Interview with a Tango DJ: Yuko Kinoshita
WHAT FIRST MADE YOU INTERESTED IN TANGO DJING?
Probably like most DJs: out of necessity. A few years back our local DJ Tim decided to take a break to finish off his PhD, so someone had to learn how to do it. I was coordinating the Club’s Promotion group back then, and I was spending a lot of time trying to select music that would get people to dance well naturally, as opposed to just what people like the sound of. DJing came as an extension of that experience in some sense, I suppose.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT DJING?
The thing I love most about DJing is the musical journey that I have with the dancers. As a DJ, I get to play the role of the expedition leader for the night. I can take people with me to all sorts of different places, but I must first observe who are there, how people are dancing, and what the mood of the floor. I DJ every week, but no night is the same. It’s exciting. The feeling that I get when the expedition ended well without losing too many people on the way is just exhilarating. DJing gives me a creative joy for sure, but also the joy of sharing – if that makes sense.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER WHEN SELECTING MUSIC TO PLAY?
First, I try to play only music that I think has the essence of tango dancing. (OK, ‘what is the essence of tango dancing’ is a religious question, so I won’t get into that here.) Also, I am trying to create an overall flow and story for each milonga, as it unfolds. I have pre-prepared tandas, but I select the tandas as I go, and sometimes modify the tandas on the fly. It depends who arrives, who leaves, the size of the crowd, the mood on the floor, many things. And I try not to overplay the same songs, yet still have the music grounded in the ‘greats’. I also spend a lot of time finding the best version of each piece, the best recording of that version, and the best transcription of the recording. A lifelong quest!
WHAT MUSIC WON’T YOU PLAY AT A MILONGA?
I never play the music that I don’t like, because as a DJ I believe I should be accountable for my choice. Also I only play traditional tango music arranged for dancing tango (in the way I believe it should be danced – yeah, call me a grumpy bum). That still leaves some thousands of recordings to chose from, so there’s plenty of choice!
I rarely play music from 50s onwards – this is more to do with my personal taste, rather than its danceability. My preference for tango music is definitely firmly in 20s to 40s.
Also, I say no to requests every now and then, because the overall flow of the floor for everyone is much more important that any one dancer’s request; although sometimes I wrangle a particular orchestra or song into the flow in response to certain dancers.
WHAT’S YOUR WORST DJING EXPERIENCE?
Well, I have had the usual technical problems, which are always hard. But much worse is when, for whatever reason, I could not connect the music to the floor or the floor to the music: when it looks like no-one is dancing to the music, or it has no flow. It’s a bad night as a DJ when I start thinking “it won’t make any difference even if I just put the music in alphabetical order; or play the chicken dance song.” There have been times like that, which were terrible — but I happily tell you that I haven’t had this for some years now. These days, DJing is usually a joy.
HOW MUCH DO YOU DANCE WHEN YOU DJ?
Depends on the night. I dance more if I think that I am reading the room well, and the music selection comes easily and works. If I am having a more difficult or unpredictable night, or an unfamiliar venue or crowd, then I will dance less, because I am busy thinking about my next move. Generally I don’t dance at the beginning of the night as the dynamics of the room changes quite rapidly as more people arrive, and I have to be on top of it.
HOW DID YOU FIND DJING AT TANGO IN THE SPRING 2012?
I played on the Sunday afternoon, in between the sets of live music by Tángalo. I actually played only a handful of pieces, as Tángalo played the most part of the afternoon. And they were great! So I enjoyed my non-playing gig.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AS A DJ AT THIS YEAR’S TANGO IN THE SPRING?
This is the first year that I DJ at a main milonga, and I am excited to be able to DJ for a long milonga! My weekly milonga goes only 3 hours, and I often have to make a hard choice of not playing certain pieces as we don’t have enough time. With a long milonga, I can create a different arc of the night from my usual gig, so I am very much looking forward to it. I just hope that I will be free of a panic about the organisation of TISP on that night…
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT FAVOURITE TANGO PIECE?
Hmmm tough question. It changes all the time, and picking one is a mission impossible. I am utterly in love with Di Sarli with Alberto Podestá – so many gems there. But if I have to pick just one song now, I go for Troilo with Floreal Ruiz, “La noche que te fuiste”.