style of dance, the core music of any milonga is likely to be drawn from the classics of tango dance music. The classics are principally found in recordings made during the golden age of tango that extended from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. A particular orchestra’s version of a song has become a dance classic for a reason. The energy of the piece inspires more dancing—even when the dancers are tired.

When the DJ has a big collection of music, it may be increasingly tempting to play unusual recordings—obscure songs and familiar tangos by unfamiliar orchestras. For the person with the collection, the variety is interesting. Listening to music is a substantially different experience than dancing to music, however. When listening to music, surprises, different phrasing, and unexpected tempos are entertaining. For dancers, however, familiarity facilitates good dancing. When the piece is familiar, the dancers can interpret the details of the music, and better get into the flow of the phrases. When the version of the song is unfamiliar, and the dancers do not know what will happen next, they cannot get as far into the music.

In short, the successful DJ must draw heavily from what the crowd considers the top 40 of tango dance music. The DJ must also not become too intellectual, too obscure or play too many pieces outside the classics, but the DJ cannot simply play the same music every milonga, or on repeated evenings the music will become boring. Variety comes from mixing the music, changing the order in which it is played, and by selectively including pieces outside the top 40 that build energy and contribute to the mood of the evening.

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