Tango DJing – Alternative Music
Alternative and non-Tango music is a tough topic when it comes to Tango traditions, communities, themes, expectations, and more. Many will argue it has no place, others will say it does. What you choose is up to you in the end, but always remember to keep your community in mind… but also think on how you can grow your community!
Not for everyone…
I’ve personally noticed you’ll find a group who embraces non-Tango music, and others who completely shun it away, with very little middle ground. I don’t think I’ve personally met anyone under 40 outside of South America that feels there is no place for non-Tango music for dancing Tango. There may be disagreements on where it might be appropriate, and can always be a debatable topic, but the moment you start to exclude completely, you start to limit your community growth.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard against non-Tango/Alternative music is it’s not Tango, that it’s not a Tango beat, difficult to dance to, unpredictable, and disrupts the flow.
Now if you’re a good DJ, you’ll make your flow work with whatever your alternative is inside the milonga or practica, that is if you’re good. Many DJs don’t know how to make this happen, don’t understand making music flow, or don’t understand it’s one of the hardest things to do. Throwing together a Traditional Milonga I’ve found easier, but just getting a single good tanda of Alternative is super difficult and then trying to fit it into a Milonga or practica is even harder! So making things flow is something you do have control over, even if you spend more time on that then the rest of the Milonga.
The complaint that the music is not Tango is the whole point, so trying to appease those who don’t like it for that reason is a dead end. The complaint about not being a tango beat and being unpredictable is directly related to the music and if the DJs can find something that has a good identifiable beat or similar structure to a Tango beat. You want similarity as you transition, so you need to work with your communities on where it is appropriate. Something being difficult can be where their limit is, but can also be the fact the beat or predictability isn’t there, not all music works for tango, especially if you don’t have it in the right location of your playlist. DJs I’ve heard usually don’t have this problem, which is fortunate, but know that working non-Tango music into a Milonga is the most difficult thing you can do as a DJ. So there are some rough edges and DJs in communities who don’t get this.
I’ve heard people say that once they include alternative music, they are grouped up as an alternative DJ forever. People that DJ Tango are Tango DJs, if they include alternative or not shouldn’t matter. Any good alternative DJ should be a great traditional Tango DJ… should be, but not always. I’ve also heard of the ones who are booked for more mixed sets or all alternative aren’t usually paid as much as someone who does full traditional. This baffles me, as making a good mix or full alternative in a tango event is dreadfully difficult in my opinion compared to traditional. Labels though are indeed a thing which will be here to stay. If you choose to do just one, sure, advertise that, if you have a preference, sure, advertise that, but don’t let others give you a label that you don’t identify with. Festivals are guilty of this a lot I hear and same with communities, and unfortunately it is usually behind your back when it comes to the community level. So working with your community is really the best option.
For alternative music there are big challenges. Outside of communities, complaints, labels and the like, you have more to think about. Making the music flow, and changing, building, reducing energy levels is really difficult. This goes right into properly matching songs with each other. You may find a great song to tango to, but finding one song, yet 2 or 3 songs that all compliment each other is by fat the hardest.
Pairing and making sets of songs for Alternative is always be the biggest challenge. I have a huge amount of wonderful and fun songs I can dance tango to, but haven’t found anything to pair them with. Some wonderful German, Korean, French, with different beats, instruments, vocal ranges, and more makes it really difficult. You can not find an artist that does multiple songs of the type of style or sound at all, everything need to be different. Sometimes finding good cover artists have their own style, take for instance The Piano Guys, Peter Hollens, Lindsey Sterling, and a huge number of others. But even then, pairing many of their songs together with themselves don’t work. You may find one or two that go together perfectly, or maybe none at all. So when you sometimes hear the same alternative set, it’s usually because it has similar characteristics that someone has fund pair together well. You are almost required to use different artists together, but you need to have the same feeling and energy. Practice and relistening to the music over and over is what you need to do to find something that works, and why I find it more difficult than traditional.
What about different song styles, can dubstep fit in well, what about country, or all instruments… they all can have their place, but playlist placement comes after getting a good set. Is it high energy? Well better not put it right after a Milonga set, or right after a super slow and easy going set, you’ll just kill the energy, or lose the dancers on the floor due to them being tired. You need to work up or down into your Alternative music as your goal is to get many people to try dancing to it and being comfortable.
The last point I want to make here, is song length… a 7 minute song is really difficult to dance to for 7 minutes. And 3 songs that long is a huge chunk of the night… you can almost get 2 traditional sets in that time frame. This is a big consideration when it comes to alternative music. Fitting it in when appropriate and taking length into play. I have a great cover of Wonderwall I love dancing to, but it is just under 8 minutes long, offers good changes of tempo, good beats… but just too long. Unfortunately I can’t seem to splice it right down to under 4 minutes and have it not sound off, so it does not make it into Milongas or practicas, but more into just private practice time. If I’m doing a full alternative set with no cortinas, I can make it fit in and flow nicely, but with a traditional format, it’s nearly impossible.