Boys Noize is a famous DJ, but he's not that famous. He regularly plays prime-time sets at massive EDM festivals, but his performances are often tucked away from the main stage and relegated to a smaller tent or arena. When he plays nightclubs, he tends to appear at more conspicuous venues rather than local DIY dives. Yes, breaking into the mainstream has been a long, steady process for the DJ, producer, and label owner born Alex Ridha, from his start in his hometown of Hamburg, Germany in the 1990s to his current perch atop the Berlin scene. And though he's not as well known as festival headliners such as Skrillex (who recently collaborated with Ridha on a project called Dog Blood), he has a considerably larger fan base than the stars of the staunchly alternative house and techno scene. He's comfortably on the cusp.
On November 18, the fabric label released Fabriclive.72, Ridha's contribution to its longstanding FabricLive DJ mix series. It's an offering that reflects his precarious position between mainstream and underground, with both Dog Blood and buzzed-about Brooklynite upstart Anthony Naples appearing on the track list. The mix unites not only the opposing worlds of big-room festival raves and little-known purist nightclubs, but also traces the contemporary scene's lineage to rugged tunes from bygone legends like the Chicago house institution Dance Mania. It's an engrossing and thrilling tour through dance music's many disparate styles, and it's to be followed by Out of the Black, an equally varied set of remixes due February 3 on Ridha's own Boynoize imprint. (He'll be coming Stateside for a clutch of dates at the end of this month, including a New Year's Eve bash at Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles.) We caught up with Ridha to chat about how his home base, Berlin, and a few of the artists on the track list have inspired him to navigate between different styles and attitudes.
Craze is a great DJ. He's very talented at scratching and all the crazy turntable tricks. You can replicate it with software, but he's really good at the technical side of playing with vinyl, which is something I wasn't quite as into as Craze was. From the beginning, I was more into mixing things and working styles together. That was more of my focus, rather than having thousands of records I could do the craziest shit with. Talking about vinyl, and vinyl culture, I think that no one could be blamed for not knowing about it much. Obviously, in the last few years, it's been dying from the scene, and not many DJs — almost no one — uses vinyl anymore. But vinyl was the reason I got into dance music, because I worked at a record shop for many years, and buying house records or techno and electro on vinyl was the only thing I could think about. For me, still, whenever I take out a piece of vinyl from my collection, I have a memory connected to every one I bought, because I played it out, or certain moments textured it. I don't really have that with my mp3s when I click on them.
Anthony makes those really rough house records that have the sound I was DJing with — when I started DJing — more rough. Now, a lot of producers imitate this without really knowing it, and so it sounds old, but new at the same time. Right now, there's a small scene of kids that release that kind of music on vinyl only — it's all about that rough house and that techno, and it's a little bit noisy. It doesn't need to be the cleanest production, because it's all about the vibe. For me, that's what house music is about. I would never say the most polished records are the perfect sound. Anthony tries to make cool-sounding house records, which is different than DJs who play the main stage [at festivals]. Making a cool record takes a different approach than writing a record that's made for the big floor, with three-minute breakdowns and long builds — every record has the same kind of arrangement with a big drop. It's very functional, clean, and kind of generic.
DJ Deeon and Dance Mania
Dance Mania — I mean, those records and those DJs were never really a mainstream thing, even back then. You find the music in a lot of small clubs, but I feel like I'm at the point where I can try to bring those records to a bigger audience. Especially the DJ Deeon track on the mix ["Work This Motherfucker"], which has been in my set for years. Dance Mania has always been a big record label for me, because it's that kind of sound that combines the rap scene, I feel, with the house scene. It's a little bridge, and to me, those records and those mixes were always very important to my style of mixing as well. I always loved to combine different stuff.
I want to try to get people off of their pure, technicalized thoughts and orthodoxies. I like people being just like "What? What is he doing now? Why is he playing that when he just played that?" What I've experienced here in Berlin is exactly that. There's so much great techno, there's so much great house in the underground, but everyone's trying to not fuck with each other, and everyone is more their world. I like all of these worlds, and I'm just like, "This should be more open to each other." If I have a chance, I like to play with those people who are really pure about their own style and only accept that one style. I go pretty much everywhere, and it's a way of showing that all of that works together. It can be iffy, but if you find those records that can be a bridge to different styles or different tempos, I think it's more exciting than when you have one pure style the whole time. Playing a Dog Blood track to the Anthony Naples crowd, or playing an Anthony Naples track to a Dog Blood crowd, that's my trick. It's both challenging, and in both cases it might not really work.