"Snowden Is a Hero": Boys Noize on Giving Oliver Stone's Film Its Electronic Pulse
"I'm really into technology," says Alex Ridha, the man known to electronic dance music fans as Boys Noize. "I always update my studio with the newest [gear]. I get easily bored with sounds. So how can I motivate myself to make new music? It always has to do with new sounds."
It's that restless, easily bored streak that has made Boys Noize one of more interesting producers of the last decade. He first rose to prominence in 2005 and 2006 with a series of EPs, singles and remixes that combined the sleek, mechanized sounds of classic techno with the distorted, heavily compressed synths of electro-house, but soon branched out into everything from acid house to ambient pop, especially through his many collaborations with artists as diverse as Erol Alkan, Chilly Gonzalez, Mr. Oizo and Skrillex.
His latest collaboration came with film composer Craig Armstrong, who together with music supervisor Budd Carr and co-composer Adam Peters reached out to the German producer and asked him to remix a simple piano melody Armstrong had written for Oliver Stone's new film, Snowden. Ridha ultimately created several different remixes for the score and was astonished at how prominently they — along with the title track from his most recent album, Mayday — were featured in the film's final cut.
"Last night I watched the movie and it was crazy," he says, speaking by phone from his home in Berlin just a few days after Snowden's theatrical release. "My sounds and my contribution to the theme song and the scoring was in the movie all the way through."
Ridha is especially proud of his contributions to Snowden because of what the film's title character represents to him. "Snowden is a hero," he says of the man who has been a fugitive since he leaked National Security Administration documents that revealed a massive international program of government surveillance. "It’s crazy that a lot of people in the U.S. still think he’s a traitor."
Even before his work on Snowden, Ridha attempted to address his unease with how modern technology has intruded into our lives on Mayday, which reveals its dystopian themes in track titles like "Overthrow" and "Revolt." The latest tech may be well and good when it comes to creating new sounds in the studio, but he sees a dark side to it when the average person, as he puts it, "spends 12 hours a day in front of a screen and lives in this hyperreality." Traveling the world to DJ sets and live gigs, he says he sees global culture becoming increasing homogenized, and he worries that the mob mentality of social media may be chipping away at our individuality.
"Mayday is sort of an alarm call against conformity," he explains. He hopes his music will encourage listeners "to be more individual and have an opinion and be different."
That's not to say that Mayday is filled with overtly political or profound lyrics. "I'm not Leonard Cohen," Ridha says with a laugh. When he plays tracks from Mayday on his current tour, he wants to present the album's themes in subtler ways, not deliver a polemic. "In the end, I think it’s good to have the club or the festival be a free space for people to forget about all of that."
There's also a positive, celebratory side to Ridha's latest album, as heard on tracks like the gorgeous "Starchild," with vocals by Poliça's Channy Leaneagh, which resembles classic BT with its mix of uplifting, trance-like melodies and dark breakbeats, and the triumphant electro-trap of "Birthday," a collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Spank Rock, with a single version featuring rappers Danny Brown and Pell. The producer says his ultimate goal on Mayday was "to go away from my usual rhythms and tempos ... and from that you can hear different styles."
Although he now spends part of almost every year in L.A. to escape Berlin's long, harsh winters, he doesn't see himself becoming yet another electronic producer cashing in on major-label collaborations with pop stars. "I’d love to write a fucking awesome track with Rihanna, don’t get me wrong," he says, laughing. "But it’s not as simple as that. There’s the whole industry around it, a lot of crazy politics and people elbowing. So I’d rather go to California and really enjoy the environment there. I love to just wake up and do my thing there. Go to the beach and make some raw techno jams.”
Boys Noize plays a live set the Mayan Theatre on Wednesday. Oct. 5.
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