There’s a reason Alex Ridha a.k.a. Boys Noize is the United States’ main import from Germany. He runs a music label with hundreds of releases; he produces his own music, totaling three full-length LPs and countless EPs on his own label and others’, and now, he’s produced for some more familiar acts, like Kelis, Santigold and Scissor Sisters.
He also fills a niche that other popular EDM acts in the United States simply don’t. Yes, he’s an electronic dance music producer and DJ and his primary goal, most of the time, is to get the dance floor pumping. But there are genres of EDM that are mostly ignored by most European producers making music with America in mind – especially harder techno. The EDM that fills stadiums in America these days is very dramatic, and in many ways “safe” – relying on familiar sounds, build-up/drop sequences, and guest vocalists to be interesting.
Boys Noize simply fills a different niche, one more aligned with harder dance genres like acid and techno, which eschew big-name guest vocalists for innovative and catchy beat making. (Boys Noize collaborates with Snoop Dogg on his latest album – but this is the exception that proves the rule, and was a lifelong dream of Ridha’s.) But Ridha respects those who make their living in another niche: in a SPIN interview, he says of David Guetta’s music, “If you decide to make that music, it’s fine – I just can’t.”
Which is what makes him so interesting – a dedication to staying independent, doing what he wants to do, collaborating with a group of artists so diverse they may not have even heard of each other – so he can release a two-track EP with Skrillex under a pseudonym (“Dog Blood”) with expertly constructed dance floor tools only a few months after dropping a completely dope avant-garde future techno EP with London-based Erol Alkan (“Roland Rat/Brain Storm”).
His show was tight and exactly what I expected: a high-energy maximalist time warp through his catalog, made more immediate by the chest-vibrating bass, epileptic light show, and the stage’s centerpiece, an Olmec-like skull with light-up ruby red eyes that pulse rhythmically to the beat. As the show began, Ridha rose confidently from behind the skull with his fist raised, a gesture he often uses to rile up the crowd and get people moving. He began with “What You Want,” the opener off his latest album, featuring Boys Noize’s classic robot vocals and hip-hop percussion. It quickly morphs into an 80s throwback hybrid, with Ghostbusters-like synths and a banging four-on-the-floor beat.
This is Boys Noize’s first live tour, but the show comes off as well-rehearsed and deftly planned, not just a jumble of his tracks in a playlist on shuffle. Comparisons to Daft Punk have always been apt, because Boys Noize has the same sense of how to control a crowd, how to ebb and flow with the mood of the audience, and how to weave together and remix his impressive body of work to create something new and, especially in the moment, ecstatically fun. He effortlessly connects tracks from all three of his LPs and many of his singles and EPs, including “Starter,” “Lava Lava,” “My Moon My Man,” and “XTC.” It was a truly career-spanning performance; all in all there were bits and pieces of at least two dozen of his tracks. An incredible feat, really, and a testament to Boys Noize’s ability to churn out hit after hit without getting stale.
The light show was also impressive. Geometric patterns, flying source code, displays that emulated analog equipment, epileptic strobes. All par for the course, in a sense – we live in a post-Daft Punk world – but all expertly performed and executed, a well-oiled multi-part machine, the kind of efficiency, precision and supreme dedication that Germans are renowned for.
Boys Noize is bigger than ever in America – but paradoxically, still relatively unknown. In October, Rolling Stone got an exclusive single release of “What You Want.” Ridha revealed that the song was heavily influenced by The Beastie Boys. Given his influences, recent production credits, and reputation as a master DJ and producer, you’d think he’d attract the attention of websites and magazines like indie taste maker Pitchfork. They’ve yet to review any of his original music. Boys Noize has moved out of the underground but not into the main stream – and maybe it’s better that way.