Q&A: Boys Noize on Madonna being lame, Kraftwerk, and playing live

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Boys Noize
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The German DJ/producer Alex Ridha, aka Boys Noize, has been a mainstay of the dance-music underground for nearly a decade. He was a major figure in the so-called "bloghouse" movement, which provided much of the sonic framework informing EDM acts currently filling arenas worldwide. As electronic music exploded in America, Ridha's followed suit, leveraging his tastemaking reputation into main-stage appearances at massive EDM events and remixing A-list pop artists.

Recently Ridha released his third Boys Noize LP, Out of the Black, on his own Boysnoize Records. It's an ambitious record that mixes modern EDM with classic rave sounds, and even features a guest appearance by Snoop Dogg on the electro-rap album closer "Got It." Ridha's tour behind the album is even more ambitious—for the first time in his career he's performing his material live.

Tomorrow night he headlines the House of BluesAragon. Trap phenomenon UZ and the New York avant-rapper Le1f (who just released an extremely fascinating EP on Boysnoize with his frequent collaborator Boody) open. Earlier this week I talked to Ridha about the new record, his new live approach, and dance-music fans doing drugs.

The new record seems a little more aggressive and complex.

Well it's my third record, and it's the first time that I took some time off to lock myself in the studio. I wouldn't say it's more aggressive. Maybe that's subjective. [laughs]

A couple of months ago Madonna stirred up a lot of controversy when she came onstage at Ultra and made a reference to molly. There were a lot of people in the dance-music world who acted offended that someone was talking about drugs in a dance-music environment, which is kind of ridiculous. And you have this song "XTC."

Well, yeah, first of all I thought the Madonna thing was so lame. She's just so old, and it's so lame that a 50-year-old is talking about molly. The "XTC" track just came along after . . . in the last year I've really noticed that there's been a big change with the whole EDM thing. The festivals that I've played here in the U.S., I've really noticed a lot of kids take way more drugs than just two, three years ago. When I had my first shows in the U.S. I always played more, like, indie kind of clubs and there were a lot of indie people and there were no drugs at all for years. And then suddenly with dance music blowing up here . . . obviously dance music has always been together with drugs. Generally music's always been together with drugs! [laughs] So that's how I think I got my idea for the song and the lyrics. It's not a song where it says you should take ecstasy . . . actually, the lyrics at the end do. [laughs]

This is your first tour where you're performing live on stage. What was the inspiration behind that?

It was in my mind for a long time. When I made the album I thought a lot about playing those tracks live, and that live feeling. It's a lot of fun to be able to play my songs different than they are on the CD. And for the whole production I was inspired by the old Kraftwerk concerts where they played their music and everything they did synced to the visuals. I'm actually controlling the visuals myself as well. It's a whole new world that I'm getting into. I just wanted to challenge myself.

It's a badly kept secret that a lot of electronic musicians, their performances are presequenced and there's not really anything live happening on stage besides maybe turning some knobs. There was the thing recently where Deadmau5 came out and said most people are just getting up and pressing play. Do you feel that more electronic musicians should try actually playing live? Is that important?

I think it's the most important thing, for sure. I could never go up and DJ and know already what my set is going to be like, or have a set that I play everywhere. I think a good DJ has a good feeling for moments, and for knowing what to play and how to interact with people. Also for musicians I think [the live experience] is something that I'm missing right now. At festivals the DJs rock way harder than any band they put on. I've always been a fan of punk bands or whatever. I think there's always a reaction to what is going on, and that there are actually a lot of people doing stuff live as well as people doing prerecorded sets or whatever. It's still up to the people whether they acknowledge it or not. A lot of people in festival crowds, I don't think they really care.

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