Tiga interview: No more hiding behind my records

You wait years for a Tiga live show and two gigs come along in the space of six months. The Montreal producer has already got a gold star for his final night showcase at Body & Soul in the summer, and he’s back to sprinkle some arch electro-pop and acid over the Dublin winter at the first Metropolis festival at the RDS tomorrow.

The live show was a long time coming, and he admits there was always a “disconnect and a dischord” between his tough techno and acid DJ sets and his more flamboyant synthpop and sly vocal productions like You Gonna Want me, Bugatti and Pleasure From the Bass.

Tiga’s always been one of the hardest DJs to pin down, since he emerged as the soundtrack to electroclash’s 15 minutes with his landmark 2002 mixes American Gigolo and DJ Kicks, along with earlier synth-pop hits Sunglasses At Night and his camp take on Nelly’s Hot In Herre.

Speaking on the phone before a gig in Utrecht, he says his stalling over the live shows was a case of trying to shake off a fear, and throwing off the DJ comfort blanket.

“I don’t know if stage fright is the right word but basically it let me avoid trying something new,” he says. “I guess I had kinda mystified it… I had built it up into this big thing, like an obstacle. I think DJing was something that I was so comfortable with, and I was probably afraid of singing in public. I didn’t come up in the modern EDM DJ hands in the air generation. DJs from my generation were a bit more shy, getting to work behind the booth, hiding behind records.

“DJing was getting kind of stressful because I knew there was a divide between the music I made and the music I DJ’d. I knew that on any given night maybe people would want to hear You Gonna Want Me and here I am playing a bunch of new acid records so I was aware that it made perfect sense to do a live show.”

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After only a few months, the live hurdle has been demystified, with Tiga out of hiding, grabbing the mic flanked by his long-time collaborator Jori Hulkkonen and backed by visual art installations from the team behind Modeselektor’s live showcase.

“The feeling of getting over that was amazing… I’ve never experienced something in my life that went so quickly from a source of anxiety to something really fun and positive… I just wanna keep building on that.”

As well as the wait for the live show, it’s been seven years since Tiga’s last album Ciao!, but he’s assured us that his third LP will be out “at the beginning of next year” on Counter records, an offshoot of Ninja Tune, with collaborators including Hudson Mohawke, Matthew Dear, Clarion North of Footprintz.

A few minutes before chatting to me he’d been interviewed by BBC Radio 1 to premiere his new track Don’t Break My Heart – a deep fizzling electro track co-produced by Footprintz. He says Don’t Break My Heart will appear on the new LP, which he describes as “a little bit of a departure, to me it sounds different it sounds like a little bit more… emotional maybe. I don’t like to try and describe it but I’m really happy with it.

“There are a few songs that are definitely the best songs I’ve ever written… I mean I don’t know if they are immediate club tracks but there are a few that are sufficiently ridiculous so they might catch on.”

Tiga is a master of the “sufficiently ridiculous”, and has consistently nailed the brief of dance music’s sloganeering hooks, coming up with some of the most brilliantly droll lines of the last decade. Shoes, Bugatti and The Ballad of Sexor are just a few choice examples, and try not to smirk while listening to Sex O’Clock, with lyrics Prince would kill for: “It’s Sex O Clock… don’t wind me up… tick tock… I’ll never stop.”

We’re not trying to assign Tiga’s lyrics hyperbolic literary gravitas, but a few weeks ago he tweeted a passage from George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, on the economy of language, saying they were “rules for life”.

He laughs off the reference, but does concede: “I never really fancy myself as much as a writer but I do appreciate economy of language, and I appreciate more and more, that’s what I love about humour too. I appreciate the idea of that something is really diluted to its purest essence. It has nothing to do with being fancy… sometimes those lines seem so simple but it’s not simple to get it down to pure essentials… dance music is very good for that.”

He also laughs at the idea of some producers and DJs having alter-egos when they want to explore a more playful, ironic side, when they’re not getting down to the serious business of techno or deep house.

“I never really understood the alter-egos thing. I mean, I have a lot of friends who have alter-egos and I always joke with them, ‘Like you do realise you’re the only one who cares, right?” he says. “Alter-ego people tend to take their alter egos quite seriously, as in, ‘No no no this track is from my alter-ego’, as if he’s not in the room.

“I’m stylistically a little bit inconsistent but I just like to think the common thread is that it kinda makes sense to me. I’ve always respected but not quite understood the really focused techno guys like Ben Klock… these guys have very refined patient sets, very consistent in a good way. I’ve just never understood how they could do it, but I just don’t think I have the attention span. I’m a little bit lazy too, sometimes pulling a conceptual thread through your music or records is also a question of extra work.”

Tiga is the first to admit that these stylistic left turns “don’t always make your life easy”. He compares his label Turbo Recordings with other labels that “benefit from a real focused moment” when deep house, dubstep, techno or garage are going through a hot phase. He says Turbo is far from a “textbook marketing success”, pitching the camp disco-funk of Chromeo and the garage house of Duke Dumont against nasty techno from Terence Fixmer or Proxy. The latest act doing the business for Turbo is Clouds – a duo he describes as “Scottish hooligan techno”.

“Maybe it’s a bit strange nowadays with very specific labels, but I grew up with labels like Factory, or Mo’Wax. For years a lot of labels were this eclectic and they really worked.”

Tiga has always been able to dodge being labelled himself. Even as a self-proclaimed “techno guy” from the 1990s, he had no problem being dubbed the “Gigolo Wonderboy” of electroclash at the turn of the millennium. His mix CDs made a few crossovers into the mainstream music press, adding a face and a DIY aesthetic to dance music after the implosion of the the cheesy superstar DJ obsession in the 90s. As an anti-purist, he says he dug the short-lived notoriety, linking early DFA tracks with post-punk, electro, techno and the soon to fizzle out acts like Fischerspooner.

He says he was happy to go against the “weird conservatism” and “nerdy techno laddishness” of the time, adding: “I suppose I wanted at the time a little bit of personality… a little bit of musicality without going all indie so it was great. When you look at all the bands that emerged from that graduating class – LCD Soundsystem, Peaches, a lot of great personalities came out.”

The techno and house vanguard called out electroclash artists for their zero-context approach, hoovering up glam and new romantic signifiers without paying proper dues and homage. Tiga reckons this lofty approach stifles pop music, as pop stars been nicking ideas ever since Elvis went into a recording booth with an idea of smoothing out the blues.

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Even more than the electroclash art school chancers, EDM DJs and producers are dismissed as cultural pariahs in the underground, as the drop-after-drop hands in the air maximalism gorges the US festival scene. He sounds a bit pragmatic about, admitting “there’s an honesty in it, in a way”.

He adds: “It’s a circus show, it’s entertainment, it’s a big money it’s kids going crazy. It’s like stadium rock, really. I swear, for me I would prefer mass EDM to the bullshiit fake underground, like ‘Oh man we can only listen to deep house on vinyl, oh listen to the crackle’.

“The deep house revival rubs me a little bit more the wrong way because that meant something to a lot to people. But I suppose it’s not the end of the world – everyone has always been copying, I do it, everybody does it. It’s just good if you add something original to it.

“It’s a tricky thing to talk about though, I go back and forth on it. One one hand what could be more ridiculous than trying to make a late 80s Chicago house record that’s never going to be as good? But also, I don’t blame anybody because if you didn’t experience those records in that era why shouldn’t you… actually no it’s pretty whack.”

“What I’m saying is I’m not a nostalgic person, I don’t think things were better in the old days – I don’t want the old days, I don’t miss any of it. Dance music for me was always kind of outsider music, it was something that weird people congregated around… I remember in Montreal I was a strange kid and it was something I found and that’s a really special thing.”

  • Tiga plays Metropolis at the RDS tomorrow

Originally appeared in Irish Daily Star