Berlin-based DJ and producer Boys Noize released his fourth solo album MAYDAY last week via his own Boysnoize Records. Infectiously energetic, uncompromisingly aggressive, capturing the energy and spirit of punk, fused with the relentless power of raw techno and an electrifying dose of classic rave and industrial, MAYDAY transports the innocence of a bygone era into the here-and-now without sounding anachronistic or nostalgic. Collaborations with Poliça, Hudson Mohawke, Benga, Remy Banks and Spank Rock broaden the range, while maintaining the classic rugged-n-raw Boys Noize style.
Having made his DJ debut at the age of 15, Alex Ridha has since taken a teenagers love of house and techno to a global scale. Rolling Stone named him one of the Top 10 DJ's Who Rule The World and Beatport crowned him Best Electronic Act three years in a row. He’s lit up Coachella three times, taken Lollapalooza by storm, and headlined festivals and clubs on every continent – from Berlin techno temple Berghain to Fuji Rock in Japan to Justin Vernon’s Eaux Claires Festival in the woods of Wisconsin.
Here, he talks to Ben Jolley about the creation of fourth album Mayday, how he's watched the clubbing landscape develop and a "renaissance" in electronic music...
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Your new album ‘Mayday’ came out last week. Tell me about the process of creating it.
Around two years ago I started working on new music. I wanted to get away from the 4/4 rhythm and the usual tempos I’ve been doing before. I got myself a few new drum machines to get a total fresh drum sound and a few new synths to basically build my own sample library.
During that time I made a lot of tracks. I released a bunch of them on my non-promoted ‘Strictly Raw’ mini techno-tool album last year, but kept the best ideas for ‘Mayday’. If ‘Strictly Raw’ were the bones you cook (and give your dog) ‘Mayday’ is my full finished meal.
What did you hope to achieve with ‘Mayday’?
I wanted to allow myself to put together a record which is not only a tool for me and my DJ sets. I love making simple, raw club tracks, but that’s something one can do so easily. For ‘Mayday’ I wanted to set the level a bit higher in terms of sound design, structure and music. Creating tracks with a different structure than straight club tracks, but without moving into obvious arrangements and sounds. I guess if I wanted to achieve something than it was to further develop my own sound and at the same time create something different and fresh, and surprise myself.
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There wasn’t really a concept or idea behind it. It just happened...
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There’s an extremely diverse range of collaborations on this album. Talk us through why you made that decision.
Usually I create my own (robot) vocals on my albums, which I’ve done three times so I was open to try out different things for this record, but there wasn’t really a concept or idea behind it. It just happened.
Generally, it’s tough for me to make club music with vocals and enjoy it. Usually I hate it because it’s mostly too cheesy for me. As a DJ I don’t play many vocal tracks either, for the same reason, that’s why my song with Polica is not really a club track. These tracks are still far away from being a classic "song" because I just don’t like the obvious (pop) structure of song arrangements.
When I make music I prefer to not know what I’m going to do. I like to create out of the moment. That’s how a lot of these collaborations happened. Some of them I’ve worked with on other projects before, others have been close buddies for years. There is something exciting to bring artists into my "world" that don not have anything to do with my type of music. It’s also really important to me to have that human, interpersonal contact with whoever I make music. I could have sent my tracks to some rappers or singers and hope they would deliver something fresh, but first of all this rarely happens and, secondly, music is more than just an idea.
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Why did you choose to work with Hudson Mohakwe, Benga, Polica, Remy Banks and Spank Rock? What was it like working with them in the studio?
I had the basic song idea for ‘Birthday’ but sonically it didn’t fit to me. I actually thought this track would be for someone else until Hudmo and I spent some time together in his studio in London and he loved the song idea and gave it the right twist in the end.
Benga literally surprised me in Berlin. We had met a few times and talked on Twitter through direct messaging before. Then he just came to Berlin to visit me. He stayed with me and I played him some demos including the rough idea for ‘Dynamite’ which I had recorded with Swedish singer Mapei. He was super into it and we started to work on the song together. Spank Rock has been a close friend for a long time, I produced his last album, we’ve spent a lot of time together - he is such a brilliant mind and artist. I love him so much, I just had to feature him on my record.
The only person/band I had on my "non-existing collab-list" was Poliça. The first time I played in Minneapolis around 2010/2011 I met the full crew around Bon Iver. Much to my surprise it turned out that they were big fans of my stuff, having discovered me through MySpace. Justin Vernon was involved in the Polica record and he played me some of the new demos. I was blown away.
Ever since that day I was a big fan of Channy’s (Poliça) voice and the way she writes. We spent two days and nights in my studio and made a lot of music. The great thing to see was that we had similar ways of working: she is very intuitive in her writing and barely wrote anything down. She just went in and recorded what was on her mind in that moment, driven by the music.
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I’ve been inspired by records that are still great even 20 years after they were made.
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What was the driving force throughout the creation of ‘Mayday’?
I have been studying electronic music for most of my life and I always attempt to make something fresh, which was definitely the case with ‘Mayday’. When I DJ I can go from techno to house to ebm/industrial to acid to breaks and disco: whatever feels right to me in that moment. I’m not really married to one genre only. But to make only club tracks is not enough, there has to be another layer. It has to sound different sonically.
I’ve been inspired by records that are still great even 20 years after they were made. At the same time I tried to remember how I felt when I heard this kind of music for the first time, when I was a club kid myself - a raver going to the early Love Parades. This naive, pure feeling inspires me. My music is still based on club music; I don’t write lyrics that create emotions, I’m not really into melodies that trigger emotions. Something else drives me – the sound, the energy.
I didn’t want to make just another album that sounds similar to stuff which has been around, neither did I want to make just another techno record which would be loved by the purists. I had to do my own thing, even if I can tell the reaction from certain guys. I always have to challenge myself… I don’t like it too easy.
What are your earliest memories of getting into music?
I grew up in Hamburg, about two hours away from Berlin. Hamburg has a great indie-punk scene. They have a big red-light district with many clubs and bars and it was my favourite place to be when I was a teenager. When I was 15 I started to work in a record store called Underground Solution that carried house/techno and shortly after played my first gigs as a warm up DJ. By the time I was 19-years-old I had played at every little place, knew every bouncer and felt it was time to move on so I moved to Berlin.
Having started DJing at the age of 15, how have you seen dance music and the electronic world develop?
So many things have changed. I’ve seen DJs being in the darkest corner of the club playing vinyl with a Rodek mixer where people were facing each other, to DJs becoming the personification of the spectacle, popstars stage diving surrounded by Chinese New Year-style fireworks.
The first person I actually saw doing crazy things while DJing was Erol Alkan: we played at The End, London in 2006 and the vibe was so crazy. It reminded me of a punk-rock show and Erol went up and stood on the DJ decks! Back then I thought he was completely bonkers. I remember filming it with my Nokia phone because I thought it was so nuts.
Music wise, technology creates new music, just like bass music, and gives a broader access to actually making music, but what I always see is that everything goes in cycles and at some point it always comes back to the classics. In our world of house and techno, the 4/4 is just too strong.
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How have you watched Berlin change over the years?
Berlin has a long history of being the place for the different, the outsiders. It started the modern gay-movement in the twenties and was the only place in West Germany where you didn’t have to go into the army after the wall was built (and hence attracted a certain kind of like-minded people). Although it became the capital of Germany in the 90s it has kept its raw charm and special level of freedom.
Even today, with its worldwide famous nightlife scene, the expat-communities, international hipsters, exploding art and fashion scene, I still love the city and the fact that it’s imperfect and edgy compared to most of the other metropolises of the world.
What do you think of the scene at the moment and where it’s heading?
The scene is great. Apart from the mainstream shit and the Beatport tech-house, it’s a very exciting time for electronic music. We are going through a renaissance in terms of production. We are totally back in the analogue world. Kids want to sound shit rather than polished and this is something punk. Legowelt even released a plug-in chain that emulates tape distortion. Raw house, techno and electro is actually sounding better than ever and there is even a scene for new industrial, EBM records. You might think they don’t exist anymore, these small grassroots trends that you have all to yourself at first and then discover with a small group of people in the record store. Today, everything’s at your fingertips instantly, wherever you are in the world.
But things have got exciting again, especially in terms of vinyl. There are tons of good labels releasing on vinyl only which you can’t find on SoundCloud.
What are your future plans for Boysnoize Records having celebrated its 10th anniversary last year?
BNR is the platform for my music, my creative playground. I’m so happy to be able to release my own music without the bullshit industry input you get from other (major) labels. The label also inspires me. I still listen to tons of demos every day. There’s some great stuff coming: SCNTST has just finished his new album, we’ve got a great new EP by Djedjotronic who is well respected in the techno world. Spank Rock has a lot of awesome material too. I see the label more as a passion than a business, so I don’t really make "plans" for it, things happen and we’ll see where the journey goes.
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We are totally back in the analogue world.
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You held a ‘Mayday’ party in Berlin which got shut down by police. What happened there?
We put up a sound system in the streets of Kreuzberg on May 1st. I just showed up and played music and quickly a lot of people gathered and it became a crazy party with a great vibe. Since the whole thing was without permit after 90 minutes the police asked us politely to shut it down and I did. It was a great day in celebration of peace and anarchy and big props to the Berlin cops for not having it shut down earlier.
What do you think can be done to limit the number of clubs and venues closing?
I think it’s all connected with record stores closing, the way we listen to music, the conformist way we discover music. To me, that’s the only sad thing about the digital culture of today. This conformity destroys sub-culture. I’ve worked in a record store myself for years. I fell in love with music that none of my friends were listening to. It felt like I had discovered this precious thing. It was my own world which only a few would share. It’s the same with all these small-midsize clubs, there aren’t a lot of DJs that are famous but still cool. You're either big/mainstream and you play these clubs, or you’re too underground to sell any tickets.
Tell us about your new live show. What have you added to it and who have you worked with to develop it?
I designed it around ‘Mayday’. There’s a new stage design which looks so awesome, it’s more raw/industrial and I conceived it together with my buds Susboy and Lil Internet. I’ve been programming my new set for weeks now. It’s a bit tricky for me to get into that “live” mode which focuses my own tracks because in my heart I always want to DJ, but I forget that I have released four albums now and my fans want to hear my stuff, too.
So with the new album, I created a new set with all my music, a little bit inspired by how Daft Punk do a mash-up of all their music. This time it is more themed though, I might not play my “disco” records…
Your shows can get pretty rowdy. How do you want people to feel when they see you DJ/perform live?
As a DJ, I really try to feel out the city and the venue I play. I always try to play new music no one has heard of, testing demos or new releases I find or some vinyl only-releases. I can play anything during my set. Of course, I won’t play some handbag house because I like it a bit more hard and weird. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of industrial, EBM inspired indie-techno stuff. In the end I just want everybody to have a positive feeling and a good fucking party of course.
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'Mayday' is out now and Boys Noize premieres his new live show at Sonar, Barcelona on June 18th.