No to TTTVTTTM!

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.

In search of a good music processor!

I went to Richer sounds (who guarantee best price and will cover whichever price is on any other outlet), camped myself at the back for over an hour and tested the following:

  • my own laptop sound
  • DacMagic XS
  • Dragonfly black
  • “my” Traktor 2 soundcard

(all within £79 – £110 price range)

 

I tested playing the music with Embrace interface (Mac only) with

  • Bahia Blanca 1956 Di Sarli,
  • La abandone y no sabia 1944 Tanturi/Campos,
  • Vieja Recova 1950 Pugliese/Vidal
  • Lo vi en tus ojos 1944 OTV/Carol

I also tested El Flete 1936 D’Arienzo and Primavera 1929 Canaro but not as exhaustively

 

Overall, the main loser was the inbuilt soundcard on my MacBook Pro computer. I wonder how I spent so long DJing with it. Glad I decided to upgrade a couple of years ago.

 

As for the winner, it really depends on what you like. I ended up by buying the DacMagic XS.

 

Cambridge Audio Dac Magic XS – it only has one channel and it has a volume control in the actual DAC. The size is miniscule and it is extremely portable, with a very robust feel to it, like it can handle a few bumps. There is no need for software update on a Mac so very easy to rock and roll. The sound was very round, silky and involving. Especially with Bahia Blanca or Vieja Recova, it made me think like I was in the centre of the orchestra. Every sound range was very balanced and it felt like I could listen to endless music with it. No wonder it was Whathifi’s best pick of this range for a few years in a row. (£79.99 @ Richer Sounds)

 

Audiophile Dragonfly Black – it has only one channel but no volume control in it. It is even smaller than the DacMagic in the shape of a USB stick with a 3.5mm connector on the other side. It felt a bit fragile hanging of the computer unlike the other two who had cables to connect the laptop to the DAC (but I suppose you can always get a connecting cable). No need for software on a Mac, it just accepted it as it was. And boy it rocked – what a sound! Louder than the DAC Magic, it had an edgier sound, more heavymetalish and muscled complexion. I was really impressed at the beginning but as the music went by I started getting a bit tired. It gave the OTV sound a bit more spirit but made the Pugliese and Di Sarli sound a tad overwhelming. It was considered whathifi’s best DAC of 2016 on this range but I don’t think they tried it with World music (not really expecting them to test with tango). (£89 @ Richer Sounds)

 

Traktor 2 soundcard – it has two channels, volume control and a mechanism to channel all the sound to one or other channel. It is the only one that will allow pre-listening from the USB, the other two need the pre-listening from the computer 3.5mm socket. It is also very small and portable but bigger than the other two (impossible to make it smaller, really). I have heard some people who had the previous version of Traktor 2 to complain about the tightness of the connecting ports but the previous version had 6.35mm sockets whereas mine has 3.5mm and I never had problems. I have been using this for a while but I remember the set up wasn’t completely straightforward. It involved downloading a driver and installing it. I am no IT wizard but I am not inept either and I remember giving me a fair amount of grief, especially to set it to use both channels without doing something stupid. And yes, for that it works a treat with Traktor but not so well/easy with other system (and I don’t particularly like Traktor). I use Embrace anyway so I do the pre-listening from my laptop’s 3.5mm socket. It gave the music a real bass boost, which worked a treat for the 1940’s tracks and also to a couple of early Canaro’s and D’Arienzo’s I played it with. It sounded a bit more electric than the other two as if the music was charged with extra energy. (£69 online)

 

The winner by a very small fraction was actually the DacMagic. The sound was rounder, silkier and more involving. The Dragonfly was also really really good, but it had an edgier side to it that I thought was a bit too much for the sort of stuff that we play in milongas. Finally, the Traktor soundcard did very well, especially in boosting the bass. The inbuilt sound card of the laptop is something to forget. If you don’t have a sound processor please get one.

 

I ended up by buying the DacMagic XS. I needed a backup and after testing these three sound processors I thought that having two Traktors was probably not as good as having a choice. I have been having really good feedback on the quality of my music since I bought the Traktor and I really like it. I did this test with my Sony headphones but it is a different ball game in a large hall with people shouting over the music. I suppose I will still be doing a bit o re-discovery with the Dac Magic but I am quite happy with my choice. But the message for the day is that if you want to buy something for your sound, your music, it is best to try it yourself. For as many good reviews that there are around the web, it is how you want your sound that matters. On top of that, if you do it in a nice shop like Richer Sounds with the advice of really knowledgeable people, it makes it a very entertaining afternoon.

 

Finally, I was a bit miffed that the same Traktor this year costs £20 less than last year. But so it does the DacMagic (£110 last year) and the DragonFly (£105). Which tells you that it is cheaper now to be a slightly better DJ than it was last year. How about that? Now there is only the small matter of spending thousands of pounds to get that library right! 😉

When the ronda is with you…

This is a video of the Encuentro Una Mirada, in Bristol, September 2016.

Una Mirada

I remember listening to this track for my first time. It was about 10 years before, I’d just bought a CD from Laurenz, burned it into my iPod and was going to work when his voice just took my breath away. I had to stop. I was having goose bumps, shivers and uncontrollable laugh at the same time. When the track finished I replayed it. and did it until I got to work. Laurenz became an obsession. A good one.

So it was fitting that I had to play this track in this hall, less than a mile away from where I heard this track for the first time (I can pin point the place where this happened, such an impression it created on me). And the result was beautiful. People walk to the instruments and when Podestá steals the music for 20s, everyone pretty much stops, waiting for the bandoneons to take over the track, waiting for their time to start walking again.

It’s for moments like this that I DJ for!

 

 

 

Una Mirada

unamirada

It is not every day that the stars line up this much. But for me this weekend, they do. I will be DJing in one of the best events in the UK, in a beautiful venue, with an incredible set of fellow DJs surrounding me, playing for over 100 beautiful milongueros!

The DJ with the treasure tracks

First, let me define. Treasure tracks are those ones you cannot find anywhere in the mainstream CD collections, they sound good, they sound different. It sounds like ’29 Lomuto but you can’t put your finger in it. On the other hand, tracks everyone knows, well, that doesn’t need definition, those are the ones whose chords you mutter on your way home after a milonga.
All Djs love treasure tracks. It’s sort of in their blood. When you DJ tango (I mean when you DJ, not when you decide to play music to a crowd), you have to spend hundreds of hours per year listening to tango. It is beyond fun (although it is fun), it is painstaking work. You have to know your ingredients, how they mix and how they come together. So it is very exciting when you get a rare Japanese CD or a second hand CD from a collector in Buenos Aires and listen to all these tracks no-one else owns!

It is at this point that things can go very wrong. Sometime the eagerness to show off these treasure tracks gets on the way of the main reason why you are DJing in the first place. To play for the dancers. Shoving in four 1928 Canaro tracks that nobody knows will do nothing but wonders to your ego. And ego is bad on a DJ.

Tango is difficult. You have to look after yourself and your partner, possibly in a busy milonga and possibly dancing behind someone you don’t know… This is already too much uncertainty and 4 unknown tangos won’t make it any better or easier!

So, the way how I see it is like this. You have a treasure track that you want to play, the Canaro version of Primavera 1929 (very rare and a joy of track). Instead of playing it with other 3 tracks that no-one has ever heard of, think of lining it up with 3 known tracks. Even put it in the middle so that dancers have “warmed up” to each other and the dancefloor. And leave a well known track for the end, you want to end up in a high, with a sense of completion.

Bring on those treasure tracks but drop by drop not all at once! The smiles at the end of the tanda will thank you!