Boys Noize Talks About ‘Out Of The Black’ And His Upcoming Tour

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German producer/DJ Boys Noize, aka Alex Ridha, predates the ongoing EDMsplosion. He’s been a staple of the dance music scene for years, remixing everyone from N*E*R*D to Cut Copy. He’s also a tastemaker with his own label, Boysnoize Records, which just released Le1f and Boody’s Liquid EP. Last month, Ridha released his third album as Boys Noize, Out Of The Black, a collection of pulsing, simmering tracks to keep the dancefloor fresh. Snoop Dogg’s even along for the party, throwing a couple verses over the woozy bass of “Got It.”

I called Ridha at his home in Berlin to talk about his city, his album, and his North American tour that’s kicking off now.

What’s a normal day in Berlin like for you?
Normally, when I get up, I have to go out with the dog first, because she needs to go out. She has the most priority in the mornings. When I go back, I do a lot of my label stuff, working out the music we’re releasing and talking to all the artists on my label, figuring all of that out. Basically, I’m doing the whole creative side of Boysnoize Records. That’s a lot of fun for me. Then when the sun goes down, then I go to the studio, which is also at home. Then it depends. I’m not a guy who can go in the studio from 9 to 5, that’s why I have it at home so I can go in a moment, because you can’t really force creativity, not in my sense.

If you were meeting someone who had never been to Berlin before, what would you tell them is the first thing they should do or see?
Probably go to Kreuzberg and go through the streets and get a Turkish kebab, which is almost like the German traditional meal. It’s getting there. At night time, a lot of people come to Berlin to party, and I think you can do that really well because there’s a lot of illegal parties, there’s a lot of parties that start on Saturday and end up on Tuesday morning, so you have a lot of places like that, like the Berghain. Actually, you have to see the Berghain if you’re coming to Berlin for the first time, it’s probably one of the most amazing clubs in Berlin, it’s super techno and very dark. There’s no cameras allowed, you won’t get in if you have a camera on you. If you take a picture, you get thrown out as well. And then after that, you can eat a currywurst, that’s a traditional sausage, you know. And then there’s a lot of flea markets on Sunday. You should visit the wall as well, there’s still part of it in Berlin.

How is the way this record came together different from your previous albums?
The first two albums I pretty much produced while touring, during my DJ gigs. Most of the time, I’m away on the weekends, and during the week I’m back in my studio. On this record, it was different, because after the second record I did, I wanted to try out new things and work with other people, that’s why I got into productions for other people like Santigold and Spank Rock. I did a full album with Chilly Gonzales, who’s a piano player, and we did this really fun electronic piano [project]. After that time working with other people, I felt the urge of making my own music again. So basically for this album, I took some time off to be in the studio only, I didn’t do any festivals or club shows this year and just enjoyed being at my home and in my studio all the time to make this album.

Is there a particular track that you’re the most proud of?
It changes all the time. Right now, I’m pretty happy with the track I did with Snoop Dogg, it’s a pretty big honor for me to have him on my album. For me, it was kind of a statement to only have him on my album as a feature. For me, the most important thing was to make something fucking cool with him.

How did that collaboration come about?
I did an official remix for him in 2009, I think it was, for his track "Sensual Seduction." You know how it is, the big record label asked me to do the remix, so I didn’t know if he knew it, and when I discovered Twitter, I wrote him directly asking him if he knew the remix, and he replied right away, saying he loved it and I should send more beats. Ever since, we’ve kept in contact. I met last year in LA for the first time, and this year I met him again and he invited me to his place and we recorded two songs together. It was really, really cool to meet him, he’s such a nice dude.

Do you have any dream collaborations for next time around?
It’s always difficult for me to have a feature on my own music, because although I’m making a lot of different kinds of music as a producer for other people, for my own music I have a very pure vision and I’m more a fan of robotic voices than real human voices. On my album, you can hear a lot of electronic voices and different kinds of robotic voices I’ve been studying. Another thing is that once I work with other people, like a singer or someone, then it turns too much to me into a song or it’s getting too poppy, then it doesn’t really reflect me as a DJ or a performer. I’m not someone who plays shitty house records with cheesy vocals on it. It’s fine for the radio, but for my own sets I like it when it’s more in your face and not too much like mainstream or commercial stuff. It also means that for my music, I can’t really do that, just because I’m not doing that for my own music. I’m open to everything as a producer for other people, but for my own music, I prefer my own robotic voices and stuff like that.

Can you talk about the album title a little bit?
I kind of started with the English thing almost immediately. I really liked the twist with the blue and the black, because out of the black doesn’t really mean anything. I liked that. It also kind of reflects me being in the studio at night. When the sun goes down, I can make some noise when everyone’s sleeping. I feel most relaxed at night as well, and most creative. The image sounded cool.

With this album, you’re finally going on your first full American tour. Would you say that has to do with the US finally catching up to the world of electronic music?
No, actually, I’ve been touring a lot in the US since 2006, even 2005. I’ve been playing a lot of gigs pretty much everywhere. This is the first time I’m playing live, which is a new challenge and it makes sense, now that I have three albums. So I will perform my own music only, like a punk rock kind of concert. I’m bringing a big production as well, there are going to be some crazy things going on. I have one element which is pretty big, but I can’t go into much detail about it. I’m pretty excited to do that, it’s a new way of touring as well, I’m going on a bus for six or seven weeks. It’s pretty rock ‘n’ roll, I’m looking forward to it.

What can we expect from your show?
I’ll be performing my own music only. I haven’t really done that, though a lot of people were wondering [how that would work out]. As a DJ, I do a lot of things in the moment, and a lot of things are spontaneous. I’m not mixing two records only, I do a lot of live remixing and live editing in the moment. This time, it’s my own music that I will tweak and remix live and have different variations on. I have a lot of controllers and effects units and a big production around it. There’s going to be one big element onstage, which is quite crazy. You should actually check it out, if you can.

Do you have any particular favorite places to go on tour?
In the US, there’s a lot of cool cities. I’m a big fan of San Francisco, of Chicago, New York, L.A. Montreal is also a great city. There’s a lot of cities this time around that I haven’t visited yet, especially in the middle of America, Texas and stuff. I haven’t hit those places, I’m curious.

Those are probably places where it has taken a little longer to build a dance music following.
Yeah, I feel like I’m on a mission, to be honest. Obviously, there’s the whole EDM thing, I guess I’m a big part of that as well. I think that’s a lot of music where it’s very functional, and I get to a lot of place where I hear the same music. It feels good to really be on a mission, to show different aspects of electronic music.

After having done this for years, I’m sure you know you’ve been ahead of the curve.
I wouldn’t say that to myself. (laughs) But it’s true, there’s a new generation in America that is totally into electronic music. I think it’s amazing, because it opens a lot of doors for me as well. But obviously, once something gets really big, it’s most of the time driven by the really mainstream stuff and the more popular stuff. In the end, it’s just a new way of pop music. I think a lot of people that have just discovered it that like that, they will eventually move on to what’s after David Guetta and that kind of music. Once that happens, all those people will be discovered, especially in electronic music, there’s so much. I’ve been buying records, I have 15,000 vinyl records at home, and I still discover amazing electronic music every day, I’m buying new music every day, I’m finding old tracks, I rediscover them. So me as a total nerd in that, discovering new music, imagine someone who’s just discovered electronic music. There’s just so much to look out for after the mainstream stuff.

Who are some new artists you’re currently excited about?
There are a lot of new artists that I love. There’s one guy I just found for Boysnoize Records, his name is SCNTST, he just turned 18 and he’s a very talented producer. We just put out an EP from him, there’s another one coming this fall, I’m very excited about him. You know how it is when you start off something and you don’t really know what to do, there’s a lot of magic happening in this moment. He’s really good. There’s another guy called Strip Steve who’s really more into the indie disco kind of thing, which I love. I’m going on tour with Spank Rock, who’s a rapper from Baltimore signed to my label, he’s super amazing. I produced his new album, which just got out as well.

Any other up-and-coming rappers you’re excited about, too?
Yeah, there’s this guy Le1f, we’re putting out an EP he did as well. He’s part of this up-and-coming gay rap scene. He’s also a producer, he makes a lot of amazing beats as well. He also produced "Nasty” on that Spank Rock album. We just signed him, going to put out his EP with his friend Boody very soon on Boysnoize Records.

Follow Katie Chow on Twitter.

Talking SXSW with Spank Rock, HAIM, The Drums, and Others

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In the middle of the madness and mayhem of Austin’s SXSW is the core of what runs this festival: the musicians. Often lost behind free drink lines and giant Dorito Ads these artists travel from all over the globe just to have a chance to perform. The majority of them don’t get paid and some aren’t even booked to play on a stage but the allure of a chance to get seen and heard is enough to warrant long travel and an exhausting week.

It became quickly apparent that within the community of musicians at SXSW there are two camps. The veterans, those who have played the festival more than once and were no longer jaded to the double edged sword that SXSW has become, but still grateful to have a chance to come back. And the newcomers, those who were at the festival for the first time whose excitement and exhilaration still pulsed through them and who were nothing but thrilled just to be there.

The Veterans:
Spank Rock
When we knocked on the door where Naeem Juwan aka MC Spank Rock was staying, it became quickly apparent that everyone in the house including Naeem was sleeping. We felt horrible to have woken everyone up but were told it was fine. Naeem had a long day of interviews and shows ahead of him and we were just the beginning. Naeem came out in his sweatpants and hoodie and laid down on the couch diagonally across from us. This was Spank Rock’s fourth year performing at SXSW. A true veteran, he’s experienced the transformation of both the festival and the feeling of performing:

“The first time no one cares and no one knows who you are and if you do something that grabs someone’s attention it’s very exciting. It’s fun because every experience is new and magical. And the second time around no matter what you do you’re in this world of criticism and competition. The musicians that make the festival the festival, they don’t get much out of it. SXSW looks so good because it’s all based on marketing.”

Despite his qualms with the corporatism of the festival he is grateful to be back. It isn’t all bad he explains “Sometimes you get to see a show that’s magical, like last night Andrew WK, that was magical, so it’s a love hate relationship.”

The Drums
We met The Drums in a parking lot outside of Lustre Pearl, the venue they were about to play. There is no quiet space in downtown Austin during SXSW so much so that even the parking lot deemed too loud to conduct an interview in. We ended up going across the street to sit on the stoop of “The Palm School”, an all white concrete building close to the entrance of interstate I-35. Something about singer Johnny Peirce and synth player Jacob Graham, the two founding members of The Drums, made us instantly comfortable.

Johnny and Jacob have known each other since childhood and are now, not only in a widely successful band together, but live down the street from each other in the East Village. “We’ve lived strangely identical lives” Johnny told us. They both grew up in a strict religious household, their brothers have the same name, they both bought their first synth at the same time, and were both listening to Kraftwerk in a time when everyone else around them was listening to Nirvana. “When you meet someone like that you kind of have to hold on to it.”

Both Johnny and Jacob gave a similar account as Spank Rock did when talking about the festival. “SXSW has outgrown itself and they need to learn how to deal with that. They don’t take care of their artists. Like they literally push you out onto the street as soon as your set is done.” It blew my mind when they told us that, but at the same time made sense to the feeling I had been getting in the last day or so. The truth is each year the festival keeps getting larger but the city that holds it remains the same size creating overflow in the streets and venues that can’t hold the amount of people who come out to see bands play. “You feel like cattle” Johnny stated, and as someone who nearly cried in a bathroom from the overwhelming anxiety of being out on the streets I completely concur.

Elizabeth and The Catapult
This was Elizabeth Ziman’s third year playing SXSW. Her story was one of the success stories you hear about that keep bands coming back to Austin every March. Her first year performing at the festival she was discovered by Verve records and signed soon after (she is no longer signed to Verve). “Two years ago I got signed, Last year I had the whole, ‘get interviewed and get free shit thing’, and this year I’m playing this one really nice show and then am just hanging around and going to all of my friends shows.” Elizabeth was more content and happy to just be able to be in Austin and have a chance to see her friends play than be affected by the insanity that is SXSW. She did however inform us of the lack of sound checks "I’ve been at SXSW for a couple of years now and I’ve played gigs where I can’t hear myself at all. I’m playing in this church this year so I think it will be really nice though.But you just show up knowing what you’re in for, wear a ridiculous outfit, and have fun."

New Comers:
HAIM
HAIM is a sister trio consisting of three hilarious and talented ladies Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim from Los Angeles plus a drummer Dash Hutton. We were lucky enough to be able to go thrifting with the girls at this awesome vintage boutique located across the river away from the Downtown crowd called Feathers. It couldn’t have been a more perfect place to get to know the three of them.

"So many bands have come out of New York and we really feel that there is finally this great community of people who are coming out of LA” Alana, the youngest of the three sisters, told us. “All of our bros are out here; Harriet, White Arrows, Milo Green, Superhumanoids. We all want to get to the same point, and when we get to that point then we can tour together.” Este, the eldest, exclaimed and then added, “We need more girl bands though. We love our dudes, but we need more ladies.”

Radiation City
Radiation City was formed by Lizzy Ellison and Cameron Spies after meeting about four years ago while Cameron, a Portland native, was living in San Francisco. He was about to move back to Portland in order to start a band with Lizzy, when at a show in West Oakland he ran into a childhood friend who was coincidentally playing the same show with Radiation City’s now drummer Randy Bemrose the duo quickly became a trio. The rest of the band, which includes bassist Matt Rafferty and singer/keyboardist Patti King, came together organically over the next year or so. “We have the luxury of getting along really well” Lizzy stated. “It’s been like the best relationship ever. No break ups or anything.”

Despite being Radiation City’s first time performing at SXSW the band came to the festival fully prepared for the craziness they were about to face. “It’s kind of everything I’ve anticipated just from stories I’ve heard. It’s pretty similar to CMJ which we had just performed at last October, except ten times bigger and ten times more insane.” Lizzy told us. “But I really enjoy playing and really enjoy meeting the people who are throwing the events, because I think behind all the drunkeness and ridiculousness there are really good people throwing really great shows and supporting really amazing bands.”

Illustrate
A week before the festival Josh Board aka Illustrate set up a fundraising show/event at Franklin Park in Brooklyn in order to help him make it to Austin.

When he finally got to Austin alongside his friend and hype man Nick Spinale, he had no idea what he was in for. The initial reaction was a whole lot of excitement and just as equal shock. “Everything I see out here is really amazing!” he exclaimed, “I feel like a small ass fish in an overpopulated pond. I feel so lucky to be here, Just the fact that I have an artists badge, I’m like Yeahhh Motherfucker! The most love I got was on the street and that shit was beautiful.” he told us. The harsh reality of an overcrowded festival hit smaller showcases hard. People tended to show up more for the drink specials and free swag than for the acts that were playing, which lended to lukewarm audiences. But for Josh it provided a much needed push forward. “Maybe we weren’t quite ready this year, but I’m so glad we did it because next year we’re going hard."

BBook x SXSW: Check Ya Later, Austin!

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Despite the long lines on Thursday, my faith has been restored in the music at the festival due to one band, HAIM (pronounced Hi-yum). This sister trio from Los Angeles KILLED IT. If Patti Smith had started a band with her two sisters, this is what it would have sounded like. At the end of the performance each girl put down their instrument, picked up a drum stick and went at it on individual drums they had in front of them creating the SICKEST drum solo EVER! It was AMAZING! By far the best performance we’ve seen all week.

On a music high from the HAIM performance, Lorenna and I took the night by storm and headed out onto the streets to see what was up in the world of Austin. The crowds surprisingly seemed a little less intense then they have the whole week, which was a huge relief. But the ability to get into a show at night was still just as difficult. A friend of Lorenna’s texted her saying that Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine was holding an Occupy Austin event on the streets not far from where we were. We were intrigued and headed down there.

A small group of people formed in front of the Swan Dive bar where Tom Morello stood welcoming everyone to the event and introducing Outernational, the band who stood behind him. He then headed back inside and Outernational took the stage. The crowd grew a little bigger and out of the corner of my eye I saw a medium-sized march happening to my left. It was at this point that we had realized midnight marked the six-month birthday of the movement. The march was led by people carrying a huge banner that read “Fuck the Police.” Outernational screamed, “Tonight we sing fighting songs!” and encouraged people to raise their fists. I felt weary about the whole thing and once the crowd started chanting “Fuck the police” I started to feel sad.

The Occupy movement I knew was a peaceful one. The marches that I had been in were so beautiful they brought me to tears. We stood side by side with students and doctors: all of us equal, all of us understanding that something needed to change or we were in trouble. After all of the craziness that has gone down all over this country with police beating and abusing protesters, there is a part of me that can understand the “fuck the police” sentiment. But you don’t start there. You don’t start with hate. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” I don’t live in Austin, I don’t know their politics or their movements and I only have this one moment to base anything on. But all I saw watching that rally last night was a lot of angry people looking for a reason to scream at authority. That passion of peace, the passion of change, that wasn’t there. Choose love first. Don’t be angry just for the sake of it, it never gets you anywhere.

When we left the rally we decided we were going to attempt to get into a party or a showcase of bands we wanted to see. But the red lights and out-of-tune singing of a karaoke bar lured us in and there we found ourselves. Karaoke is the most underrated fun in the world. It is so hysterical and if it wasn’t so expensive in New York I would do it every night.

Our car was a million miles away and it was already after one, so we agreed to eat the expense and take a pedi-cab. This was only my second time being in one, and I am both terrified and exhilarated by them. For those of you who don’t know, a pedi-cab is a carriage seat attached to a bike. I have a hard enough time carrying my own ass on a bike, so I could not even begin to imagine toting someone else’s as well! Those kids’ thighs are rock solid.

Friday was an eventful and amazing day. We had three interviews with three amazing bands/performers: HAIM, Radiation City, and Illustrate. We’ll post those in a larger piece including our interviews with Spank Rock, The Drums, and Elizabeth and the Catapult. Every band/person we interviewed was so awesome, sweet, funny, intelligent, and insanely talented. I want to be friends with all y’all in real life, please!

During one of our interviews, we headed to this area in downtown Austin across the river that had a bajillion of the most amazing thrift/vintage stores. Our wallets are not so happy about what happened because of this, but our closets are super psyched. While standing outside interviewing my new favorite band/ladies HAIM, a bird pooped on me. As a result, I had no sweater to wear that night and was freezing, but I guess it means I’ll have good luck forever, right?

After spending too much money, we headed back downtown to see the band Radiation City play. Those of you who have been keeping up with our posts will understand how I feel about this band with just these few insights. They have two chicks on keyboards, multiple singers, and beautiful tuneage that I want to sing along to. I mean, I’m in love. Add in the fact that they also happen to be super awesome people just makes me want to have their musical babies.

We really lucked out with getting into really unbelievable performances yesterday. From Radiation City to Elizabeth and the Catapult my heart is filled with lady love. Elizabeth and the Catapult played at St. David’s, which is a giant church in the middle of downtown Austin. It was a pretty intense and amazing way to watch an artist like Elizabeth. Her voice and songs are so beautiful they make me cry and dance at the same time. In full disclosure, she is actually my sister’s roommate and a friend of Lorenna’s and mine, and we love her so much. They were having some sound difficulties and for some reason they couldn’t get her keyboard to turn on for the first half of her set. That poor girl handled it with the greatest sense of humor and cracked all of us up as she dealt with the ridiculousness of the situation. Did I say I love her yet? I love her!

We managed to get into the Flatbush Zombies show which was awesome, but by midnight a wall of exhaustion hit both Lorenna and me. St. Patrick’s day at SXSW lived up to its horror, and being out on the streets just proved to be a miserable experience. We were ready to get out of there. But not before spending another thirty minutes navigating our way through drunken pedestrian traffic with a car, which was just as awful as it sounds. We drove a friend of Lorenna’s (who is also a former editor at BlackBook) Nadeska Alexis (check her out at Rapfix) back to her hotel, and by the time we got home we were both so cracked-out that we could barely get out of the car because we were laughing so hard.

This experience has been equally as amazing and ridiculous as it was exhausting. I will never forget it for the rest of my life and am eternally grateful to have been able to do it along side my best friend in the world. In conclusion if you are going to make the trip to SXSW, be prepared. Know what you are getting yourself into, maybe only stay for a couple of days, and make sure to wear good shoes (my poor feet).

Spank Rock Emerges from His Personal Dark Age with an Album That’s Even Darker

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It’s nearing 100 degrees one afternoon in July when Spank Rock orders his first frozen margarita from the patio at Life Café, a casual restaurant in New York’s East Village. But even before the tequila hits his bloodstream, Spank Rock (real name: Naeem Juwan) proves to be loquacious and forthcoming, more than willing to discuss the setbacks that tempered the recording of his second album, Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar. (The Baltimore native and Philadelphia transplant is more private about his age, insistent that he’s as “old as the wind,” despite being only in his midtwenties.) Writer’s block, a failed record deal, and depression were just a few of the hiccups.

“I pushed myself so hard and I got some really special moments out of it,” he says of the new album. “But I will forever hear the darkness in it.” It’s difficult to reconcile the meek, soft-spoken man sitting across from me with the spastic performer and wonderfully filthy lyricist behind 2006’s YoYoYoYoYo, Spank Rock’s debut. Clothed in super-skinny black jeans and a loose-fitting tank, his wiry frame and bespectacled face—which appears in this fall’s T by Alexander Wang ad campaign—even give him a slightly nerdy appearance, which dissipates when he chronicles the sequence of events that led him to record his sophomore album. “I was really pissed off that I’d gotten pigeonholed as this sexy, dirty-mouthed rapper,” he says. “I’m not saying that’s not true—but I also put a lot of heavy, interesting content into YoYoYoYoYo and I challenged myself to rap over music that people weren’t trying before.”

Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar debuted last month via Bad Blood Records following a tumultuous three years that nearly ended with a scrapped album. After releasing his Bangers & Cash EP with producer Benny Blanco in 2007, Spank Rock hit a wall, unable to tap into the energy that fueled his debut, an album born out of his frustration with a music scene mired in nostalgia. “Our lives are so different now,” he says. “So why are we still talking about the same issues? I wanted to make music that feels the way I feel now, but people only got excited about the sexy party shit. The songs sound like one thing, but talk about another. I write in circles and maybe that’s why people miss the point in my music.”

This isn’t to say that Spank Rock intends to completely shed his wild-child image—“I could tell you about a party I just went to in London that was really crazy”—but it’s easy to pick up on the bitterness that colors his thoughts. “When you’re an artist, you’re packaged and manufactured and people want you to be only one thing,” he says.

In 2008, weighed down by pressures from his label, Downtown Records, he took up residence in a West Village apartment, but struggled to create music. “I was bummed out,” he admits. “I would leave producers in the studio waiting for me all day and go out all night, running around New York, trying to figure out where I wanted to start.” From there, his deal with Downtown unraveled quickly, leaving him with neither resources nor money. “They dropped me halfway through the writing process, but it would be unjust to be gossipy and point fingers, because the industry is suffering and major labels don’t have time for you to be who you want to be.”

Until now, Spank Rock has been relatively calm, speaking in even tones while doing steady damage to his margarita, but a mention of Atlanta rapper B.o.B.’s debut album gets him riled up, seemingly out of sheer conviction rather than anger. “When I first heard B.o.B, I thought, This kid’s kinda dope. Now I think he’s such a pussy,” he says. (Some critics panned last spring’s B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray as an ultra-pop version of his original textured aesthetic.) At the risk of sounding too jaded, he offers a short summary of the options available to musicians trying to dip their toes into mainstream culture: “Do you want to be a pop star, or do you want to be a musician? I made a decision not to participate in the pop music industry, so it took me longer to put out music. I’m always fighting to get to a point where I think I’m doing something cool enough to share with people. And then, I still have to figure out how to put it out.” image

With his record deal a thing of the past, Spank Rock continued to tour overseas with Mark Ronson in support of the Brit’s third album, Record Collection. His luck changed during a fateful encounter in Australia with Berlin-based producer Alexander Ridha, known professionally as Boys Noize. With Ridha’s encouragement, Spank Rock left Philadelphia and flew to Berlin in fall 2010 to complete his album. “It was wonderful to have someone in my corner, not trying to manipulate me, but I was scared to even share anything with him, because everyone said the music I made was shitty,” he says. “I had close friends who told me they were going to help out and then they started working on big, corny pop star music. I started to think something was wrong with me.”

His insecurities, coupled with his unfortunate habit of making producers wait, made the recording process a challenge for Ridha, who until then had never worked with Spank Rock. “He’d come up with the hook for a song in a minute, but then it would take him five weeks to write one word,” Ridha says. “If he wanted to go out to a bar and write, I let him do that, but sometimes I had to say, Let’s stay focused, or you’ll never finish the album.”

In Ridha’s joint studio and apartment space, he and Spank Rock created four original songs and revamped another four tracks on the album (including “#1 hit,” which Ronson helped produce), but the thrill of Berlin nightlife took a definite toll on the pace of his work. “It was his paradise,” Ridha says. “A lot of producers would have kicked him to the curb and taken a holiday, but I was patient and I had hope.”

Two weeks later, I meet Spank Rock again at a low-key listening session for Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar at Painkiller, a tiki bar on the Lower East Side. He abandons his seat at a table surrounded by a group of friends and walks over to find out what I really think of the album. I tell him that the sonic “darkness” he mentioned during our initial meeting is at least partly obscured by his manic flow, delivered over a series of rock-infused, club-friendly electronic beats—and, yes, I liked some of the filthy lyrics.

Spank Rock recently joined Ke$ha (“She’s a fun girl and not a total idiot, which you would expect her to be, given her music”) on a cross-country tour, which also gave him the opportunity to hit the central states. With the album finally out, he feels as if a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, but still, his discontent with pop culture is at an all-time high. “I don’t want to come across as this bitter diva in a cave, but this industry is fucking wack right now,” he says. “We’re oversaturated with musicians reenacting things from the past. The kids in America are fucking fucked because none of their favorite artists are pushing things forward.”

Needless to say, Spank Rock is realistic about what the future might hold for him, and it doesn’t include pop stardom on the level of B.o.B. fame. Instead, he’d rather compare himself to Sonic Youth, the iconic alt-rock outfit who endured living in the shadow of Nirvana for years, only to emerge as a classic band in their own right. “It’s my life, I’m a fucking musician, and no one matters except for me and the people I collaborate with. I’ll keep making music—I just won’t take so long next time,” he says, before ordering another round of drinks.

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SPANK ROCK LIKES Lucky Cheng’s.

Photography by Christophe Kutner. Styling by Rich Aybar.

Mark Ronson: The Great White Hype

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A sky the color of bruised eggplant fades to black as Mark Ronson and I return to his apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. We’ve just finished a dinner of kale and gnocchi at Miranda in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and as we pass Bar Pitti, an Italian restaurant with a sizeable street-fronting patio, one of the waiters hollers, “Marco! Ooh wee—la-la-la-la,” the lyrics to a song from Ronson’s debut album, Here Comes the Fuzz. Another waiter walks out and, making pistols out of his two hands, yells in a soupy Spanish accent, “Bang, bang, bang!” the title of his latest single. Ronson smiles affectionately and, once out of earshot, says, “Can you believe those guys?” He seems pleased by the exchange.

A black border collie named Maude, after Ruth Gordon’s character in Harold and Maude, is waiting impatiently at the front door. Ronson’s high-ceilinged, one-bedroom apartment is not as lavish as one might expect, given his considerable achievements as a producer and musician. Suitcases clutter the hardwood floor of his dining room, its table littered with unopened envelopes that suggest Ronson might be too busy preparing for the release of his new album, Record Collection, to concern himself with electricity bills. In his den, a framed poster for Woody Allen’s Zelig hangs above the couch next to an antique jukebox. Chuck Palahniuk novels and Hip Hotels share shelf space in his vast library. François Truffaut’s French New Wave classic, The 400 Blows, tops a towering pile of DVDs. It’s not all that different from most apartments in Greenwich Village except for a crowded fireplace mantle overrun with awards: a Brit Award, an MTV Music Video award, a GQ Men of the Year award, a Glamour Man of the Year award, and three miniature golden gramophones—the Grammy awards he received for Version, his 2007 album of covers, and his production work on Back to Black, Amy Winehouse’s career-making record. A sober black-and-white photograph of his storied family sits next to them.

Ronson is the son of real estate entrepreneur Laurence Ronson and gregarious society dame Ann Dexter-Jones. (Dexter-Jones later married Foreigner founding member and guitarist Mick Jones, from whom she split in 2007.) At 35, he is two years older than his twin sisters, Charlotte, a New York fashion designer, and Samantha, a DJ based in Los Angeles. Anecdotes from his charmed childhood abound, most of them about decadent parties in London, where he was born and still keeps an apartment, with a rotating cast of boldface names from The Thin White Duke to The Boss. Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, was his best friend growing up, and together they had sleepovers with Michael Jackson and carpools with Roberta Flack.

Ronson’s silver-spoon upbringing has always been an easy target for critics, who are quick to attribute his success to his family’s Rolodex. His reaction to these charges alternates between incredulous and wounded. “I’m so tired of defending where I came from—I’ve spent my entire career trying to be taken seriously,” he says. “If you’re out for blood, it’s easy to discredit me by focusing on my family, but I certainly never asked my mom, ‘Hey, could you please call up DJ Premier and find out if I can play Gang Starr’s party next weekend?’”

When he was a senior at Collegiate, an elite high school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Ronson started manning the turntables at trendy Lower East Side dives acrid with the stench of stale beer, giving equal play to the Smiths and Run-DMC. It wasn’t long before he became a regular on the downtown nightlife scene, where he was branded with the double-edged title of “celebrity DJ.” While acknowledging that there is some truth to the label—he was, after all, flown to Italy to provide the music for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ wedding reception—he’s also loathe to embrace it. “I might have even been the person for whom that term was invented, but to me it conjures the image of an it-girl at a party with two iPods,” he says. Unlike, say, Jessica Stam or Alexa Chung, Ronson earned his title, playing music for party-goers long before it meant having his picture taken.

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The stigma against Ronson only worsened when Samantha earned her own loyal following on the dancefloor, which initially rubbed him the wrong way. “I was so irate when she decided to use the family name instead of Li’l Red [the stage moniker she used earlier in her career],” he says. “I was worried we’d put out CDs at the same time, they’d sit next to each other in music stores, and we’d look like the fucking Osmonds.” But during the height of her much-dissected, turbulent relationship with actor Lindsay Lohan in 2008, when Samantha was tarred and feathered on Hollywood gossip websites—blogger Perez Hilton, for example, still cattily refers to her as “SaMANtha”—the negative press brought out Ronson’s protective side. “Life in L.A. really is one big episode of Entourage,” he says, skirting a question about his sister’s love life. “If she’s happy in her relationships, then I’m psyched for her. When she’s not, I’m not.” Pausing for a minute, he adds, “It’s weird, because in England I’m Mark Ronson, record producer. But in America, I’m Mark Ronson, Samantha’s brother.”

On both sides of the Atlantic, 2007 was a huge year for Samantha’s brother. The records he produced for Winehouse and Lily Allen dominated international charts, and Version went double platinum in the U.K. He recorded that album on a tiny budget before signing with Columbia Records, and invited his friends—Winehouse, Allen, Daniel Merriweather, Santigold—to lend their vocals, which certainly didn’t do much to discourage his reputation as the most connected man in music. “I was almost embarrassed by Version’s success,” he says. “I wasn’t immune to its backlash, either. I have thin skin, as do most artists, and so it wasn’t easy—so immediately after the embrace of the album—being written off as the trumpet-y covers guy.”

This month’s Record Collection, Ronson’s followup to Version, will only exacerbate his reputation as pop music’s answer to Kevin Bacon—Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes, Boy George, Spank Rock, Q-Tip, and Ghostface Killah all make appearances on the album—but its overall sound couldn’t be further from his earlier work. Ronson was desperate to reinvent himself, and instead of Version’s horn-heavy neo-soul, Record Collection sounds like cosmic synth-disco. “I knew in my heart and in my head that I needed to record original material,” he says. “But I was so afraid that these 12 new songs would then be judged against the songs of Morrissey, Thom Yorke, and Paul Weller that appeared on Version.” It was perhaps because of this fear, and because of the overwhelming number of musicians who “spent days in my sweaty studio in Brooklyn” contributing to the album, that Ronson decided to attribute Record Collection to Mark Ronson and the Business Intl. “To do otherwise would have been disingenuous.”

Electro-pop musician Amanda “MNDR” Warner is the Business Intl.’s breakout act. On “Bang Bang Bang,” she turned a line from a French-Canadian children’s song—“Je te plumerai la tête”—into the anthem of the summer, and, like many of the artists featured on the album, she is effusive with praise for Ronson. “He’s an excellent keyboardist, a great drummer, and an amazing guitarist,” she says. “You can’t fake that kind of talent.”

Rapper Spank Rock, who lends his voice to “The Bike Song,” is slightly less reverent about his friend. “Mark’s kind of dorky, definitely not the coolest guy in the world,” he says. “It was in the studio where, for the first time, I saw a bit of insecurity in him, because he was working through his project and second-guessing himself. Whenever someone opens themselves up, they can either be complete douchebags—‘Listen to this, this is so good!’—or they can be like Mark, and you can watch them cringe.”

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For the better part of July, Manhattan was crippled by heat. But earlier on the day of our meeting, a magnificent and furious storm brought with it a reprieve from the record-breaking highs. It’s a nice night for a walk, and Maude needs some exercise, so we relocate to Washington Square Park, which is thick with jazz musicians and the smell of cheap incense. Ronson, who left his polka-dot–patterned black blazer at home, is now wearing a red T-shirt, tight black jeans, and white loafers.

We run into Ronson’s girlfriend, French actor-musician Josephine de la Baume, with whom Ronson currently co-stars in a Zadig & Voltaire ad campaign. She is on her way to a Korean barbecue restaurant and has little patience for Ronson’s insistence that he’d like to stay in tonight. Small and fiery, she is like a character in a Godard film. When Ronson tells her that he’d rather not sit through Inception—“I just can’t do a three-hour Chris Nolan mind-fuck, baby”—she sighs dramatically, and, pouting, says, “You are so boring!” Rolling her eyes and her r’s, she storms off playfully into the night.

As we continue down the street, I remind Ronson of our first meeting a few years ago, when he was asked to interview the late Malcolm McLaren, a legendary producer-musician who once managed the Sex Pistols, for Thompson Hotels’ in-house magazine, Room 100. Their conversation was scheduled during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, for the morning after Charlotte’s first showing of her eponymous ready-to-wear collection under the Bryant Park tents. Ronson slept through his alarm, missing the whole thing. He managed to get on the phone with McLaren later that day, but the photographer, who was meant to take their portrait together, was forced to artfully combine their images in post-production. I stood in for Ronson in McLaren’s photo. “I really did miss that shoot because I overslept,” he says, revealing some lingering embarrassment at the memory. “But I can’t help thinking that if I hadn’t been out all night getting fucked up I wouldn’t have missed my chance to sit next to Malcolm.”

Ronson and his siblings—there are nine in total, when one factors in step-siblings and half-siblings—were introduced to excess at a young age, despite his insistence that his mother’s approach to child-rearing was almost draconian. When he was 6, Ronson was tucked into bed by actor Robin Williams, who was high on cocaine. One morning, he woke up early to find his father, still awake from the night before, playing chess with Hall & Oates’ Daryl Hall. “When we got to the age that partying became an issue for our parents, it was like, You can’t really talk because you’re getting 10 times as fucked up as I am. Knowing my dad’s struggles with addiction, though, my emotional hangover was often too much to enjoy the drunk.”

Despite glimpses into the rock-star lifestyle growing up, it wasn’t until the release of Version, when Ronson was expected to perform his songs live in front of huge audiences, that alcohol became a real crutch. “I remember my very first gig with Lily in 2006. Before we went on, I was sitting in a corner, shaking so badly that she was like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I’d have a drink to ease the nerves and then my guitar tech would keep refilling my glass throughout the show. Before I knew it, I’d be asking for more whiskey and he’d be like, ‘You just finished the bottle.’” Although he has since tempered his alcohol consumption, Ronson says, “I’m not going to pretend I don’t enjoy going out. Now that I’m singing I just can’t do much beyond a bit of drinking or smoking the occasional touch of weed.”

Whereas he admits to “not being all there” while producing Kaiser Chiefs’ 2008 album, Off With Their Heads, he says his upcoming work on the new Duran Duran record has helped create some of the band’s best songs to date. “They have a lot to prove this time out,” says Ronson, alluding to the band’s tepidly received 12th album, Red Carpet Massacre, which was produced by Timbaland. “I think Timbaland pulled a bit of a Timbaland, where he shows up for a little bit and somebody else does all the work,” says Ronson. If the band is to be believed, Ronson’s contributions to the as-yet-untitled album are profound. “There was instant chemistry,” says keyboardist Nick Rhodes. “When we started playing, it was like there was electricity in the room. We’ve worked with some remarkable people, but Mark just gets it. Anyone who was foolish enough to question his talent was sorely mistaken.”

It’s late now, and Ronson is tired. He still has to pack for a week-long vacation starting tomorrow night, when he’ll travel to the house he recently purchased in Amagansett, next to East Hampton. But before he leaves, he’ll spend the better part of the day at the photo shoot for this story. Uninspired by his look that morning, the man who went from being a DJ and producer to a legitimate singer will make another drastic change: Mark Ronson will bleach his dark chestnut hair white.

A few days later, I randomly spot Ronson and his blanched pompadour on First Avenue, where he’s stationed behind a glass wall inside the headquarters of East Village Radio, a popular internet radio station. Back from the Hamptons, he looks rested as he introduces “The Bike Song,” which he’ll premiere in just a few minutes on Authentic Sh*t, his weekly show. A crowd has gathered on the sidewalk, dancing to the music while watching him work. Reminded of what Spank Rock told me earlier that week, I just stand there, watching him cringe.

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Photography by Kai Z Feng. Styling by Christopher Campbell.

Dancers in the Dark

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bjork

It was all supposed to be very official. We had official press passes, we were on the official interview schedule, but the Official Klaxons After Party held on Monday night at Rebel was anything but…

Immediately following the Bjork show at MSG, hundreds of PYTs filtered past the velvet rope to see performances by Spank Rock, DJ Steve Aoki, Mike Bell (LFO), and Mystery Jets. Tape recorder in hand, we were anticipating a very brief chat with Klaxons. After making our way to the door, where Magnum PR girls were brandishing very official lists, we were informed that none of the bands wanted to do press, and we should “Just go and have fun with everyone.” And so we took heed. Even Bjork joined her earth intruder friends for champagne and dancing. There were fewer paparazzi. There was more cigarette smoking on the back porch with rockers like Will Rees from Mystery Jets. There were no VIP tables. And so, it’s official: Best. Party. Ever.