Name: Tiga Sontag aka Tiga
Occupation: DJ, producer, label owner at Turbo
Current release: After more than two decades of production experience, Tiga is obviously a respected artist in his own right. And yet, his foremost quality is that of a connector, a catalyst, a communicator. Recently, Tiga's talents as a middle man facilitated the creation of a remarkable new release: Consumed in Key, the fascinating collaboration between his two Canadian compatriots Chilly Gonzales and Plastikman aka Richie Hawtin. While Tiga and Gonzales became best friends around 2007, his history with Hawtin of goes back to that magical moment when they meet at a Cybersonik the legendary Montreal club Crisco, where "Tiga's mind was blown, Hawtin gives Tiga some white labels, a few unflavored +8 Records condoms, and a dream."
Although he wasn't actively involved in the actual compositional process of Consumed in Key, Tiga has described it as "the grandest achievement" of his Turbo imprint and was palpably excited to see it come to fruition. As he recently stated on his Facebook account: "Consumed in Key has been a true labour of love: and a privilege to watch Richie and Chilly, artists I adore and respect, work their magic, challenge each other, and find space and nuance in each other’s work."
Chilly, too, emphasises Tiga's seminal role as a mediator from the earliest stages of the project up until its completion:
"Tiga was the missing link between Richie's world and my world. At the beginning of lockdow, it popped back into his head and he wrote me and said, "did I dream it, or did you tell me that you started to add music to Plastikman's Consumed?" And I went and opened a computer, and found it and listened to it. Tiga had a vision that this should get finished, and of course that Richie should know about it. Tiga took it from there and ran with it."
This interview at hand was conducted quite a while earlier, in 2015, around the time of Tiga's DJ Kicks release. It mainly deals with DJing, his beginnings in Montreal and his perspective on the trade. And yet, it shows his focus on the many different levels of art, of his desire to both establish his personal approach and satisfy the audience.
Ultimately, you can pretend to be the lonely genius in an ivory tower to reach those goals. Or you can do it with like-minded artists who support and push each other. For creativity's sake, it's good thing he has opted for the latter.
If you enjoyed this interview with Tiga and would like to find out more about him, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and Soundcloud.
[Read our Plastikman / Richie Hawtin interview]
[Read our Chilly Gonzales interview]
[Read our Matthew Hawtin interview which considers the design aspects of Consumed in Key]
The first DJ that I saw and in my mind I was “Oh my god I want to be like that …”, the one that really changed my life was Jeff Mills. I saw Jeff Mills play in New York at a club called 'Limelight’ in maybe ’92 or ’93 and I was up in the DJ booth. I was super-young but I knew the owners' daughter or something like that so I was able to get in the DJ booth, front row, just me, Jeff Mills and the lighting guy. It was an incredibly powerful experience, so much so that I’m still talking about it today. I just couldn’t believe how cool he was, he himself was so precise and so focussed, so good and fast, how he handled his records, the whole thing was just incredible.
There were also some local DJs in Montreal, there was a guy named Robert De La Gauche (Spelling?) and another guy named Christian Pronoval (Spelling?), the local heroes. I got to be friends with them and watched them play. Those were the very early influences.
[Read our Jeff Mills interview]
The early equipment you REALLY remember, because when people ask you what you used 5 years ago it's hard, but the original pieces really get stuck in your mind.
It’s so hard to get equipment when your starting out, and every little step was such a big move. I remember at the beginning I was just making tapes and all I had was a tape deck and a regular record player. There was a place that actually rented 12-inch records, which is quite an insane concept now when you think about it, so you could rent records for a few days and I would record them to tape. You would just record it, press pause, then continue recording and I would sell these tapes, or give them to my friends.
My first close to ‘proper’ DJ set up was actually a Technics, not a 1200 though. It had a tiny little dial for the pitch and it was a belt drive. I had that, I also had an ancient Gemini mixer, I don’t know where I got it. I remember the mixer, someone had graffitid all over it, it looked like it was from a bad Hip-Hop movie or something, it was some kid's idea of making it street or something! Then on the second deck I had a Discman, this shitty $50 Gemini mixer and then this old turntable.
The important thing about the early stages is that when you first got a pair of 1200s, it was such a monumental step both in status and investment but just technically it was like the biggest stage in anyone’s life, really. When you got your own 1200s that was it, because after that you could mix, you could really do stuff. I remember just actually being so in love with the ‘start/stop’, how immediately it would start and stop, how cool that felt.
My first proper mixer I bought in New York, it was a Stanton Vestax, when the Japanese did those Vestax, I remember it was a 4 channel one and it was really nice. I think it was grey and looked really good; it had a rack mount so you could put it in the middle and I was really proud of it. I was king for a while!
I was getting gigs really, really soon, basically I was getting gigs when I had no business having real gigs, because I was in my area of Montreal I was like a pioneer of Techno and Rave music when everyone else was playing House and Garage and Disco. So there was all these other big established DJs who’d been running things for years and all of a sudden I was a kid dressed all crazy with all my Rave friends. We were a small but very vocal group that was growing and I guess promoters were recognising the potential. I was their leader so to speak, so very quickly I would get an hour slot at these real parties, proper warehouse parties, which was probably somebody’s idea of a marketing thing I guess.
I was so nervous. I remember once this other DJ, his name was Marc Anthony, he was THE big, gay circuit party DJ, actually held my hand and helped me put my first needle on, because my arm was shaking so bad!
The other thing I remember from those years was (this is so old school!) that none of us had record boxes, at least I certainly didn’t. This was pre-Internet, you couldn’t get things, well maybe if you lived in New York or London but in Montreal we couldn’t get record boxes. So we all used milk crates! My milk crate wasn’t even the right size because normally they would sit 12 inches perfectly but I was so ghetto and I had no idea what was happening so the crate my Mom gave me was too small. I had to put my records in diagonally!
I only had 20 records in my diagonal milk crate, looking so ghetto and back then I would play every track, and I’m talking every cut. I had to work it because I had so few!
The early challenge was just beat mixing; there was a time when it was as simple as that. I think it was a real skill; there were some people that picked it up really quickly, for me it wasn’t that quick.You know when you’re a kid and you actually ‘pray’ for something and I remember being like “please let me able to mix!” That all I wanted in life.
It was such a different time back then, because people were so much more on their own. People forget how radical it is that you can now just go on YouTube and learn anything. You were just isolated, there was nobody to talk to and you’d just get tiny little pieces of information from people here and there. So a process that probably now where you can learn things so fast but back then it was so difficult. That was the challenge at the beginning.
The technical challenges all pretty much vanished and for me as a DJ what’s increased over the years is the programming challenges, with more and more selection of music and more and more music to sift through and all of it essentially being free, plus the ability to travel with so much music, too much music. For me personally programming as a skill has been under assault because simply put, when you had 80 records in a box and you had 5 gigs to do you were forced to re-arrange those pieces of the puzzle in an intelligent way, and those decisions, to me constitute the art of programming. It's not just having the best music, it's what you do with those pieces and that problem solving is what made DJs amazing. Now I go to 5 gigs with my hard drive and I’ve got about 12,000 of my favourite songs so I’m inundated. The options, being totally frank, have probably made me a worse DJ. Even though I have access to more music, I find something’s lost.
I do think there are some things that are so amazing now, like looping for example. Looping’s such a simple thing but its so effective now, it buys you time which you didn’t used to have. Time used to be a much bigger factor, that ‘panic’ element has gone, you can always get out of something and buy yourself more time to make a decision.
For me the best thing is the people, the crowd, that have an incredible night and go crazy so then you view yourself as a DJ and ask yourself did you play the music you really wanted to play, did you try a few new things, did you play a few new things and try a few new tracks out? When you have harmony between the two that for me is the best.
So when the people went crazy, and its obvious everyone loved it and at the same time you played the set you wanted to play. For me really it's being able to play a few tough tracks and have them reach their potential. I think it's about making the most of a situation. Because sometimes you can walk into a sick party, and you can play a good set, and it's still a sick party but the question is – did you make it better? Because when people are on drugs, they’re all in an incredible club and they’re all going nuts, it doesn’t take a genius to keep it going. But, did you do something special with that opportunity?
It’s the same with records – did you build a situation where you made a strange record feel like a special record? For me, that’s the holy grail. Taking a massive record, and making it feel like a massive record, literally anybody can do that, but setting the stage and creating an environment where you can make something exceed its potential and really become something special, that’s the best.
I’m not so big into the really fast mixing, I’ve always thought it was super-cool when the guys who are very confident just sit back and really build layer by layer, where its like small increments and right away you get sucked in, I guess where they make each track sound more than just the track itself.
A guy I used to really like, I haven’t heard him play in a while, was Marco Carola. He used to come to Montreal and he’d do these 3 deck vinyl sets, it was just amazing. Just such a groove, so locked in and you’d just stop thinking of them as individual tracks. Seth Troxler is really fun to play with because he’s really open minded and you can start to follow each other with good records. I don’t get to hear as many DJs as I’d like to, because I play myself then I leave but Ben UFO is really good, Dixon is a good DJ too.
Most think of the DJ now as a performer. You’re buying a ticket to see a guy play an hour at a festival and probably that guy is a big name with a big logo and getting paid loads of money, probably has a few hit records out and that in essence is more like a concert, or at the very least it’s a condensed power approach to things. He’s looking to play music you already know, probably some things of his own and he doesn’t have the time or the desire necessarily to spread things out. It’s a totally different dynamic.
On the other side you have DJs who are more classic DJs, playing longer sets, playing in clubs, they might not be quite the same they’re more about people dancing, they have longer sets. Again it’s a totally different dynamic and it is a different role actually. Either way the role is to entertain the crowd, keep everyone dancing, make sure that when you’re done the crowd are having more fun than when you started.
It's going to sound a bit, I don’t know, ‘Buddhist’, but ideally you’re really not thinking while DJing and the connections really come from some deeper instinctual place. It’s a little bit like when you’re telling jokes, like if you’re in a room at a party and you’re busting out one-liners with your friend. There’s a time for you to develop the joke in your head, you drop the joke, boom, you say it, the distance between the idea, the opportunity for the joke and delivering the joke was too short. Maybe there’s another guy in the room that’s still trying to think of the joke but you don’t pay attention to that.
Mixing, I think, is a little bit like that, it’s like those connections, where that come from is such a mystery that in a way it’s the only thing that’s really worth having. You have all the music in the world in front of you but you can only play 15 records in the next 40 minutes. So when you think of it like that it's actually an insane existential puzzle and it’s a bit overwhelming - the fact that your mind is even capable of narrowing that field and presenting those songs and deciding which one to play next. You have a core nucleus of things you want to do and then you have a little bit of an idea for a sound like “Ok, maybe I want to do a bit of Electro stuff today, or maybe I want to be very Disco” and you get together a little bunch of records then you start putting them together. If they sound like shit together you move on.
For me the best DJing in the world is always when you’re not really thinking. When you start thinking about it too much, usually people can hear it.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as disrespectful mixing; I don’t think it matters; I’m not sacred about any of that stuff. I mean, even if someone wants to take one of my records and totally chop it up I don’t care at all. It’s a performance you know? We’re chopping up everybody else’s stuff all of the time anyway, when we work in the studio. That’s what ideas are, they’re little fragments. For me the only thing is I feel, it might just be a personal thing, but I do feel sometimes when there’s a lot of manipulation going on, like when I see a guy playing live and he’s got 4 decks, he’s triggering his samples, he’s got his effects unit and he’s got his laptop and when there’s a lot of that stuff going on I think there’s definitely a danger of him getting a little bit up his own ass. It's not the studio you know? I think people sometimes over-estimate what is really required.
I guess what I’m trying to say is the best sets that I’ve ever seen in my life were not necessarily with all that gear up there, and I know specific DJs that I used to hear play when they were just playing on 2 or 3 turntables, and I heard them when they had all the gear in the world up there and they were doing all their live edits, I can’t say that to the listener the complicated shit is better. What’s super-important though is DJs, like everyone else have to stay interested and for a lot of people, taking on new technology is like a new challenge and it keeps them engaged which is good for everybody.
I think in the end the best thing about DJing is really how immediate it is, that’s the thing about it that’s amazing. You can be a producer; you can make incredible tracks but never quite feel the immediate impact of something you did. Like, exactly how your drop works, exactly what it feels like when a hihat comes in. Whereas with DJing you’re totally front line with the music, you’re constantly 100% in tune with how music actually works, and that’s very difficult to replace. It’s also a bit addictive, and its fun because you’re really in it fully and it’s a good feeling.
Asides from being in love with it I guess the best example I could give is that it's like any other very long term relationship: You have your ups and downs, you're in love with it at times and other times you wonder! The good thing with DJing, it comes down to when you’re in love with your music, when you’re in love with a few killer tracks and you cant wait to play them then everything’s right with the world and you’re like a 12 year old kid again. That feeling is pretty awesome."