As we all know, longevity in anything is never a given. But in the often-fickle world of electronic-dance music, where sounds and talents might come and go with the slightest fluctuations in taste, it can be a genuine rarity. But that’s not been the case for Boys Noize. The multi-talented German DJ/producer (aka Alex Ridha) has bucked the trend and has given us a generation’s worth of diverse music that maintains relevance, attracts new fans and influences fellow DJ/artists.
The German producer grew up in Hamburg, home of the legendary Reeperbahn entertainment/red-light district, where he played many of his early gigs. He made his DJ debut at the age of 15, falling in love with house and techno and popping onto the scene under the alias of Kid Alex. Along the way, he provided support for electronic heavyweights like Felix Da Housecat, Boris Dlugosch and DJ Hell.
Honing his craft spinning vinyl and quickly becoming a true master behind the decks, Boys Noize would soon venture into the world of production and that would lead to the launch of his label, Boysnoize Records (BNR), in 2005. Similar to his DJ sets, BNR’s catalog is packed with high-octane cuts coming from the realms of acid, techno, electro and breaks, produced by a wide variety of talent like up-and-comers Raito, Djedjotronic, and Cardopusher.
Over time, Boys Noize became known as one of the world’s most prestigious DJ/producers. In addition to a long list remixes for acts ranging from Snoop Dogg to Depeche Mode, he’s delivered a prolific and diverse range of original productions. In 2009, “Waves,” his category-defying collab with Erol Alkan, took the blogs and clubs by storm, and he’s managed to maintain a career of marked by genre-variety – whether he’s dropping electro bombs like 2008’s “& Down” or simmering techno tracks like 2018’s “Distort Me.” So far, he’s released six full-length artist albums, including 2016’s popular Mayday, seven mix albums, plus dozens of EPs and singles.
Always open to collaboration, Boys Noize continues to experiment with new sounds with his side projects Handbraekes (with Mr. Oizo), Octave Minds (with Chilly Gonzales) and Dog Blood (with Skrillex). The recent Dog Blood reunion shows at New Orleans’ BUKU Music + Art Project and Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, plus some club appearances, were raucous affairs and, as Boys Noize mentions below, fans should expect to hear some new Dog Blood releases in the near future. Already, Dog Blood is booked for a pair of high-profile dates – May 26 at Tampa’s Sunset Music Festival and Aug. 30 at New York’s Electric Zoo.
This past March, DJ Times tagged along to the Dog Blood shows in New Orleans and Miami and, afterwards, caught up with Boys Noize to talk career – present, past and future.
Ridha: It all starts with my love for new music. As a DJ, I love to play music that excites me, so it’s got to be fresh. Being open-minded about all types of genres in electronic music is key to me, too. As a producer, it’s almost the same with creating new sounds, trying new ways to create music.
DJ Times: How did DJ culture get your attention?
Ridha: As a kid, I always wanted to be a little different, dress different, listen to other music or do things in a different way. I have an eight-year-older brother, and he had all these early house records from Marshall Jefferson, Steve Silk Hurley or DJ Pierre, but he was also into all early rap like Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C. or Stetsasonic, and I was always hanging out in his room when he wasn’t there playing music. When I was 13-years old, I started to buy all these records I knew from my childhood – and it really ended up being an addiction [laughs].
DJ Times: How did you transition into spinning?
Ridha: I’d had two jobs at the same time to finance my first turntables and mixer and, of course, all the money I spent on records. I would go home and make house or rap mix tapes every week, pass them out to my friends at school, who weren’t into house music at all. For me, the record store I worked out of was some sort of cultural place and I loved being a part of it.
DJ Times: Do you remember that first DJ set-up?
Ridha: Of course, I bought myself two Reloop turntables and a Reloop mixer before my boss at the record store advanced [me to buy] two Technics SL-1200 MK2 turntables. At that time, in the bars and clubs I was DJing, there were mostly Rodec mixers without any effects and just the basic EQ.
DJ Times: What was your original production set-up?
Ridha: My laptop with Logic and a bunch of plug-ins, my Roland TR-808, Elektron Machinedrum, Clavia Nord Lead 2 rack synth, my Access Virus, two or three guitar pedals, and an Allen & Health mixer.
DJ Times: What were your first DJ gigs like?
Ridha: They were at the school where I had to bring my turntables and mixer – or I played at bars in the red-light district in Hamburg. What I consider my first real DJ gig was when I was 16-years old at this house club called La Cage. It was a real house club and I warmed up for local legend Boris Dlugosch. It also happened to be his birthday, so the whole scene came out and saw me DJing. You know, you play from like 11:00 to 1:30 a.m., or so, playing deep house, disco and stuff. But I had the whole club already going and the party was lit before Boris took over.
DJ Times: Sounds like a big night. What impact did that gig have?
Ridha: That night changed my life. From that night on, I knew I was going to be a DJ and it’s going to be my life. Then, suddenly, I received a lot of DJ bookings and it even became word in Germany that I was the youngest house DJ ever, so I got a lot more bookings outside of Hamburg, like in Berlin, Cologne or Munich.
DJ Times: You have quite the record collection. How often do you go crate-digging?
Ridha: I go out buying vinyl as much as I can. I try to do that every one or two weeks, so I don’t miss anything new. Nowadays, there are a lot of releases that are released on vinyl only and, as a DJ, I always want to play a good amount of music that people or other DJs haven’t heard.
DJ Times: Do you still play vinyl sets?
Ridha: Every now and then. I just did a back-to-back with my friend Erol Alkan in London and we did a straight-vinyl set that was really fun. When I’m playing Berlin, I’ll take some records with me. It just really depends where I play because, nowadays, the clubs aren’t really prepared for that, and they have some dusty, old Technics and everything isn’t set up well. So, if the situation allows it and if it’s not a crazy thing to bring vinyl, then, yeah, I’m down for that. I might even be down to do a [all-vinyl] tour.
DJ Times: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the scene over the past decade?
Ridha: There are a lot of changes – I mean, from technology to the way you listen to music. I think the first big change I noticed was around 2006-07 when suddenly people would look at what I was doing as a DJ, instead of just standing on the floor listening to the music and dancing.
DJ Times: The music changed, too…
Ridha: Yes, it also came along with the music style I was playing back then, when all these crazy bangers from Justice and Ed Banger – and probably myself – and the stuff we were putting out was sounding fresh. It attracted a lot of people that usually wouldn’t go to a house or techno party and that really changed a lot in the music scene.
DJ Times: What was different?
Ridha: You’d see kids mosh-pitting and stage-diving. At the same time, technology, in terms of production, just started to hit harder, too. LED screens suddenly came out of nowhere at festivals – that became a thing. More and more producers started to be DJs and a lot of those guys took that to the next level with entertainment. It became kind of auto-control, really.
DJ Times: How’s that?
Ridha: To me, it’s still kind of bizarre that a DJ now is an entertainer and a performer. I always love being on stage and feel comfortable on big stages, you know? I love putting back the energy from what I’m feeding off the crowd and I’ll sometimes do crazy things on stage, too. But yeah, it just became a whole new level. Then, obviously again, technology makes it easier for you to be a DJ, which is great. You don’t have to learn how to beat-match, putting two records on the same BPM, mixing them at the right point. Technology makes everything easy for you. Whatever software you use on your computer, it automatically syncs.
DJ Times: But easier isn’t always better…
Ridha: I’m not saying DJ is not like playing the piano or something and, to me, DJing isn’t about the skills either. It’s more about the selection. I think it’s always interesting to see what technology brings us, but to me, it’s always been important that the No.-1 message was always the music. So, I don’t think it’s necessary to have a big performance or a big visual piece to make the night better for you.
DJ Times: How would you say the dance scene in the States today differs from everywhere else?
Ridha: I think the States is in some sort of post-EDM trauma. [laughs] What I’ve noticed is a lot of producers that were deep into EDM trying to act like they have nothing to do with it anymore – and they make house music, and that’s cool. A lot of EDM producers are now trying to make something cooler, stepping into the world of house music or more of the electronic stuff, steering away from the oversaturated sounds.
DJ Times: It was bound to happen.
Ridha: Overall, I think that’s a good thing for this scene. You know, a lot of kids grow out of the “chewing-gum, EDM sound” and the pop sound. To me, anyways, it’s always been a different thing than house and techno and the electronic music I know. But it’s actually in a great state at the moment because you’ll see more people being more open-minded to house and techno and to new stuff.
DJ Times: Do you approach your sets differently – in Europe vs. the States?
Ridha: When I play my DJ sets, the ones I would play in Europe in the warehouses or whatever clubs, those sets honestly don’t really work in every city here. I do have great feedback in the bigger cities like L.A., New York, Chicago, Miami, but when I go to other cities it’s always like, the sound hasn’t arrived yet, and people are a little confused. [laughs]
DJ Times: With your career and Boysnoize Records, what would you say are the keys to longevity?
Ridha: I don’t know what the key to success is, honestly. With Boysnoize Records, I’m always interested in hearing tracks that excite me to play them out. It can be a simple house or techno track that sounds fresh in my ears or it’s just something that sounds good production-wise or music-wise. Again, it comes back to me being a DJ that tries to play records that not too many other DJs play and releasing music that is a little different.
DJ Times: Seems to have worked out so far.
Ridha: I’m glad some of some of the releases have this timeless element and I guess that’s one of the keys, too, because house, and techno have been around more than 20 years. I never really look at what is trendy now. I think if you always jump on what’s the next sound or what’s currently going on now, you’re probably always too late, so I’m not really concerned about that.
DJ Times: Who are some up-and-coming talents that currently have attention?
Ridha: There’s a few guys on BNR… this French kid, Raito, he’s really talented. He’s great because he finds the right mix – it’s like ’90s U.K. rave sound that I love, but combining it with next-level modern production and techno. Then we got Djedjotronic, who’s probably one of my favorite producers in the world. I really love his sound – it’s a mix between electro-techno and EBM with a B. [laughs] Then we got Cardopusher who’s from Venezuela. He has this more industrial, slow, acid sound a lot of people love.
DJ Times: With your releases, you’ve always seemed to be open to collaboration. Why do you go that route as a producer?
Ridha: To do collabs is a great way to learn more about yourself because I have my ways of creating and, even though I try to put myself in a situation where I’m not that comfortable, it is great to be with another person that does things differently. Mostly, I want to work with people that I feel inspired with as well, and doesn’t really need to be in the same music category.
DJ Times: An example?
Ridha: I’ve just finished a song with Francis and the Lights and I don’t think he’s ever done an electronic song in his life. [laughs] It’s the same when I used to do more of these indie remixes. It’s always inspiring to work with talented people. It gives me the right energy to go back to my own things and to be more focused.
DJ Times: Most recently you’ve hit the studio with Virgil Abloh, Lady Gaga, and Skrillex – what’ it like working with such diverse talents?
Ridha: Working with Gaga was really something beautiful because the experience I’ve had before working with popular musicians has always left some sort of bittersweet taste. The music industry’s kind of crazy and, when you work for big people like this, there are a lot of people involved. You rarely meet those talents and you end up doing sessions with writers and other producers and people from the label. So, after I’ve tried this, about 10 years ago, I actually decided to not do it because I felt like I can spend the same amount of time making something that I’ll love doing. When you do this, on-spec production writing for big pop people, you just never know what’s going to happen with the music.
DJ Times: What was different about this experience?
Ridha: Working with her was amazing because we were basically together in the same room and meeting her was beautiful, too. I didn’t expect her to be… that cool. She’s just a great human being, super-down-to-earth and, putting all the talent aside, it was just a beautiful thing on a human level. We got along really well and, from that energy, we wrote. We wrote music, we made music and I think that’s a place where I want to be – the exact right spirit.
DJ Times: And Virgil Abloh, someone who’s known more for art and fashion?
Ridha: He’s been a friend before we started making music. He came to Berlin a few times and visited me. We hang out – we DJed here and there. Then, he just happened to have some time off in Berlin and I was showing him some of my studio gear – he was so fascinated. He’s a very musical person as well, so it just was very organic making the tracks.
DJ Times: And you do the Dog Blood project with Skrillex…
Ridha: Sonny’s has been a friend. We’ve done a project before and he’s a great example of someone who does things completely different than I do as a producer – and that’s great. He’s so skilled in what he does and it’s fun to bridge those two worlds.
DJ Times: You recently did Dog Blood shows at BUKU in New Orleans and Ultra in Miami. Tell us about reconnecting with Skrillex.
Ridha: Over the years, we collected a few ideas and we never really finished them. I spend almost every winter in L.A., and I stay there for two or three months. He lives there, so I was just around. We would just hang out and have dinner. It just felt good reconnecting, and making music was just a natural process. We just had a good vibe again and made a few bangers, so we were like, “Let’s do this!”
DJ Times: Walk us through a Dog Blood studio session.
Ridha: Wherever I go, I always take my hardware gear with me – one or two drum machines. I travel with a big, modular Eurorack suitcase [laughs] and a few little pads and all of that. So, basically, we do a mix of everything. We record a bunch of sounds, put it in his computer, he messes with it. We just go back and forth and sometimes play five melodies at the same time. We’ve got an EP ready, and it’s gonna come out pretty soon.
DJ Times: Speaking of side projects, we saw a Handbraekes comeback last year. Also, have you had the chance to reconnect with Chilly Gonzales for any new Octave Minds music?
Ridha: Yes, Chilly and I are working on new music. We’ve done two or three sessions – one in Cologne and one in Berlin. I still have to go through all of that stuff. We’re pretty spiritual with the way we make music and we like when things happen in the moment quite spontaneously.
DJ Times: Do you prefer playing festivals or clubs?
Ridha: Honestly, I prefer clubs. It’s just a bit more intimate. I can be more experimental and that’s where everything starts for me. A lot of my inspiration and everything I do is based on that [laughs]. I’m playing in clubs my whole life. As much as I love playing festivals, the energy is crazy and sometimes it just blows my mind to see how people are reacting. It’s the club – it’s the dirty club. No lights just music. I’ll play for like four or five hours and everyone’s happy. [laughs]
DJ Times: How do your sets differ?
Ridha: For festivals, I get to play about 90 minutes, sometimes less. When I’m playing clubs, it’s at least two hours – I usually play two to four hours. Sometimes I do an all-night set. Sometimes I do six hours. It all depends on where and what time. [laughs] In a club, I can totally freestyle. I make a big folder before, like packing a bag of records, and then I decide in the moment what I play. When you only have limited time, you definitely have to make up your mind about what you’re gonna play. What’s the intro? How do you want to end your set? I always leave a free room for each festival set, so I can just decide to do things on the run. Being spontaneous, that’s a very important thing for me. I always play probably a bit more of my own stuff on the festival.
DJ Times: What about playing material from your label?
Ridha: There’s always a lot of stuff from BNR in the back, mostly fresh stuff. In clubs, I try out new things. It’s always a good amount of BNR in the back. Good amount of my own stuff I’m trying out, but mostly it’s still other people’s music. I do like playing my own music, but I prefer when it’s unreleased. I don’t like to play any of my old stuff ever.
DJ Times: When it comes to a studio session, do you ever do go into aiming to create a festival weapon or club-ready track?
Ridha: Good question! Usually, I try to make records that I can play and, when I make music, I try not to do the stuff that I buy or play because there’s no reason in making something that sounds like someone else made it… Sometimes I have a clear idea. I want to do club track or something, but it never really works out. I kind of like to make my favorite music without thinking about what it can be.
DJ Times: Where do you find inspiration when it comes to production?
Ridha: It’s always been the sound that inspires me. It could be my drum machine running through a new pedal or a new module or a new plug-in. I build on sound. Sound is even more important than writing a song or lyrics or melody even.
DJ Times: In the studio, is it important not get bogged down by a single element, be it a kick drum or the hook?
Ridha: I never learned sound engineering or proper studio engineering, so my ear always tells me what’s good and what’s not good. A lot of times I’ll make a track, I’ll test it out and that’s one of the realest moments because the reaction is pure. I just go with the flow and then I mix and arrange and do all of that at the same time. But I try not to be too much about it – “This is the kick drum now” – because I do create my own kick drums and my own sounds. You might call it lazy, but I’m just cool with whatever I recorded [laughs] and too lazy to recreate it or try to find a better sound.
DJ Times: What’s your current studio set-up look like?
Ridha: My studio setup is pretty wild at the moment. If you know me, I’m deep in the analog world. I’ve collected a lot of drum machines and synths over the years and outboard gear over the last three or four years. I’ve developed my love for the modular and this has sort of become the brain of my studio. I record everything multi-channel and I almost don’t use MIDI anymore, it’s all C.V. [laughs] You know, I love to mix everything up. In the end though, everything ends on my computer. To me, the exciting thing is basically the hybrid. I create every single sound myself….I love that. I love to make my own simple libraries and then I go from there basically, that’s always the most fun.
DJ Times: You’re always one to locked away in the studio any chance you get, and the result is you’re always sitting on a boatload of music, what can we expect from you throughout the year 2019?
Ridha: It’s true, I sit on a lot of music. [Laughs] At the moment I’ve been organizing all my music and trying to see what fits together. I do have a new album coming, I just need to really make my mind about how I want to present it, and I really want to release something that sounds different than anything I’ve done before and I’m trying to sound different than anything that’s out there. [Laughs] I’ve set my standards pretty high now, but I feel like I’ve got something really special. There’s a bunch of new projects. There are going to be a few singles throughout the year, I’m releasing the song with Frances and the lights, releasing new tracks with Skrillex, releasing new songs with Chilly Gonzalez but my main focus at the moment is my next album or whatever body of work I want to present and that’s probably something to expect more towards the end of the year. I do have a Strictly Raw Vol. 3 ready to go as well but I want to do a whole, proper album rather than the more DJ tool raw stuff I do with that kind of format. I’ve also done some production for A$AP Rocky, I think that’s going to come out very soon. Yeah, I’ve recorded a lot of stuff. Just follow me on my Instagram or whatever and you know what’s up! [laughs]