Tigerilla is the guy making Australia’s most unpredictable dance music

In our series Spotlight, DAVE RUBY HOWE is profiling the local electronic artists you need to know. Today, it’s Tigerilla, who you can see on stage next week at EMCPlay, alongside over 60 of Australia’s most exciting new artists. To be there, pick up a ticket now.

I’ve been listening to his stuff for a couple of years now, but I didn’t get to see Tigerilla play until this year, when he was busy rolling around the country in support of Sydney’s KLP on her Air tour.

Performing solo on stage his set veered about quickly: sometimes he’d be stationed behind his gear, instinctually attacking the buttons, while at other times he’d be on the mic, bouncing around animatedly hyping up the crowd. Musically he was throwing down tracks that caught the ear with big pop-radio hooks and then the next minute it’d be sexed-up futuristic-R&B. Cohesively it was all over the shop, but there’s something really exciting about watching an artist and not being able to predict what they’re going to give you next.

Reflecting now on those shows Tigerilla – real name Matthew Khabbaz – explains how grateful he is to take his music to a live audience. “I feel very lucky to have had a great opportunity to play my music around the country. I think the main thing I took into the next run of shows was to focus on the dynamics in the set. At the moment it is pretty high energy, so finding the right amount of space and downtime was important. Peaks and troughs.”

“Sometimes I play something and laugh, like why did I play that?”

According to Khabbaz, it’s all about staying nimble when performing live – often meaning that he’s dropping in works-in-progress as a bit of a road test. “Sometimes I play something and laugh, like why did I play that?” Khabbaz laughs.

“I think the most important thing to me is focusing on being original to spread my music, so I have kept my sets focussed on original works or remixes I have done. I think this challenges me to make songs that make the crowd feel a certain way.”

As well as the KLP tour, Khabbaz has recently wrapped up dates alongside Nicole Millar – but getting to this point has been a long time coming for the Adelaide raised artist. “I started making music properly when I was about 15 – playing guitar in bands through high school. I have always liked an eclectic range of music. Daft Punk always stood out to me. More recently artists like Pharrell Williams and Mark Ronson – the production is always dope and the groove is on point.”

“Collabs are my favourite way of writing. I find it to be an expansion of where you could take a song on your own”

Khabbaz has been doing his best to follow the footsteps of his teenage idols – not only as an artist, but also as a serial collaborator, producer and talent manager, having worked with Mallrat and Casper Zazz previously.

“Collabs are my favourite way of writing,” Khabbaz says, stating his preference. “Adding another mind to the picture is fascinating. They may write something or add something that you never would’ve have thought of – that addition is magic. I find it to be an expansion of where you could take a song on your own. Best of all, you learn so much from other artists and can share your knowledge too.”

Indeed, the latest Tigerilla collaboration sees Khabbaz teamed up with Brisbane rapper Gill Bates for the squelchy ear-worm Tulips – best experienced with its slick video. “I really wanted to push my boundaries and focus on the groove and build the song around it. Once I had the beat and my vocal I was set on Gill 100%,” he says of the rapper who’s also worked with Allday and Feki. “His voice has a rad character about it and it just felt right.”

Dave Ruby Howe is a writer, broadcaster and music director of Australia’s largest independent music discovery platform. You can find him on Twitter.