Based in Montreal, Tiga is a DJ/producer who has effectively worked the underground and the mainstream with his wry brand of campy electro and stark techno. Born in Montreal, Canada, Tiga’s first exposure to his future came from touring the Goa area of India with his DJ father throughout the ’80s. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tiga began spinning in Montreal’s cooler clubs in the early ’90s, bringing the acid house sound to Canada. Seeing as how there weren’t any events like the Goa parties he had attended, the DJ made his own and later was credited with throwing Canada’s first proper rave.
You’re from Montreal and pretty much founded the techno scene there. What was it like before you started throwing parties?
Before I started doing parties, it was partly like a house-music city: very influenced by New York and Paradise Garage. You know, garage music and deep house. It had a big gay scene. One side was partly that, which was pretty cool, like a warehouse scene. The other end had a cheesy, Euro-style — a late-’80s style. I don’t even know what those places are called anymore. You know what I mean: Guys doing blow, picking up chicks. I don’t know what the genre is… Maybe like an upscale Night At the Roxbury.
How has techno and the Montreal scene changed since then? You are still the man behind Turbo, and you owned a nightclub at one point.
Well, 15 years is a lifetime. Things have changed in a million different ways, and they can even change back. I kind of lost track of all the different phases, to be honest. For me, a big shift was that, starting around 2002, I began traveling a lot. My “connection” to and my focus on my hometown switched a little bit after that. Before, I was very much about building things at home. “Sunglasses At Night” ended up being the invitation to join the club, so to speak. My first international show was at a restaurant for ten people in Munich. I knew I had made it. [Laughs.]
I was at the Miami Music Conference [in 2002], and DJ Hell and some of the people from the German label, Gigolo, which put out “Sunglasses At Night,” were there. I met my first agent — that was a big step. Then I did three shows: Frankfurt, Munich, and this little city called Regensburg, which is in the south of Germany. But those things are totally relative — the restaurant show in Munich can feel like EDC Las Vegas if it’s new to you, you know?
So who were your favourite Montreal DJs back then?
For me back then there was two guys. Christian Pronovost, he owned Inbeat Records and he was one of the DJs at Crisco. I was not a fan of his music, but as a DJ and as kind of a mentor, he was one of the big ones. I would help him out. I’d hang out at his gigs, and I had a car, so I’d give him a lift home and talk for hours about music. And the other guy was Robert De La Gauthier— he was kinda my favourite musically. He was more into techno, and the first time I ever went to Germany he hooked me up with a place to stay. We were pretty good friends. And between the two of those guys, they were definitely my mentors.
It’s funny because everyone else was French Canadian, and most of them were gay, and most of them were older, in their late 20s. And I was a 16-year-old anglo kid from Westmount, you know? So it was a bit of a culture clash, in a good way. And they teased me a lot, but it was good. One thing I’ll say about all the early generation of DJs: they were fantastic, technically. Even residents, you know, a guy like Christian Farley, who played at Business. He was the third guy. But like, those guys, they were just great DJs. They really could…it was an artform, you know? They were good to learn from.
What keeps you motivated now? What piques your interest just enough, after all this time, to stay competitive?
Part of it is automatic. Part of it is just your temper. I think some people are just wired a certain way, and you’re kind of always… I guess there’s a certain default motivation that you just have.
There’s also a lot of momentum, in a sense. You just, it becomes, “This is what I know.” I’ve been doing it literally my whole working life. So it’s not like you wake up one morning like, “What would it be like to not be thinking about…” You know? It’s semi-automatic at this point.
But there is a bit of a competitive streak. Musically, you’re always trying to make something amazing. It’s really that simple. You wanna make something that your friends are like, “Holy shit,” (or) that you play in a club and that reaction is just immediate.
It’s a very specific feeling. You wanna make something dope. Because that feels so good when it happens, and because it doesn’t happen all the time, you’re kind of always chasin’ that a little bit, you know? And because everything in your life is tied into that — the money you make, the things you’re offered — you get in this loop where you’re kinda like, I gotta make another big track. One more, one more.
What’s the most important thing to consider when making music?
First of all, you have to enjoy yourself, otherwise there’s no point doing it. Don’t overanalyse things – don’t try to ‘overthink’ things. Have confidence and taste to know when something is done.
What instruments can you play?
I can’t actually play any instruments. Except the computer, does that count?
How many records you got?
I got rid of a couple of thousand before I moved. I don’t know. I probably have about 10,000 or so left and I wanna get rid of a couple more thousand.
Is there a Tiga creative philosophy? A set of principles or standards you always adhere to?
I have criteria for when something’s done. It sounds really simple but I have to really love a track. A lot of the dance floor tracks have to perform. They actually get tested and the reaction is on the dancefloor. The tracks have to work so it would be like a stand-up comic testing out a bit. It has to work and not just in one environment. It has to consistently work enough that you know, okay, it’s done.
With the dance tracks it’s a bit of empirical. It is experiments. As far as the creative process, what seems to have emerged is a good beat and a little vocal idea and a couple of samples.
There’s so much personality in all of your music as well.
That’s part of it. When I say a little vocal idea, it sounds simple but it’s not because the idea that the vocals has become, I try to distill a little bit of humor, some personality. I try to distill a bunch of the elements into something quite small. Something raw and streamlined.
“Bugatti” is a good example. It’s a simple line delivered very simply. It was made extremely quickly, and if you break it down, there’s only about 4 things happening. In that sense it’s almost underproduced on purpose, but I guess that’s my philosophy. It delivers the message, it delivers a personality, and has a distinct feel without screaming and shouting what it is and I like that, especially when it comes to vocals and to that message. It’s almost like advertising. I try to get a certain feeling in the least amount of words possible.
Last thing, I try not to repeat myself, and that’s not so I get some credit or whatever, it’s more for myself. I get bored quickly and so the idea is every time you’re back in a studio, you’re back in a room and you’re just trying to make something new that excites yourself and you feel proud about and you want to play for your friends and that’s it.
What is one deep thought that you have had recently?
How important it is to be courageous and brave in everything you do, especially if you’re in a creative field. I guess how courage is a way to fight off death, in a way. Because I think a lot of people are safe or conservative but in a way they’re afraid of really going all out and they’re afraid of really experiencing things to the fullest or almost maybe being too happy or too alive because it’s going to be harder to let go when you die.
There’s a lot of hedging of bets that goes on and I think in this time especially, holding things back. Holding things back in your life, holding things back in your relationships, holding things back in your music and oddly, without making this too much about society and technology or whatever, I think there is definitely a lot of apparatus right now that lets you get a false sense of contact and development because we get it in all these micro doses.
It’s important to really go for it in whatever you do, to really, really, really do the work. Identify yourself, who you are, what you want. We’ll stick to the creative side for now, and to really be brave and really go for it and that’s the chance to have a good life and be happy and to achieve what you want creatively.
And finally, what would people be most shocked to know about you that they don’t already know?
I’m just trying to think of which one I can talk about. Something shocking. I don’t know, I killed someone once [laughs]. I always want to say I pushed someone off a bridge, but that’s not true. Nothing horrible. I grew up in India. I grew up watching Europeans doing acid at beach parties. Is that shocking? Surprising’s easier than shocking. I used to breed snakes. I stopped — no need, it was purely business. I’ve had like a million businesses, nightclubs, record stores, but that’s not surprising because it all makes sense. You know what? The honest answer is I don’t think there’s anything about me that’s surprising. Although I did meet Public Enemy when I was like 12. Is that shocking? Does that shock? I’m friends with Michael Douglas, Duran Duran. I loved them. I was in love with Nick Rhodes as a kid and now I’m friends with him. That’s like my crowning accomplishment. There is a project we’ve always talked about doing together but it’s top secret. He’s dope.