Last year marked ten years of Boysnoize Records, the label run by Alexander "Boys Noize" Ridha. This year, however, seems to mark a new chapter in his career. With the release of his fourth album Mayday, we see the Berlin-based artist dig deep into his rave roots for the raw materials and, when it comes to the execution, these elements are put together in new ways and different contexts. We also see a more collaborative Boys Noize; sure he's collaborated before (in 2012 with Skrillex as Dog Blood, in 2014 with Chilly Gonzales as Octave Minds, and last year with Baauer), but this is the first time other artists have featured on a solo album. Where previous LPs featured no one but Ridha, Mayday features a raft of guests including Hudson Mohawke, Spank Rock, Remy Banks, Benga and Poliça.
Born in Hamburg, but now living in Berlin, Boys Noize first made a name for himself around the great electro (and electroclash) boom of the mid-00s. Though his funk-filled buzzsaw techno fit comfortably alongside the (predominantly French) electro club bangers, Boys Noize always sat slightly outside of that circle. Whether it was to do with his affinity for techno over disco, or that he generally preferred not to collaborate, it's not quite clear. A combination of the two is probably fairly close to the mark. Either way, Boys Noize continues to go from strength to strength bringing his uncompromising brand of techno to huge audiences in a way that few have done before. We sat down with him to discuss the new album, politics of the Berlin scene and the heritage of techno.
Interview by James Keith
You have the new album out now, and there's a lot of history and classic rave sounds on it.
There's a sample on "Rock The Bells"—the breaks from Bob James which Run DMC then used. One night I just woke up and thought, "Why has no one made a new version of this?" That track's actually a good example of me being inspired by people like The Dust Brothers with those old acid with crazy long breakbeat fills that never end. I love that vibe and that reference. The Chemical Brothers also combined hip-hop with techno in a way that was fresh and is still, to this day, an exciting approach. It bridges so many things. Back then, it had something naive and blue-eyed about it. Some of the stuff doesn't even work harmonically, but it's still exciting. I don't try to make a record that sounds like '95, but it has a spirit of that for sure.
You've got quite a few collaborations on Mayday—Hudson Mohwake, Remy Banks, Polica, Spank Rock and Benga. How did they come about? Why did you pick them?
It was a pretty organic process. For instance, the track with Benga was when he came to Berlin to visit my studio. It was kind of a funny, unexpected visit. We knew each other from gigs and he was sending me some of his new music. I really loved it so I said we should do something together and then the next day he just showed up in Berlin! I showed him the song idea I had with Mapei, which he really loved. That was a funny process as well, because I'd done a remix for Mapei that never came out—she didn't even know about it—and I met her somewhere in a bar and then the next day she came to my studio just to check out some stuff and we started to write some music together. It was the same with Benga. So when he heard the song, he really loved it and so we worked on it together.
Berlin has always been the city for freaks, even since the 1920s.
The only person I really wanted to work with that I didn't know already was Poliça. I was a huge fan of the band before. They're more known in the folk world but, coincidentally, Bon Iver produced her old album. Weirdly, they're big fans of my music so when I was in Minneapolis for the first time, I was hanging out with the whole crew. Back then Justin [Vernon, Bon Iver] was showing me the demos of the last Poliça album that came out that year. So that was an easy way for us to get together. We eventually got together in Los Angeles for three days and I just had a drum machine to work on rhythms while she freestyled over it.
We've already heard a few songs from the album, but you previewed "Hardkotzen" over the phone, a bit like the old rave days where you had to call a phone number and follow these clues to some field in the middle of nowhere.
With "Hardkotzen" it was fun because it's this ghetto hotline thing from a friend of mine. The song fit it so well. It's this 1:50-long punk-rock track that I wanted to do. I think it's just cool try out things that move away from the simple "check out my album" thing. We came up with illegal parties and soundsystems on the street and all these things that go into the vibe. We actually did exactly like that in Berlin on May 1 with a soundsystem. You had to text this number and you got little hints to get to the rave. We did the same in LA with this warehouse in downtown LA, which is super industrial. We were partying until 6 in the morning there. I had all these young techno producers play this party before and it was really hard and fast for people when they're coming into the warehouse. It was great because I think the city needs more of that.
You've been based in Berlin for a while now. Why do you think it's such an important place for dance music?
Electronic music in general has been a big part of Germany's culture since the '70s, and obviously Berlin has been one of the first cities to take to techno music. Not just techno, but also the vibe and the raw environment. It was just another form of punk music. The music was an anti-music, so over the years it became more and more known and people just want to get a little bit of the vibe. To me, it was very inspiring as well when I moved from Hamburg because at that time Hamburg was more known for house music. Berlin kinda laughed at Hamburg for "handbag house" and deep house because Berlin was tough, jacking stuff. It was no joke! It's not just techno, though.
You need different cultures to mix things up.
Berlin has always been the city for freaks, even since the 1920s. So in Berlin you understand a little bit of that lifestyle where you can do something but it's fine to do it small and not exploit it. A lot of other places in the world, they want to make a business out of everything. The Berlin guy doesn't think that way. You're fine doing what you love and not making a business out of it. The spirit is definitely very important too as a reason why so many people come here. It's great. I think everybody should come here for a change of perspective.
London and the UK's nightlife is struggling a little, with a lot of clubs and famous spots closing down. Do you think there's anything London can learn from Berlin?
I think it's more the other way. The one thing I'm missing here is the culture that you guys have, in terms of different cultures coming together. There's not a big black community here, for instance, and I think just that already is such an important thing. You need different cultures to mix things up. Berlin is also very different from the rest of Germany. You still have the purists, which is great. There's always good stuff coming from those proper techno guys. Luckily, over the years they accepted me [laughs] because that was a crazy thing when I played at Berghain. I think a little bit of that openness that you guys have would actually be great. There's a still a lot of DJs who are so strict about how things should be. I like to meet people that are more open-minded and understand that there's quality in different styles and you don't have to be as strict. That said, I understand it as a concept, but I wish it wasn't so strict sometimes.
So, what do you have planned for the future?
It's all about the album now. I'm going to premiere the new show at Sónar in Barcelona. Then I'll basically be playing in Europe for the next few months. And that's about it! We do everything ourselves so it is a lot of work. It's very exciting though. I've been taking quite a bit of time off from touring to work on the new album, to work on a new show. After being around for a few years, festivals always want to know what big new thing I'm bringing so I have to do these things for myself. But I'm really excited about the album and I'm really, really excited about the tour.