OK, we meet another great Tango DJ, from Paris, Nigel Smith ( photo by Anya Semeniouk). A journey that describes the evolution of tastes in recent years, which also becomes evolution of styles. A great TangoDJ . Nigel is always ready to capture every nuance of the evening. like he said: " What influences me during an evening? Everything. Acoustics, least of all. I mean that acoustics influence me mostly in that, if I'm playing in a place where the acoustics will make a certain orchestra unpleasant to listen to, I'll change. I've only had to do that once. And I didn't change the orchestra, just the pieces I played from that orchestra. The dancers, of course. The country, or community I'm playing for. I enjoy it when organizers let me know the tastes of the community, especially if I'm not particularly familiar with the scene there. It doesn't control what I will or won't play, but it will give me context, in which I can work, and evolve. The dancers, of course! Especially if there are people there with whom I want to dance, and I know we enjoy dancing certain things together. This is one of the best perks of being a DJ: having one's favourite dancers in a milonga, and being able to choose music with them in mind". Enjoy.
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?
Firstly, thank you, Sab, for inviting me to take part in this interesting adventure of yours. I've read your previous interviews on Facebook, and am always interested in what DJs have to say about their experiences, and in their opinions on music, dance, and tango life in general.
You're right. My first experience with the tango was the dance. I have met people who have told me they were drawn to the dance through the music. Ironically, for me it happened the other way around. I say 'ironically because as a professional musician, one might have thought it could have happened the other way around. I suppose there were two general elements which inspired me to "step behind the curtain", as it were. The first is genuine curiosity. I always like to know how things work, and I was very curious to see what the milonga felt like from the vantage point of the person choosing the music. There's also the curiosity of figuring out why I enjoy certain DJs, and enjoy others less. In short, I wondered if I could do it. The second is the fact that I love 'hosting'. I mean by that, that when I invite people over to my house, I'm actually much more comfortable in the kitchen, preparing the food, and walking around serving it. I enjoy setting the scene. As a DJ, I feel very much the same thing. I'm trying to gauge the energy of the room, and work with that flow, to help people have the good time they came to the milonga to have.
What was your early taste of tango? There are significant differences with the current scene?
I actually don't remember much what people were playing when I started tango. It was a lot of orchestral, with some electronic. Actually, in Paris much more electronic tango, atypical orchestral music, and non-tango music was played than is played now. When I started dancing, I preferred the electro music, and dancing to non-tango music. Some may notice I do not use the term "nuevo". It's simply because that term holds no meaning for me. I've never been able to identify a style which fits that description, so that I know what people mean when they say "nuevo". It's too general for me. So, I describe the music I refer to, so everyone knows what I mean. Anyway, I liked dancing to a lot of that music before. Probably because, in my case, it was easier to improvise to that music, which I found to be simpler, when I was learning the tango, which I found to be very complicated.
My tastes, and the scene in Paris, where I started learning the tango, have changed. Now I much prefer the orchestral music. The part of my tastes which hasn't changed is that I still prefer sung tango to instrumental, if I must generalize. There are instrumentals I adore, of course. But, if I had to say that the balance tips one way or the other, it would be toward the sung tangos. The milongas I go to here also play almost exclusively orchestral tangos, and moreover, from traditional orchestras. One hears little Diaz, Tubatango, Los Guapos del 900, etc.. I believe that Paris' palette has grown over the years, and I hope mine has as well. When I started here, one heard mostly 30s and 40s. Some 50s, and very little 20s, or late teens. Now one hears much more 50s music, and it's not at all odd to hear music from as early as 1917. Okay... That's not common, but it happens. But certainly music from the 20s is not strange to us here. Sound quality is obviously a challenge here, but I enjoy finding the sincerity, and pathos in those early pieces.
I do notice two more significant differences. One is cortinas. It was rather common, when I started, back around 2000, to hear the same cortina throughout an entire milonga. Or, perhaps a list of three, repeated many times. Today's DJs have varied not only their cortinas in an evening, but their overall selection. They're pulling from a greater variety of styles of music, and incorporating them in their milongas, to reflect the energy of the music they've just played, or foreshadow the music they're about to play. DJs have started to explore the potential of cortinas, as a way to enhance the flow of an evening, and not be the 'curtain' one draws to signal the end of the action of the milonga. The other difference is the sheer number of DJs, and what that does for the community as a whole. There's a meme that's made the rounds on Facebook of a man collapsed on the floor, and a woman kneeling by his side, asking for a doctor. The five people standing, observing the scene all answer: "Not me. I'm a DJ.". Whereas there is the "Many a truth is told in jest" side of that, it also has had the effect on tango that more people are listening differently to the music now, than before. People listen not only to each piece, or even to each tanda, but also to the flow of the evening as a whole. I hear people commenting things like: "I would never have thought to play Rodriguez after Fresedo, but that really worked for me!", or "You know, I used to hate mixed-orchestra tandas, but DJs are doing it so well these days, that I hardly even notice them anymore.". As you can probably guess, I could go on and on about this, but I'll stop for now.
Do you remember your first engagement as a tango dj?
I do. I was at a milonga, in Brittany. It was "DJed" by a playlist. A DJ had given someone a playlist to play for the milonga, and said something like "Start here. End there.". Well, there was a computer crash, and I had a first-gen iPod. I made tandas on the fly, from memory. I really wish I had been able to keep that playlist. I'm sure it would make me both laugh and cry today!
When do you prepare or construct your Set? A long time before the gig, on the day of the milonga, or do you improvise freely during the evening?
I always listen to music, in general, and I compile playlists I call "new ideas", and add to them daily. The day of any one gig, I'll go to that playlist, and see what I have that I like. I almost always arrive to a gig with at least my first 3-4 tandas done, and some pre-cut cortinas in my bag. I hardly ever play any of those tandas the way they were conceived, but I like the security of having them. I improvise quite a bit, but I always have one or two "go-to" tandas, in case I can't decide what to play.
Have you ever played a boring set? Did you maybe understand too late that the milonga could not give you the right motivation and you could not wait to finish?
Hmm... I'm sure I have played many boring sets, depending on who you ask. I am rarely bored by the music I play. I can be embarrassed, angry, happy, even perplexed, sad, but not bored. However, it's not up to the milonga to give me the energy or inspiration to do anything at all. That's my job. If a milonga is not inspiring me, it's most likely that I'm stifling the imagination of the dancers. I never ask what the milonga can do for me. I do for her what I can, and then I see what she gives me in return. I sincerely believe, as a DJ and as a dancer, that if I go to a milonga expecting the milonga to give me something, I will be disappointed, and so will the dancers, and the milonga will have nothing to give anyone.
Do you accept whatever gig is offered to you or do you try to select engagements, preferring a special location or fascinating evening with friends?
I accept the gigs I can accept. Scheduling is hard with me, as I travel a lot for work. I also generally don't work with people I don't get along with. I've done so the past, and those have been less than satisfying experiences. If I can work with people I love, in a place I love, with dancers I love, I will do all within my power to do so! I don't want to say I'm in such high demand. Not at all. I just mean to say that, if I'm not comfortable somewhere, it's unlikely I'll be able to be at my best. If I'm not at my best, it will be harder to help people have fun. I choose (when I can), my engagements with relation to how much I'll be able to help people enjoy the milonga.
How would you define your style? Has it evolved over time? Into which direction? What can influence you during an evening, the audience, the dancers, the acoustics of the location, the duration of the Milonga...
I can no more define my DJing style, than I can my dancing style. I have no clue what *kind* of DJ I am. My DJing has evolved. I am much less experimental now. I'm not at all interested in playing "new" music, for the sake of playing new music. I just want to help people have a good time. I'm more traditional, to use a term, now than I was 6 years ago. I've often said of myself as a dancer that, as long as I like the music, I can be quite happy dancing to one orchestra for an hour or more. As a DJ, I don't think I'd like to try that, but I no longer think about how many times people have heard a certain tango, vals or milonga.
What influences me during an evening? Everything. Acoustics, least of all. I mean that acoustics influence me mostly in that, if I'm playing in a place where the acoustics will make a certain orchestra unpleasant to listen to, I'll change. I've only had to do that once. And I didn't change the orchestra, just the pieces I played from that orchestra. The dancers, of course. The country, or community I'm playing for. I enjoy it when organizers let me know the tastes of the community, especially if I'm not particularly familiar with the scene there. It doesn't control what I will or won't play, but it will give me context, in which I can work, and evolve. The dancers, of course! Especially if there are people there with whom I want to dance, and I know we enjoy dancing certain things together. This is one of the best perks of being a DJ: having one's favourite dancers in a milonga, and being able to choose music with them in mind. Duration of the milonga used to be a consideration for me. I believe that was a mistake. It no longer is. I'm just more frustrated, playing 3 or 4 hour milongas/practicas now. I always end up wanting to have played more music.
The audience bothers you with absurd requests: what do you do? Are you a jukebox?
Well, if one of the perks of DJing is getting to choose music specifically to dance with certain people to, one detractor could be that certain people will also ask you for music you may not want to play. Basically, I'm a chef. In restaurants, I've often asked chefs to modify their dishes. No salt, no tomatoes, extra cheese, extra spicy, etc.. So when people ask me for things, I see it like this: I will not only serve up my personal favourites, but I will also never serve anything I wouldn't be happy to eat!
Do you prefer playing alone or sharing the night with a / colleague. Do you 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?
When working in tandem with someone, the only important thing to me, is getting along with that person. Just for the purpose of the milonga. We don't have to be friends, but it's nicer when we are. I haven't shared many evenings, but I have enjoyed it quite a lot, when it has happened. I have a fond memory of having shared an evening with DJ Radistka Kat, in Moscow. I think she may even have been my first.
If someone asks you the name of a track, do you give him the requested information, perhaps mentioning the CD where he can find it, or do you refuse and thus force him to engage into an adventure of search and find?
Honestly, I usually just give the answer. When I'm feeling playful, I'll ask them to guess, before giving up the info. Sometimes, I'll ask them who they thought it was, after having answered them. Often I find those people engage me on the orchestras. I try to not "teach" people, unless they ask me to do so.
Do you like to dance and listen to your colleagues enjoy the selections and styles of others from your performances?
Well, I don't try to "listen" to people enjoy my choices, I more watch, or feel them do it. But I do like to dance. In fact, I'm probably the DJ I know who dances most when he DJs. Sometimes, because I need to feel the energy on the floor more closely to keep the party going. Sometimes because I want to dance with someone in particular. Mostly, because I just want to dance. Once, it was rather embarrassing. I was DJing at a wonderful festival in Ukraine, Remolino, and I hadn't been dancing much until this point. I played a tanda of Pugliese I had not played before (oh yes, I'll often dance a tanda I'm specifically excited about, especially if its the first time I play it in a milonga), and at the end of the tanda, the dancers applauded the tanda! Now, I had never even seen this happen before. And I certainly didn't expect it to happen to me!! It was rather embarrassing, being at the opposite end of the dance floor from the DJ desk (it was in a large space, which accommodates around 500 dancers relatively comfortably), watching the dancers applauding me to an empty DJ desk. I learned from that experience, and chose my tandas to dance with greater care, after that.
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 believe all arts are different, and similar all over the world. Tastes everywhere differ. And people grow up getting used to different things. I think that we're all happier if we all remain open to experiencing something new. I am happiest as a DJ, when I know that I'm playing for dancers who listen to the music, and don't dance to music they don't like, and do dance to music they do like. This is not often enough the case, for my tastes.
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?
Nope. I think so much of the charm, identity, and soul of the tango is in its tendency to thrive and evolve in less than ideal circumstances. One need not look any further than the lyrics of the tangos we love so much. They are not of ideal lives led, and dreams realized. They speak to us of loves lost, of men and women of whom we are not worthy, or who are not worthy of us, of the chances we had at living that perfect life, which we realized only too late... This is a dance which was birthed in Buenos Aires, but which was conceived from all over, and gestated with whores, idle rich, drunken parties of workers, immigrants, argentines, uruguayans... A child which was shunned by its mother when he came into the world, whose distant fathers discovered him, and raised him up him, then brought him home; his father's joy, to become his mother's pride...!
No. I don't want to create a perfect place for this child of the world. I want just to find a place. I believe tango finds the perfection therein, and shows it to us.
Three orchestras that can not miss in one evening.
Your three favourite orchestras, which may also be different from the previous ones.
These change, but I'll go with D'Arienzo, Di Sarli 40s, and Di Sarli 50s. I put it that way because, to me, Di Sarli is the orchestra which evolved the most over its existence. 30s, 40s, and 50s are, to me, completely different orchestras.
Suggest a tanda of tango instrumental, a tanda of tango singer, one of vals and milonga.
Tanda instrumental: D'Arienzo
Seguime si podes
Tanda with a singer: Laurenz con Podestá
Yo quiero cantar un tango
Que nunca me falte
Vals: (this will be a strange one)
Tu olvido - Eduardo Del Plano, cantan Mario Bustos y Héctor de Rosas
Con ella en le mar - Francini - Pontier, canta Raúl Berón . The strange one , but I absolutely LOVE it!!
El viejo vals - Francisco Rotundo, cantan Enrique Campos y Floreál Ruíz
Milonga: Quinteto Pirincho
Se dice de mi
What are the three bands or singers you can not stand?
I don't have any. There are combinations I like less than others, but even those have pieces I love. De Angelis - Larroca is one of those. I'm not a huge fan, but there are some pieces I love. For a long time, I didn't understand Fresedo. I just didn't get it. I didn't hate it, but I couldn't dance to him. I'm not the biggest fan of Gotan Project, but I can't say I hate them.
What is the band most underrated by the general public and which is the most overrated?
Overrated? I really have no answer to this. Perhaps... No. I really don't know of an orchestra people generally think is great, where I would disagree. Underrated? Until recently, I may have said Troilo. Now, I would have to say Malerba.
Your top three nights (in your opinion of course ...)
This is very, very easy!
3)El huracán, 2013
1)El Huracán, 2012!
(two of those nights are afternoons, and also, I'm speaking as a DJ, and not a dancer.)
We are less serious: Last night a dj saved my life. Are DJs sexy? have you ever had a relationship with a fan or a flirt with a colleague?
The sexiest DJ for me is the one who knows the way into my heart, my pants, and my soul! It's actually not har... err.. difficult.
Foreplay: D'Arienzo (30s, 40s, or 50s)
Sex: Di Sarli/Florio, or Pugliese/Maciel (maybe a mix with some instrumental)
Cuddling in the afterbliss: Fresedo (I'll accept a mix of Ruiz and Ray) D'Agostino/Vargas is also an acceptable response, here.
I don't know if any of my relationships were fans in the beginning, but they probably weren't by the end. Flirt with a colleague... Hmmm... I think I'll need a specific definition of "flirt" hehe