As far as comebacks go, Daft Punk’s return to form was executed pretty flawlessly. The legendary live sets, the technicolor pyramid, the Kanye West tie-in—all were perfectly engineered to portray Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter as somehow larger than life. While the robotic duo certainly seized the moment, vindicating their late-period output and claiming their rightful place as the international ambassadors of French House, there’s a little more to the story than meets the eye. As any electro fan in the audience already knows, it was years worth of singles from Daft Punk-influenced artists on the Kitsuné and Ed Banger labels that allowed the sound to creep back into the fore, setting the stage for the duo’s triumphant return at Coachella 2006. In that sense, the reinvigorated Daft Punk might just be as indebted to these derivative acts as the derivative acts are to Daft Punk.
Boys Noize, aka Alex Ridha, is one such derivative act. No, he’s not French, he’s from Berlin. And no, he’s not on Ed Banger or Kitsuné (though the latter did put out one of his singles), he puts records out on his own imprint, Boysnoize Records, though his first full-length, Oi Oi Oi, comes to the States courtesy of Last Gang/Turbo. With those few exceptions, however, Boys Noize is exactly what you would expect from a Daft Punk-influenced, maximalist electro artist. A little bit funk, a little bit disco and a little bit rock, Oi Oi Oi pairs super-compressed synths with stadium rock production, vocoder-filtered vocals with “Headbangers Ball” theatrics. If you’ve spent any time at all with Justice, Digitalism, Surkin or Goose, you know what to expect here.
What’s said to set Boys Noize apart from this pack is the fact that his first single dropped in 2004, long before Justice and a full year before Digitalism’s “Idealistic” 12” was picked up by Kitsuné. For this reason, Boys Noize has been credited as one of the progenitors of the style (insofar as a derivative style can be said to have progenitors), as opposed to a mere bandwagon hopper. True though that may be, Oi Oi Oi didn’t see release until September 2007, a good few months after Digitalism and Justice’s respective full-lengths proved that a 10-year-old formula can still produce crossover hits. And in this post “D.A.N.C.E.” world, we can’t help but hear Oi Oi Oi for what it is now: unoriginal, stale and wholly second-rate.
Opening up with lead single “& Down”, Boys Noize comes charging out of the gate with everything he’s got. A thumping bass drum lays the groundwork, a distorted synth rocks like a guitar with the treble turned up to ten and a disembodied voice laconically issues the directive, “Dance, dance, dance”. Then it all stops, momentarily, making room for the requisite downtempo piano coda before taking off yet again, barreling headfirst toward an abrupt conclusion with rhythmic abandon. No, it doesn’t sound bad, per se. It just sounds awfully familiar.
Unfortunately, Boys Noize, for all his billing as a more intense version of Daft Punk, has a hard time keeping the momentum going. The next few tracks offer little more than lessons in repetition and tedium, from the low-key drone of “Lava Lava” to “The Battery” , which almost sounds like a lesser Dizzee Rascal track, sans Dizzee Rascal. “Oh!” picks things up a bit but given that it’s essentially a color-by-numbers clone of “Robot Rock”, it’s hard to enjoy without longing for the original. “Arcade Robot” also initially sounds like single material, its compressed disco sample looping steadily over a reinforced beat. But after four minutes of repetition with no reward, it grows tedious.
Repetition is certainly a problem in a lot of electronic music but as the best electro artists have proven, it doesn’t have to be. Justice solved this problem by breaking up the instrumental tracks with vocal-driven numbers like “D.A.N.C.E.” and the Uffie guest spot “The Party”. Meanwhile, Daft Punk pushes their songs toward arena-sized overtures and almost comically grandiose melodies, ensuring that there’s always a payoff for the listener’s patience. Boys Noize, however, utilizes neither of these techniques to satisfactory effect. The result is an hour of music that sounds more conductive to napping than party-starting.
Interestingly enough, Ridha chooses to close out the album with two remixes, the record’s only vocal tracks: his takes on I-Robots’ “Frau” and Feist’s “My Moon My Man”. The former pits fuzzed-out synths and a series of blips and beeps against a robotic vocal, telling the (tongue-in-cheek?) tale of a space woman’s search for love in German. The Feist remix, on the other hand, is easily the album’s most memorable track, with Feist facing off against that omnipresent robot voice over a buoyant bass line and a series of slowly building organs. While far from minimal, Ridha’s production provides just enough room for Feist’s vocal to carry the song, his bits and bytes providing an austere contrast to her rich, emotive voice.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Boys Noize ultimately takes far more from Daft Punk than he gives back. While Ridha is more than happy to ape the winning formula, Oi Oi Oi fails to take French House to new places the way that, say, †, the high watermark of post-Daft-Punk electro, does. What’s more, Oi Oi Oi isn’t even close to being as fun, engaging or danceable as the records that it emulates. If there’s a silver lining to be found here, it’s that Ridha’s production is unobtrusive enough that he can remix a track without upstaging the vocals, as the closing Feist remix alby proves. As a matter of fact, Ridha initially made his name on well-received remixes of artists like Bloc Party, Tiga, Depeche Mode and Kaiser Chiefs. It stands to reason, then, that Ridha is a more than competent DJ—he’s just no Daft Punk. But maybe that’s for the best: after all, there’s only room for two at the apex of that pyramid.