Tiga on the dawn of rave culture in Montreal

We spoke to the DJ/producer and ambassador of the local scene about his earliest partying days.

Tiga. Photo by Femme de Sarkozy

Montreal party super-delegate Tiga, whose brand new LP No Fantasy Required is out now (and who plays at Stereobar tonight), seems remarkably relaxed, given his constant schedule.

This despite the fact when I reach him by phone, he quite literally has his life’s work in his hands. But that doesn’t stop him from taking a conversational journey through the history of Montreal’s club life, his contributions and his hometown advantage.

Darcy MacDonald: Hey, Tiga. It sounds like you’re doing some renovations over there.
Tiga: I’m putting my record collection back on shelves.

DM: That must be some job!
Tiga: It’s big. The shelving has been built for a month but it’s been a lotta different steps. It’s been a year of packing things up, moving to an office, packing again, selling one house, getting a new house, storage, unpacking. It’s never-ending.

DM: How many records you got, man?
Tiga: 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.

DM: Donate them to the Smithsonian.
Tiga: Yeah, they’re not that good.

DM: Oh well, turf ’em on the sidewalk, Montreal-style. Actually that’s what I wanted to talk about, some history. I grew up here in the 90s and when I started to party well I was more like, 19 or 20. It was funny because at 15, 16, I was on that “fuck these ravers” kinda thing.
Tiga: I remember you guys.

DM: Well, we all grow up, right? And it was my good friend, I’d crash at his place all the time and at night he’d play old tapes of the CKUT show, The Tiga & Gnat Show, like religious. That’s ultimately how I got into the realm of electronic music.

So, when I started to go out and party — like, not just “out drinking” but out dancing and partying proper — it was probably more like 1997-ish. And thinking about that made me wonder: what did you do, as a Montrealer, when you’d go out, before you created the scene that me and my friends got to go party in?
Tiga: It’s funny, I swear to God I’ve done 100,000 interviews and no one has ever asked me that.

Well, we’re talking about a pretty small window of time, because I was pretty young. The rave, electronic/techno sorta thing kinda started in 1992. I had graduated high school in ’90. And I looked really, really young. So going out and trying to get into parties and nightclubs and stuff like that, I was a bit late on that.

So I guess part of the reason I was so excited to find rave culture was, I didn’t like what I was doing. (laughs) I wasn’t a satisfied customer in any way, because I wasn’t a big drinker. Basically the first time I went out at night, alone downtown or whatever, was probably around 1990 or so. I was 16 or something.

So we’re only talking about a couple of years. And in those years, what did I do? I guess I just went “downtown” — you’d go to Crescent Street, or you’d go to like…there was that place l’Esprit. You could kinda get in younger, and it was like, Thursdays, all-you-can-drink, or whatever. Not that I really cared.

There was Peel Pub. I hated those places. I was always nervous about getting carded.

DM: O’Blitz, Cesars…
Tiga: O’Blitz! Exactly!

DM: There was that kinda private school circuit of places we’d go out.
Tiga: That’s exactly what it was. In truth, I played pool. I loved playing pool so while everyone else drank I’d play. And I was a pretty good pool player. So I’d do that all night and then go home. Just see how long I could play a table.

So I was doing that. I was buying good music, and I was basically aggravated. I had no idea why you couldn’t hear better music at clubs, or why there was such a disconnect.

I had also witnessed parties in India, growing up, like these raves in Goa, because I spent a lot of time in India. So I had seen these crazy, kinda freakish parties. I hadn’t really made the connection yet that that could exist in an urban setting.

But yeah it was basically private school, crappy nightclubs, and it all kinda changed only when I got to Dawson and a couple of friends of mine said, “You gotta come to this place called Crisco.”

So I had missed Business, that was kinda the first acid house club, and people were all talking about Business as this legendary place. I knew DiSalvio’s, I had gone there a couple of times. I kinda graduated to DiSalvio’s, that was like the peak of clubbing. That was like, ’80s style, models and whatever. I didn’t really feel at home there.

So the first exposure was this place Crisco. And that’s interesting because there’s a direct connection, because I probably went to like, O’Blitz the night before, and then Crisco this next night. I remember it was the dead of winter, and that was the first time anyone had talked about ecstasy, or anything about that new kinda culture. That was the first time. From that single night on, that was it. I never went back to a bar in pretty much my whole life.

DM: Where was that?
Tiga: Crisco was on Sanguinet, and it doesn’t exist anymore, it’s a whole different building. For us back then, that was pretty far east, actually. It was just above Dorchester — I still call it Dorchester! (laughter)

Like a lot of us, when you’re 15, you’re 16, you’re searching. And you don’t really know it, but you are. If you’re lucky enough to find something, you latch on to it.

L’Esprit was kinda cool. There was a couple of cool things about it. It was owned by this guy Maurice Gatien, who was actually Peter Gatien’s brother, and Peter Gatien was the guy in New York that owned all the big nightclubs, like a big club impresario. I got to be friends with the guy in Montreal’s daughters, and that turned out to be how I got into the Limelight in New York when I was really young. That’s when I saw Jeff Mills play and that’s when I got really heavy into techno.

The other little side bit about l’Esprit was that when I owned Sona, I don’t remember how it happened, but me and my partner in Sona got invited to l’Esprit and we bought the entire contents of the club. They went bankrupt or whatever, and we spent a couple thousand dollars. I liked it because I got the turntables, the slipmats, everything. I remember at the time thinking it’s cool, like, I’ve grown up and now I own shit from l’Esprit.

DM: You opened Sona in what, ’96?
Tiga: Yeah, ’96.

DM: I don’t think I set foot there until ’97 or ’98. I came around when 514 Productions was big and my first rave was like, a Swirl in an arena.

Tiga: You got kinda the 2.0, when it was a little more developed. It was also starting get a little more kinda suburban. Larger, more people. And it was a bit more legit, too, or a bit more commercial — not commercial how we think now, but it was pretty underground before that, but it was just smaller, and more kinda cottage industry-ish.

DM: Do you remember when The Gazette had this cover story about these big, bad warehouse parties? It had to be around ’94…
Tiga: Yeah.

DM: You know what’s really funny? The guy on the cover photo, like, I dunno, up on someone’s shoulders with his shirt off, was Sam Roberts.
Tiga: Really? I never knew that!

DM: Yeah, I went to school with his brother and one day he shows up like, ‘Look who’s on the cover of the paper!’
Tiga: It’s not just because it was my youth, or whatever, because it’s similar in all the cities, but those early, early years and the transition between from whatever post-’80s nightlife into warehouse culture and acid house — that was a pretty big step. An interesting and important one, for all kinds of reasons. I mean, the drug culture totally changed. It was the beginning of a technological emphasis on things, the flyers and the quality of the sound. It was way more international in terms of this idea of DJs travelling, people travelling to other parties, and all that movement.

And also, it was very do-it-yourself. It was kinda punk in that way. Because now that I’ve travelled so much and met so many people, every city goes through almost an identical pattern. A little group of people that were very young that just started throwing parties, and it really changed things.

DM: Were you discovering music in the clubs and sharing stuff on the radio, or vice-versa?
Tiga: I was more sharing stuff, I would say, on the radio. It was pretty hard to get stuff from Montreal at the time. I would buy my records once a week, I’d do the rounds of the shops. But there wasn’t much else on radio. Obviously no Internet. So much of what you’d get would be from travelling, stores in London or Germany, and you’d go to parties in New York, and bring it back.

The radio show [The Tiga & Gnat Show on CKUT], for me, was really, like…it was important at the time because in some weird ways I guess it was like the Internet? (laughs) None of us had that much means of communication. So having that show every Monday, it also ended up becoming kind of a round-up, talking about the events that had just happened, and what was gonna happen, playing some new music. It was part of the whole thing.

DM: That’s an interesting thing to consider. You couldn’t get the records, so you bought a record store [DNA]. Clubs weren’t good, you made Sona happen.

And Montreal is a funny place in that there is really only room for a couple of people like that, per generation. This isn’t NYC with a place on every corner, where you could become a mogul if you play your cards right.

So what edge would you say this city gave you in terms of your growth from from DJ, club owner, to producer, label head, all of it: what did Montreal have that other cities maybe couldn’t have offered you? Do you ever think about that?
Tiga: Of course I do. Early on, I think the most important thing was that it was an opportunity. That’s what this city gave me. There was an opening, and exactly like you said, it’s not like New York.

And I was quite patriotic when I was young. Like, I was quite into Montreal. I was attached to it, and I was proud of Montreal. I never wanted to get out. Like, I never had that impulse.

Early on, Montreal felt like a cool place! Like, the warehouse parties, there was something that was missing for me. It wasn’t techno, but at the same time, there was obviously a cool scene here. There were a lot of good DJs that kinda took me under their wing. There were record stores. There was a thriving gay culture. There was just enough happening to build on.

So I dunno, I guess Montreal gave me a great opportunity, and I always felt, from the very beginning, very supported here. I never felt…like obviously you always have your detractors, but I always felt supported. I always felt like there were people interested in what I was doing. And that becomes a bit reciprocal, because you start to represent your city.

Also, Montreal is kind of a big enough city that if you do something, there’s the large potential. It can get big. But at the same time it still feels quite small. So it’s maybe a good place to start off. It’s not as threatening as starting something in say, London or whatever.

Obviously Montreal’s always been a good place to be able to do shit on the cheap, you know? When you’re starting out, Montreal is not as overwhelming. You can live, you and all your friends, and everyone can live and do things with a little bit less pressure, which is good.

DM: For sure. Espeially back then, even if you were lucky enough to have a night or two, here and there, and get paid $50 and $75, rents were still super cheap. You could fuck around and get by.
Tiga: Oh, yeah. I’m so out of touch that I still expect people to tell me that their rent is like $400.

The biggest thing, if I had to sum it up, is that I felt like the opportunity was there to be a bit of a diplomat, because no one else was. And that was important internationally. Because back then, people tended to represent their cities a little bit more. You know? “So-and-so from Berlin,” and “So-and-so from Detroit.” It was a little bit more a part of the identity than it is now.

Having that in your back pocket, you know, I’d travel and be like, “I’m from Montreal, you gotta come check out my city!”

DM: So who were your favourite Montreal DJs back then?
Tiga: 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.

DM: What keeps you motivated now? What piques your interest just enough, after all this time, to stay competitive?
Tiga: 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. ■

Tiga performs with guest Ledisko at Stereobar (856 Ste-Catherine E.), tonight, Friday, April 1, 10 p.m., $20