I am not complaining, but the regulars of our Amsterdam milonga can be a teeny bit unpleasant about the DJ’s music. Remarks like ‘I couldn’t dance, because the music really didn’t work for me’, or, ‘Too bad, those DiSarli’s killed the atmosphere towards the end’ are a standard repertoire. A desperate look, cast in my direction, expressing ‘How could I allow such terrible torture?’ is also a mid-evening routine. Creaky loudspeakers, small accidents with the hi-fi equipment… These all add up to the dreaded DJ-Judgment, accumulating steadily as the night passes. At one point in our history, we had a massive walk-out around 22:30hrs.
I love DJ’s. I love, how they obsess over sound quality, and search the globe for special editions of forgotten songs. Did you know that records from the thirties were often remastered in the fifties to appeal to modern taste? There are Tango DJ’s out there who are restoring them to original. I also love how DJ’s deviate from their prepared list to build up and slow down the momentum throughout an evening. And, every once in a while, I look at them as viable business opportunity. DJ’s represent about 50% of our costs. They are usually not in it for the money, but we try to pay them slightly above-the-market hourly rates. It is a mildly irrational policy, but we think their partnership is worth it, and some acknowledgement of their preparation time.
Some twelve DJ’s perform every two or four months. About eight perform at irregular intervals. This allows us to build a reasonable expectation of quality and variation. DJ’s that pass our quality gates tend to get gigs elsewhere too. Consider it our contribution to ‘Make Tango Great Again’. With fifty-two weeks in a year at our disposal to invite DJ’s, we also have a marvelous opportunity to introduce new talent. On average, we take four rookies in a year and apply a ‘two-strikes-and-you-are-out’ policy. It used to be three strikes, but we found that people who do something twice, usually do it a third time. We can’t afford more risk without affecting goodwill. To those of you who think this principle is harsh, consider how often you return to a restaurant that served you two bad meals, then, imagine you had invited sixty hungry guests for dinner, all used to a Michelin-star treatment. That’s our milonga.
If you assume, that my knowledge about the Argentine tango musical repertoire must be substantial, I have to disappoint you. It is not. It has taken me a long time to recognise Troilo, Rodriguez or Calo. I still wouldn’t bet my house on distinguishing one from the other. So, choosing a Tango DJ, is, for us, more about personality than about musical taste. Their passion, temperament and attitude usually speak louder than their playlists. We observe how they prepare. Are they dancers or musicians? What do they see as their role? These are good predictors of success. Regulars of our milonga get preference. If they fail, which happens, it may be because their ego got a little in the way of their main task, which is to fill the dance floor. It’s all part of their growth and development, we don’t hold it against them, and we hope they can do the same for us. You see, the first rule of DJ management is that the dancers, in all their glorious unpleasantness, are always right.