Tav Falco laments that we have forgotton how to partner-dance.
The dapper proto-billy cites it as his primary regret for modern times. In the revolutionary fervour of 1968, he asserts, a lot was lost: ‘partner dancing was over… nobody touched each other; it was totally free form dancing….’
Meanwhile, Adamski strives to redress this omission with the instigation of the neo-waltz. He and Vicktoria Modesta exhort the clubgoing public to place a firm hand around each others’ waists and twirl: ‘musically it’s re-energised me creatively. I’d like to encourage people to dance again in pairs. Purely because they haven’t in ages’.
To legimize the soft-shoe thrust of the rhetoric and make it a palpable movement, needs a third. Step forward Nhoah.
It would seem quibbling to mention Gotan Project at this point. Nhoah’s reappraisal of Tango is painted in bolder strokes, dappling the Argentianian rhythms and Iberian histrionics with electronica and sequenced beats, rather than vice versa.
But there is nevertheless a dichotomy at play between the flamboyance of a Berlin producer best-known for sterile synthpop, and the earthy, hormonal human extremes as portrayed by Latin America’s most passionate dance. Whither then, a meeting point between the two (lest the album become Berlin Vista Social Club)? Nhoah locates it, at least to his own satisfaction, in the imagery of a Buenos Aires burlesque club, featured in the video accompaniment to ‘Dancing on the Volcano’.
Here we have it, a glamour scene featuring transvestites, feather boas and burlesque corsetry. A home from home, proving that if we look hard enough, we will always find what we seek. Weimar cabaret looked something like this, and it is towards this cliche of fading valhalla hedonism (for tomorrow we die) that Nhoah steers his artistic efforts both visually and musically. Just as well, because Urban Tango was never going to cut it.
Nevertheless, the laboured comparison to Buena Vista Social Club is not undeserved either. This is no smash-and-grab operation in which a European beatsmonger piles into a quaintly exotic musical scene in search of a few palatable vocal hooks to season an otherwise pre-programmed succession of 4/4 kickbeats and processed stringwash. There is integration and collaboration, with Nhoah clearly enough of a long-time producer to know when to back off and let the vocals, melody and devastating groove of his featured musicians take the spotlight.
Walter ‘Chino’ Laborde’s wavering vocal on ‘Tuyo Soy’ anchors what would otherwise be an out-take from Non Stop Exotic Cabaret. The Bontempi rasp of keyboard and presets is rounded out by stately (though somewhat distant) voice before the electronica accompaniment takes over in a slightly bit-hop bolognaise of simple counterpoint and washy harmony flabbing around on a Moroder bassline.
‘Dancing on the Volcano’ features the aforementioned burlesque club (the 69 Club in Buenos Aires) on its video, although a cross between Falco and Lee Bowery might have been more apt for the punk-poetic narrative and Jan Hammer chase-scene synth drive that dominates much of the arrangement. The song has a related vibe – a slightly self-conscious theatricality, evident in the howled lyric by Headvoice:
My life must be more than this
My life is a fucking kiss
My life is dancing on the volcano.
Not written by a native speaker, evidently.
And yet there is music here to stir the soul, and loins. A collaboration between Chino Laborde and El Topo on ‘Tanto’ is a joy of latino rap meets traditionalist trovadore, all sewn together with an old-school electronica melody that might have been programmed by Dave Ball on an expansive day.
That Nhoah chooses to squander the song’s momentum by building a screeching violin finale akin to the Beatles‘ ‘A Day in the Life’ is unfortunate, and a symptomatic pitfall of those projects where producers produce themselves. Sometimes you have to know when to step away from the mixing desk.
The ugly spectre of self-indulgence is a recurrent suspicion on Tangowerk.
‘The gramohone sounds of his childhood are recreated with analogue radio techniques and close harmony effects, his evolution into glam rock is projected via synthesizers and glitter rain, and his time in Berlin’s 80s gay and transvestite scenes finds expression in the Tangowerk aesthetic. It is a life in fourteen songs’.
So say the sleevenotes in the elaborate quarter-inch booklet that comes with the CD. Which may be the defining strength or the critical weakness of the album, depending on how you feel about hour-long flights of individualism in musical form.
The elaborate methods used by Nhoah to achieve the sonic atmosphere denote a musician who is either steadfast in a perfectionist desire to channel his own experience into the record, or someone with too much time on his hands. Bandoneon Orchestra, featured vocalists and synthesizer performances are recorded and mixed, fed through a radio transmitter, played back via various vintage radio sets, re-recorded and subsequently re-mixed in an effort to create a sufficiently analogue feel.
Lulu Schmidt’s vocal on ‘Innocent’ fits the title, whilst ‘Ob Ich Dir Treu Sein Kann’ features the Berlin Comedian Harmonists, and is an uncomfortable piss-take. ‘The Waltz’, an instrumental, is a double-time 3/4 piece which seems out of place except for the carnivalesque atmosphere of the sequenced loops and beats, whilst closing track ‘Aua’ (featuring Viola Blasius and Headvoice), is breathy and evocative of Argentinian dawns and exhausted sexuality. Which is as tango should be.
The video which comes with the album is an elaborate ‘making of’ affair, which forges a degree of bemused respect in the viewer. This album has been a huge undertaking on Nhoah’s part, with laborious recording sessions featuring eight-piece mini-orchestras, collaborative work with tango dancers, burlesque clubs, diva chanteuse/sculptresses, a man singing from within a plaster of Paris headmask, and the whole thing endlessly tweaked and primped by a dedicated art director lest anything slip onto camera that isn’t perfectly super.
Flamboyance permeates this artistic commitment to a project that is minutely controlled in every perfectionist detail. It’s all quite intoxicating after the bread-and-water of acoustic singer-songwriters weeping into their Takamines about, oh, saying something really embarrassing at a schoofriend’s party or suchlike. And if Tangowerk replaces the stubborn mental picture of German/Argentinian cultural collaboration consisting of nonogenarian Nazi war criminals drinking weissbier in Mendoza taverns, all’s well.
A bold, singular and largely successful magnum opus of sultry tango rhythms embellished with the synthpop sensibilities of Berlin electro-baroque.
UK release on March 11th via R.O.T. Records/UniversalArtist Homepage