Interview: Boys Noize

Alexander Ridha, better known as Boys Noize, recently released latest album MAYDAY in May 2016. The 33 year old native German — who counts acts such as Skrillex, Snoop Dogg and The Black Eyed Peas as past collaborators — is widely regarded as one of the world’s most popular, and talented, electronic acts. A three-time winner of Beatport’s Best Electronic Artist, the transition from Ridha’s earlier days performing as a DJ under the name Kid Alex to the present day incarnation of Boys Noize has been an extreme journey, seeing Ridha’s style and sound drastically change as the man himself has done the same.

MAYDAY is no exception in seeing Boys Noize adopting a more varied mix of influences and sounds to create, arguably, the artist’s best album yet. In honour of the album’s recent release, we got Alexander on the phone to talk MAYDAY, genre conformity, influences, Kid Alex and more.

How are you doing?

I’m good, man, how are you?

Pretty good, man, it’s the end of the day here so I’m sort of winding down. Looking forward to this chat!

For me, it’s the opposite, I just woke up! *laughs*

No problem, I’ll try not to make this too hard for you. So I’m pretty keen to talk about Mayday. I love the album, it’s really great.

Thank you so much! *laughs*

I especially really love the fact that you’ve spoken previously about Mayday being an album protesting conformity and the constrictions of genre. Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about that and what inspired that narrative from you?

Yeah, totally. I just started looking at myself as a DJ. Since I started I’ve always been fighting against these boxes of other DJs who think you can only do that, or you can only do this. As a warm up DJ, I always played some deep house, mixed it with some disco, some breaks and maybe bring in the Acid records. It just started to evolve more and more after I saw, for instance, 2manydjs play for the first time. Those guys really broke it down to different styles and genres, but they make it mix so fluently. I remember pretty well, in Berlin, it was a big eyebrow raiser, people were like “What the fuck? Are they mixing techno with Stooges?” But for me, that was a really refreshing way of DJing. When I started to produce I was really inspired by that as well, my first remixes I’ve done were all remixes for rock bands and punk, and basically music that didn’t really have that much to do with electronic music. So, that was really refreshing. I loved the idea of having punk influences in techno, because to me techno is really punk, in a way. It’s the same attitude, it has the same kind of idea behind it, although the music sounds different. So that continued over the years with my music, my first album was sort of a techno-punk album and my DJ sets were always mixed. Fast forward to today with MAYDAY, it’s an even bigger statement on the conformity of what you think should be right in production… It’s time to realise it doesn’t have to be like that.

On the other hand, with conformed production, I’m trying to use the sound that I pick in my production. What’s great about technology is if you have the opportunity to use a laptop to produce music, you just need a laptop and that’s fine. A lot of the time some people use the same sounds, samples and the same software and soft synths, and that’s all good, but in the end, it’s all sort of a conformed production in that it sounds the same any way it’s put together. So it’s not only a social aspect but also with the music itself, or how I see it.

MAYDAY is the alarm call against that conformity.

I really loved that, and I really connected with it. I’m always talking about how I think the construct of genre is something that should be done away with entirely because there’s no such thing as set genres anymore.

Yeah, exactly!

So, from what I understand, a lot of your recording process for Mayday was kind of a little bit secretive and underground. Could you talk about what recording the album was like for you?

When I make music I basically just do things that happen in the moment. I always buy a few new things, it could be new drums, or a new synth, it could be new plug-in or records that I just bought that I get inspired by. I can let myself lead with a new sound that I just discovered on the drum machine, I’ll put it on or play with it, make a rhythm and that leads me in to something. This time, the only thing I had I had in my mind was getting away from the 4/4 rhythm that I’ve done so much, so that means more broken beats and weird rhythms like on Starchild, or on Midnight, or on Mayday. And the second thing was to try out new tempos. Usually my tracks are between 120 BPM and 125 BPM or something like that, so I went a little faster and went a little slower. By doing that I’m just programming some stuff on the machines and I bought some new synths.

It was called Dark Energy, and the first track I made with it was Los Ninos. And then I bought some new drums and the first track I made with those was Mayday. So it’s always a sound inspiration that leads me in to what I do – it’s hard for me to have a real concept that I’m going through all the way. I do have ideas before I start the music, but I really always end up in the moment where I play around with something, and then I’ll be like, “oh right, let’s just do that now.”

Most of the songs I did in Berlin, in my home studio, I go in the studio and it’s early evening, or at night, and then I’ll do a track and then maybe try it out on the weekends, see how people react to it without knowing it’s my track. It’s always a pretty good, honest reaction.  Within the last two years I’ve also released that other album last year, which wasn’t really an album – it was called Strictly Raw. All of these tracks I also made in the same process. Not really the trash of it, but you know when you cook a big meal and you have the bones from the meat you want to throw away or feed to the dogs? That was Strictly Raw, so it has some of the ingredients of MAYDAY, but these were the easier tools, less structured, more DJ friendly tools. But for MAYDAY I really wanted to set the bar higher than just doing regular techno or house tracks. It’s more interesting or more exciting to take the accents of house and techno and transform it in to a different structure or arrangement where you don’t really know what’s going to happen after the next thirty seconds. I always love when you listen to music and you get drawn by it. To me, it’s so boring when you listen to a song and you know “this is a verse, this is a verse, this a bridge and then this is a chorus, this is a second verse,” so I’ve never liked that structure. I’m more bored by the regular techno track structure where it’s six minutes about one thing.

MAYDAY seemed to have a lot more of a hip-hop sound than a lot of your previous stuff. Was that a deliberate move on your part, or more just some influences trickling in to your work?

Yeah, some of my influences got through. When I started buying house records I was buying hip-hop and rap at the same time. I have a lot of hip-hop and rap influences. Even when I grew up, my eight years older brother was listening to all of these early house records, and I was about six years old. This was in the late 80s, and he was also listening to those early rap records at the same time. It was always, to me, equal in my world. Again, throughout the album process, I just let myself go with the flow. There’s this track Euphoria which has a rap vocal, but then again I didn’t use too much of it because I wanted it more simple. That’s actually the most DJ friendly track that I have, and then there’s Rock the Bells with that classic Bob James sample Take Me to Mardi Gras. Bob James was a big, big thing in my life when I was around 17, 16, I have all of his albums, and one day I just woke up and thought “man, no one has ever fucked with that beat and made it modern again.”

I know Run DMC used it and Missy Elliott once – but I didn’t like that – it’s been fifteen years since somebody used it and I wondered why nobody had done that. So, that was just that moment.  The last one with that kind of influence was the track with HudMo (Hudson Mohawke) which I played around with these basic chord ideas and I had the vocal from Spank Rock who’s a dear, close friend of mine, and I’ve used some of his stuff before. So I basically sampled Spank Rock, but I thought it wasn’t for myself until I saw HudMo in the studio and he flipped it in a good way, where we both thought it was actually so dope that we had to put it out ourselves. So yeah, it’s all of these moments that just happened and I guess I was more open-minded in that way.

I’m curious about your HudMo collaboration, how did that come about?

Well he’s been a good friend, all of my collaborations are always friends before we make music. HudMo and I met a few times on gigs, and every time I play in London he manages to come out and chill when I play. I’ve done an Acid-only set in London and he came. I’ve done a vinyl set and he came. He came out to the 10 years party we had in London. I even saw him in Glasgow, where’s he from, so we knew each other for quite a while. And I just happened to have a few days off in London and I went to the studio, I heard some of HudMo’s. He played me some, that was right before he put out the album (2015’s Lantern) and before I even put out Strictly Raw, so it was around spring last year. So I played him some of the stuff and he really loved it, and he really loved the Birthday song idea so we worked on it together for two nights. W played it out and we got to bring it back here in Berlin where I finished it.

I read only the other day that you’ve also done some work for the Oliver Stone ‘Snowden’ film, which seems so interesting, how did that happen and what can we expect to hear from that?

Yeah, it’s crazy, to me it’s refreshing to do other stuff outside of my work. With Oliver Stone they came across my music somehow and they contacted me and asked me if I had some music, so I sent them some stuff. And they really liked it. Then they sent me this one sample piano melody, saying that this was going to be the theme melody throughout the whole movie. And so I started to interpolate it and did my own version of it, did a remix of it with my sounds and they really loved that. And then I did some more sound design. It was pretty easy, fun for me, and now they’ve licensed some songs. There’s a few things I’ve done for sound design, and then there’s a few remixes of the theme song, so I’m all over the movie now which is crazy. It’s also something closer to the stuff with Chilly Gonzales on our Octave Minds project. It’s always great to bounce back and forth with these projects in order to keep my music fresh.

I’m interested to know what do you feel is the biggest difference between Kid Alex and the Boys Noize of 2016?

*laughs* Well, I mean, you know, it’s both me and probably I still have the same attitude. But *laughs* that’s a long time ago and I’ve learned a lot in my life and I’ve seen a lot, and I guess that’s the only difference. But gosh that’s just so long ago, I stopped that project around 2004 when I started to make my own tracks. You know, Kid Alex was my first DJ name and it was because I was really a kid, I was the youngest kid in Germany to play at the clubs and I think that’s how I became a name here too. I started working in a record store when I was 14-15 and then I had my first proper, proper DJ gig when I was 16, in a house club as a warm up DJ. And then I had a residency as a DJ on a Sunday, on a Sunday night. And that was every Sunday I played ‘til five in the morning and went straight to school, I was still 17 at that time. And when I was first starting to make my own tracks, I just wanted to move on to something new and I had all these tracks that were all pretty noisy so the shift from Kid Alex to Boys Noize was pretty easy *laughs* but yeah, that’s a long time ago.

You have a world tour coming up, but no Australian dates that I can see. Are there any plans for you to come out here to Australia at all?

Yeah, of course, man. It’s not that I don’t want to come, it’s just not so easy for me to plan it. The tour is basically a summer tour, so it runs until September or October.  I’ll try to come right after. I can’t really say when exactly, but I’ll try to come as soon as possible. I really enjoyed my last tour, it was so awesome and there’s good people out there. It’s just not so easy for me to do everything at the same time. For me, it was just important to concentrate on Europe.

What kind of music are you listening to right now, and are there any particular artists that are catching your ear?

Good question, I don’t know. I have to look in to my iTunes. I download a lot of music, I mean every day I’m sort of looking for club music I can play. But the last album I listened to was definitely the Poliça album, which came out a few months ago. There’s this new Autechre five hour long album, Autechre from Warp Records. They made those super long sessions, it’s a five hour long album or something like that, which is quite cool. I’m listening to some of the unreleased Prince stuff all the time, I’ve got so much unreleased music from him. Actually I love Tame Impala, I have Tame Impala on this playlist here. They’re from Perth, right? I like this stuff too. Drake’s in the playlist too, nothing crazy. Every morning I just put on the radio, too, and they play like 80s and 70s which I like. The new Bibio album, that’s alright. Some rap, some Young Thug. Stuff like that, it’s pretty random. I listen to everything, I actually have a huge soul collection. Soul and disco collection, but I listen to everything.

Fantastic, thanks, Alex.

No problems, good night, hopefully see you soon.

Image: Justin Vague

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