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June 16, 2007

Tango DJing

My first experiences at DJing was during the days at Porridge Club (August 2002), where I volunteered to take up the challenge of providing danceable Tango music at, of all places, a Chinese-style cafe that sells porridge. Judging by the response week after week, I’d say it was quite successful! 🙂 This was followed by some occasional stints at Bobby Rubino’s and (more regularly) Xen Bar (early 2003) once our friend started his salsa bar**.

Back in those days, I did not have a large collection of music. There was really no other resource except for Stephen Brown’s information on DJing and his list of annotated tandas, since no one else in Singapore had any DJing experience at that time. In fact, much of the advice on Stephen Brown’s site, coupled with my subsequent experiences, are consistent with Royce’s comments in her excellent article on the make up of tandas. How we have come a long way from that!

Apart from all that has been in the links I provided earlier, the only advice for novice DJs that I can add is that, go to resources such as Stephen Brown’s site for list of tandas – not so much with the thought of blindly following, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with it too – and listen to the combination of songs a lot to try to get a feel of what combinations work, or won’t work. Naturally somewhere in the processing of doing this, the personality of the DJ needs to shine through too.

Nowadays, it’s fairly easy to find good sample tandas to work from; it’s more of a case of obtaining the right music (of suitable quality) – meaning $$ 😉 . I personally started off with Stephen Brown’s advice and built up my collection of music accordingly, although I have expanded greatly since.

What is the correct attitude for new DJs with a limited collection? In my opinion, just be uncompromising in providing danceable music, and don’t let personal tastes, ego or fear of over-familiarity get in the way. If you are the only person who is able to dance to the music you provide, you should be asking yourself: is it because the particular tanda has appeared at the wrong time, e.g. dramatic pieces at the beginning of the night when most people have not sufficiently warmed up? Or perhaps the music has no clear rhythm and is unsuitable to a bunch of relatively new dancers? Or the consecutive tandas are too different in the moods they invoke? It is always the DJ’s responsibility to constantly observe the energy of the dancefloor. While a DJ can and should experiment from time to time, the opportunity to DJ at a milonga should never be taken as a music lesson to educate the dancers! 🙂

Finally, I feel that in order to become a good DJ, he/she should always remain open-minded. With the proviso that good music has already been selected – danceable with clear rhythm/beat – if the dance floor remains empty, is it because the music is too complex, or the dancers are tired, etc.? The last point is not too uncommon in the context of Singapore, since the community here is still rather small, so that after 2 great tandas in a row, people do need a break! Take note of the tandas that work, and tweak your selections accordingly. Always feel the energy of the floor and improvise accordingly.

** See a brief timeline of some of the venues during the early days of Tango in Singapore here.

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