Tango-DJ-ing – my learning process

‍    Like every DJ, I made my mistakes, and one had to do with the thought that for this old crackling music with its limited frequency response a data-reduced format like mp3 160kBit/s would suffice. The opposite is the case! I spent a lot of time correcting this mistake. (You can read about the ‘why’ by looking at my Tango contributions). Whenever possible I use full format, and I am still in search of the best sounding version.

Today, my core repertoire represents the Epoca de Oro – for the simple reason that it was the time when the music had reached incredible creativity and depth. The musicians of that era were true professionals but, alas, their quality and depth in playing are no longer achieved by today’s orchestras. Someone described it this way: ›The musicians looked at the dancer’s feet.‹ An apt expression – I hope you grasp what was meant. If you listen closely, within a three-minute piece a wonderful wealth of musicality will be revealed. Complementing this richness was the art of vocal expression that came to its peak in the 1940s. It’s no wonder that the singers soon became the most famous figures in an orchestra. 

I came to be a DJ through dance. As a tango dancer, I would hear this wonderful music that, at some point, I started buying CDs, which I would eventually play at Milongas. I didn’t speak Spanish, so the musical qualities and the danceability of a piece were my main focus. I see this as an advantage.

And yes – you can book me. Not only for playing music but also for other topics such as: the evolution of tango, characteristics of various orchestras, the art of Tango DJing (only as an introduction, however, because it would actually take two or more days).

Contact by E-mail     Nachricht aet bailemos-tango dot ch




How do you describe yourself as a Tango-DJ? At the Tango-Festival in Den Hague they used a really good scheme of questions. Here my answers that describe what is important for me.

Michael KI: I live in Basel (Switzerland) and am TJ-ing for quite a time.

I started to hear the wonderful Tango Music as a dancer, then I began to collect and to play at milongas as a Tango-DJ. I published a few articles about Tango, and this year I started a Tango radio programm telling some stories about the background of Tango music and the musicians. 

I would like that the dancers leave with a inner smile and perhaps a feeling of ›A pity that it is already over‹.

Rank your favourite music style when playing: 

The core repertoire is from the Epoca de Oro (Golden Age 1935-55) when the music exploded in richness – with, of course, the main orchestras like Di Sarli, D’Arienzo, Troilo, Pugliese, Calo. But there are so many fine orchestras like Pedro Laurenz, Edgardo Donato, Domingo Federico, Ricardo Tanturi – just to name a few.... And a few detours to the earlier more rhythmic orchestras.

Are you dancing yourself?

Yes, I started in the last century  ;-))

What was the trigger that made you start DJing?

There was no triggering moment that I remember. The love for this great music? 

What is the main quality a DJ needs to have from your point of view?

A good feeling for the qualities of the music with respect to the dancers. 

Over the years, I realised (with the help of others like Ch. Tobler) that many transfers onto CD were quite poor (to say it diplomatically). So I am (still) looking for good transfers, and make some effort to play the best avalaible version at Milongas. For instance, for a long time it was  not possible to get Troilo transfers without pseudo stereo, reverberation, TMNR (Too Much Noise Reduction) and all this artificial crap. (The same with other orchestras like Fresedo). It is sort of fake reproduction – when you hear a good transfer from shellac with good music equipment you will recognize it immediately.

I don't play data reduced music (mp3). I play, whenever possible, in full format. There is less strain for the ears and our brains. We cannot 'prove' it but the observation is that the dancers are more relaxed.

About cortinas: how long, why and what kind of music?

Well, a cortina is mostly the sign to change partners. I prefer music that has a certain mood fitting to the energy of tango music; for instance, smooth Jazz or other music from that period. I don't like loud music that smashes on your ears.

What is your playlist system? Always the same or do you adjust it; when and why?

I follow the TTVTTM structure, with 4 Tangos and Valses, but mostly 3 Milongas (for obvious reasons). I don't do it because »it is done like this in Bs As« but because it turned out to be the most agreeable way for the dancers to enjoy and interpret the music.

I prepare the tandas very carefully in advance, so that there is like a melody with variation within a tanda. I don't make time jumps within a tanda as I regretfully hear in some milongas - the early Tanturi has clearly a different energy then the Tanturi a few years later. At the milonga itself I adjust the tandas according to the flow on the dance floor.

Somebody comes to the Dj booth and asks you to play a song. Your answer?

When possible, yes. I try to fit it in within a tanda. I prefer that people ask for a special orchestra (like Donato, Maderna or the early di Sarli) – such a wish is easier to fulfill.

What would be your last song you played on a Tango Festival or Marathon?

A few Cumparsitas. There are so many fine versions; for instance, the late d'Arienzo version. Before the end, sometimes as a surprise, something like ›I've got to see you again‹ (Norah Jones).

If you would have a free wish, which Festival or Marathon would you like to play at?

Well, I don't have favourites – I am open to all kinds of venues. The next time I am playing again in Ballhaus Ulm since after the first time they immediately wanted me a second time.

By the way: it is easier to make the music at bigger festivals because many and good dancers keep the energy up by themselves. It is much more difficult to create a flow at little milongas. This is a bigger challenge.

‍      Interview 08/18   Michael KI

Lebenserfahrung ist die Summe der Fehler, die zu machen sich kein andere gefunden hat.
– Life experiencc is the sum of mistakes nobody else was willing to make.