When you say tango, two images pop up competing for my attention.
One of them has dancers clothed to impress drinking the Argentine tea and dancing elegantly in a ballroom. Moving with utmost precision and always trying to wow the onlookers.
Another captures people in everyday clothes drinking wine and beer and dancing with joyful abandon. Nobody is posing for a shot by the present photographer. The goal is simply to have fun.
These two scenes are arbitrary and I am only presenting them to discuss how I choose to differentiate tango music, not to critique any particular milonga.
This is important to emphasize since I have no intention to ever pass judgement on my dancers. Instead, when estimating a given piece of music for its dancing potential, I judge the imaginary ronda it's creating inside my head.
The 1930s Fresedo with Osvaldo Ray invariably creates a vision of a salon teeming with artistocrats. The signature harp seems to confirm that; you won't find a harp in a pub.
I find the image off-putting. I imagine a high-brow social function involving too much pretense and formality. How would I ever relax enough to dance with joy in such environment?
Yes, I am aware many will find Fresedo / Ray to be sweet, gentle, and facilitating great intimacy on the dance floor. To me, this type of music is a straitjacket.
We don't have many aristocrats among us today, and I find the best examples of a "pub-style tango" among contemporary bands.
To hear what I mean by that, listen to Conjunto Berretín perform "Retintín" on this grainy video from 2006, although, perhaps ironically, they are actually performing not in a pub but in a public library.
Their "Garufa" from the album "Tango for Lovers and Fools" embodies the "pub" spirit even better but I did not find a publicly available video; here it is on Spotify:
The scene inside my head is now populated with smiling, relaxed, and perhaps a bit drunk crowd. A place that is an open field for all kinds of tango expression.
This is not only a subjective argument, it is a description of my personal artistic preferences. As a DJ, I am creating a narrative whether I am conscious of it or not, and I prefer to understand how I myself think about the music I play. Which is one of the motivation behind this blog: to help myself think about tango music.
To be sure, both the "salon" and "pub" spirits belong to tango, which is self-evident by the fact that they exist and prosper. My typical evening set will indeed include many tandas of gentle, "dressed-up" music such as Di Sarli or Lomuto that would fit well in the imaginary "salon".
Ultimately, though, I want the evening to be fun and uplifting and will use the "pub-style" music to drive it in that direction whenever I see too many serious faces around.
image credit goes to Brody Childs