Alexander Ridha aka Boys Noize is no stranger to Kuala Lumpur and local nightlife heads here – having played here before and all (and interviewed by JUICE twice, making it the third time now). Recently in town again, we decided to play catch up with him and got him to tell us what it was like playing live for the first time, his punk rock-esque experience DJing in the States, and how his now trademark skull came about.
You started playing live for the first time last year, and now you’re back to DJing a regular set. How do you feel? Relieved?
Feels so great (laughs). I’m a DJ by heart you know, that’s how everything started. But I have to say to play my own music, and doing it live, is actually more fun than doing it by just playing the finished track off a CD or vinyl. It’s just so different, musically it’s way more of a punk rock thing. When I DJ I’d play all types of stuff; house, techno, electro. But yeah, I love to DJ again – I am excited.
You’ve been DJing and producing for a while, why did it only take last year for you to finally decide it was about time you try out playing live?
It never really made sense to me before because I had so much fun DJing. Then there’s always new technology coming out with DJing, suddenly you can do so much with the mixer and CD players with looping and FX. It felt more live to me than just playing 2 records. I always do a lot of edits live and I’d do things in the moment where I would say “Okay, let’s loop this,” and I play parts of my tracks. So I never really felt playing ‘live’ made sense because I got away with playing a few of my own tracks [when I DJ]. But now since I just released my third album, there’s just so much of my own music. And at the same time when I DJ a lot of my fans would go “Oh, you didn’t play ‘& Down’” and I’m like “Well, yeah, it’s already so old.” Cause when I DJ, I play the newer and fun stuff. At one point I was in my studio and decided to make a playlist of only my own tracks – I never did it before – and then suddenly I had 20 tracks of mine. I was like “Oh sh!t, this is rocking, rocking, rocking, rocking!” So I was like, I gotta get all of these together and make a big mash out of all ‘em. It was a new challenge for me.
So basically you finally had enough tracks to base an entire concert around ‘em…
Yeah! Exactly. I can play 2 to 3 hours of my own music if I wanted to. Not only that, I also had a crazy stage design in my head for a long time and I didn’t know how to realise it…
The skull sculpture? What was the story behind it anyway?
Yeah! It took a year to build all of that. I’ve been using the image of a skull for a long time since my first album Oi Oi Oi. It’s kinda like a death disco imagery, I don’t like the round disco ball, to me it’s too chic and nice. [The skull] is actually a piece of art from this German artist, and I saw it and thought it worked so well with the image of my music. Then on my second album, I thought I wanted to do something else but still I felt every time I put up the skull as the image to my visual, people would freak out. Now I just realised that the fans really connect to that image, so I had to bring it to my live shows.
It’s associated with you the same way the cross is with JUSTICE…
Your third album is named Out of the Black, what were you referring to? Did you record it during a particularly dark period of your life?
To be honest, it’s just a cool title (laughs). It’s not like there was a deep story behind it. Even with my track titles, they don’t really have much meaning.
We read your previous interviews before, and people really loved asking you about ‘XTC’, probably because of the drug association. You don’t really mind speaking about drugs, do you?
Yeah, I don’t mind. I think when people talk about ecstasy it seems like such a scary thing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to promote drugs at all – I don’t take drugs. You can do whatever you want, as long as you can control it of course. Generally though, drugs have always been connected to music. ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s raves, nightclubs, people just take it. I actually produced the song after I played a lot of the US festivals in 2011 when I felt like candy ravers were coming back. So that’s how the lyrics came to my mind, it’s really silly actually, you can’t take it seriously.
When was the first time you played in the States?
You know what the first few shows I played in the US were so different. I played in a lot of rock venues. There weren’t really many night clubs as there are now, the venues that existed were mostly Top 40 clubs, indie rock venues, f*cked up clubs, and those were where I played for a few years. And then after the scene got bigger and bigger with the whole first wave of Ed Banger, that was when more clubs where they played that kind of music started opening. Before it wasn’t cool or commercial at all. Now there are a lot of clubs, but still a lot more Top 40 clubs, you know (laughs).
Speaking of which, did playing at all these sh!tty rock venues contributed to your punk rock aesthetics?
Yeah, I love it so much. You’re so close to the people. When I saw people stage diving to the music I was playing, that was epic. I love the whole vibe. For me, I do everything myself, the whole DIY stuff always resonated with me.
You mentioned that you are a DJ by heart, does that mean you prefer it over playing live?
I wouldn’t say so. To me there are 2 different things. When I play live it’s just my music, the same way a band would perform their own songs. It doesn’t have much to do with DJing to me, it becomes a performance…
It becomes a routine after a while?
Not that. It’s more like I have all these elements of my music, and it’s just creating something with that. Whereas DJing I’d just play other people’s music, and I don’t know what I’d play. In a minute I could decide I wanna do this, oh sh!t, this track isn’t working, I’ll play this then. You’d never know what happens, and I can never make up my mind too much because I love to decide in the moment. When I play live, I’d think about a set list like a band. You think about it. Also, when I play live, I have this other element of controlling the visuals as well. Everything I do is connected to the visual aspect. It’s quite complex and I have to really make up my mind and planned it way more than a DJ set.
You like the whole improvisational aspect of DJing, how do you gauge what the audience wants?
I think that’s some kind of magic. A good DJ can read the moment, they just have a good feeling of the moment. That’s why I don’t understand DJs who play the same sets all over again. If I did that I’d be bored and I’d quit music and DJing because music is fun to me. Especially DJing, of course I want to have a great party, but a lot of the magic happens in the moment for me.
You worked with Snoop Dogg before he turned into Snoop Lion, would you work with him in his current incarnation?
(Laughs) Yeah, I would. He’s such a legend. I don’t mind Snoop Lion, not music I would listen to personally. But I didn’t even listen to his last album before that, you know what I mean. I just love him as how he is. I grew up with his music and I will always love him no matter what he’s doing now. For me he can do whatever, he’s still Snoop. He’s on that level, you know. This Snoop Lion thing, I’m sure he’ll be returning to the Dogg, for sure (laughs).
Anything new you’re working now?
Yes. I’m working on a new album with Gonzales, which is pretty awesome so far. We got a few really amazing songs that are more electronica and piano-based, weird stuff. I’m doing a new EP with Mr. Oizo as well. And then there’s the 100th release of my label, I’ve got JUSTICE remixing a song of mine, I’ve got The Chemical Brothers remixing it too. That’s gonna be the 100th release from Boysnoize Records. I’m so happy.
Boys Noize played at Zouk Club KL last February. Get more from Boysnoize Records at boysnoize.com.