DJs and Decision Making on #tandatuesday

Dancers at Tango Al Fresco, Regents Park, London. July 2013

Dancers at Tango Al Fresco, Regents Park, London. July 2013

Rather than dive into details of tandas and timing I thought this post should set the scene, so I’m starting with an overview of how people feel about DJs and the music they produce.

Frank Seifart;” Music has a strong emotional impact on human beings. Even if you do not realise it, your decision to return to a place is highly influenced by your emotional experience with that place.” I agree, and while the success and long term viability of a repeated event is determined by the social dancers who choose to attend, the organiser’s choice of DJ is the first significant step as Barbara Davies points out; “in that it creates the atmosphere and image he wants to convey”.

To what extent does a DJ influence people’s choice of event? For Ms Hedgehog; “It’s between 60% and 80% of the decision for me these days.”

Let’s examine the extent to which this is this true for people of different cultures who dance at different levels and have grown from different tango experiences. In particular those described by Andreas Wichter; “In places with a lot of very small tango scenes that interact with each other only in a limited way, I think things tend to be a bit insular. A lot of people [in these scenes] don’t travel much for tango, so they get exposed to very little outside their own circle.” In such places dancers will develop in different ways to those who are exposed to many different dancers, DJs and guests. It is also entirely possible that those who don’t travel won’t care. That notwithstanding, some are well aware that they still have no choice, as shown by Lisa Cherry-Downs; “I think it depends if you are fortunate enough to have a choice. In most parts of the UK that does not happen. The only choice is not to go. But for me I would guess, like most people who live north of the Watford Gap, I just want an opportunity to dance. So I tend to go regardless of who the DJ is or what they play. What they play will only be a [one] factor in how much I enjoy a milonga not the be all and end all. What is more of a factor of whether I go is how friendly a milonga is, and how easy it is to catch the eye of leaders. I prefer traditional [music] but can and will dance to anything if needs be and with the right partner. It is an improvised dance at the end of the day.”

Barry James Leadbetter describes how this can change; “as peoples knowledge of tango and tango music has grown in the UK, their choice of DJ becomes increasingly important.”

Lynn Collins says that 90% of her decision to attend would be based on the DJ which I find unsurprising considering she’s a DJ herself. Jeff Allen and Simon Haddock consider the DJ to be the only thing worth considering at all. Simon explains; “The DJ is the honey, after that you concentrate on getting like-minded dancers [bees?] to join you.”

Devil’s advocate, David Bailey says; “The choice of DJ doesn’t affect me. The music all sounds the same anyway” which prompts some discussion (his objective, since he believes the opposite) while Suzi Pickles says; “For me, tango is about the music first. I have some favourite DJ’S, for who[se playlists] I would get off my sick bed to go and dance. Conversely I’d rather stay at home and watch paint dry than attend a milonga with a playlist by one London DJ!” Suzi likes the way that some DJs put up a display screen declaring the next tanda; “This is fabulous because when the cortina comes on, I already know to look for my favourite partner for that particular style, dance or orqestra.”

Nikki Preddy would not go to a milonga if Nuevo or alternative was played; “But that is how I feel coming from a very traditional start in tango 21 years ago. I know some people feel differently and that, of course, is their choice.” Diane Kerry agrees; “[It’s my choice] very much so, if I know the DJ plays all traditional, especially the melancholic crackly stuff I won’t go, as it seriously depresses me.”

Stephanie Godderidge will readily list the names of her favourite DJs and reasons for the choice. One of these; Goran Niksic expounds his personal belief that; “nowadays the DJ can make or break your regular weekly milonga, just as in any marathon or festival set. It wasn’t so a few years ago, but now DJs comprise about 50% of the reasons to visit a milonga. About 25% of the remaining reasons are the dancers and other 25% are the other aspects of a milonga such as its floor.”

Nick King is more pragmatic; “In reality we would choose to go to some milongas no matter who was DJing, if friends were going, if other dancers that we liked were going, if they had a particularly great atmosphere, had a particularly well behaved ronda, or if it was a specific event we wanted to attend, as we’d enjoy other aspects of the evening greatly.” However even he admits that he’d go for particular milongas because a certain DJ was there, even if many of the other things he mentions are missing.

Tony Walker turns the question around; “I find that while the DJ may not necessarily make the evening he or she can definitely break it by playing music with little variety, sometimes at a high level of dreariness as I experienced in Paris once.” Mark Dilloway agrees; “Dreariness is the death of a milonga. Perhaps it would be OK if you understood what the singer was going on about, but boy it can be yuk! If I know it will be the same at another milonga I just don’t go.” In that case, for now, he’d rather enjoy the weather outside than get hot and sweaty listening to the same drear old music indoors.

Dancers at Tango Al Fresco, Regents Park, London. July 2013

Dancers at Tango Al Fresco, Regents Park, London. July 2013

Goran continues; “It’s about the overall energy, the music selection, the carefully selected surprises, the cortinas. It’s a very non-linear thing and no set is the same, even in the same venue. The time of home-prepared-playlist-DJs is now long gone.” (I’ll be coming back to that in another post).

Ms Hedgehog seems to summarise the discerning consensus; “If I have doubts about the DJing then there have to be other things about the event that make it attractive for reasons independent of the dancing. The DJ makes an enormous difference to how much I dance and who with, and to how much of a good time my friends have too. An excellent DJ shatters the ice and makes people take risks. Also, going to European festivals takes a lot of money and time. I would go to an event that had a lot of features I wouldn’t otherwise like if they booked four A-list DJs, because nothing else actually matters as much [inasmuch as it contributes] to whether the event delivers”.

The last word this week goes to Terry Meinrath; “when on the rare occasion you get a truly shockingly bad DJ, it is usually too late – you are already at the milonga. But at least you can indulge in the traditional tango pleasure of bitching about it to your friends.”

Unless peoples’ interviews and comments take me in a totally different direction – they might – next week’s #tandatuesday post will be an examination of opinions on the relationship of tandas to the bigger pictures.

Quotes are taken directly from interviews or from discussions in The Tango Reformation Party, The Tango Social Revolutiion and Mindful Tango.
Regular contributors, those whose initial interviews contributed to the overall shape of this series and founding article (published by Dance Today, a link will be available from my blog post this time next week):
Andreas Wichter:
Barry James Leadbetter;
Danny Evans’ Carablanca:
Detlef Engel:
Kele Baker’s Tango Al Fresco;
Lynn Collins;
Melina Sedó:
Ms Hedgehog:
Nikki Preddy:
Raquel Greenberg:
Richard Slade;
Trud Anzée Fagerheim;

And for those who contributed to this particular post through facebook discussions:

Suzi Pickles:
Lisa Cherry-Downs:
Goran Niksic: