Back across the ocean, and we meet another great tangodj. Ilene Marder is one of New York’s most popular and respected DJ’s. Known as La Rubia Del Norte, she plays for the top milongas of NYC, and has played at milongas and festivals in Boston, Miami, Toronto, Chicago, Philadelphia, and throughout New York’s Hudson Valley. She is in-demand for her ability to read and energize the floor with the most beautiful, inspiring tandas, and is one of the few non-Argentines to DJ full nights at prestigious milongas in Buenos Aires, including several nights at Salon Canning, Porteño y Bailerin, and the Estilo Parque Patricios Festival. Let's go and read the interview!
From the beginning : I suppose that your first approach with tango, like for other dj, was with the dance. What inspired you to get into console and play music? A conscious decision or was the result of chance?
I began to DJ tango 3 months after I began dancing tango. That was more than 9 years ago. It was a conscious decision as just a month earlier I had started my own milonga in Woodstock, New York (2 hours from NYC), as there was no tango close to where I lived.
At first the visiting teachers I invited would DJ, but all other times it was up to me. I've been a musician since I was 7 years old, DJ'd my first party at age 13, and was always particular about music. So when visiting teachers gave me tango music, I started right away to concentrate on learning about the orquestas, and to compose tandas (as best I could by sound as the music I was given usually didn’t have the names of the orquesta/singer/year- so I really had to listen closely, which I think gave me a great start!). I began ordering tango cd’s from Zival’s, and DJ’d my milonga in Woodstock once month and played every week for our practicas.
By that time I was dancing every week in NYC, and I began developing an ear for what was played at the best milongas. I had organizer friends in NYC who visited Woodstock and heard me play, and in 2005, less than a year after I started, I was invited to DJ at two great NYC milongas-- Lucille Krasne's Esmeralda's Tango & Tapas, and Gayatri Martin's La Boca (one of the largest at the time). From there, it started to grow.
What were your early taste of tango? There are significant differences with the current scene? Do you remember your first like tango dj?
From the very beginning I loved the early tangos.... especially Fresedo and Di Sarli from the late '20's, '35-37 D'Arienzo, OTV, and I loved loved loved early Canaro milongas. Like many North American tango DJ's who were just beginning at the time, I played Golden Age tango hits with a healthy dose of "nuevo" and "alternative". I went to Buenos Aires in my first year of tango and really fell in love with classic Golden Age (which for me is mid-1930's to early 1950's, including mid-late '50s Di Sarli instrumentals). I no longer play alternative or electronic tracks at milongas. Depending on the milonga and the crowd, I do add some danceable modern gems from time to time, and I still love playing good quality late '20's at the right moment. I also play more '40's Pugliese which I think is more danceable than the later '50-'60's tracks that I played at the beginning.
The difficulty of the search for songs on cd often burned, the explosion of the Web and the consequent relatively easy to find in the music. Do you think this paradigm shift has changed the way of working of the DJ?
Absolutely. It's much easier to find and buy music from all over the world. But the big concern for me now is sound quality and that's a lot more difficult to get off the web. I use many platforms to explore what's out there in terms of what I want to hear and know more about, and then I will try to find the cd for best sound quality. Thanks to custom satellite playlists and personalized radio stations, listeners can find interesting music in the most unexpected places now.
And I love Shazam. It's very helpful in the never-ending quest for terrific new cortinas.
When you build your performance? Long ago, during the journey to the milonga, or sudden moment by moment?
I am always "building a performance"! Before, during and even after the milonga when I look back at the music and see what worked best.
I don't come to the milonga with a set playlist for the night and I don't pre-listen while DJing (I use my Ipod if a performer must check to see if the track I have is the one they want to dance to). So I really have to know my music which means I am listening every day and thinking about what goes well together.
I love building irresistable tandas! My "go-to" list contains more than 1100 five-star tracks which form the base of what I play ( although I often dip into my library of 7500+ tracks as well). Before I go to the milonga, I have an idea of what I want to play, but it always changes - the arrangement of orquestas, the order of the tandas, the tracks within each tanda, even the cortinas. It all depends on what is happening around me..... in short, the feel of the room, the moment, and the energy of the dancers are ultimately what informs my choice of music.
Have you ever played in a boring night? Have you you understand too late that perhaps the milonga could not give you the right motivation and you could not wait to finish?
Well.... some nights it's harder to keep the energy up if there are not many people there, but even then I always learn something. I see it as a challenge... what can I play to get everyone in the room up and dancing? And I strongly feel I owe it to the dancers who are there to do my best. I've never had a problem with motivation - if there are dancers I am motivated.
Do you accept whatever you offer or try to make a selection preferring location and fascinating evening with friends?
When I first started DJing I would pretty much accept all offers of work. Now, I am pickier. I choose the milongas that are well-attended with good dancers who appreciate the music. Travel-time and salary also affect my choices. It's always wonderful to be with tango friends, but my job that night is to DJ, not spend the night hanging out with friends.
How would you define your style? It has evolved over time? And in which direction?
I play beautiful, dazzling music for people to dance Argentine Tango, in a traditional format. When I DJ I think of the entire night as a musical composition smoothly moving from the first tanda to the last. And that includes cortinas which play an important role in managing the energy of the room. My goal is to play music you can't NOT dance to, and to keep dancers happily on the floor all night. That never changes.
What has evolved is my ability to read the floor, and handle technical issues and devices, including ipods, iphones, mp3 players, cd's, other computers, etc for performances. I am more savvy about cable connections and definitely more concerned with providing the best sound quality I can even if it means sitting at the mixer all night to get a balanced sound for each track.
I don't feel the need to show off my collection for the benefit of other DJ's or prove how much I know about the music. I am there to serve the dancers. I don't believe the DJ's job is to "challenge" the dancers with difficult music. My experience is they'll just walk off the floor! I am always going to give them great music to dance to confidently, and tandas that they will be humming when they go home.
What can influence you in an evening, the audience, the dancers, the acoustics of the location, the duration of your performance ...
As I stated before, all of the above -- the energy and ability of the dancers, the size of the room, the quality of the speakers, the length of the milonga ..But no doubt, the dancers certainly are the greatest influence and inspiration.
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 ever heard until then?
I have played several "DJ" jams which are a lot of fun, but I prefer to captain the entire night myself as I can better sustain or change the mood and energy. Although jamming with other DJ's is interesting and can be a blast for the DJs, I'm not sure it's in the best interests of the dancers.
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?
I'm big on educating dancers about the music (I teach "Meet the Music"(c) classes), so yes, I will always tell which orquesta is playing, title, year, whatever anyone needs to know about how to find it for themselves. I have no problem with that whatsoever. It means that person has really listened to and liked what I played and has an appreciation for the music. I do everything I can to encourage interest in the music, including displaying the orquesta and singer for each tanda as I go along. I do not feel that I "own" the music. The music is to be shared and appreciated.
the public bother you with absurd requests: what do you do? Are you a jukebox?
If someone asks me for a track which is reasonable, say a Di Sarli or D'Arienzo, I will try to fit it in at the right time. Sometimes I get to it, sometimes I don't. If it's something I have never heard, I will definitely not play it. No, I am not a jukebox!!!
Do you like to dance and listen to your colleagues enjoy the selections and styles of others from your performances?
I like to dance when I DJ but it is limited-- usually only a few tandas, to get the feel of the floor and room sound, and if any of my favorite partners asks me. When I dance while DJing, I find my mind is more on technicalities (sound levels, equalizer settings, what am I playing the next tanda...) than dancing with my partner. So I am usually at the DJ controls most of the night. And yes, of course I love when my colleagues comment positively on my selections. I love DJ talk! Not sure if this answers your question....
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?
I think people play differently even in the same city! My greatest education about DJing first came from listening, dancing and talking to DJ's in Buenos Aires, so I think my style is very much as it is there, although I know I bring my own taste and talent to the console. I've played several times in Buenos Aires with very good results and invitations to come back, so I don't think how you play is about where you come from. It's more about talent, instinct, sensitivity, and knowledge of the music and dance.
I've been told the DJ's in Europe play more nuevo and alternative than anywhere else, but I haven't been to any European milongas yet so I don't know if that is true. In the USA, there can be major differences between the big city milongas and the small town milongas. It seems to me the city milongas are more traditional with more sophisticated taste in dance music (i.e. Troilo, Biagi, vocalists such as Echague, Duran), while the rural or smaller city/town milongas (which often have more inexperienced dancers and DJ's) play more nuevo, alternative and modern selections which aren't always easily danceable.
DJing is an art, no question about that.
Would you like to have a milonga just for you, furnish it with the appropriate facility to your desires, try to create a wave that satisfies you over to play when you want and create a calendar of events to measure your tastes?
I've done this - I've organized, hosted and DJ'd "Milonga Bohemia" in Woodstock NY for years. It is wonderful to have your own milonga, but a lot of work!! I mean a lot of work!! I was captured by tango from my very first lesson, and since I had access to a beautiful dance floor and had for years produced successful jazz events, the transition to producing a milonga was relatively easy. My models were the milongas of Buenos Aires where the hosts are very welcoming, hugging and kissing everyone, which puts most people at ease as soon as they walk in the door. I love it - you can shape the night with your favorite music, and bring teachers you adore. I was fortunate to be able to bring some of the very best dancers and teachers for the first time to Woodstock and New York's Hudson Valley, and it was very satisfying indeed.
But building community, organizing volunteers to help, sending out notices, and general promotion is a constant process. After years of regularly scheduled milongas, now I just produce special milongas and tango events several times a year. This allows me to concentrate more on DJing and dancing. For the past few years I have also been hosting and DJing ' La Rubia's Tango-Salsa-Swing-World Pop Dance Parties' which helps to draw new people to tango.
I love DJing these as well.
The classic point-blank questions you have to answer, you cannot refuse:
Three orchestras that can not miss in one evening.
D'Arienzo, Di Sarli, Canaro (for milongas)
Your three favourite orchestras, which may also be different from the previous ones.
Demare/Beron, D'Arienzo/Echague-Maure, Tanturi/Campos
Suggest a tanda of tango instrumental, a tanda of tango singer, one of vals and milonga.
Instrumental - I'll go with Francisco Lomuto tracks that I hadn't heard played anywhere when I first started DJing.- I still play them and the tanda is very well-received, drawing many dancers to the floor.
Criolla Linda '42
Sentimiento Gaucho '42
La Revoltosa '45
Catamarca '43 (I will sometimes use the earlier Nostalgias with vocalist Jorge Omar as the last track for a softer finish when appropriate).
Lucio Demare con Raul Beron - all 1943:
Moneda De Cobre
Soy Del 90
Como Se Hace Un Tango
Juan D'Arienzo con Alberto Echague- all 1944:
A Suerte y Verdad
No Nos Veremos Nunca
All Orquesta Tipica Victor:
Sin Rumbo Fijo (Vargas) '38
Volvio La Princesita (Gomez) '32
Amor Cobarde (Gomez) '33 (without intro)
Slow Canaro's are my favorite -- i.e. Milonga del 900, Largas Las Penas, Milonga Criolla -- but I will also include a modern tanda that even traditional dancers love:
El Lloron - Hugo Diaz
El Cachafaz - Los Muchachos de Antes
Milonga Sentimental - Enrique Chia
What are the three bands or singers you can not stand?
I tend not to like full tandas of mid/late '50's vocals. It's just too much.
I never play Sassone, Francini-Pontier (except maybe Remolino), Frederico, Basso, etc at milongas, and truthfully I rarely listen to them.
What is the band most underrated by the general public and which is the most overrated?
I think most electronically based tango is way over-rated for dancing.
The musically brilliant Pedro Laurenz is underrated by dancers, and Edgardo Donato may be underrated- many DJ's seem to just play his milongas and valses, but his instruments and vocals with Lagos are incredibly soulful.
Your top three nights (in your opinion of course …)
#1- The first time I played Salon Canning in Buenos Aires.
#2- The first time I played NYC's All-Night Milonga
#3- Every night when the floor is still packed and people don't want to leave....
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?
hmmmm....not sure what you are getting at here! I flirt all the time but, like tango, I leave it on the floor.....