Federico Aubele at Revival (783 College), Tuesday (October 19). $12.50 advance. 416-535-7888. Rating: NNNNN
Until just recently, tango music was looked upon with derision by many Argentine youth as the music of their grandparents, in much the same way as polka is shrugged off here.
The situation started changing in the early 80s with the worldwide breakout of Astor Piazzolla's nuevo tango sound, even though back at home in Buenos Aires his modernist deviations from the traditional tango were largely considered fusionary foolishness by the conservative old guard.
It would take another decade before Piazolla's revolutionary work would get its proper due, thanks in part to the support of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Gidon Kremer and the adventurous Kronos Quartet. But what brought Piazzolla's music home to the younger demographic was the rise of electronic tango spearheaded by the Paris-based Gotan Project, whose cover of Vuelvo Al Sur put Piazzolla in clubs.
At home in Argentina, DJ Federico Aubele had been undergoing a tango rethink himself.
"Growing up in Buenos Aires, I hated tango music, just like all my friends in high school," laughs Aubele from a stop in San Francisco. "It wasn't cool to listen to tango. In fact, most of my friends probably still hate tango today.
"It wasn't until I was 20 that I became interested in the music. My father played me some of his Piazzolla records, and to me this music didn't sound anything like the tango music I knew. This was very deep music with really complex orchestrations. It also sounded fresh and modern."
Rather than simply attempt to electronically reproduce Piazzolla's moves in his own sample-based recordings, he adopted his forward-looking approach.
By building fragments of sensuous bandoneon buzz and guitar twitter into his own dub reggae- and hiphop -inspired soundscapes, Aubele's breakbeat-heavy debut, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires (ESL), retains an echo of traditional tango yet still comes off as wholly contemporary.
"It's very strange. I was just listening to my album the other day, which I hadn't done since it came out, and it struck me as sounding much more Argentine than I remember.
"But I'm sure if you played my album for tango purists, they'd say, 'That's not tango - a few bandoneon samples don't make it tango. '"
Like fellow sample-based music producers Nicola Conte, Herbert and Dzhian & Kamien, Aubele has found it necessary to form a band to perform his studio creations. Aubele has an edge on the competition, though, having grown up playing guitar before he started spinning records.
"The main difference is that I started playing in bands, and actually I only started working with loops and samples five years ago when I got my first computer.
"From the moment I began work on my album, I was always thinking about how I could play this music with a live band, so all the tracks were created with a conventional verse-chorus song structure. I didn't want to be sitting alone onstage in front of a laptop."
Not that Aubele has anything against the laptop performance as a concept; he just feels it wouldn't work with the kind of music he wants to play.
"When I was living in Berlin, I saw a lot of guys performing with just a laptop. If you're playing some kind of minimal techno music in an intimate space and you've got some projected images, it can work really well.
"But my music is about human interaction, and I really enjoy the improvisational element of working with other musicians and presenting a different version of the album each night."