Tango DNA and NeoTango

Mainstream NeoTango events established an understanding of their music, that extended their genre boundaries far beyond the horizon. Everything is somehow ‘Neo’. This indefinable melange is referred to as »Contemporary Music« and forms the sediment of so called Neo playlists according to the subjective music preference of the DJs and DJanes.

A classification by Volker Marschhausen

»When you eat a soup it does not matter from which farmer come the ingredients or where he comes from or how old is him. The main thing is that it ś tasty, for you, eating in that specific time.«
Elio Astor TangoDj II, 2019 


The dawn of Alternative music

Mainstream NeoTango events established an understanding of their music, that extended their genre boundaries far beyond the horizon. Everything is somehow ‘Neo’. This indefinable melange is referred to as »Contemporary Music« and forms the sediment of so called Neo playlists according to the subjective music preference of the DJs and DJanes. The simplified ‚Tango scheme’ of the 4/4 metric indicates the only »Tango« charistics of their songs. There are several Facebook groups (Alternative Milonga PlayList, NonTangos for Tangodancers …) where a variety of suggestions regarding their ‚milonga suitability’ are widely discussed. According to this method Rossini’s William Tell Overture fits metrically exactly to a milonga, however there’s no evidence. Coquetry with Tangometrics remains the one single musical link to the Tango dancers.

In the same way the much more unwieldy Tango Nuevos, ElectroTangos and Contemporary Tangos have been also gradually marginalized and sacrificed for the sake of a more easily consumable mix. The small reference to Tango has been established by the dancers adaptability and improvisational skills. The musical grocery is thrown before their stilettos in hopes that their skills are sufficient to transform the music into dance. To achieve this, playlists were cleaned from flops and were optimised through trial and error. The result is that the baby has been thrown out with the bath water and exposes the complexity of Tango DNA – the genetic material of Tango – to a taste all over the place.

»When you eat a soup it does not matter from which farmer come the ingredients or where he comes from or how old is him. The main thing is that it ś tasty, for you, eating in that specific time.«
Elio Astor TangoDj II, 2019 

Alternative events initiate a process of disintegration that leads to the dichotomy of Alternative and Tango. This polarization is most clearly visible in crossover milongas and biathlons with the spatial separation of traditional and ’neo’ dancefloor. However,  ‚Neo’ is merely an euphemism for Alternative mainstream. In contrast, NeoTango strives to fuse contemporary music genres and Tango while preserving its essence.

Why musical classifications at all?

Genre classifications have an aesthetic and a social dimension. They are musical constants that span long periods of time. They constitute the DNA of Tango and thus also the roots of NeoTango. Thus Villoldo’s Tango-Criollo version of El Choclo from 1903 already contains the basic Tango parameters, which can also be found in Contemporary Tango versions such as the ElectroTango of ‚ViolenTango’ from 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bwznyuORIo

Aesthetic dimension 

In the course of the development of Tango the following characteristics have emerged as musical constants and also shape the current, style-forming core of Contemporary Tango.

However, NeoTango is not a new, completely different epoch of Tango, which is entirely different from standard Tango and eclipses everything else. In the evolution of Tango, it is simply its currently most advanced status in musical, dancing and social terms.

However, this evolutionary development does not proceed at a constant speed, but in leaps and bounds, continuously adding completely new elements to the Tango. They give Tango a radically changed, contemporary appearance for a certain period of time, which is perceived as a consistent epoch.

Classical-Romantic Tango 

  • Basic rhythm as metric basis in 2/4 time (1,2,1,2, …) or four-four time Bue-nos-Air-es’ (1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1 …) with the strongest emphasis on the 1 and a weaker one on the 3
  • Structural organization (e.g. question and answer) into topics, phrases, bars
  • Melody as rhythmic element (piano)
  • Tango typical instrumentation (bandoneon, strings, piano)
  • Continuous assimilation of historical and contemporary music styles (waltzes, polka,…)

Tango Nuevo 

  • The melody retains its value, but is no longer the dominant parameter as in the classical-romantic tradition – the roles are reversed. Tango Nuevo rather emphasizes the musical stylistic means intensity, rhythm, timbre and dynamics, thus approaching contemporary music.
  • Polytonality & Polyrhythmics (Pugliese) with superimposition of several different rhythms in a polyphonic piece. They are regarded as the hallmark of traditional African music and create complex structures
  • Syncope and contratiempo / offbeat (Pugliese)
  • Uneven subdivision and shifting of the rhythm as also common in jazz
  • Complex 3-3-2 rhythm (Piazzolla in LiberTango) ’Pa-na-ma-Pa-na-ma-Cu-ba’ with emphasis on the 1
  • Instrumental Rubato (Piazzolla)
  • Variation of tone duration and cycle weight
  • Integration of musical effects (https://www.thestrad.com/12-tango-music-techniques-for-string-players/34.article)


  • Assimilation of contemporary genres (trip hop, rock, world, …)
  • Integration of electronic instruments and digital effects

Machina Tanguera

  • Advancement of Pugliese’s ideological positions as well as his performance and arrangement practices

Social dimension

Alternative DJs and DJanes feel connected to the music they know and grew up with. This leads to a preference for contemporary music styles, which play different roles in their taste. The distinction function allows them to differentiate themselves from other social groups by means of music preferences, thereby creating social connections and communities. Within and between scenes they serve to develop identities, enhance self-esteem and protect social status.

“It is of particular importance that this also draws a line between ‚we’ or ‚us’ and ‚the others’, i.e. between those who have a wide range of musical tastes and those who commit themselves to one genre.
Michael Parzer, I hear everything cross-excited! On the loss of meaning of authenticity 

The orientation function, on the other hand, is important for shaping consistent expectations of what is to come. It enables communication and preparation for open event situations such as a milonga, a festival, a workshop or a concert. The exact names of the events are associated with their social and dancing skills and convey self-confidence. This is why terms like ‚Encuentro’ or ‚Neolonga’ are extremely important for dancers expectations of music selection, atmosphere, rules and dance level.
Sometimes, however, classifications are seen as unnecessary additional information that would conceal the ‚real purpose’ of the dance.

»The only thing that matters is if I WANT to dance tango on it. Then it is tango music.«
Vio TangoForge, 2019 

This one-dimensional view argues in an extremely moralizing gesture and leaves no room for reflection. Tango, however, loses its social and aesthetic identity, its DNA, to the extent that its core concepts are eroded. This is the case particularly depriving NeoTango of its original meaning – the mix of Tango and contemporary music at random. Fortunately, some DJs call this kind of music selection ‚Alternative’ and their Facebook groups are named accordingly – so it’s easy to identify.

Since the scarcity of musical resources after the bleeding of NeoTango bands from 2010 onwards, which forced many DJs to look for musical alternatives beyond Tango influences, alternative music has become the mainstream on Neolongas and dominates non-traditional events. It may take a few years for Tango DNA of NeoTango to catch on. This perspective seems to become apparent  in orchestras. Previous cover bands of the Época de Oro like ‚Cachivache’, ‚Bandonegro’ and ‚Orquesta Típica Andariega’ are devoted entirely to their own compositions, and especially in Paris and Buenos Aires a young, innovative music scene is emerging around venues like the CAFF, Tandas Nuevas and Bilongón.

„The Tango grows with the talents of those which will come and already are here – with the newest styles, originated at the place where these were always invented – the society.“
Osvaldo Pugliese  

It is also worth noting that more than 200 contemporary bands with Tango DNA are listed in the Facebook group NeoTango Music at the moment. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1638098809763149/) Fans of the Época de Oro can only dream of the scope and variety of this repertoire. What incredible possibilities does this offer for live music and playlists at NeoTango events? The table is richly set.

Tango DNA in dance

„I hate Tango music, but I love the dance.”
Oliver Kolker, 2011 

Actually we have the paradoxical situation that Alternative music dominates the contemporary Tango scene on one hand, and on the other hand regular Tango figures shape the overall picture of dance at Alternative events.

It is a question of effort and benefit.
Even for newcomer DJs the effort is low to create an alternative playlist from their personal musical cosmos. In contrast, the development of playlists with a recognizable NeoTango focus requires considerable knowledge of the repertoire and genre affiliation of contemporary Tango bands. This goes far beyond occasional ‚listening in’ and requires a systematic expansion of listening habits, which should also include the ‚traditional’ roots of Tango.

But on the other hand the effort is high and time-consuming to learn complex Tango figures and to combine them with improvisation. However, once you have acquired ‚blood, sweat and tears’ in countless workshops of Colgadas and Co., you don’t give them up so easily in favour of alternative dance styles like contact improvisation and freestyle. Therefore, regular Tango combinations predominate on alternative dance floors, and even the workshop portfolio of alternative marathons and festivals is dominated by Tango Nuevo moves.

If Tango DNA for alternative DJs would have a similar status in music as in dance, we would be a few steps closer to a consistent, contemporary Tango scene. Instead, the poles of mainstream Alternative and avant-garde NeoTango face each other.


»Tango Nuevo is not one more style; it is simply that tango dancing is growing, improving, developing, enriching itself.«
Gustavo Naveira 

Nothing is black and white – even the Tango lives from a multitude of colour gradations.

»When you have some place or music with a long history, the history is not black or white.«
Philippe Cohen Solal

Even on milongas of the Época de Oro, so-called ‚Otros Ritmos’ (https://www.todotango.com/english/history/chronicle/481/Tango-DJing-Part-1:-Music-for-dancing/) were quite common, as Alberto Podestá reported in an interview by Alex Krebs in 2009. Orquestas Típicas and jazz orchestras often took turns “to freshen up the atmosphere”.

That’s why NeoTango DJs are in good company with the milongas of the 40s of the last century. No doubt there is a broad range of breathtaking and danceable alternative songs (not least in my own playlist), which are an enrichment of every Neolonga – pas long as they are enjoyed in homeopathic doses and served as selective, musical inspiration.

Otherwise, DJs and DJanes with playlists overflowing with world music should be honest and clear enough to describe their mix as ‚alternative’, ‚crossover’ or ‚fusion’.
The term ‚Neotango’, however, has already been assigned to Piazzolla’s song with same title.

This article was first published at TangoDanza, 01/2020

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