Boys Noize Spins Techno Tennis Tracks for 'Challengers'

Boys Noize Spins Techno Tennis Tracks for 'Challengers'

By Tobias HessApr 25, 2024

The world is collectively seated for Luca Guadagnino's tennis flick, Challengers (starring Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor) — but giddy filmgoers will likely veer towards the dance floor after the credits roll. Challengers boast a techno score by none other than Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the composing duo behind musically singular films like The Social Network, Soul and Gone Girl. Shimmering with arpeggiated synths and churning with the propulsive pulse of steady, four-on-the-floor bass beats, the score evokes the past and future of synth music in film, toggling between Giorgio Moroder's electric dreams and Reznor and Ross’ 2055 percussive production.

In addition to releasing the score in full for streaming at a future date, Reznor and Ross decided to tap techno heavyweight Alexander Ridha (Boys Noize) to put together CHALLENGERS [MIXED], a brand-new, reworked, and reimagined 28-minute mix of Reznor and Ross’ original score. It was a surprising, if not atypically idiosyncratic, project for the Iraqi-German DJ, who’s one of the few DJ/producers working today who is as comfortable spinning in the dark caverns of Berghain as he is producing mainstream records for the likes of Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky and Lady Gaga. The challenge was to keep the essence of the composing duo’s score while transforming it into a mix that could work on the dance floor. It worked; the mix moves with the continuous flow of a seamless set yet still has the emotional arcs of a popcorn movie. And, behind it all, you can almost hear Zendaya’s tennis racket pop against a ball moving at warp speed.

PAPER called up Ridha as he was en route to Barcelona from his remote outpost in Portugal, just a week before the US release of Challengers. As he drove through the countryside, we chatted about music in film, the process behind the mix and his guiding creative principles.

How did you initially connect with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross?

Trent contacted me about two to three years ago for another project out of the blue. I worked on one or two songs, but then that entire project didn't happen. I didn't hear anything until he hit me back just a few weeks ago for the soundtrack. He explained the idea to me: that they scored the movie but didn't want to release the music as it was intended for the movie. First it sounded like they wanted to have a DJ mix of all the songs. I made this DJ mix within two hours, because everything was time sensitive. I sent them something back a few hours later, and they were like, “This is cool, but you know those few bits where you started to edit and change some stuff? Go harder!” They basically didn't hear anything from me for a few days. They sent me all the stems to all the songs and I went into every song. I added production, new parts, new sounds, rearranged things. It was surprisingly amazing feedback the entire time. It was a great experience to do it that way.

Had you seen the film before you started working on the project?

To be honest with you, I didn't even watch the trailer until I finished everything [laughs].

Was that on purpose?

Yes and no. It was a crazy time crunch, so I was like, I'm not gonna do anything. I'm not gonna look at anything. I'm not gonna answer my phone until I've finished my work. I did not check out the movie. They explained it to me, but I didn't even know there was a trailer. I was just excited to get down to the music and get the best out of it in the shortest amount of time.

Do you usually work that way, in a super isolated, intense environment?

I work both ways. When I work on my own music, I try to be as isolated as possible and cut off the internet from my studio. I've also been in situations with a crazy time crunch. I like when the pressure is high. It's similar to when I DJ, and there's a bunch of DJs standing around me looking. I get better, because I like the competition. As much as it can be stressful working within a very short time, it forces you to follow your instincts, because if I make changes to the song, there's no time to second guess. You have your initial feelings and you have to execute that initial feeling. I've been a huge fan of anything Trent and Atticus have been doing and of Nine Inch Nails, so I definitely wanted to be respectful to the original score they created but also make it sound exciting to my ears. It was a fine balance, but they gave me the freedom to do that, so it was quite special.

I know you've scored a film before and had music in Oliver Stone’s film Snowden. Are you interested in exploring this realm further?

Absolutely! I love it. I'm always a bit scared because of the stories I hear from the handful of people I know that do film and scoring. It always sounds like a crazy amount of work. It can be quite frustrating, because the music is the last part many movies are interested in.

But I would love it. It just has to be the right thing at the right time. The idea of writing music to a motion picture is amazing. I've been collecting and building my music libraries for years because I often record music and think, Wow, this could be perfect for a movie.

Your work is diverse, and I love your project with Rico Nasty [the new three-song EP HARDC0RE DR3AMZ]. You take on so many different types projects and collaborations; do you have a guiding principle for what you decide to work on?

Yes, I mainly work with friends. I'm living quite remote now, and I'm not jumping from one studio to another, even though it might look like it. It's kind of the opposite. Whoever wants to work with me has to come and visit me [in Portugal]. I haven't done any sessions or songwriting camps. I'd rather make a techno track, press it on vinyl and I know it's gonna get released. Or, I just like to hang out with friends and we make music together. Style-wise, I think people stopped caring about if it's house or techno. For me, it's all electronic music and some things have a few more pop elements than others. I do still want to make stuff that works in the club, which was valid for the Challengers project. [I thought], How can I make [the score] sound dynamic so it can work in my DJ sets?And it worked. I played Brutalizer at the club and it sounded amazing. It’s so nice when you play it out for the first time and you get that honest reaction from people who haven't heard it before. It definitely exceeded my expectations. I actually can't wait to play it out again this weekend.

Photography: Courtesy of MGM and Will Zhang