Saturday, June 6, 2015

Notes from Varo Biagi's DJ workshop, June 2015

Varo has been DJig festival milongas for over 5 years, and he came to the LAX marathon to share his experience with the aspiring DJs and all the dancers interested in the ways the DJs make the milonga crowds roll. His 2-hour seminar covered the orchestras, tanda making, flow connection, cortinas as a "personal touch of a DJ" :), nontrad music, DJ resources, must-do's and don't's ... complete with quizzes and classwork.

Varo's DJing touched me in the personal ways, both through the unusual exciting tandas he spun and through his old blog posts about tango music and poetry, and I was really excited to join the workshop. My notes are understandably personal, more detailed where I sensed a different viewpoint or a unexplored idea or an echo of a broader conflict. But I hope that I captured the broader interest topics too.

Orchestras: The "big 5" is a great concept but rather than considering it an absolute, treat it as a regional, cultural, temporal, and personal fave-list. Yes, we always hear that "Di Sarli, D'Arienzo, Troilo, Pugliese, and Francisco Canaro records are expected at every milonga" but Varo's personal "indisensable 5" is a slightly different list ... instead of Troilo and Pugliese - Donato (here comes the culture war!) & Biagi. The concept of "personal big five :) ". And D'Agostino is #6 .... or maybe even 5 with the Vargas classics. "A whole BsAs milonga comes to the floor with these D'Agostinos". (DP: I plan to do more reporting from the frontlines of the Great Tango Music Culture War where I belong in the Troilo-sceptic camp too ... but as a preview of the opponents' point of view, here is a quote from DJ Antti from the influential TOTW blog: "There's nothing wrong with the occasional special selection and the Donatos and Lomutos etc. But many DJ's go so far into centering their set around the likes of Canaro, Donato, Rodriguez and some Guardia Vieja that the set feels out of balance and the occasional Troilo will not save the set for me." Yes, you read it right. They are talking about "Canaro, Donato, Rodriguez and their ilk")

"You hear lots of Troilo-Marino in BsAs ... the music may sound unexciting for us visitors, and I may have skipped such a tanda in a different place, but the goodness of the BsAs embraces compensates for everything :) "

Some "not to overuse specials": Garcia, Rafael Canaro, Pirinchos, Lacava, Salgan

Unusual times, unusual vocalists: an example of Ricardo  Ruiz - late D'Agostino the 1950s. "The other Cascabelito" (DP: peculiarly, my library has a sole track of theirs, and it is ... Cascabelito. Gotta do some homework :) )

Structuring tandas

"3 or 4" issue. It is an question which brings strong opinions, but not as hot as to become another culture war. Varo sides with 4 T's / 3 V's or M's ("better chance to get into tune with each other in a pair", "what if someone doesn't start from the 1st song") but he also explains reasons to go with three ("need more social mixing", "too short a milonga", "very long milonga where the flow of the mood calls for three tango tandas in a row", "alternative tracks which are longer than 3 minutes", and yes, "organizers' choice"). Super-masters of DJing, such as Xavier Rodriguez with his 25 years of experience and his crazy talent, can and do break conventions, and get their tandas of all sizes fly in one breath - Varo remembered his tanda of 7 milongas which was pretty amazing ... except it made people too tired to keep on dancing afterwards :)

We briefly discussed 5-tango tandas which make even very experienced dancers risk-averse ... I guess the more confidence one has in self and others, the more one likes longer tandas? When you take risks choosing partners, it helps to limit the potential downside by making the tandas shorter?

Sabakh does 4 valses BTW (of course we couldn't resist counting it tonight ... hi Alexandra!).

Strength of different songs (1st and last stronger .... unless it is a cooldown tanda starting with lower energy). Energy is directional - ratcheting up or down. Varo usually ups the ante from V to M, then lowers and starts rising.
The middle isn't the place for the strongest song ... except in some special situations as a conscious choice. "Never put Biagi's Lagrimas y Sonrisas in the middle. Or Corazon of di Sarli" (DP: of course I couldn't resist checking my setlists LOL ... I found the super-vals several times in the first tanda position, and once, at the closing position. Di Sarli - Rufino's Corazon was used only as a tanda opener. So I guess I rely on slightly different intuitive strength quotients for the opening and the closing tracks ... my first track picks are for an urgent, irresistible quality, a must-dance from the opening bars, while the last one must be strong but in a more steady, sustaining way, culminating in a powerful finish)

Re-listening to the endings of songs and the beginnings of the ones which follow can help you pick the best transitions.

DP: Power of a song is a subjective criterion and we clearly saw this subjectivity in the class exercises when we were asked to sort 4 Di Sarli - Rufinos into a tanda. One can even confuse tempo or mood for power ... but one better be more cautious with variations of moods and BPM's within a set.

Mixed tandas? The #1 posibility is to mix a singer with an instrumental from the same era / same energy (Argentina may be less attached to vocals than us - Varo's norm is 70% vocal and it's "high")
or two singers (Caution! Castillo + Campos  or Rufino + Podesta or Echague + Maure may earn you a red card - "too big, too different to mix" ... but Florio + Pomar Di Sarli sounds passable) ... or throw an instrumental divider between two big singers.

An example of mixing in vocals to an instrumental: "Comparsa criolla" with slower Castillos??? No, but "La vida es corta" or "Pocas palabras" - possible.

Mixing different orchestras: only "tastefully" and "uncommonly" (DP: by all accounts, mixing orchestras is more common in vals and especially milonga tandas, even in BsAs. In my experience, mixing orchestras is only a reasonable option when the tanda builds around unique special records which defy standard-recipe techniques ... but I also know that extreme talent knows no bounds)

Energy flow notes:
Late in the milongas: all Tango tandas OK to avoid finishing on milonga or vals tandas.

Early in the milongas: "spare the hits for later" - sometimes it works - play chill / flowing music but not energizing D'Arienzo or something. But Varo sticks with TTVTTM even early - although Seemantha suggested TTT's. (DP note; I often notice disappointingly de-energizing stretches of music early in long festival milongas, and can't help thinking if there wasn't more exciting music to choose even after sparing the strongest hits and the complexity and the drama for the later part of the night; in fact Varo's closing milonga of the marathon felt that way. But perhaps my perception puts me in the minority of the tangueros? In tango, I certainly value intensity over effortless chill, and more than one cooldown tanda at a time just isn't how I like it... )

Structure of the list. Of course TTVTTM. For a short night maybe even fewer T's. Long time, more T's give you more room to play with temperatures - but 3 song sets then?

"Reasonable tanda-to-tanda contrasts": Too many sharp contrasts between too many consecutive tandas? Not safe, as are uniform too-similar tandas.

First tanda suggestions: 30-32 instrumental Canaros, El Flete, Joaquina, Hotel Victoria; D'Arienzo 35-36 instrumentals (Champagne). Di Sarli 50s occasionally. Canaro/Fama? But don't start too low. (DP: may first-tanda regulars are also instrumental 1930's Fresedos, and Quinteto Don Pancho of Canaro's)

Peak prime time - D'Arienzo's Echague. (after performances and break rhythmic Donato before D'Arienzo as a pre-warm up). Also Biagi/Falgas, Troilo-Fiorentino, Donato of course. Ca. 1941 rhythmic Di Sarlis.

Late tandas: Late Di Sarli's - Florio's, Pomar's. Pugliese. Varela. Canaro-Maida aka Poema. Tanturi instrumentals if it is a day milonga - ending with a speedy bang. Very late D'Arienzos around Mi Dolor maybe? No stunning surprises for the final tanda, please!!

Cortinology: start w/o silence!! Prepare for energy change of the next tanda. Showcase the theme of the milonga. Generally 32-25" but between 20 and 50 secs. Later in night - longer ones. Dark floor - longer ones. Varo's using wavosaur (free online) to cut-n-fade. Xilisoft for mp3 conversion. Only fadeout, no "in". A silent 2 sec or so after a particularly sweet embracey tanda (as long as 4 sec).

More uses for the "Silent track". Sometimes songs are overcut in the first place. Silence is also a safety feature for between-performances - if the computer is still running, it won't abruptly start the next track.

Equalizer: old records - usually bell-shaped. Post-1990 all pre-eq'd.

"The other music" - Nuevo is meant to be tango, it is related (sometimes it is very close to trad, like Sexteto Miloguero, some quite far like Bajofondo or Otros). Alternative wasn't meant to be tango, but it came out related. "If you can ocho cortado to it, it is it". But mixing is hard. Imitate the classic structure of TTVTTM and waves of energy as much as possible. An example: "Como dos extranos" by Mercedes Sosa is a quasi vals.

Resources: todotango, eltangoysusinvitados, tango,info
Lavocah's book a great resource.

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