I play almost exclusively music recorded by the great tango dance orchestras of the Golden Age, and with a strong focus on roughly the decade from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s.
Some orchestras are more-or-less guaranteed to feature in all my sets: Biagi, Calo, Canaro, D’Agostino, Demare, Di Sarli, Fresedo, Pugliese, Rodriguez, Tanturi and Troilo. I also play regular selections from De Angelis, Donato, Laurenz, Lomuto, OTV/Carabelli and others. That’s not an exhaustive list, but I keep coming back to the great recordings from the familiar orchestras. I’ll happily leave others to play ‘specials’, whacky or unusual music.
There is a wonderful richness and variety in tango dance music; and I like to present tandas that reflect that range of styles or moods: rhythmic, lyrical, tender or romantic and occasionally, dramatic. But wide-ranging selections can too easily sound like someone with an iPod on shuffle-play, so great care is needed to sequence tandas in a way that creates a satisfying flow of music that calls dancers back to the floor, again and again.
Probably the most distinctive thing about the way I select music is that I rarely mix songs in tandas. I usually base a tanda around just one orchestra, and if there is a singer, the same singer. I tend to choose songs that come from a quite narrow range of recording dates too: finding that one of the most satisfying ways to maintain a mood or feel through a group of songs is to choose from a particular time period. Some DJs mix vals and milonga tandas almost as a matter of course, but I rarely do. It is true, that compared with tango, there are far fewer recordings of valses and milongas from which to choose; but as a dancer, I hate feeling apprehensive about what the DJ might play next, and as soon as I register that a DJ is mixing tandas to any significant degree, my enjoyment of the set is diminished, and I start sitting out or being far more cautious in seeking out ‘safe’ partners.
Happy and relaxed dancing requires that the dancers can trust the DJ to select great music and to sequence it properly. Like a trained waiter in a good restaurant, no one should notice the DJ – he isn’t the star – the music should speak for itself. So apart from selecting and presenting the best music in the first place, the music needs to be delivered properly: with a good sound system, with quality transfers, with uniform and sensible volume and with gaps between songs that are neither too long nor abrupt. DJs need to be the master of their craft as well as their art.