|Tango Pohjan Tähden, Minneapolis, USA|
The following is based on a true story and no names have been changed... I did the unthinkable and played at an alternative milonga!
Another announcement is that I have recently moved from Berlin back to Finland and it is Helsinki where this story takes place.
Our tango association "Amigos del Tango" has two weekly milongas at our dance studio "El Atico" in Helsinki, and a while back the second milonga was changed to an alternative one. The "El Huracan" milonga is 70% traditional and 30% alternative and I took on the challenge to play there last Sunday. For some obvious reasons of being a full time artist (yes, a beautiful mix of a dancer's servant and an artist with a personality... among the other artforms and things I'm involved in) and not having the luxury to afford to always choose where I play, meaning - I need the money. As well as having the luxury of being a strange mix of a hard core traditionalist and an occasionally open minded human being and therefore deciding that with great pleasure I will play for this milonga and the dancers there. Let me explain....
I have been a DJ for 20 years now and have played in all kinds of events from the tiny hip hop clubs to some massive Reclaim the Streets! parties to the tiny local practicas to the grande festival grande milongas. So I have been trying to make all kinds of people dance in all kinds of events and this is where I'm coming from. When it comes to tango I really know what I like and what inspires me to dance and I also uphold my style and status as a fairly conservative DJ of traditional tango music. Please do check out my favorite tandas on TOTW when in doubt.
Alternative tango definitely is not my thing. Like, at all. I'd rather go to the dentist or a blind date at a German swingers club than an alternative milonga. Even so I don't see anything wrong with people wanting to dance. And that's how I see the alternative milongas... not really as milongas but rather as dance parties. And with my history as a DJ of many types of music and not just traditional tango, I can enjoy the task and challenge given to me to make people dance.
My real problem with alternative tango music - whether it's nuevo tango, electronic tango or something really alternative - is that often, in my opinion, it just is not really good music. Like what I always say about electronic tango is that it is definitely not good tango but it's not even good electronic music (a genre of which I do know quite a lot about), so what's the point?! With nuevo tango you have to look at how well the arrangements actually are suitable for dancing. And.... what kind of seems to be at the core of and definition of alternative tango is some very light music like Kevin Johansen f. Leon Ciego - "Sur o no sur" (Spotify/Deezer), which makes me feel like.... like I was in a nightmare where the only tango orchestra ever played was Donato and the only jazz was 80's smooth groove jazz etc.... I might fail to see the richness and subtle differences in the qualities of the most popular alternative tangos and I'll admit it's obvious that in the end I might not know what I'm talking about since I really do not go to alternative milongas. But, my point is, that if I would want to dance or even listen to alternative tango it should have most of the qualities and emotions that make tango music so freaking amazing! With that criteria I'd personally give "Sur o no sur" 1 point out of 10.
Therefore.... my approach to my set was to play only alternative tango that I could enjoy and respect even if I wouldn't want to dance to them. So I made the choice to ignore what I believe to be what some dancers would expect to hear and just went with music that was as close to tango or even traditional tango as possible. I went with my belief that alternative tango could be described largely as tango music which you would not normally play in a traditional milonga and therefore I played for example this tanda of Ariel Ardit and was considering to play this tanda from Quinteto Real or something from Octeto Tibidabo. In the four hour milonga I played one alternative balkanesque vals tanda (which I made faster with my Traktor DJ software to make it more danceable), one alternative milonga tanda of Miguel Villasboas, the above mentioned Ariel Ardit tanda, one very improvised tanda of mixed alternatives ranging from balkan tango to "All mine" from Portishead (which captures similar pain, misery and beauty as tango in my opinion) and then a tanda from the following orchestra:
1. Tango Pohjan Tähden - "En enää vaieta mä voi"
2. Tango Pohjan Tähden - "Pieni sydän"
3. Tango Pohjan Tähden - "Eron hetki on kaunis"
Tango Pohjan Tähden is an orchestra from Minneapolis, USA, with roots to Finland and finnish tango. Here's what was said on their website.
"Tango Pohjan Tähden released its debut album in 2013, featuring pianist Timo Alakotila, who is one of Finland's most versatile and in-demand composers and arrangers. Tango Pohjan Tähden and Timo Alakotila have mixed traditional Finnish tangos with Argentine tango nuevo and American jazz to create a new sound, but the soul of Finnish Tango is never far under the surface of these new arrangements. The album features eight traditional tangos and waltzes by Finnish composers such as Unto Mononen and Toivo Kärki, as well as four original compositions by the group, all of which are perfect for dancing and listening alike! "
Why I like this orchestra is that they perform classics of finnish tango with a very refreshing argentine nuevo touch but still keep the songs very danceable. The musicians are clearly amazing and I also really like the singing of Elina Koivusaari. For the tanda I replaced "Pieni sydän" with "Siks' oon mä suruinen", which was released on their earlier demo but unfortunately was not available on their released album and therefore it's not on Spotify or Deezer.
It was an unfortunately quiet night at the milonga and with the added challenge of playing alternatives I was struggling to feel comfortable behind the decks. Also the big challenge was how to progress with the traditional tango and how to balance the overall emotions and danceability and different styles, when suddenly there was this whole new extra ingredient of alternativism thrown in the mix. As there were not that many dancers I couldn't really judge how much of a success my set was although it did get some good compliments and some dancers were very happy with my interpretation of alternative tango.
It was surely interesting. I'm not sure if I'd do it again though. What I'd be a lot more comfortable with would be a traditional set with one alternative tanda played at some point of the night. Although like I said earlier, I'd keep it as close to actual tango as possible. Probably even closer than this tanda by the excellent Tango Pohjan Tähden.
Enjoy! Please feel free to comment about the tanda, theory of alternativism and my issues. I'd also like to thank everybody who helped me on Facebook to prepare for my set. Have a wonderful week!
Ps. If you actually made it this far and read all of this text, then let me buy you an ice cream when we meet.