Tiga Sontag is an artist that needs little introduction. For over twenty years, the Montreal native has been behind some of the most forward-thinking and eclectic mixes and productions in dance music. From humble beginnings throwing raves in his home city, to DJing at some of the most renowned clubs across the globe, and with three critically acclaimed albums under his belt, as well as a seemingly endless string of producer credits, Tiga is enjoying an enviably vibrant career. Artistry aside, he’s a well-known football enthusiast and his dry wit is as commanding as his personable demeanour. Frankly, we couldn’t have hoped for a nicer chat with him ahead of next week’s Forbidden Fruit appearance.
Firstly, we should talk about Leicester City winning the Premier League, shouldn’t we?
I think it’s pretty amazing, I mean, it’s a genuinely feel-good story, it’s really cool. I’m very happy.
The underdogs come out on top.
Look, I obviously was never a Leicester City fan, but it’s great just getting swept up in whole the story, I think it’s good for the whole planet. It’s just nice to see when the richest doesn’t win, in football especially, it’s become pretty crazy and it’s cool haha. I’m happy they actually won it too, because I didn’t want to jinx it, it was one of those things that maybe they would come close, but to actually win it is great.
So how did you actually get into football? You’re widely regarded as something of a ‘superfan’.
Well, I used to watch the World Cups and my father used to play a little bit and he would try to get me to play. I mean now I try and play a lot, it’s my favourite, and I think it’s just from travelling in Europe so much, like as I just started to spend so much time in a different city every night. It’s fun – it’s a nice thing to get into, it’s like it’s a universal language. You talk with taxi drivers, and people around you, its something to follow as you travel.
Before the globe-trotting, back at the beginning of your Montreal street parties, what was it that sparked your interest into throwing raves and parties? The music itself? The energy?
Well, at the very beginning I didn’t have so much music. I had a few records. New music was hard enough to come by, for me at least back then. I mean, I had bought compilations, I remember you’d get like a Techno Trax Vol 2, or something like that and because you didn’t have so many songs they were all of a sudden all your favourite songs haha. I think in the early, early days I would make little trips to New York to buy some 12 inches, and I was quite into hardcore, or what was called hardcore at the time – you know, early UK and Belgian hardcore and early rave stuff, people like Altern 8, Joey Beltram, and you’d just hear this music and wanted to build your own little version of that at home.
So you travelled to get the new music, like Tornoto DJs travelled to Detroit to get the newest releases – I’m assuming there weren’t many record shops catering to techno or early hardcore rave in Montreal?
No, no, we had some good record stores but they were very much like house or garage or disco. That was more the established, commercial sound. But at the beginning, you know how it is when any new sound and new culture emerges, for a while it’s kind of in the corner bin, there’s a little section and then it’s not until it has its own shop or its own representatives that it really takes off. So that was how it was, there was no real dedicated techno place in Montreal whereas for us it was New York because you can drive to New York in like six hours and NY at the time had big weekly parties. NASA, Storm raves in Brooklyn, and they had the record shops too. You would go and it was funny back then that record shops were the centre of everything so you would just drive right there. You just went to the record shop and there you’d get your records but you’d also have flyers for the events, you’d buy your tickets for the parties and you’d just hang out there for the whole day .
Did collecting and DJing lead you naturally to producing?
I didn’t really think about it for a long time. I was pretty consumed with just DJing and I was into throwing parties more into the social and business side of it. Then I wanted to produce records but that didn’t start until 2000, so like seven years down the line. It wasn’t so much “I wish I could make records!” It wasn’t like I got sat down to work on the gear. It was more, “oh that’d be cool” – a really vague approach, but then when I was actually working on the records, I still had very much had a DJ mentality, so I was making records for certain parties. In my mind it was like, okay, I need more tracks to fill a certain specific need for a certain specific party and for me that always made the best records. That was always the most successful, when it was based on something real that you understood. It always, for me, made the best music and I think that’s kind of the difference between DJ/producers vs musician/producers.
That’s interesting because you’ve released more remixes of other peoples tracks than actual singles, and your own body of work is quite expansive. Do you get asked to do that a lot or is it something you pursue?
A little of both, but for me it’s more you get asked. There were a few over the years where I volunteered, for a track that I really loved or for a friend, but in general you get asked to do it and I always really enjoyed remixing. I’d actually love to do it more, it’s just for each remix you kind of give away a few ideas and when I think back to the fifty or so I’ve done, they definitely contain some key ideas in there that I could have used for my own tracks. I’m not saying they’re incredible, but there are a lot of ideas in my remixes in that they’re quite creative. It’s usually like I’m trying out different approaches, I work hard finding good samples because I love sampling – finding good samples or good chunks for me it’s not so easy and a lot of the time I’ve used those for remixes. The good thing about a remix though is you’re given the key elements, you don’t have to struggle. You have the vocal or you have the melody and also you have a deadline which is very important.
How helpful are deadlines for you?
When you’re given a concrete deadline, you’re getting paid, you have those key elements. The best thing about it is it’s a very good way to be productive. You can churn them out whereas with your own stuff you might be tempted to fuck around for a few more weeks.
What about when you’re writing your own stuff? Do you think it’s important to write albums from the outset or do you tend to work in track mode and then think there’s a theme here to capitalise on?
Yeah, I mean that’s how I do it. I don’t think it’s the best way to do it but that’s how I do it. I think ideally, at least, I always tell myself, I have the romantic idea that, yes, you sit down and you start writing and you do this complete body of work or, better yet, you have a very specific vision, but for me it hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully it’ll happen next time. I’ve a lot of different collaborators, so, you know you get in a room you start messing around and you make something that hopefully you’ll fall in love with. I just try different things until I’ve found something I love. Once I have something I love I’m so happy about that that I say, okay, this has to go on the album – so the things are unified by the fact that I like them, other than that, conceptually it’s pretty loose.
Aside from collaborating, a repeating element in your work is that you really embrace vocals. Who would you love to collaborate with in the future in that respect?
Well, oddly enough, I’ve got used to just using my own voice, but there’s a girl named Abra who’s a great new RnB artist. She’s really good and I’ve been trying to do a track with her. I’d like to do something with Young Thug. I like some of the hip hop artists, and it would be fun to do something different. Just purely in terms of vocalists that I enjoy, I’ve always adored The xx, I really like them and, my older heroes, the people who I love – like Prince – RIP – or Annie Lennox. But I wouldn’t want to work with established people, just because I’d find it unavoidable comparing, in your head, to the vision of them you had when you were young. It’s too much nostalgia. Like working backwards even though I adore those vocalists and love their voices.
Do you think the idea of finding new and interesting artists is key to keeping you on your toes?
100% yes. For me personally, I think it’s the most important thing. Like it’s actually crazy that as big as the whole enterprise gets with touring or money or shows, for me, I don’t know whether it’s good or bad but like it still really comes down to “did you find a new sick track that week?” It really that simple and usually kids, or young producers are making the best stuff – and that’s in any area. It could be comedy, writing, music. I’m not discounting the veterans or the legends, but for me personally, that excitement of things being done slightly differently, in a newer way, maybe even a bit naively, maybe a bit weird, there’s something always exciting about it and, especially for DJing, it’s really important. So the big, long version of a yes basically!
You’re coming back to Ireland soon for Forbidden Fruit, but do you think dance music translates to festivals well these days?
I think it works pretty well, yeah. It was a bit more awkward a few years ago, pre-EDM explosion. I remember there was a strange few years there were we were getting booked to play these big festivals but like we’d go on after, or be sandwiched in between some guitar band and an indie band and that was weird because the vibe was constantly changing, but I think now it doesn’t matter where you are at night, whether it’s a festival, or in the day, people are so familiar and so used to dance music culture that it doesn’t feel awkward anymore. If anything it’s like bands and musicians feel pretty awkward now coming on after a guy and his memory sticks. I still feel more at home in the club setting, I like it and a lot of the music I like seems to work, though it depends on what music I’m playing at any given time. Around 2006/7 I was playing a lot of harder, higher impact Edbanger-style, Justice and Boys Noize and if you’re playing those tracks, festivals works better. If I’m playing acid house or slightly deeper stuff then the club environment makes a lot more sense – it’s warmer and people are a bit more patient, it’s a whole different tempo.
So how has the XOYO residency been going then?
It’s actually going amazingly haha. I was a little nervous, I mean it’s a different thing to just play the same club because I haven’t done that in years with all the travelling back and forth every week, but it’s really fantastic. Every night’s totally sold out and packed but more importantly, it’s just a really great vibe. I’m quite picky with parties, and I don’t tweet every night “Yo! Killed it!” but they’ve been really good parties and it’s nice inviting your friends to play with you. I also don’t usually hang around very long, I’m not so social, and so just spending the whole night there and getting to meet all the staff, it’s a nice feeling. I like it and DJ-wise I love it because I actually enjoy getting to warm up the room or getting to play a support set or getting to play different records. It’s oddly refreshing the spotlight not just being on me. But at Forbidden Fruit it’s a live show, that works even better – an hour of my own stuff, that works well at a festival.
You can catch Tiga play live at Forbidden Fruit this Sunday, June 5th, alongside a whole host of amazing acts and tickets are available here.