Troilophilia – 2

En carne propia – 1944

I just absolutely love this song. It starts dramatic, and it tells you what’s coming next. The violins are the constant pains of unreturned passions, with pain that comes in waves. Marino sings about someone who hurt him, and tells that someone that life will pay her back. A song of love revenge.

“Me has herido
y la sangre de esa herida
goteará sobre tu vida, sin cesar.”

“You have hurt me,
and the blood from that wound
will incessantly drop over your life”

Wow, this is only the first verse. Serious stuff! And it continues:

“Porque algún día,
con la misma ruin moneda,
con que pagan los que pagan mal,
te pagarán.”

“Because one day,
with the same cursed coin
used by those who pay evil,
you will be paid”

How can you not want to dance this?

The BsAs vs European DJ style

I recently read a rant by Susana Miller, owner of the mythic tango club “El Beso”, about tango DJing. She said that in Buenos Aires DJs have a pool of 1500 tangos that they play. And they won’t deviate from those because those are the tangos that people know by heart – bandoneon variaciones, lyrics, pauses – and that people are happy to dance.

The most traditional tango teachers have told me that they would only dance a tango if they knew it very well, like, if they have heard it 100 times at least. “Would you go on live TV and read a text you never set your eyes on?”, my teacher asked once, “why would you go and dance a tango you never heard, then?”

My Tango DJ mentor is also not afraid to say that when he started DJing, he was very well aware that many of the dancers in the milongas of then knew much more about tango than he did himself. If Gavito asked for Pugliese at that time was because Pugliese needed to be played.

In Europe, things are a bit different. According to Susana, in Europe there is proliferation of tango “archeologists” that call themselves DJs. I can see where she comes from, although I think this is unfair. Europeans have taken the “improvisation” label quite literally and it is not unusual that many DJs will scavenge through the market for unknown vinyls with unknown versions of tangos to transfer them and present them in their sets. It is also not a surprise that a couple of people started to take tango re-recordings very seriously and got hold of shellacs and vinyls of the original stuff and started transferring them with higher quality. It is known that many of the recordings you will possess by some of the mainstream tango labels had sound engineers of dubious knowledge and taste. That is why some recordings are marred by infuriating reverb that gives everyone the feeling of being dancing on an empty huge tiled bathroom .Or that they are so quick that one starts thinking those Argentines must spent the other half of their lives in the gym working out, only to realise that the transfer was made with a higher RPM rate, pushing the sound quicker and higher.

And if it is true that I commend this search for the real thing, it is also true that I am sometimes confronted with DJs whose priority is to showcase unknown tangos. Some of these DJs are so worried with their “archeological” diggings on anecdotes surrounding the recording of the music, that they forget the real reason why they are in the DJ booth for – to give dancers what they want.

“Leave your ego at the door” or “play the music dancers want” are two phrases that were told to me early in my DJing career and that I hope are showcased everytime I DJ. That includes giving dancers music that they feel confident with, music they have heard before. Of course there is the odd unknown one that can be introduced, after all the DJ, with all their study and procurement work is in a good position to introduce dancers to new things. But do those with measurement. Hold your archeological vein. Dilute it in tango everyone is happy with. And listen to the dancers, just like old DJs used to listen to milongueros. They know best what they want to dance!





My music

Today I cried whilst listening to Milonga del Angel. It reminded me of my dad – his name Ângelo – who is not here anymore. I was seated on my chair. I closed my eyes and I danced this very slow milonga (yes, it is a milonga). I danced it expressively, doing things I don’t do usually in milongas, flying even, like a cloud.

I would not dare to play this music in a milonga. Number one, it is tango (or milonga) taken to an extreme that is not compatible with social dancing. Astor Piazzolla was born in New York and only moved to Buenos Aires when he was almost 18. He loved the bandoneon like maybe Troilo did, and he played in many traditional orchestras but when his time came he took tango elsewhere.

And elsewhere is where Piazzolla must be, when it comes to social dancing. So please, if you want to start playing tango, play Piazzolla in your own living room and dance to it with the freedom it requires. There is no space for Piazzolla in milongas. He is needed in many other places. In your living room for example.

The right time to talk to the DJ

I am afraid that most people will now avoid coming to talk to me whilst I DJ… But fear not, I like talking to people! But what is the right time to talk to the DJ? It may sound like an easy one, but believe me, it ain’t. And it is not less experienced people who make this mistake, it is very experienced people who make this mistake.

Let’s first establish that the tango DJ is there providing a service and, as such, should be distracted only when available. Coming to greet the tango DJ when fading out a cortina is not a good moment but it keeps happening to me, with dancers from all strata. In the airline industry, pilots should reduce at minimum non-flight related conversation. They are only allowed to speak about non-flight stuff when the airplane is stable, out of condensed important actions. In surgery, especially when performing intricate surgery, one should not interrupt the surgeon with stuff strictly related to what it is being done, although the discipline here is not as high as with pilots. But it should be the same with tango DJs. You should really think about when you come to speak to them. Certainly not during a cortina, definitely not when fading it out, probably not towards the end of a tanda. Most likely, the DJ will be busy choosing what to select for the next tanda.

I take notes during my sets and one of the things I take notes on is when I have a hiccup (fortunately these are rare). One funny observation is that most have happened when the DJ booth is in the middle of the dancefloor. I virtually had no technical mistakes when I was DJing at a stage with difficult access to the DJ. Makes you think, hey? Most hiccups have happened when people were talking to me whilst I was working on something that needed to be sorted out there and then. This is even more important when the DJ as DJing on the fly, and does not bring a pre-prepared playlist.

I am aware that after writing this post you will be thinking twice about coming to say hello. And I am sure the teasing jokes will come. But please don’t think twice about coming to say hello, I love it and it is one of the amazing things about being a DJ, a lot of people come and give you that friendly hug that I really really value. But next time you’re in a milonga, do think if your hello can wait 1 minute. I sometimes wait a couple of tandas to find the right time to say hello to the DJ, and that gives me also the opportunity to tell him/her that I am enjoying the music!

The pre-set playlist versus on-the-go playlist

I have heard this debate for many years and many times. And whilst people think that these are two very different ways of doing things, really, if done properly, they are very similar. I am very happy to discuss them, because I use them both.

The DJ with the pre-prepared set comes to the milonga with an idea. They want to shape the milonga with their music, entice the dancers with a script that they devised. More energy here, a bit more relaxed there… Nothing wrong with that! The problem comes when the dancers want something else. Whether there is too much energy or there aren’t enough people to build a quorum to dance certain music… It needs a change. It is only with this pre-requisite that this DJ can exist. Building your playlist before the set is perfectly acceptable but having the mastery to change it there and then is a must. When I DJ with pre-prepared sets (not very often lately), rarely  my end product looks anything like the list I had originally planned (in fact, it has happened only once in over 150 sets).

The pre-prepared set is also not an excuse to leave the computer alone and go dance the whole event, coming to the laptop only to skip the cortina (or even worse having pre faded cortinas, which take no account of what the crowd is doing).

The DJ who comes with no music in his playlist before he starts has an advantage. His playlist will be modelled to the dancers because it will be built as the milonga is developing. This method requires perfect knowledge of your library. There is no time to be looking for a track to fit this tanda, let alone build a tanda from scratch. Obviously, you ask me to make up a D’Arienzo tanda in a minute and I may come up with five. But that is only because I know what D’Arienzo I have and I know what goes with with. Pre-listening is a very nice tool to confirm that the music you were thinking for that tanda is indeed the perfect music. Pre-listening is not good to look for a track for a tanda. Lots of pre listening will make the DJ centered in the computer screen, rather than on the ronda.

Whichever method you use, the playlist should be tailored to the dancers in front of you. And for that you have to do two crucial things… Know your music inside out, and pay attention to the milonga. You won’t go wrong!


Recently I attended a very well renowned event and was eager to dance to the sounds of a renowned DJ (whose music I had danced to very happily two weeks before). I got there a bit late, traffic problems and all that, when someone told me,

“He is playing three tango tandas and then vals/milonga!”

It has been a few years since I have witnessed anyone deviating from TTV TTM in a decent milonga. And there is a reason. It is because it works.

I could possibly fathom why three tango tandas in a row could be nice. One could draw out a smoother energy curve. But a milonga is much more interesting when it has the uplifting energy of a vals and the happy rhythms of the milonga percolating through the dancers. There are also many dancers who prefer vals and/or milonga to tango. What about those?

So please, keep that TTTV TTTM for yourself. Stop being clever. Play for the dancers.

About mistakes in DJing

The cognitive versus technical mistake

Some of you may know I am a surgeon. In surgery, there are two types of errors, cognitive and technical. Technical errors happen when a surgeon doing the right action gets that action wrong, like cutting a structure whilst trying to do something else. This is usual in inexperienced surgeons. Cognitive errors are those that happen when the surgeon has the right technique but gets the wrong technique. Perfect technique at the wrong moment, when the cutting motion is amazing only to realise the wrong structure was cut. Happens.

Let me translate this to tango DJing. The more experienced you get as a DJ, the less technical mistakes you make. It is often obvious that beginner DJs press the wrong button and start the music again, stop the music half way through it or skip it through to the next track before time. Or don’t fade out a cortina. Or get tangled with the system and produce an awkward silence in the middle of a tanda. With experience, these errors will start to become less and less numerous. They never stop, mind you. The best surgeon still makes technical mistakes and so does the best DJ. I have seen the most amazing and experienced DJs getting a red face in the middle of a huge event. I have been there myself. More often than I wished. But technical mistakes don’t bother me so much. They tend to be sporadic, inofensive and really, you take it as a laugh. It is not unheard of dancers clapping more easily a technical mistake than a great tanda, especially at good events, where knowledgeable dancers know how hard it is to play good music.

What I really cannot take is the cognitive mistake. Those DJs who consistently dish out crap tandas, put haphazardly through the milonga and with no criteria at all. I can handle very well somenone getting stuck with a computer but what I can’t stand is well known DJs trying to tell me that a Troilo instrumental can be mixed with a Troilo Fiorentino. That is lack of knowledge, not to call it something a bit more offensive. Or even worse, no Troilo at all – that is just bad taste. Cognitive mistakes (like overkilling the fast milonga tanda by following it with a Lamborghini-like D’Arienzo Reynal) are the proof that you have spent a lot of time getting very good at working out your interface but haven’t spent enough time reading about your tango music, or even worse, listening to it.

So, next time your DJ gets stuck with a technical mistake, relax! You know once this is resolved the music will resume and the dance will flow.