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Boys Noize Returns to His Roots on ‘Strictly Raw Vol. 1’

You might say Boys Noize is in a good position. The German producer and DJ born Alex Ridha demolishes big-tent stages as himself and with Skrillex as hard-hitting one-off Dog Blood, but he’s also been spinning Berlin’s sweatiest underground clubs since age 17. He sees things a bit differently, however: “I’m in a weird position,” he tells SPIN over the phone in a careful, clipped accent. “I’m in the middle of everything.”

Strictly Raw Vol. 1, a collection of his label Boysnoize Records‘ filthiest industrial stalwarts (including “Bugatti” driver Tiga and electro-popper Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs), released today, attempts to show his more mainstream audiences his darker side. “With that album, I try to show people who maybe only know me — especially more in the U.S. — for the festivals or for the bigger shows, that there’s a sound going on that is so different from the more generic EDM sound,” he says.

Stream Strictly Raw Vol. 1, find Boys Noize’s tour dates at the bottom, and read SPIN‘s interview with Ridha, who discusses getting over his aversion to loops, candy ravers, and why Lollapalooza Berlin will be great.

The Berlin club scene has changed a lot in the past ten years. What do you think about Lollapalooza Berlin? Does it say anything about how the city has changed?
I think Berlin’s underground scene is as alive as always. It’s actually hard for EDM acts to play in Berlin because it’s one of the only cities where that kind of sound doesn’t really work because techno music and rave and warehouse parties have been part of the city’s culture for such a long time.

When I moved here over ten years ago, it was really the techno city. The city where I’m from, Hamburg, was the house city. House music and techno was really divided and nobody played one or the other. Berlin was really known for the tougher, harder, faster stuff. That changed during the 2000s, I think when Richie Hawtin moved to Berlin and a lot of DJs moved into the city; now you can have a deep house party here too, where a few years ago that would have been impossible.

Lollapalooza is one of the best festivals in the world because they really know how to mix it up. It’s more based on an indie crowd, and Berlin has a great independent scene as well. There are a lot of punk bars. One thing, though: having a festival inside the city has always been a little bit difficult because of the huge variety of clubs in the city. Also, the city is kind of poor — there’s not a lot of money. There are a lot of artists that decided to move to Berlin because they don’t have to worry too much about making money in order to make a great living. So for big shows that cost more money, I think that’s basically one problem.

A lot of the Berlin natives have been complaining about all the Americans moving in a staying for months at a time; some have been saying that formerly quiet neighborhoods now have people coming in and trying to party, and that Berghain is too mainstream. Do you agree with those?
I think it’s great for the city to have this international melting pot. Yes, it’s been crazy over the last years, and it’s true, a lot of Americans come here and they move to [the “hipster neighborhood”] Neukölln. I don’t really hear complaints about it from the people I know. Berghain: personally, I love the club. I go there on my days off, on a Sunday afternoon, and I spend a few hours in there without watching the time.

What Berghain has done great is they have the spirit of the old Berlin clubbing nights. That’s the only way of keeping the vibe alive, to be strict about it. There are silly politics about it with no phones, and no pictures or films allowed. And they’re really careful about who they let in. But I think in general it won’t lose any of its charm because a lot of people are raving about it or taking a flight from the U.K. to just go there.

What do you look for in the artists that you sign to BNR, and once they’re on the label, do you help cultivate them? Or do you sort of let them do their own thing?
I’ve heard a lot of sounds, so I get easily bored when I just know, “He used that preset sound or he used that music pack which is made already for a whole track.” I’m really happy with the producers right now, like Djedjotronic. He’s the guy for the new classic electro sound from the middle of the ‘90s that’s coming back really strong in a lot of young producers’ styles. And then Strip Steve has his own style, Housemeister — super raw, analog stuff.

It depends on each artist, how much I get involved. There’s the artists that know exactly what they want, and some of them are more unsure about the music they do; and then I give them a little help here and there. Sometimes it’s just a mixing thing where they don’t know, “Oh, is this sounding good from the mix?” and then I’ll be like, “Why don’t you turn up this or EQ that a little?”

For Strictly Raw, you decided to only use one drum machine and one or two synthesizers. Is that how you usually work? If not, how did that change the way you thought about the music you were making?
Normally, my albums are a bit more complex. I wouldn’t say they have a song arrangement, but usually they have three different parts, from one part into another, into another, and then it comes back to the first part. I easily get bored of loops. For Strictly Raw, it was about embracing the loop a bit more: take a drum machine, one more synth, and make it sound really raw.

There’s a very healthy underground scene that does a lot of that type of music — producers from the U.K., from the U.S., that don’t play any of the festivals or the big clubs, but they have a following. They’ll record their music on a tape and use the tape as the master so it gets this sort of f—ked-up sound. So it’s a tribute to that.

Why did you decide to release the vinyl for Strictly Raw at least a month before the digital?
That’s also to, on the one side, maybe push some more people to get involved into the vinyl culture. I always feel kind of responsible for the culture of electronic music and I try to translate that to everybody who knows me nowadays. I buy vinyl every week, and there is so much music on vinyl that doesn’t get out on digital. The music that I was listening to when I started was only on vinyl; none of my friends knew about this music.

When I started Boysnoize Records ten years ago, the first releases were on vinyl only because at that time, Beatport wasn’t there and iTunes had just started. For the first ten or 15 releases, it was only on vinyl, so I wanted to release that album only on vinyl, but everyone around me was like, “You’re stupid, don’t do that, why are you holding off the music from everybody?” So I left two or three tracks on vinyl only — they’ll never come out in digital.

You teased the test pressings on Vine, so it seems like you’re having fun with the digital side.
And nowadays, even all the vinyl releases get ripped after a week. If you want to you can find anything online.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your own music that you’re working on?
I’m about to finish another album, but I think I’m going to wait to give you news, and also to release something until the end of the year or the beginning of next year. I think it’s okay to wait a little. It also gives me more time to wait. But yeah, it’s cool. I’m really happy. I’ve been testing out some of those songs and there are a few people I’ve worked with as well. But I can’t tell you more yet.

Boys Noize tour dates:
July 2 – Ibiza, Spain @ Cream
July 3 – Roeser, Luxemburg @ Rock A Field
July 4 – Brest, France @ Astropolis Festival
July 10 – Zamardi, Hungary @ Balaton Festival
July 11 – Eindhoven, The Netherlands @ XO Extrema Outdoor Festival
July 11 – Essen, Germany @ Hotel Shanghai
July 17 – Eau Claire, WI @ Eaux Claires Festival
July 18 – New York, NY @ PS1 MOMA Warm Up
July 24 – San Francisco, CA @ Mezzanine #BNR10YR
July 25 – Cuauhtemoc, Mexico @ Sala Puebla #BNR10YR
July 30 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks (as Dog Blood)
July 31 – Denver, CO @ BETA #BNR10YR
August 1 – Chicago, IL @ Lollapalooza Festival
August 1 – Chicago, IL @ Evil Olive
August 2 – Pomona, CA @ HARD Summer Festival
August 8 – Saalbach, Germany @ Sonne Mond Sterne
August 13 – Shanghai, China @ TBA
August 14 – Tokyo, Japan @ Sonic Mania
August 15 – Tokyo, Japan @ TBA
August 20 – Hasselt, Belgium @ Pukkelpop
August 22 – Hamburg, Germany @ Dockville Festival
August 23 – The Netherlands @ Lowlands Festival
August 28 – Paris, France @ Rock En Seine (as Handbraekes)
August 30 – Dresden, Germany @ Showboxx Open Air #BNR10YR
September 4 – Ibiza, Spain @ Bugged Out
September 12 – Berlin, Germany @ Lollapalooza (as Dog Blood)
September 13 – London, UK @ HOLI COLORS Festival
September 25 – Marseille, France @ Marsatac Festival
September 28 – Ibiza, Spain @ Aoki’s Playhouse
October 16 – Amsterdam, Netherlands @ ADE Paradiso
October 24 – Caen, France @ Nordik Impakt