Elio Astor, NeoTango DJ


elioWe’re still driving to Rome from the airport. My first trip to Italy. But I can’t wait. I have my pen out already. I am so excited to meet DJ Elio Astor. “Tell me everything”

“I identify myself as a neotango DJ. NeoTango invites Argentine Tango to become contemporary by applying its biomechanics of connection and improvisation to the experiences and emotions of the world heritage of music.

“I started dancing in 2003. I started DJing in 1995 and DJing tango in 2007. I asked myself many questions during these years.

“Tango is the only embrace dance where you can experience different kinds of emotions. For example in salsa, you experience only fun. In standard dance, there is no improvisation, so there is no way to express yourself. Tango is probably one of the best dances that we have which is able to express all our feelings. The music is a way to let the feelings flow through our body. In these years I realized that I want more. I want more music, I want to broaden the range of these feelings.

“Tangos tell stories about life in  Buenos Aires, 100 years ago, about a world made of lost love, disillusion, nostalgia, solitude, life in old suburbs, lunfardo dialect and characters which are gone. You cannot dance on the stories of your time to tango music. In neotango you touch broader feelings. If you think of Greek, French, Balkan, Italian, Sufi, Yiddish music, you experience a broader range of colors of emotions – you can be on a beach, or in front of a sunset. You can imagine to be in Paris, along the river.

“I think that when in year 2000 there was this electronic tango trend, it was not the right time both for DJs and for musicians because there were not many DJs who got the idea about what to put in an evening together with electronic tango. Most of them made evenings playing only electronic tango. It was like dancing inside a washing machine. Those were the Argentinean and European opinions. You cannot make an evening based on only one musical genre. So electronic tango didn’t succeed because there were not DJs who were able to put together that music with other genres. There were alternative milongas in that period and they put Tanghetto, Gotan, Otros Aires, Narcotango, Electrocutango, just only the electronic tango music. They didn’t take other music, triphop or acoustic music from the world. They were not able to be selective. A DJ goes and picks the best of thousands of songs and musical genres. He’s always looking for new things, and maybe after one month of research he finds for example one song by a Persian singer which could be suitable for dancing in a certain mood. DJing is a profound research which takes a lot of time, and training for leading the mood on the dance floor.”

Elio runs two neolongas a week in Rome, and also DJs one “mixed” and one all-traditional milonga each week. He hosts two big milongas every year through his organization TangoEventi. In the roof of the Palazzo dei Congressi on 28 August the milonga last year had 1000 people. In the 26 September, the milonga in Piazza Vittorio last year had 1600 people. He organizes the Rome Neotango Marathon in March. He is invited to DJ in many places in Europe, both as a traditional and neotango DJ. Elio goes once a year to Buenos Aires, where he is respected as a traditional DJ and where he played in the important milongas, Salon Canning, Nino Bien, Milonga X.

The poster at the door of Elio’s Neolonga “2 Porte” (2 Doors) reads…

Walk through this door only if you are ready to dance tango on any type of music.

This neolonga, unique in its kind, is a tribute to modern music written in the last 60 years, from Piazzolla to electrotango to trip-hop to musical blends of different genres.

A global music, without roots, to make a journey in a emotional wave mixed carefully by Elio “Astor”.

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” (Gustav Mahler, 1860-1911)

How does neotango survive in Rome, while it’s dying everywhere else?

“I think the neotango era is only at its beginning: in Rome it has a community because there is me (smiling), because i believe in it, and mostly because there are still people who think with their own mind and dance tango on the music they like. For 7 years I have put all my efforts for growing the neotango community here. I run a tango school in a beautiful villa. I will invite good Argentine teachers to teach on this music. They don’t say “no”.

Why ‘neo’, instead of ‘nuevo’?

“Nuevo doesn’t mean anything. Nuevo is every time tango does something new. Petroleo, Piazzola, Naveira, the 2000s….

What is the definition of danceable neotango music?

“First of all it has to be music with a rhythm which can be followed by step. So it’s between 55/60 and 120 beats per minute. Milongas with about 80 beats per minute. Then you can partition 120/2 and you can walk any way. This is a flat 4/4th rhythm, then we need to add stronger 1st and 3rd beats. This is rhythmically the music that we can step in tango.

“But speed and biomechanics are not enough: for example you cannot dance tango on almost all  pop music, disco music and caribbean music, because they have different sound, different feelings from tango.

“There can be also music which is fine to dance, but it has bad quality of the instruments and slight or trivial arrangement, and even small mistakes.

“A song, to be danced as tango, has to be deep and heavy, contain possibly syncopation, and it has to communicate tango feelings, it has to be an “opus”, a good musical composition, because dancers are fully absorbed in music, they don’t need just a silly beat to step into it, they need a groove.

“Neotango is a flexible container. Inside this container you can put trance-tango, Balkan music, classical music, hiphop, triphop, soundtracks, all the genres you like to dance tango to. The common characteristic is that the music you put in this container you can dance with the mood of tango. It has the right speed, no instruments which give you a bad mood, mostly minor keys, slow and deep.

“I don’t like dancing when all the instruments are synthesizers or electronic. There could be an electronic base with acoustic instruments above. I like orchestral instruments – violin, piano, cello, double-bass, and of course bandoneon.

“The lyric tangos should also tell about tango feelings, of modern world, some of the new people don’t try dancing tango because it’s too much old and linked to the ancient Argentinean culture and not to modern age.”

“Every week I listen to maybe 100 or 200 songs and I find one which can be played in neotango evenings.”

How do you know, how do you understand what is Tango music?

“You have to dance every song in your mind, it’s even better if you dance it in real. If you like it inside the embrace, if it transfers you some good vibes, then maybe it will be ok in the dance floor as well.

“It’s so complicated, because maybe a band records ten CDs and only one song can be danced and is useful to me. Also from popular electrotango bands there are few songs you need to pick out of a cd. They are useful to create a good wave.

“There is a lot of music and there are many many tangos which haven’t been already written. We all need new tangos which tell stories of modern world.

“If you think that in 40 years, traditional tango orchestras produced more than 40,000 recordings of ancient tango, and in our age we have so few danceable songs which express tango feelings, we understand that we really have a lack of music.

“I use many songs written by musicians who didn’t know they could be danced. This makes me crazy. We are dancing tango on Sting, Portishead, Massive Attack, French accordionists music, pop musicians, and none of them thought remotely that they were writing a piece which could be danced as tango and have a global success. They wrote it unconsciously. Alessandro Pitoni for example lives near Rome. He has a rock band. He made a really good, danceable song called “Colpo di Coda”. He told me “this song is dedicated to my father and he said this song will be danced a lot.” I invited him to come see his song being danced. He said “really, I couldn’t even imagine that such a song could really be danced and have so much success.” It was a surprise for him.

“The dubstep musicians as well don’t realize there is a crowd who is dancing tango to their music. If they knew tango maybe they would have better adapted their songs, Tango could easily become in this way a global dance and neotango would be a musical genre.

“I would like to hire tango and dubstep musicians and get them to work together to produce tango/chillstep music. For dancing you need pauses, slow down the beat, piano or violin solos to express a different feeling and then the beat comes again. Tango music can bring them pause and variations to express a lot of different dance feelings. It lets the dancer relax, or experiment and go beyond their limits. The shape of the dance is controlled by the music. The musicians need to mix, put suspension, air. Now I do it manually. Imagine if all the musicians knew this, after one minute giving time to express, to go beyond the limits.

“So I think that a change can be created when there are many musicians who know the musical genre, and who are committed to produce new music. In this moment the recording production companies don’t even know the big possibilities which are behind neotango.

“If you think about Kizomba, which in about 3 or 4 years doubled the quantity of dancers, the quantity of music, and it is spreading all over the world being a relatively new thing, born in Angola in the 70s as an evolution of Semba, it was beginning to be taught and danced in Europe about 5 years ago, by few people.

“What are we waiting for in the tango-dance community? I believe we need this beautiful old dance, on new Neotango music.”

Why do you use the word ‘neolonga’ for your events?

“Because if you say ‘milonga’, people say what is this? We dance tango, but the music is not tango. ‘Neolonga’ is a new word, it’s not a milonga because in milonga it’s supposed to play tango. Neolonga is supposed to play neo.”

Why do you adopt Piazzola’s name?

“Piazzola made a revolution in tango only following his heart, in a very independent way, and I have a great appreciation and respect for people like him.”

Elio’s agenda

When I danced in Elio’s milongas, I could feel that the students were voracious to play and express themselves.

Elio agrees: “My tango teachers taught me everyone should dance their own style. The most beautiful thing of tango is improvisation.”

We talk about the important insights from Carolyn Merritt’s book, Nuevo Tango. We remember her point that there was never a moment when tango was not about innovation… Elio interjects, “until now!” He continues, “Most people are just trying to keep the business going, tango is standardized to clean the style, to let the dancers become all like the ones in the salon tango championship, or in ballroom dance… doing it the same way… no imagination, no fantasy.”

Elio believes that teachers should play neotango music for beginning dancers from the beginning, “so they aren’t afraid to dance on it, and they don’t get stuck in just one kind of music.”

For his annual Rome Neotango Marathon, he has plenty of guests, but a problem finding teachers. He names only 3 couples who he wants to invite to teach and perform. We look at lots of videos together. There are many couples with the technical skills to make dramatic tango movements, but they aren’t showing Elio that they love to dance on neotango music, with their own artistry and style. Those who used to do it, aren’t doing it anymore, and Elio has little patience with that. “They need to show the people that tango is not dead, they need to go beyond, to push it to extreme!”

Elio’s dream is to open a neolonga in Buenos Aires, to engage the young people that they can dance neotango. “It’s the right moment, when things are getting so conservative.” He is thinking about a Renaissance.



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