Appearances, they say, can be deceiving, which is a lucky thing for Montreal’s DJ Tiga, considering that the cover art for his new double CD Mixed Emotions: Montreal Mix Session Vol. 5 is awful even by the standards of the low-budget dance music world. But behind the badly air-brushed, glossy-lipped cover portrait lurks a surprisingly well-crafted, sophisticated dance mix that presents two very different sides of this overlooked godfather of the Montreal club scene.
Tiga’s been one of Montreal’s leading DJs for almost a decade, but you’ve probably never heard of him because he releases few records of his own and rarely tours, preferring instead to pour his energy into his hometown scene and his label Turbo Recordings, which released this disc. He’s also apparently a perfectionist—“Making this CD,” his liner notes declare convincingly, “took a lot out of me”—which in this age of superstar DJs who crank out two or three double-CD mixes a year is probably a good thing. Mixed Emotions, unlike a lot of DJ mixes which succeed or fail primarily on track selection, is first and foremost about the mix—there’s not actually very many standout cuts on either of these discs, and certainly nothing than your average club kid would recognize, but Tiga tweaks and arranges them in ways that keep your feet moving throughout. It’s a pretty impressive statement from a guy who’s not widely recognized as a world-class DJ.
Tiga’s usually labelled as a techno DJ, but the first CD of Mixed Emotions opens with the dark, progressive house of Elias’ “Moneypeople” and from there gradually builds into a sound that’s much warmer and more multi-layered than the straight-up techno of a Derrick May or Frankie Bones. Bongos and other percussion punctuate many of the tracks’ simple riffs, and a disco-house high-hat drops teasingly in and out of the mix. By the disc’s third track, Brian Zentz’s propulsive “Algebra”, a trance riff insinuates itself into the sound, and Tiga is firmly locked into an infectiously groovy style that could probably best be described as tribal tech house. A funky African call-and-response chant drives Samuel L. Sessions’ “Centrafrique”, and a nice conga riff anchors the simple techno groove of Umek & Valentino’s “A1”. Tiga’s mixing throughout is brisk and commanding, moving quickly from track to track and never allowing their minimalist riffs to become monotonous.
About halfway through the first disc, Tiga makes his only serious misstep, trying to change things up with a funkier cut from Andrew McLauchlan called “Love Story” that features jazzy piano and a sampled Latin chorus. It’s a fun song, but it doesn’t work in this mix, and Tiga has a hard time getting into and out of the track. He finds his footing again with Tomba Vira’s rocking “Schriek”, a great progressive track that really kicks Tiga’s mix into high gear in a way that “Love Story” couldn’t. Unfortunately, instead of keeping the energy up, Tiga’s fondness for the dark side gets the better of him over the next two tracks, as he brings the tone down again with the deep, bass-heavy drone of Grain’s “B1” and the too-smooth-for-its-own-good electro groove of DJ Hell’s “Jack the House”. Fortunately, however, he saves the first CD’s best track for last—Martin Venetjoki’s “Powder Toast”, a cut that brilliantly combines a funky bassline with trippy acid trance effects and Tiga’s trademark head-bopping bongos for a powerful finish.
The second disc of Mixed Emotions boldly departs from disc one, offering up an “electro funk” mix instead of Tiga’s usual techno/house beats. At first this disc sounds like it’s going to fulfill the promise of that cheesy cover art, but here again Tiga’s skills as a DJ rise above his material, and by the third or fourth track anyone who still remembers dancing to “Freakazoid” will be hopelessly hooked. Amidst the campy vocoders and strike-a-pose android beats, there are actually a few good tracks, most notably Stewart S. Walker’s incorrigibly groovy “Boring Movies”, which sounds more like downtempo house than electro, and a New Wave jewel of a closing track, FPU’s “Crockett’s Theme” (a Miami Vice reference, perhaps?), an instrumental that brings to mind early Depeche Mode at their most melancholically lovely. On the whole, disc two of Mixed Emotions won’t win electro any new fans (what would, really?), but it’s good fun for those of us with a nostalgic streak for this kind of ‘80s-derived shlock, and it further establishes Tiga’s chops as a skilled and versatile DJ.
With its lack of familiar anthems and tech house/electro funk split personality, Mixed Emotions is unlikely to win Tiga many new fans outside of those hardcore techno freaks who will appreciate his distinctive style and mixing skills. But regardless of how well it sells, Mixed Emotions should go a long way towards establishing the Montrealer’s reputation as one of North America’s top club DJs. Now if he could just get some better cover art….