Interested in DJ’ing a mix of alternative and golden era (aka traditional) tango? Great! Please contact Ben Thoma to sign up. Here’s the low-down:


  1. Arrive by 7:15 to help set up the music equipment and test/set your EQ. Volunteers are usually there to help setting up, but usually confine themselves to just laying cable and sometimes putting up the speakers. Unless they are another DJ, they never touch the amp.
  2. There is at least one RCA to mini-jack connection, but sometimes those go missing, so please bring your own to connect to the amp.
  3. Work with your DJ partner on who will provide music for the class. I find that Canaro and DiSarli work best for most teachers.
  4. If you are on for the class, turn up / down the music for the side that needs the music. This requires a good amount of attention on your part, so please do not listen to music nor step away from the gear. Otherwise the teacher(s) need to stop class to mess with the music which is disrupting.
  5. Give the teachers a 10 and 5 minute warning before ending at 9:10.
  6. Switch between alternative and golden era traditional each tanda (more on that later).
  7. Regularly check in with your DJ partner to keep the flow between tandas so there isn’t a sharp break when switching control.
  8. Make sure to have traditional vals and traditional milonga tandas through the night. We get regular requests for more traditional milonga tandas.
  9. A little after 11pm, one of the door volunteers will bring the cash box to the DJ booth. Just store it underneath the desk, or alert the closer for the night that you have the cash.
  10. Stop by midnight, sharp. There are people that live above where we play music, so it is imperative that we stop at midnight to let them sleep. We once played to 12:10 once and got an earful from the management about the noise. Going a minute or two past is OK. No cleanup music, though, please.

Why alternate between alt and trad every tanda?

After getting feedback from Cellspace regulars, I found that people love alternating the traditional and alternative. While it can be a challenging setup as a DJ, it seems to have tapped into the spirit of the alternative event. People come to Cellspace for the alternative, and it makes the majority of people happy. It’s difficult, but a core piece to Cell.

Traditional Music

The rule of thumb for traditional is that we want the music that you hear in traditional milongas around SF and the US. If you don’t hear it regularly there, then it shouldn’t be a part of your traditional set. Experimentation is for your alternative tandas.

People, if they complain, complain about the traditional. There are a lot of reasons why people come to Cellspace. Some are heavy into traditional and really love exploring the different energy of alternative music, but they are picky about the traditional. Others come for the alternative, but enjoy the popular traditional to ground them back to the roots of tango. So if you don’t hear it at popular traditional tango venues on a consistent basis, then it probably doesn’t fit our definition of “traditional.” Please adjust your sets accordingly.

Here are a few handouts that a number of DJs find helpful in understanding more about traditional music:

The DJ handout from Dan Boccia (one of the top US DJs) has a number of Golden Age suggestions. You should pretty much stick with orchestras like D’Arienzo, Di Sarli, Canaro, Calo, Biagi, Rodriguez, D’Agostino, Donato, Fresedo, Lomuto, OTV, early Pugliese and Troilo. Usually this music is before 1955, but I have heard things from the 30’s that I would consider past this era, and I have some 1960 Calo that fits this idea. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but works 95% of the time.

One other thing: please keep the same orchestra within your traditional tanda.

Alternative Music

If we focus on traditional as music from 1930-1955 from the orchestra leaders listed above, what is alternative? Pretty much anything that doesn’t fit that criteria that works for dancing tango. Alternative can include tango music created since 1960, electronic, tango fusion, or what I call ‘world music’ (like Goran Bregovich). There are a number of alternative ‘standards’ that may be familiar to you. If you need clarification, please come up and ask the DJs at Cell or myself and I can show you some of the music that regularly gets played.

A note of caution: please be careful when experimenting with the music at Cell. While we strongly encourage experimentation, we expect DJs to have a backup plan should any experiments fall flat. There are a number of times where I have played something and it just worked, and other times when the same tanda just killed the floor.

A good rule of thumb is to play all “known” alternative, with 3 songs (1 tanda’s worth) of ‘new’ stuff if you really want to try things out. Experimentation is good, but we don’t want things to shift suddenly all the time

Starting as a DJ

The first two times that you DJ at Cellspace, you will be paired with a more experienced DJ. There, they will show you how to set up the speakers and equipment, work with you on your music through the night, and teach you how to take down the equipment and store it in the right spot. It is important that you get there at 7:15 to help with this, and stay late to help clean up.

A week or two before your first gig, please email your partner to go over a sample list of tandas. Doing this homework before hand really helps flesh out any “gotchas.” It’s very unnerving to try to redo a playlist right there, on the spot, after working on it for several hours the weekend before.

That said, try to come in with 3 hours worth of music. That way, if your partner plays any of your music, you have other tandas to chose to play.



2 Responses to DJ’ing

  1. Damien Bradley says:

    Hi, I sent an email to and it bounced back, so I’m sending one here.

    I don’t think you know me. I’m a Tango and Blues dancer from Eugene, Oregon. I’m also a DJ. I’ll be DJing a couple of Alt Tango sets at SFFX and I had a couple questions.

    One is, I was wondering if any of your regular DJs post their playlists. I’m familiar with a fair amount of the alt stuff that’s played in the Northwest, but I’m sure there are a few regional differences. I want my sets at SFFX to appeal to dancers from all areas.

    The other is, I notice that you have a TBA for one of your DJ slots on the 28th. I’d like to offer myself for that slot, if you’ll have me. I ask partially because I’d like to get a feel for the dancers in the bay area and how they respond to my music and DJ style. (Naturally, the crowds will be very different, but I still think it might help.)

    I know you don’t know me and haven’t heard me DJ before, so I understand if that’s a no. In addition to my alternative collection I do have plenty of traditional music as well as a lot of nuevo and modern Tango music (I personally love modern groups that play danceable trad music, like Sexteto Milonguero, Mandragora Tango Orchestra, etc.). Unfortunately, the alternative milonga in Eugene almost never has traditional music, and the lack of a mix is less enjoyable for me. Some of the best dancing nights I’ve ever had were on nights with a good mix of trad and alt.

    I’m totally fine with sending you some sample playlists or tandas, if you want. I like to DJ on the fly, but I also like to have some Tandas prepared, especially trad Tandas. Just let me know!

    I plan to be there tonight, so maybe we can talk then?



    • ben says:

      Hi Damien,

      Thank you for the interest! I will talk to the other DJ, Thomas, to see if that is something he’d like to do.

      I know we met before at Stone Soup when it happened in Eugene. Hopefully I can sneak out to dance that night (we have a 1 year old daughter who is not easy to figure if she is going to sleep at night).



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