A global and perennial force in the vast realm of electronic music, we sat down with Berlin-based producer and DJ Boys Noize as he embarks on a 21-city tour spanning in over 10 countries to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his eponymous record label, Boysnoize Records.
Berlin-based DJ and producer Alex Ridha (aka Boys Noize) has earned some serious stripes as a prominent headliner in the electronic music scene for over a decade now. His raw, boundary-pushing sound has proven unrivaled amongst his peers, garnering him a countless number of top-tier collaborations – Skrillex, Snoop Dogg, Erol Alkan and Chilly Gonzales, just to name a few. Ridha’s commitment to uncompromising production and complete artistic liberty lead him to establish an eponymous record label in 2005. Now celebrating its 10th year, Boysnoize Records has evolved into a seminal production house churning out records from an eclectic mix of talent – from Peaches to SCNTST to Spank Rock – who’ve contributed to the label’s standards for creating quality, disparate and unique dance music.
Catching up with the artist in his Berlin homestead, Ridha reflects upon the success of Boysnoize Records, reveals how living in the world’s techno capital has shaped him as a musician and highlights the importance of preserving a sonic identity in a music scene that’s perpetually re-inventing itself.
You once stated that you don’t compromise when it comes to making music. Would you say that this is the primary reason you started your own record label?
Yeah, 100%. I basically started it to be completely independent and do whatever I wanted and have no one above me telling me how and when the music should be released. It was 2004 at the time and I had already made so many tracks and licensed a few, but I knew that it was the right time to do it myself and let people discover the music by themselves.
I hated all of those marketing emails, newsletters and managers telling you, “This is the next shit” or, “You gotta listen to this.” I grew up buying vinyl and being obsessed with house and techno culture, so for me, the best way to discover music was in a record store going through the selections and listening to them without knowing who the guy is or what he looks like.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of owning your own label?
It’s a lot of hard work, especially when I started releasing albums. I also underestimated the responsibility that comes with signing on other artists. For me, it was always like a handshake, 50/50, “let’s go,” but obviously the artists want to know what they are getting themselves into. This was something I didn’t know too well, so that’s why I’m really happy that I have a partner who takes care most of that (laughs). But the great thing is that I can release the music whenever I want. Right now, I’m about to release a new album exclusively on vinyl, without promotion. It’s gonna be 10 drum machine “rough” sessions, so I guess if I was signed to a label they wouldn’t allow me to do this. They’d probably pressure me to make the next hit song and go along with whatever is trending at the moment.
How did Boysnoize Records first materialize?
Well the first five releases were kind of planned. I had met this designer Paul Snowden who’s kind of this under-the-radar, street-punk artist doing like installations and websites. And the only thing I knew I wanted for the label was the allover “Boys Noize” print, but then I met him and he helped me design all of the releases. The first few releases had different names, but they were all me. The first two were released under Boys Noize on vinyl-only, the third was a different name, the fourth was also another but with Housemeister, under the name Eastwest. Then I licensed two tracks that I was playing at the time – “Frau” featuring I-Robots and a remix of “Shadowbreaker” from Zombie Nation’s project John Starlight – which I think back then was permitted, that is, licensing a previously released track. And that was pretty much the start of it all.
You know, at that time I didn’t have many connections. I had a few contacts through my Gigolo Records release ( The Bomb/Boy Neu – EP), but that was really it. I started making some promos and sending them out to artists like Erol Alkan, Laurent Garnier and Tiga, hoping that they would play it. And some of them did, and it was quite cool because the sound was really not anything like what was going on at that time, especially in Berlin, where minimal got really big. And it was after “electroclash” died (in the early 2000s) so there weren’t many DJs really playing that [aggressive] sound. As a DJ, I always played a bit harder and a bit rougher, but when I was in Berlin I also played with guys like Paul Kalkbrenner, who still wasn’t that big yet. But for that time, I was definitely one of the more harder-sounding guys. People would be like “what the fuck is going on?” (laughs). Erol Alkan was one of the first guys to support my sound. So that really helped me a lot.
How do you go about selecting the artists you represent under BNR?
It’s mostly a mix of me being both a producer and a DJ. As a DJ, you always look for those simple “tool” records, stuff that I can play in my sets, etc. But at the same time, production wise, I’m always excited to hear new sounds and techniques. Guys like Strip Steve, for example, who was one of the first producers I found on MySpace and was playing genres like disco house when no one else was doing it. The first artist I officially signed was Housemeister, who’s a very good friend of mine and actually from Berlin. His stuff is just super raw and machine-based, something that you can’t recreate. So I really look for those artists who are really doing something different and go a bit outside of what’s going on in the scene.
When did you move to Berlin? How has being based in Berlin, a city well-known for its thriving techno and electronic music scene, shaped you as an artist? In what ways has the city’s musical culture changed since you first moved here?
I moved here around 2003/2004. I was like 20 or 21. Berlin was definitely a huge inspiration to me, especially around the time that I moved here. Hamburg, where I’m from, had such a different scene. It was more house-oriented, and Berlin was really just much heavier. The roughness of the city and sound inspired me a lot because when I first started being a DJ, at around 14, I was playing more deep house and disco. But then I just got bored of it because everyone was playing the same thing. So I gradually began getting more into classic electro. The techno sound came a little bit later because when I started playing music, it was actually called “shranz,” and it was really fast and I couldn’t really connect with it. But in the early 2000s a lot of electronic subgenres began to melt into each other, and that was really exciting. I remember playing with Felix da Housecat, before he released the Kittenz and Thee Glitz album. So that was really a turning point for me as a DJ.
There’s been a widespread boom in electronic music (EDM) the past few years, especially in the U.S., where the genre hasn’t always been embraced, at least on a mainstream front. When it comes to electronic music, what are the main differences between American and European audiences?
You know, if we talk about cities like Berlin, techno and rave are really a big part of the city’s culture; that type of coexistence has been established for a long time in Europe now. Even though techno and house were essentially born in the States, cities like Detroit and Chicago being crucial influencers to the genres, rave culture in the ’90s just didn’t seem to garner a mass appreciation there, not like how it is now. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that it just wasn’t that easy to discover, talk about and connect with new electronic artists and sounds.
But talking about today, because of the past culture Europe had with electronic music, Europeans have a different approach and ear for it. But it’s cool that a lot of young people are discovering the music and that there are a lot of young producers out right now. I think that the States just need a little more time to digest all the stuff that’s out there. I mean, I find out about new genres and artists everyday still.
Obviously in the festival circuit, you’ll hear more of the commercial stuff which, to me, sounds more like pop music. I wouldn’t even say that it’s like house or techno, even though it has a 4/4 and uses elements from it, it doesn’t come from the same idea or mindset. Which is totally fine. I just think that it’s a very functional and easy-to-read type of music. It’s a different approach. But I if you just discover the stuff based on popular opinion, you’ll eventually get bored of it and look deeper. I think it’s a good thing that EDM got that big because it did bring a lot of awareness to electronic artists, but a lot of it has to do with business, which to me isn’t the idea for why we started this type of music.
You’ve finally hit the 10-year mark with BNR. What contributes to the label’s success? How has it been able to sustain itself for over a decade?
I don’t really have a recipe for it. I can just really talk about myself and the music that I sign is really based on the music that I personally like as a producer or as a DJ. I never sign someone thinking about how much of a profit I could make. The approach was always to put out cool music that I like, and I’ve been lucky that it’s worked out! There’ve definitely been moments where we could’ve merged with a bigger label, but we were always very careful with those moves because once you start getting more people involved, then it starts to become more about the business than about the actual music.
I think that people can feel that BNR comes from this place of really loving and appreciating the music and culture. It’s like when you used to go to the record store: listen to 100 records and in the end you only choose two because they sound different. I think we tried to have this sound that it just different without caring about trends or being pressured to deliver a certain type of music.
You’re currently in the midst of a 21-city tour in celebration of the label’s 10-year anniversary. How has that been going so far?
Yeah, the idea was to do 10 countries. So it’s quite a few cities. We only just started, but it’s going really well. The first one was in Miami during the Ultra Music Festival. It was awesome, we threw it in this punk-rock venue. So for all of the parties, we’ve been going through all of the cities, venues and lineups and making sure to choose the one that fits best for our sound and image.
As a self-taught musician, do you believe that not having a formal knowledge of music has been a benefit to your creativity?
Yeah, I think so. As an electronic music producer, you don’t need to know anything really. To know how to program a drum machine, you can just open up a manual and look it up. It definitely helps if you have a little bit of rhythmic feeling. But my favorite releases from the label, and even from other producers, are the most naïve ones, where they don’t actually know what they’re doing and just going for the feeling. That’s how I started. I mean when I listen to my first studio album OiOiOi (2007), it’s really rough and I can hear how I was still experimenting with my sound. But that’s what makes electronic music so cool and that’s why I make electronic music. There are no rules, you can sample whatever sound and make a track out of it. As a musician I’ve always been more focused on creating sounds rather than a melody. I actually don’t really like melodies in a club environment, they always seem cheesy. It’s really tricky to have something melodic and fun to play at the same time, just for my taste.
Where do you think BNR will be in another 10 years time?
It’s hard to say, I’m really bad at predictions. I just know that I want to keep trying new things, I have a lot of ideas all of the time. But who knows, maybe there won’t be a BNR, maybe it’ll be called something else. I mean, I’ll definitely always look out for new artists. I’ll be DJing the next 10 years for sure, and also making tracks with and for other DJs, as it’s really a small world after all. But yeah, we’ll see.
- Photography: Ryan Hursh for Highsnobiety.com