‘Strictly Raw’: Boys Noize discusses ten years of Boysnoize Records [Interview]
A decade can seem to be an eternity in the lifespan of electronic music. To provide a barometer, ten years ago, Deadmau5 was releasing his debut album, Skrillex was the frontman of an emo band, and Martin Garrix was nine years old. Meanwhile in Germany, Alex Ridha was an aspiring DJ, creating an imprint for his musical vision.
2015 marks the ten-year anniversary of Boysnoize Records, and rather than enjoy his enduring success with satisfied complacence, Boys Noize has celebrated this milestone by being busier than ever. Before embarking on an international tour, Ridha released Strictly Raw, Volume 1, a full-length, fully collaborative album. Featuring an amalgam of essential collaborators from across BNR’s decade-long span, Strictly Raw showcases the quintessence of Ridha’s label, by remaining essential to its roots and venturing into new territories.
After a performance in San Francisco, Ridha sat down with us to discuss the roots of Boysnoize Records, its evolution over time, his creative process, collaborations, and future trajectory.
There is an inherent duality to Alex Ridha. The juxtaposition of seeing Boys Noize perform and meeting him in person is akin to watching the ravages of Mr. Hyde in the streets of London, only to have tea with Dr. Jekyll moments afterwards. Onstage, Boys Noize subjects his audience to a musical experience that ranges from vitriolic, to cerebral, and everything in between. He purveys his harrowing, acidic musical journey to the anti-ecclesiastic visual artistry of Sus Boy. With raised hands and infernal illuminations surrounding, Boys Noize assumes the role of high priest at his alter in the seventh layer of Dante’s inferno, bathing his ravenous congregation in an auditory, baptismal scylla.
Once the lights dim, the vociferous harbinger of doom that stood before the crowd only moments before becomes his own antithesis. In person, Alex Ridha’s taciturn humility makes me forget his iconoclastic status. Speaking with Alex is like speaking with any fellow music fan, with the caveat that he is both the consumer and the producer of the subject matter discussed.
Though Boys Noize’s live show achieves such magnanimity, he reveals that a majority of his inspirations are inherently simplistic. In discussing his most recent album, Strictly Raw, Volume 1, Ridha elaborates on how the album relates back to his early productions:
“I made these kind of tracks to where you have drums and 1 or 2 things that are doing the theme kind of and those are my favorite tracks to play, so Strictly Raw kind of goes back to that feeling and it was also released because exactly after 10 years of the label I wanted to release something that connects the dots with the early releases as well.”
However, while Strictly Raw celebrates the ten year anniversary of Boysnoize Records, Alex is quick to note that his most recent album is not limited to a past passion. Rather than paying homage to inspirations past, Strictly Raw is a marriage of Ridha’s older motifs and forward-facing visions. “[Strictly Raw] is old school and new school,” Ridha notes. “The thing is, there’s so many releases that come out every week that, you know, do exactly that, and that’s the music that I play right now, you know. I didn’t want to release SR to make like an old school album, but actually more of what I’m feeling right now and my feelings go back towards the kind of raw stuff, you know, and that’s one of my favorite musics right now.”
In Ridha’s music — and the music of his label — there is a fusion between continuity and innovation. This very fusion is what defines Ridha and his BNR disciples as a culture, rather than a trend. The music of Boys Noize has retained consistencies of its early days, while absorbing and producing variations of its own.
One major change that Ridha notes between his label’s inception a decade ago, and the present day, is in how the music is disseminated. Nostalgically, Ridha recalls sending vinyl test pressings to the home addresses of Tiga and Erol Alkan. Attributing the advent of the internet as a music-spreading medium, Ridha notes how the process of finding and sharing music has affected his label and career as a whole:
“I think it’s really hard to imagine nowadays, for anyone who enjoys music outside of a DJ, to find music only on vinyl in record stores. So you’d have to go there and spend time and dig for records until you find my shit – and that has really changed. That was like the big, big crazy shit that happened to all of us – all of the producers and DJs I know that would just like, just like release music digital or show music on SoundCloud or on myspace back then. That was definitely a big revolution.”
In the ten-year tenure of Boysnoize Records, it goes without saying that its form of delivery has not been the only necessary change. As both the figurehead of the BNR label and its preeminent artist, Ridha necessarily has to delegate some of his responsibilities to his label manager, Nadine Bleses. Ridha notes his appreciation for Bleses by pointing out that, in the early days, he did everything on his own:
“When I make a deal with friends I’m always like, “Yo, 50/50, handshake,” you know we’ll be all fine. But you realize you have to do certain things too especially with a label there’s so much backend stuff to make sure it’s doing right to yeah so its kind of necessary to have the right person to take care of that and yeah gladly I can concentrate on the whole creative part.”
At his core, Alex Ridha is an artist, not a businessman. Ridha is one of those rare artists where his signature sound is recognizable, no matter the context it inhabits. Whether he’s putting forth his own music, collaborating with Skrillex, Snoop Dogg, Chilly Gonzales, Mr. Oizo, or any other myriad of artists, his raw, industrial essence is always prevalent.
When asked about his creative process, Ridha states:
“For me, there’s two mentalities when I make music. The one mentality is like, me being a DJ and I need tracks to play out and I want to make those tracks, or more sort of the view of a musician, where you compose something that is crazy.”
Ridha’s “crazy” compositions are perhaps most notable in his unique collaborations. Regarding collaborations such as his partnership with pianist Chilly Gonzales in Octave Minds, Ridha states:
“I think that’s when I kind of have my second world where it’s more me as a musician or producer or a sound designer, where it’s more about creating something completely new and refreshing or different or surprise myself…you let yourself go into different territories, and it has to do with the mentality you had at the day or the person that is in the room [with you] that’s directing you into other things”
Photo Credit: Michael Maurer
With such a diverse array of collaborative partners, one wonders how Boys Noize comes to choose those lucky enough to work with him. His response to why he’ll collaborate with Skrillex one day and Snoop the next perfectly defines the essence of his music, his personage, and his label as a whole:
“I used to be more strict about who I wanted to make music with, but lately I’m really open minded. It’s really about vibes and situations that I don’t want to control.”
What better appraisal could there be of Boys Noize’s music than chaos that is utterly unpredictable, but simultaneously inviting?
As such, the future of Boys Noize is difficult to predict. Though he says he has almost a full album’s worth of material ready, he himself is unsure how he wants to conceive his future releases. Ridha relays his feelings of the darker side of instantaneous music delivery that arose with the Internet, due to its effect on the fleeting nature of releases:
“It’s kind of sad that still the album is kind of a hard thing to promote and goes and comes so quick nowadays, and I’m trying to find ways how to release my music in a more, I don’t know, different way or something else.”
We don’t know exactly what the future has in store for Alex Ridha, and likely, he doesn’t either; But that’s part of the beauty of Boys Noize, and music in general. It’s all about “vibes and situations” that we shouldn’t want to control.
Read the full interview below:
Dancing Astronaut: I wanna first talk about Strictly Raw as it relates to the rest of your career and Boysnoize Records. You say on your website that “The idea of the “Strictly Raw” release is to take 1 drumachine + 1 or 2 synths and make a track with it, right?”
Boys Noize: That’s right, yeah.
DA: This theme of raw simplicity has surrounded your own music – I think back to 2007’s “Don’t Believe the Hype.” There’s always been this minimalistic, garage-like, something you would make almost towards getting professional. Has that been a central theme for your record label?
BN: I mean, yeah, you could – in a way it is you know because the record label kind of is there to have, you know, good tunes to play out and to release music that is like made for you know the kind of DJ sets that I do to have some sort of good DJ tools to play out and my music, one of my favorite music is made with you know a few elements that are like – because in the club it’s always like in terms of house and techno music and if you think about how it started too they were just like rocking 1 909 drum machine and a 303 and then they make the best out of it and maybe chop up some samples on top and like when I started to make my music and around the time I started the label, I made these kind of tracks to where you have drums and 1 or 2 things that are doing the theme kind of and those are my favorite tracks to play, so Strictly Raw kind of goes back to that feeling and it was also released because exactly after 10 years of the label I wanted to release something that connects the dots with the early releases as well.
DA: Absolutely, and it does a really good job of kind of encapsulating that feeling. I feel like you’re not Boys Noize the iconoclast, but Kid Alex opening for Felix Da Housecat. It’s really old school and I really like it – it’s definitely out there.
BN: It’s old school and new school. The thing is, there’s so many releases that come out every week that, you know, do exactly that, and that’s the music that I play right now, you know. I didn’t want to release SR to make like an old school album, but actually more of what I’m feeling right now and my feelings go back towards the kind of raw stuff, you know, and that’s one of my favorite musics right now. If you listen to like EPROM Records, the label from Funk and Even like I don’t know Lice Records, there’s so many like other really cool underground labels that just release, you know this kind of drum machine raw stuff and if you even listen to one of my very early tracks like “Volta 82” or “Optic” and stuff like this, or even yeah, exactly, “Don’t Believe the Hype” there’s, it’s always been like my music has always been mostly inspired by that kind of vibe.
DA: And there’s really a signature sound throughout all the music that you make, even though there’s a big variety of it, but how do you rationalize that simplicity with the complexity that you’re doing with other musicians. What you’re doing with Sonny in Dog Blood is, you know not so simple and more so, what you’re doing with [Chilly] Gonzales in Octave Minds – that’s totally different than anything on SR and anything on BNR. So where do you tow the line between this “old school but new school” simple club music and really out there stuff like OM?
BN: Well there’s two things about it. First of all, you know, even when I make music alone, every day is a different day and every day I go to the studio and I’m trying out different stuff. So when I’m alone I mostly go for the vibe and just see where the sounds are leading me, and sometimes it gets a bit more complex, so it would be something that I would put on my album; Or it gets like really simple DJ tool and it’s a track I wanna play out immediately, and it’s like the thing we talked about. And the other thing is, when you get into a room w/someone else, that’s a whole different world too because you have to be sensitive enough to let room for the other person as well as being open to discover new territories. For me, there’s also two mentalities when I make music. The one mentality is like, me being a dj and I need tracks to play out and I want to make those tracks, or more sort of the view of a musician, where you compose something that is crazy. Even if I look back at some of my old tracks like “And Down” for instance, it has like 3 or 4 different parts that are kind of all in one song and at first you think it doesn’t make sense, but then it does. And it’s the same w/Gonzales, I think that’s when I kind of have my second world where it’s more me as a musician or producer or a sound designer, where it’s more about creating something completely new and refreshing or different or surprise myself. And then there’s the other whole world of the DJ thing where I need something truly from my DJ sets and it’s stupid [laughs]. But yeah you let yourself go into different territories, and it has to do with the mentality you had at the day or the person that is in the room [with you] that’s directing you into other things.
DA: Right, that makes a lot of sense because obviously you’re someone who – your signature sound pervades all of your work, but it also changes a lot. But there’s one person that I feel like we would not be properly addressing the history of Boys Noize and BNR if I didn’t talk about your interaction w/one person in particular, and that’s Tiga. So obviously you two go way, way back. I read a story that you had told once about the fact that you actually picked the name “Boys Noize” because you and he were kind of beefing over the name “Lazer Face,” is that right?
BN: (Laughing with fervor): No wait, what! Where did you read that? That’s funny.
DA: I read that in an interview way back in the day on virgin.com actually.
BN: Oh, what’s this “Lazer Face” about? Yeah I remember… This was later though, I’ve had Boys Noize since before that, but that’s funny.
DA: So if not the result of a Tiga squabble (which seemed kind of odd to me), where does that name come from?
BN: Good question. Back then when I started making all these tracks, I was looking for an artist name, and you know how it is, you just collect any ideas and see which ones fit in best and, I don’t know, Boys Noize was one of these ideas and I thought, “It’s a cool name you can shout.” And it’s definitely describing the music I make. It’s kind of unfortunate that its “Boys” as in a plural because in the beginning, everybody thought it was a group, and also everybody keeps writing it wrong.
DA: It takes a couple years to figure out where to put the “S” and the “Z.”
BN: (Laughing) Yeah for sure. Yeah it’s just one of those names. But coming back to Tiga, he was actually one of the first guys to support the releases on the label. I remember in 2005 packing all those test pressings and promos and sending the vinyl test pressings to the home addresses of the DJs and I sent them to Tiga, and to Erol Alkan, and to 2ManyDJs or Laurent Garnier. And yeah, Tiga was one of the first to respond and actually play out the music.
DA: That’s so crazy to me that this goes back so far and your techniques were so old school in that regard – that you were actually disseminating your music on vinyl through the mail.
BN: Yeah – there was no other way! (laughs)
DA: Right – and how has the way that you’re spreading music now, as technology’s advanced, as everything’s gone on to the internet – how has that changed your creative process?
BN: I wouldn’t say it has much to do with the creative process, it’s just fantastic that you can reach out to anybody and send out a soundcloud link, or upload something and send it over via email. But like, creatively, it doesn’t do any difference to me. It was definitely a bit more mysterious thing you know, because when everything started, the music on the label was just available on vinyl. And I think it’s really hard to imagine nowadays, for anyone who enjoys music outside of a DJ, to find music only on vinyl in record stores. So you’d have to go there and spend time and dig for records until you find my shit – and that has really changed. That was like the big, big crazy shit that happened to all of us – all of the producers and DJs I know that would just like, just like release music digital or show music on SoundCloud or on myspace back then that was definitely a big revolution.
DA: You talked about how there is this really club-ready essence to your music, to the music you’re putting out on your label. That’s obviously an important theme for you. Can you name a couple artists that you’re releasing that particularly exemplify the philosophy of your label? And more interestingly, can you name any that challenge that philosophy.
BN: I mean one of my favorites and longtime [signee] with BNR would definitely be Djedjotronic (I know his name is hard). He’s one of the most exciting producers I think that does like new electro-electro; Like the electro made by Dopplereffekt orModel 500back then, but [Djedjotronic takes that genre] to a new future kind of sound, and that’s really exciting to me. Then there’s SCNTST. He’s one of the young signs on BNR, and he’s really all over the place. He’s a good example of the producers that tie in any type of style. And he changes his sound, like, so quickly, and he’s one of the most insane producers I know. I mean, he makes now stuff that I can’t even tell how he makes it. It’s really, really amazing. And we’ve got Housemeister, who’s also one of my faves and very inspiring for my music and production too because he was one of [my] first friends here in Berlin and his music is purely analog. He basically presses play on one of the machines, and one of the other machines is starting, and then he records a session. And sometimes it’s magic, and sometimes its crap (laughs). But he’s like, really, really has his own sound and kept his thing over the years. And then we’ve got people like Spank Rock, who’s one of my favorite rappers out there. Lately he’s been killing it with his new releases. And then we do sometimes like other more electronica stuff, or more like chilled out stuff with [artists] like Knox, who are like a brother and sister band, and their stuff is way more like wavy, chill… But then we also released like the Octave Minds stuff. So really, the label is all about good quality electronic music. Stuff that DJs and producers definitely appreciate, but also like, it definitely opened up in the last few years to more various styles and it’s not only about like bangers.
DA: It absolutely isn’t. Obviously, you’re an internationally touring DJ. I mean, when I met you it was at 3 AM and you were gracious enough to talk to me and my buddy Corey and you were about to jet off to Mexico, then you’re in Shanghai, or Tokyo. You’re all around the world. How do you manage running a brand while you’re in a different place every day and making music every day? There has to be a right hand man really holding down the fort. Who is that person, and how do you make that time?
BN: I’m really happy to have the partner that I work with on the label and everything. Nadine [Bleses], she’s my right hand on the label and more sort of in the background doing all the important stuff. She’s like the backbone of the label and makes sure everybody gets their informations [sic] and their numbers and you know I think it’s more and more over the years I realize how important that is as well and because I’m always like when I started the label I did everything on my own. When I make a deal with friends I’m always like, “Yo, 50/50, handshake,” you know we’ll be all fine. But you realize you have to do certain things too especially with a label there’s so much backend stuff to make sure it’s doing right to yeah so its kind of necessary to have the right person to take care of that and yeah gladly I can concentrate on the whole creative part.”
DA: Absolutely. And there’s one more topic I need to broach, I appreciate you going a little over on this, Alex. So the thing that I really want to talk about personally – and I know a lot of our readers are interested in this too is – you know we’ve discussed a little bit earlier in the conversation, your collaborative process. How you need to be inserting your own sound, but also be open to new techniques. But you are someone who, I think you’ve turned the collaboration into an art form in a way that no one else has because you have – and I’m sure I told you this very excitedly after your show in SF – but you are going across this huge realm of difference. I mean, you have OM which I can only describe as the preeminent lovemaking music of the world…
DA: …to Dog Blood, to Handbraekes (and I’m sure I’m not pronouncing “Handbraekes” right). Amidst all those collaborations, and also collabs like “Got it” with Snoop Dogg and “Circus Full of Clowns,” how do you figure out who you’re gonna collaborate with, and who’s been the most rewarding in that process?
BN: You know, I always – it maybe comes from a DJ view where I always love to mix up different styles and a few years ago, [to do that] wasn’t as normal as it is right now to play house, and techno, and breaks, and rap all in one set so with that mentality, I also always have this romantic idea of bringing people together and that also through music so you know I love to collaborate w/people that could come from a whole different scene or have this completely different sound and because I always you know there are always like levels to connect and w/most of the collaborations I’ve done I’ve definitely connected with the other person on a lot of levels, especially through music. And I don’t know, it’s just it’s definitely a challenge to try to like put yourself into a new zone and getting out of the comfort zone for instance. And I mean, w/Snoop Dogg that’s easy. I mean, who wouldn’t make a track with Snoop Dogg? (laughs) But it was funny w/him to because I was thinking about to make a house track with him but then I thought why not try to make a track that fits in his world, but going in with my sound. So the track we made is definitely a rap track but it’s way more electronic than other rap tracks.
DA: Well, it’s totally conflated with techno.
BN: Yeah exactly, like if you speed it up, it sounds like a techno record exactly.
DA: Well actually, when I would DJ back in the day, I would open all of my sets with a combination of Got it with Viol by Gesaffelstein so it definitely works with that.
BN: Dope…See that’s the cool thing. Yeah it’s just, sometimes, Yeah it’s just…I used to be more strict about who I wanted to make music with, but lately I’m really open minded. It’s really about vibes and situations that I don’t want to control. I really believe in like I don’t know just going for vibes and moments that you can’t really plan out. And if it happens that I’m in a room w/like two other people and we start to jam out just because we have a good time then that’s more important than if it’s like a name or something like that, you know?
DA: And that extends to your actual visual products as well – your live shows and your videos. I think of your collaborations with Lil Internet for the “Cerebral” video, which is kind of the epitome for “out of control.” And, you know, all the Sus Boy visuals in your shows which to me are a defining feature. So how does that process work? What level of collaboration do you have with Sus Boy?
BN: Sus and me [sic] are actually good friends. We just like hang out and stuff. But besides his visuals, I feel like [they] definitely reflect my sound as well because he’s in your face and weird. And my sets always have definitely a big bit of weirdness too, but it’s still like, banging (laughs).
DA: He’s evil, there’s no other way to describe it.
BN: That’s for sure. No I just yeah, he’s fucking awesome. I’m just really happy to work with him and we work really close on all the visuals, like working out different concepts and different themes. Yeah, it’s cool
DA: To end on a note of collaboration, there are just two artists I want to hear your opinions on. First off, I want to hear what it was like working with Quentin for Handbraekes, because out of all the collaborations you’ve done, I feel like that is, I would assume, you working with your idol. So I would like to hear about that first.
BN: Yeah, you know me well, because Mr. Oizo is definitely one of my idols and before we even worked together, he was one of my top three producers in the world that I admire. And so first of all, it was definitely crazy to work with him, but out of all the collaborations, this one’s the one of the only ones done by sending stuff back and forth. So he would send me, like, crazy noises you know his crazy shit. And I would just cut up and find the best loops and program drums and other stuff around it and then send it back, and that’s it (laughs).
DA: That’s fantastic. To cut out, I want to know what’s on the agenda for the future with collaborations and, one selfish question that I have to ask you is, are you ever going to collaborate with Gesaffelstein?
BN: (laughs) You never know. We haven’t planned anything, but you never know. We’re good friends, so it might as well happen. Maybe someday when we’re in a weird space or somewhere. But what was the other question? Sorry.
DA: Yeah, the other question was, to the point that you’re willing to speak about it, what future collaborations do you have planned?
BN: Well I’m working on a lot of new music and I have maybe even a full album almost ready, but the problem is I’m trying to figure out how to release all this. So this year, I think I’m not going to release anything off the new music that I’ve done but definitely next year there will be large numbers of releases. Yeah, I’m trying to figure out the album thing. Because it’s kind of sad that still the album is kind of a hard thing to promote and goes and comes so quick nowadays, and I’m trying to find ways how to release my music in a more, I don’t know, different way or something else, I don’t know (laughs). So I’m gonna take a few months to figure that out, and then next year there will be so much new music, like crazy.