Today I meet another great tangodj. Tatiana Balashova is originally from Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Vancouver, Canada. Her DJ-ing combines the best traditions of Buenos Aires' milongas with her own personal flavour to create a unique musical atmosphere. An experienced tango dancer (7+ years), Tatiana runs a regular milonga in Vancouver ("Zen Milonga") which dancers have described as "truly magic in atmosphere and music". Like Tatiana says in her Facebook profile : "My main focus in DJ-ing is to remain open-minded in terms of re-editing the playlist by observing the dancers and then interpreting which tanda (and cortina) best fits the moment. DJ-ing in a way is similar to editing a movie where each frame is unique and interesting and all together they can organically create an unforgettable, captivating story. I aim to create a positive, relaxed, yet still dynamic atmosphere so that dancers who dance almost every tanda are inspired to keep on dancing and newcomers can't wait to get on the dancefloor". Enjoy!!!
Speaking about how you started dj-ing : I suppose you first started dancing tango and then dj-ing, like many other djs? What inspired you to get to the DJ’s console and start playing music? Was is a conscious decision or it happened because you’ve got this chance?
I can’t remember when exactly I started DJ-ing, probably after 2-3 years of dancing. It was my curiosity & desire to try my hand at something which can make or break the night on the dance floor. I’d say yes it was a conscious decision and I was inspired by the dance (tango), great DJs (nights) & also motivated by very bad DJs (well, imho) when it was a torture to stand their music for the whole evening. So I got curious what could really make a good DJ & help people enjoy the whole night from beginning to end keeping good energy flow. Among the DJs which inspired me at that time when I just started were some El Corte DJs (Erik, Stefan, Michiel), also Hagen Schroeter, Felix Nahme from Berlin and a few others which I managed to hear while traveling. Also for alternative stuff Taboe Tango Camp was an eye (ear)-opening experience in a way.
It was that tempting idea of having a certain freedom to choose a variety of ratios of traditional & alternative music that really drove me to DJ-ing, I thought it could be really fun to put music depending on who is on the dance floor, atmosphere, type of place and playing with the lighting to make it even more effective also appeals to me (just that it’s very rarely when there is an opportunity to do that). So some dj-ing nights can be more traditional and some more mixed/ alternative.
What was your early taste of tango? Are there significant differences with the current scene?
If you meant music, yes, probably. I was very enthusiastic about my new dancing hobby and wanted to explore various music for tango and at that time I especially used to enjoy electrotango and “alternative” music and mostly focused on collecting fun non-traditional songs + milonga & chacarera were my “loves at first sight” as well. Later through research and dj-ing I started to love various traditional music a lot and it’s probably my preference for every week till present when alternative / neo music is more for a special occasion. Funny though that at first I thought there is mostly Canaro-like & D’Arienzo-like music . Maybe they were the most popular among djs which I heard?
Do you remember what was your first tango dj-ing experience like?
If I remember it correctly one of my first times was DJ-ing at an alternative milonga which I organized myself. And it was good in some way with some disaster songs as I was not yet leading at that time & could not estimate from the leader’s point of view whether the song was really manageable to dance to (but I really loved them & wanted to share the best! ;o) (+ to challenge & inspire for open-minded dancing :)).
Also there were a few other occasions (in Moscow as well) when I organized a milonga “el Corazon” and DJ-ed mostly traditional with 1-3 alternative tandas. Btw, would like to say BIG THANK YOU to Irina Petrichenko who invited me a couple of times as a beginner DJ to her milonga, it was a rare chance to get started). I had a bit randomly collected library at that time and hope the music was still good - some people loved my DJ-ing. Overall the whole scene was very competitive for an emerging DJ… How would you develop as a DJ? Usually the best way to develop your DJ-ing style is either through an aspiring-DJ-friendly practica or through your own events (which can be risky as you can lose money). I remember once someone came up to me thanking for the beautiful music and then another guy came up right away and told “You have nice music but when are you going to play real rhythmical stuff? There is mostly lyrical & softer rhythmic so far!”… (and I was sure I am playing both dynamic & smooth tandas ). Maybe that’s when I realized apart from being still grateful for the feedback that “you can’t please everyone.” ->> it would be nice though to inspire everyone to stay on the dancefloor .
… The main problem / challenge for me personally during the first months of my dj-ing was that I had so much trouble coming over a heated mixture of excitement, enthusiasm & anxiety that it kind of was challenging to estimate more objectively my own DJ-ing & energy on the dance floor. Maybe also because I did not know any Spanish and remembered only a few songs by names & feeling and only later got a sound card which allowed me to pre-listen music through headphones making sure it’s something that I want to play right now. Then in Canada I started to DJ on regular basis and did not have a chance to pre-listen to songs on my new laptop, ironically that actually helped me to get to know tango music better. Just recently I started using iphone for pre-playing. So -> Dear aspiring DJs, calm down & learn orchestras!! It’s important to be in a good state and trust yourself as well, give yourself time to develop no matter what. Respect your audience, accept feedback gracefully and enjoy dj-jng.
Up to this moment still I can’t stop being amazed how powerful in emotion and how pretty many traditional compositions are. Those composers & musicians were geniuses.
There is a lot of tango music available now for web downloading and one does not have to have trouble looking for actual CDs. Do you think this paradigm shift has changed the way how DJs work?
True. Currently there are tons of resources online for DJs, both with actual electronic files and articles on the art of dj-ing. I have to say I haven’t had time to study those articles (websites, blogs) properly even though I do post some links on my DJ FB page. I don’t know about other DJs, can speak for myself only. When I started dj-ing I used a few songs & tandas from the CD compilations by (unknown to me at that time) “DJ Orlando” which I purchased from someone in Moscow. I was really grateful to them. I would not be able to afford buying a lot of music on CDs.
Later someone mentioned “TejasTango” website and I remember I had read about different characteristics of tango music and though had trouble digesting all that info just took some terms and used them in the way I understand, tagging compositions in my library with strange codes which are probably clear to me only . I actually never used “borrowed” tandas since then. In fact trying to avoid looking for them as otherwise you might end up playing what 100+ other DJs do (and we still might happen to do the same stuff even without borrowing anyone’s tandas . Some songs just blend naturally together and it’s hard not to notice).
At the moment I would like to upgrade my library with the best possible records of traditional tango music or a couple of versions which I can use depending on the sound system & ambience. So that I can minimize the effort to finetune the sound quality while dj-ing (as I usually do) what can allow to enjoy dancing more… Can’t understand though how people manage to DJ without a laptop and a music playing software.
I heard some do it with vinyls to get a better sound – wow! (I would assume they are very skillful and have a car + assistant for transporting heavy bags ).
When do you prepare your playlist? In advance, on the way to milonga, or on the spur of the moment?
I prefer to DJ on the fly though I do have some preset tandas some of which I can choose to repeat if there is no time to pick the compositions on the fly, I also like having the majority of tandas in 5-8 songs and I pick 3-4 particular songs on the spur of the moment. That gives a certain flexibility and yet helps to do it fast. Sometimes though I would change a tanda or song or cortina almost last second - it’s funny to observe myself doing that but actually usually it’s a fairly good intuitive choice … In general, I spend a lot of time at home working on the music, improving my library.
Have you ever played on a boring night? Did you have nights when you did not feel motivated by the milonga and you could not wait to finish? Do you accept whatever you get offered or try to choose a particular location and fascinating evening with friends?
Don’t remember any boring nights, mostly it’s been quite fun. But I had played music a couple of times in milongas located in a big hall where normally there turn out is pretty low for that place (no matter which dj plays music). So whatever you put there still gives an impression that there is not enough people on the dance floor. It made me feel a bit challenged until I realized that it’s a great dance floor and if all or most of those people are dancing it means music is good enough to motivate them and it’s great that some people do come up to tell they enjoyed the night & music. Having said that, it would be naïve to expect to be able to create a nice flow which you can create in a more intimate / matching setting. Such spaces usually feel kind of “draughty”, energy there can easily spread into many directions – feng shui stuff as well I guess :). Similar to that ironically I observed other DJs who play on Saturday nights at festivals that it’s almost never possible to create a great atmosphere there. The dancefloor is way too crowded and people come and go, it all that might feel too hectic ->> my big respect to DJs who manage to unite people & balance people with music on crowded festival Saturday nights. It would be interesting to try that as well.
There was another case in my early DJ-ing days when there was a very low turn-out for the night because of a simultaneous milonga and since people still felt like staying longer and yet there were not enough people for good rotation I dared to suggest maybe we should just dance to some fun “disco/ techno” or cumbia songs & we actually did!!! It was so much fun!!! Really special . So there is always a solution ;).
As far as choosing among Dj’s gigs if I ever have to make a preference maybe I’d choose something with a more interesting nice ambiance, a place where it would be fun to create a special atmosphere or where there are more of my friends.
How would you define your style? Has it evolved over time? And in which direction? What can influence you in an evening? the audience, the dancers, the acoustics of the location, the duration of your performance ...
Hmm, not sure if we can talk about “styles” here, it’s like dancing tango. More important is the energy and connection. I am trying to improve my DJ-ing skills to keep creating a positive, relaxed & dynamic enough atmosphere to inspire people practice tango and connect with each other in a good way. Some nights are more romantic, sensual or a bit more nostalgic, some other are more driving, energetic and can be even slightly naughty ;). In general if there is enough time I try to offer a good mixture of various rhythms & moods which suits that particular milonga & moment. I have a weakness for lyrical songs yet understand the importance of putting instrumental tandas and also actually love mixing both within one tanda. *** Some nights allow to experiment with music (tandas), so I would try new combinations (maybe even something unexpected) – I like playing a few mixed tandas and often looking for new combinations – it’s such a pleasure to discover them!!.. On other nights I’d go safer and just play something very reliable, already tested earlier, especially if I love it and want to dance more.
I don’t remember ever repeating the whole playlist and I don’t even understand how people dj preparing music fully in advance. How can you predict what the situation will be?! Well, for some small practica it can be ok maybe.
In terms of ratio I can dj any ratio of traditional and alternative music. Most often lately I’ve been dj-ing at fully traditional milongas or traditional with 1-2 neo / alternative tandas closer to the end. Cortinas of different “flavors” help to balance energy and mood and I love treating people to some fun & beautiful new ones as most DJs do I assume. It’s like having tasty sauces which fit the meal in a good way. Or, as someone beautifully put it, “cortinas are like coffee beans which help you feel the next fragrance better”… When I DJ I am always observing the dance floor and I can’t help feeling as if I am “dancing or playing music” :), even if sitting by computer. There is a little A.Podesta & some other gorgeous singers hidden in me, quite a big crowd I should say! ;)... DJ-ing process also is a learning experience for me. Life is a journey.
Do you prefer playing alone or sharing the night with a colleague? Generally prefer to work alone, or with friends who you feeling? Or, you love the thrill of experimenting with a colleague you’ve never heard until that night?
So far I mostly dj-ed either a full milonga myself (at regular milongas & a few festivals, special weekends) or sharing half of the night with another DJ who I know (it was for events which I was organizing). I like both, just that often it feels like playing for 1.5-2.5h is a bit too short, so much to express & share . Sharing a night with a colleague though can be also fun and helps to dance a bit more + take care of other things (if you are hosting a milonga). It would be fun to DJ more often at bigger events & also at the marathons when you all work as a team of DJs. I also love all-nighters & an alternative milonga, matinees. They are usually casual and people seem enthusiastic. Though I really love dancing at those milongas .
If someone asks you the name of a track you say it to him, perhaps suggesting where the CD is included, or invite him to venture into the trouble of searching?
Yes I can share the name of the track / orchestra if people ask and I am grateful to those DJs were / are kind enough to share that info. Not everyone was eager to do that when I just started dj-ing. I know it can be annoying when some people ask to send them tracks by mail. Yet we don’t own all that music & I personally don’t earn my living with DJ-ing (wish I could! ). So come on, be generous, let people find some composition to play at home to improve their mood on a lousy day. (For those who ask I’d advise to find a good moment to ask when the DJ is not too busy choosing another tanda).
The public bother you with absurd requests: what do you do? Are you a jukebox?
Honestly, I’ve never really had that problem. Very rarely people ask me to play something specific. I assume they are either shy or happy with the music I am playing. If it happens more often for alternative music (we don’t have any regular alternative milonga in Vancouver yet so some people would like to hear more). If someone would and it’s a reasonable request I might try to fit it depending on circumstances. It’s actually nice when people want a particular song for a birthday dance, for example. That allows them to enjoy it more.
Do you like to dance and listen to your colleagues enjoy the selections and styles of others from yours?
Of course, I love dancing to other dj’s music if it’s inspiring. And in fact if I am having fun dancing sometimes I would not even bother to notice what it is exactly, it’s nice to switch off your head and enjoy the dance & connection with the partner fully. It’s nice to discover though some new beautiful music pieces.
Do you believe that the art of “musicalizador” is different for geographic areas? Argentina, USA, Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean ... or is it similar in every countries?
Yes I think that can be different. Even to start with the whole idea of editing different music. When I lived in Europe I thought that it’s the best to play music in tandas yet with silent cortinas and occasional musical cortinas so that people can start & finish dancing practically with any song. When I moved to Canada I started appreciating the clear tanda-cortina-tanda system as it definitely helps rotating partners and making sure more people are getting dances… though when dancing myself I do miss those long mind-blowing dances -> addictive!
Would you like to have a milonga just for you, furnish it to your taste, try to create ambiance and energy flow that satisfies you & allows to play with it, as well as customize the calendar of events to your preference?
That would be great of course. Hope some day it will be possible. In some way I am lucky having “Zen milonga” which I am doing with my friends, we really love the ambiance of that yoga-pilates-dance studio and there is a certain level of creativity & freedom in terms of decorations, ambience. As far as events organizing goes, experience shows that regular events have a bit more chance to attract people or maybe it depends on the country (mentality). Who knows, maybe some day there will be a chance to create a fully customized milonga setting. I am pretty sure it will be a super cosy, gorgeous fun place .
Having said that, I still enjoy DJ-ing at new places where you have to create a great dance flow very fast and no matter what.
The classic point-blank questions you have to answer, you cannot refuse:
Three orchestras that can not miss in one evening.
Hmm… ok… D’Arienzo (particular type only), Laurenz, Tanturi
Your three favourite orchestras, which may also be different from the previous ones.
I love so many of them!! It’s hard to answer that question, like saying “which colors do you like”. It’s also more about particular songs and their combinations. Let alone various orchestras mixed well together in tandas or within a tanda can make each other shine better.
Referring to the previous question I telling which orchestra I’d love to play more often, I love some songs of Biagi a lot & a few retro songs of couple of composers / musicians but they would not fit to every night.
Suggest a tanda of tango instrumental, a tanda of tango singer, one of vals and milonga.
Tango Instrumental – Edgardo Donato
El Acomodo / Edgardo Donato
Elegante Papirusa / Edgardo Donato
El Chamuyo / Edgardo Donato
Yo Te Amo / Edgardo Donato (Lita Morales & Romeo Gavio)
-> I like mixing instrumental with lyrical tangos, it to put the 4th instrumental it could be “Cantando Bajito”, for example.
Tango Lyrical – Osvaldo Fresedo & Roberto Ray – smooth lyrical
(I’ve got Fresedo in many possible variations, love mixing his music in various combinations trying new variations, and have some more dynamic Fresedo tandas. This one is a quieter side and it can only work well when you “hit” the right moment with this type of music, in a more intimate setting + choose the right partner for dancing .)
Araca la Cana / Osvaldo Fresedo – Roberto Ray
Angustia / Osvaldo Fresedo - Roberto Ray
Aromas / Osvaldo Fresedo - Roberto Ray
El Mareo / Osvaldo Fresedo
Cabeza De Novia / J.D’Arienzo - Alberto Enchague
La serenata de ayer / J.D’Arienzo - Alberto Enchague
Recuerdos De La Pampa / J.D’Arienzo - Alberto Enchague
Valsecito De Antes / J.D’Arienzo
Milonga – Mixed orchestras
La Vida es Una Milonga / Pedro Láurenz
Milonga Que Peina Canas / Miguel Calo - Raul Beron
Milonga del 38 / Roberto Firpo
What are the three bands or singers you can not stand?
Hmm... If you mean old records I’d say there are particular songs in a few ochestras that I would avoid (Caro, even some Canaro and some other orchestras), just because their energy is either too low or too “creepy” if I can put it this way. I call them “energy-suckers/ downers”. They can really ruin a milonga. But! Some of them exist in a better interpretation and that makes a huge difference. Likewise there are some compositions / records from 40s-60s + which are way too “clear/ direct” in the sound, not sure how to explain that. It’s like strong & boring architecture. At least for smaller sized milonga they would not work imho.
If we are speaking about contemporary bands / singers, it might be hard to dance to some music which is beautiful for listening but it way too challenging and unpredictable for dancing. Or too repetitive & it would take extra skill (open mind) to interpret that type of music in a fun way if it is at all possible. Some songs can be fun for something up to 2min and then you would feel like really stopping dancing.
What is the band most underrated by the general public and which is the most overrated?
Overrated - I’d rather skip that question.
Underrated – there are some songs which I love from Firpo, a few other composers and a few faster milongas, as well as some Pugliese songs and some neo/ alternative songs which are beautiful and have a lot of potential, but often me and some other djs have to skip them because people “are not used to” dance to them creatively, find them too challenging. Milongas for example can be either too fast or very fine. Tangos are variable in rhythm and not everyone is ready to interpret those songs creatively and still staying relaxed :).
Your top three nights (in your opinion of course …)
#1 – San Diego Tango Festival 2012 (Dec 27, Thursday welcome milonga) – it was such a treat!!! So responsive audience! Made me very happy, and the feedback was so rewarding.
#2 – some nights at our ZEN Milonga, sometimes even if with fewer amount of people it’s possible to create some truly magic, fun & at the same time very intimate atmosphere, it is a mystery to me how all those things work. I can’t remember the exact dates.
#3 – There was one night at Milonga La Lunita (Vancouver, BC) which particularly stands out among others.
We are less serious: Last night a dj saved my life. The DJ rule is sexy? have you ever had a relationship with some fans and some flirt with your colleagues?
Where are those fans?!? :)) ... yes, of course I flirt with some colleagues ;)… Ehh, which colleagues did not mean by the way?