How good is DJ Tiga? So good that he can spin an entire disc's worth of electro and even I, who once described it as "a genre that was pretty much played out by the late '80s", can't seem to get the damn thing out of my car stereo. The Montrealer's addition to !K7 Records' excellent DJ Kicks series proves once and for all that Tiga is the reigning prince of this cheesiest of dance music genres.
Tiga's proven his mettle before with electro, or nu-electro, or electro-clash, or whatever the hell you want to call this silly flashback to '80s synth pop and New Wave. When he released his Mixed Emotions album just two years ago, however, he was still primarily a techno DJ; a "bonus electro-funk mix" was tucked into a second CD accompanying his "main" set of tribal-flavored tech-house. Since then, electro has blown up like a cheap meth lab, and Tiga's ridden the wave as shamelessly as anyone, releasing a new remix of fellow Canadian Cory Hart's '80s synth pop classic "Sunglasses at Night" as well as his own version of fellow electro-guru Felix Da Housecat's "Madame Hollywood". But let the man ride; whatever his motives for jumping decisively from techno to electro, Tiga's produced and mixed some of genre's best stuff, and his DJ sets, at least on disc, are unrivaled, offering up more wit, subtlety and ass-shaking groove than pretty much all of his peers put together.
Lest anyone doubt such a sweeping pronouncement, I offer as evidence the first seven tracks of this DJ Kicks release, which I defy you to sit through without busting at least one robot move. Quickly setting the tone with the bubbling synths and fuzzy vocoders of Jolly Music's "Radio Jolly", Tiga moves things through funkier territory with Chromed's "You're So Gangsta" and finally into full-blown synth-pop mode with the clinical-but-still-funky "Ich und Elaine", a fantastic track from 2Raumwohnung highlighted by a breathy German diva and a menacingly sharp-edged bass synth. Then, just when you think things can't get any better, they do, as Tiga artfully layers the disco beat and cootchy-coo vocals of Traffic Signs' "The Big Fake" with the chugging power chord guitars of Tutto Matto's Totally 80s outtake, "You". He even gets the two tracks' vocals to blend seemlessly. Even if he's using studio trickery instead of actual turntable mixing, this is still amazingly intricate stuff.
The highlight of the album's first half comes with that seventh track I alluded to earlier, the delightfully bitchy "Deceptacon" from post-punk grrrls Le Tigre. Remixed by Mo' Wax veterans DFA with an irresistible bassline, and featuring a fantastic lead vocal delivered by ex-Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna with the raw-throated whininess of your worst ex-girlfriend, "Deceptacon" has the requisite electro attitude in spades, but also many of the elements the genre too often lacks: a recognizable hook, smart song structure, and a relentless sense of groove. Inevitably, the next track is a letdown, even it though comes from the compilation's best-known artist, Soft Cell (of "Tainted Love" fame). Things pick up again with the martial synth bass of Break 3000's oh-so-Germanic "Sacrifice", then really hit stride with Codec & Flexor's "Time Has Changed", which sounds like Naked Eyes as remixed by Basement Jaxx.
Tiga gets his token novelty track out of the way with an entertainingly distorted remix of the 1990 dance hit "Dirty Cash", then proceeds into less flashy tracks that give him more room to flex his mixing muscles. The way he layers the brittle synth textures of Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb's "Rather Be" with the sparse hip-hop of Water Lilly & St. Plomb's "Shake a Leg", then segues from there into pure electro-funk terrain with the back-to-back mechanized dance anthems of Volga Select's "The Unconditional Discipline of the Bastard Prince" and Offpop's "Lowrider" has to be heard to be believed. You can't even rattle off the names of these artists and tracks as smoothly as he blends them together.
Tiga shows his techno roots on the dark, brooding "Home Again" by M.A.N.D.Y., which sets the table for his own dense, bubbling "Man Hrdina", fellow techno/electro genre-hopper Swayzak's prettily New Orderish "Ikea", and the jittery bliptronica of Charles Manier's "Bang Bang Lover". Throughout this segment of his mix, apart from a few purely atmospheric samples, Tiga eschews vocals, letting the skittering, programmed beats and pulsating synths take center stage. It's a nice way to lead into his deliberately kitschy finale, a double-whammy of pure electro-cheese in the form of Martini Bros's uber-campy "The Biggest Fan" (featuring the immortal lyric "I am myself my biggest fan" delivered in a thick, almost certainly fake German accent) and Tiga's "Mister Hollywood" remix -- a full-blown remake, actually -- of Felix da Housecat's seminal nu-electro track "Madame Hollywood". Personally, it's in these sort of poseur anthems that electro loses me, but for the hardcore fans, I suppose these two little ditties represent the cheese at the end of the long rat maze of preceeding songs that actually encourage dancing more than pose-striking.
Is Tiga talented enough to save nu-electro from its cynical, fashion-plate theatrics? Who is? But he is talented enough to survive the genre's inevitable demise -- which, God willing, will happen by the time you finish reading this -- and move on to his next incarnation with his reputation relatively intact. Whatever he does next, you can bet it'll be worth dancing to.