The Rise of the Tango DJ

2014 September 5
by Simba
Daft Punks DJ Cover Set - Northampton, M by sebastien.barre, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  sebastien.barre 

I am thrilled to see the increased interest in djing and playing quality tango music for dancers the last few years. In trying to understand how it all came about, it is tempting to focus on the efforts of individuals to bring good dance music to their local community, but thereby we might miss the big  picture.

Technological and economic changes can be transformative. Some of the most famous examples from the world of tango are the invention of the electrical recorder/the microphone, the fierce competition between orchestras during the golden age of tango and the selective pressure following from men largely outnumbering women in the milongas as the dance developed. Without these environmental factors, tango, (and many other cultural expressions for that sake) would quite possibly have developed very differently. The inventions that have transformed the activity of tango djing, and thus the milongas and dancing in general all over the world, are incarnated in a single object: the laptop computer. However, there are several related technologies that became available and/or cheap enough at the same time: portable computers, (lossy) audio compression, and communication over the internet.

When a dinosaur like me started out, making tanda sets on writable cds, computers generally did not have a cd-rw drive, and very few people had access to  portable computers. (Although I feel tango-old sometimes, my djing doesn’t go back to the use of cassettes like Felix Picherna). That didn’t last long. Suddenly you could fit the selection of tangos that you would need for a milonga on a portable computer, using mp3 files. Information on how to dj could be shared over the internet. Even music files could be shared over the internet or among friends using portable disks. While I spent years building up even a basic cd collection of tango music, involving visits to Argentina and cumbersome mail ordering with lots and lots of red tape, I was almost shocked the first time I heard someone discuss how he just copied the entire music collection of another dj to help him start out as a dj.

Now, as other technological and economical change, this may have made life more difficult for the already established djs. The upside was that it became incredibly much easier for everybody else, and it generally led to more varied and over time to better music selection in the milongas around the world, at the very least in smaller communities.

As more and more people got access to the tango classics, the dj fanatics would dig out unknown jewels from various sources, or replace their beloved tracks with higher quality transfers to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Soon some of the ‘new’ songs became hits, and djs all over widened their selection. There is a flip side to this too, of course. Some songs get overplayed for a while, and some djs get carried away by the collector’s syndrome, trying to impress their fellow dancers with obscure, undanceble tracks (that really sounds like a good idea to impress dancers, right?). All in all that seems like a small problem compared to how overplayed a lot of music was when the selection was more  limited. Some djs consistently play crap, of course, but even they are often an improvement from playing the one available cd from El Bandoneón on repeat. The one which skips in the same place every time you play it. And with lower barriers to entry comes increased variety and competition. The dancers could simply move to the next dj that played nice tango music and leave the crap for an empty floor.

Today a beginner dancer or dj can start playing quality tango music from Spotify instantly that would take ages and cost a fortune to collect just 10-15 years ago.

So when djs that were a bit ahead of the curve think back to the time it felt like an endless walk in the desert trying to get the local tango community up to speed music wise: it turns out it was just the sea pulling back in the instant before the tsunami hit.

Felix Picherna | Tengo una pregunta para vos

2014 September 2

Felix Picherna is a legend, and he was clearly the first tango dj to make a lasting impression in me. Sitting with his cassette deck, rewinding the prepared tandas, live commenting the upcoming music with the microphone. Unforgettable.

Enjoy this video from the excellent “Tengo una pregunta para vos” series by Pepa Palazón, that I just recently found time to start watching. There are several gems there, and the most recent ones are subtitled in English (that includes this one).

I also really enjoyed the ones with Vanina Bilous, Olga Besio and Guillermina Quiroga, and I still have quite a few to go.

Encyclopedia of Tango

2014 April 19


Gabriel Valiente has released a dictionary of Tango which contains discographies of most tango orchestras. It was meant to be released as an ebook, but is only available in paper edition at the moment. I think it looks interesting, but find that kind of information is generally vastly more useful when available electronically, in a format that is searchable and sortable etc. I hope Gabriel finds a way to release the full dataset as well as his book.

The book can be ordered at createspace or from amazon, and there is also a facebook page for the book.

EDIT: There is also a kindle edition available now.

Masochism Tango | Tom Lehrer

2014 April 11
by Simba

This is a long term favorite, no wonder people have the freakiest ideas about us tango dancers… It should clear up once and for all, that dancing tango is not any fun.

I never knew much about Tom Lehrer, though. I recommend this excellent BuzzFeed piece on Tom Lehrer, in addition to checking out his other oevre of course. It has generally aged pretty well.

Tango Negro, The African Roots of Tango

2014 April 2
by Simba

Now this looks interesting, a documentary about the African roots of tango. It’s featuring Juan Carlos Cáceres (of “Tango Negro” fame), of which I’m a great fan. One of the best concerts I ever attended was with Cáceres and band and Facundo & Kely Posadas performing.

You can read a bit more about the documentary at the ADIFF film festival pages.


The Impossibility of Re-Creating the Tango of Times Gone By

2014 March 27
by Simba
First Impressionism by OldOnliner, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  OldOnliner 

There is a paradox concerning my relationship with tango, and maybe with tango itself. On one hand, I want to learn from the sources, learn the ‘true’ tango.  If that even exists. On the other hand, I want to see progress, to move on, and to find or invent ‘my own’ tango. Which may not exist, either. This tension between a certain nostalgia and  the Sisyphean quest for the authentic, and the longing for progress, a rational approach, the tension between being controlled by the tango and taking control over the tango is at once frustrating and tantalizing.

We are, inescapably, products of our time. The way we dress, the way we talk and the way we move has changed in numerous ways over the years, not to mention growing up on a different continent. How the times we live in manifest themselves in people was beautifully captured by this interesting reflection upon the remake of the classic movie ‘Psycho’  in an article in The NewYorker:

The way that people carry themselves—their posture, their gestures, and even the micro-gestures, the sense of sharpness or tremulousness, the brusqueness or smoothness of movements, the pointedness or curves of joints, the decisive rapidity or easy offhandedness with which they move, and the precision or meander of speech—conveys more about their personality and their times than the overt signifiers of fashion or vocabulary.

I mentioned once before how I was fascinated by the refined, elegant movements  of’El Flaco’ Dany when he lit a cigarette. This fascination is despite me generally finding the the habit of smoking despicable. Still there was something about about his way, the micro-gestures, the way he carried himself that stays with me. I would never be able to make his way of lighting a cigarette my own, even if I tried. Even if I worked hard, the best I could hope to achieve would be a superficial resemblance, a bleak copy. A fraud.

We may learn from the best, the ones that lived during the golden age of tango, or at least from those few who remain.  We may keep trying, but we will never dance their tango. We are left to find our own.

Glorias del Tango — New Tango Feature Film

2013 August 7
by Simba

This new project looks interesting, you can support it on kickstarter. Not sure I believe the story, but the flashbacks look promising. On the other hand, it sounds much more believeable than Assasination Tango.

“Glorias del Tango” is an ambitious and exciting feature film that will end the decade-long silence of tango on the silver screen.

I’m looking forward to it. Time to revive the tango film club?

Guide To Tango Music Stores

2013 May 23
by Simba
Last Memory of a Record Store by Telstar Logistics, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Telstar Logistics 

Tangohub beat me to it. Head over there for a comprehensive guide to stores for buying tango music online. It’s written from a UK perspective, but most of the stores mentioned are international.

I would mention Tangostore also (aka Zival’s), but they have been offline for a while.

Tango Tunes Website Up

2013 May 7
by Simba


The long awaited TangoTunes project website is now online and accepting purchases. I’ll start by checking out the few Troilo recordings they have available at the moment. The purchase went through very smoothly.

This is how they present themselves:

TangoTunes is an Austrian-Argentine project with the aim to preserve the music of Tango Argentino. This way, we also preserve and support a piece of Argentine culture, which was declared World Heritage several years ago.

In cooperation with TangoVia Buenos Aires we promote the project “Tango Digital Archive” with the goal to archive the recordings and documents of Tango Argentino in their entirety.

TangoTunes purchases selected collections of vinyl and shellac records from collectors in Argentina and digitizes them in a highly difficult process. Since the beginning of 2013, approximately 1.000 vinyl records and 5.000 shellac records are successively being digitized with precision and care. We offer these Tango recordings – our „tunes“ – to Tango lovers in our online store. Our product catalog is constantly expanding – it pays off to have a look more frequently!

Founded in 2013, TangoTunes is a young company located in Vienna, Austria and a branch in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We spend much time and care to restore the music of Tango Argentino as close to the original as possible. This not only requires much know-how and experience, but also great appreciation for the original and tenacious work for an ideal final result.


More Fast Transfers

2013 May 7
by Simba
Unbelievable!!! by Aleera*, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Aleera* 

I have previously discussed too fast transfers from 78s. Age Akkerman has a well researched take on Di Sarli’s El ciruja which he found to be about 5% too fast on the Euro Records transfer.