Alex Ridha's rendition of Depeche Mode's “Personal Jesus” is positively stunning. Masked in the Boys Noize moniker, the Berlin-based producer's grandiose, pitch-shifting stab at the electro-pop anthem eventually earned Ridha a bonus slot on The Best of Depeche Mode, Vol. 1 (Mute, 2006). Ridha's “Personal Jesus” rework was aimed at DJ sets, but the drowsy vocal fluttering effects and the prominent heavy breathing are probably best enjoyed alone in a dark room. Isn't that where all the misunderstood youths first really appreciated “Personal Jesus” anyway?
“At first, I had to get through about 100 different tracks/parts Mute sent,” says Ridha of his Depeche Mode remix process. “This takes an afternoon. Then I had to decide what to use and what to throw away, which was quite clear to me because I didn't want that ‘Western’ guitar of the original in my mix. I wanted to produce something more classic for them, like a 2006 version of ‘Personal Jesus.’”
A couple of Ridha's tracks called “Oh!” and “Vergiftet” may have been composed even before his “Personal Jesus” rendition, but their place on his debut full-length Oi Oi Oi (Last Gang, 2007) is integral to the album's sonically jarring structure. Oi Oi Oi's rock-edged house and techno are grounded in hard drum stabs and crunchy, fuzzed-over analog keyboards (Clavia Nord Lead 2, Korg MS-20 and Roland Juno-106, mostly). It's been championed by Parisian duo Justice, whose praise might have something to do with the considerable similarities between Oi Oi Oi and their own work. The thick and fragmented synths on “Lava Lava” mirror those broken into pieces during Justice's “Phantom,” but the difference is the variety of percussive hits in Ridha's track, all created with an Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1. While parallels will be drawn, a closer listen to Oi Oi Oi finds Ridha making his mark with occasional bare string section sounds (“Shine Shine”) and a hip-hop influence registering in Rick Rubin-esque guitar chunks (“Wu-Tang [Battery Pt.2]”).
”Of course, hip-hop was always a big part in my life,” he says matter-of-factly. “Mainstream hip-hop is not my thing; I like the old stuff more than the new, but I think hip-hop's back in a good way. There are some exciting new artists like [recent Chocolate Industries signees] the Cool Kids.”
Oi Oi Oi's “Deny Selected” has an indecipherable hip-hop vocal sample that cuts in and out over choppy techno clacks. More glitch than Def Jam, Ridha's sneaky references to backspins and zippered-up windbreakers still make subtle appearances throughout.
“I must tell you that the beat from ‘Deny Selected’ is made from the SNES game Street Fighter,” Ridha confesses. ”I sampled kicks and punches from the game and programmed the beat.” Also arranged with his Roland TR-808, TR-909 and Elektron Machinedrum, Ridha was aiming at highly danceable beats when putting together Oi Oi Oi. The abrasive assortment rides an uneven electronic rhythm section, but it's supposed to get people to crowd the floor. “I thought it was good to put the tracks together as one piece on a CD, but to me it's not an album because there's not really a ‘story’ or anything; it's more a collection of Boys Noize singles that all bang in the club.”
Crowd pleasers aside, some of Ridha's works beckon to be absorbed at home. The Depeche Mode remix is a headphone essential for the beat pulses, the two-note sirens that Ridha built with his Korg MS-20 and the original's signature breaths and grim synth riffs, now way up in the mix. Texturally intricate moments like those made it onto Oi Oi Oi as well and might go unnoticed in less-than-intimate listening sessions.
“When I listen some of the new French producers, I think they sometimes use way too much compression that hides bad production,” Ridha says. “Compression can make the track very exciting. The elements can work together in a cool way, but too much compression can fuck up everything, losing the attack and the track's dynamic. In the end, it just sounds like a pot of mud, where everything isn't defined.”