‘Challengers’ Remixed: How Boys Noize Turned the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross Score Into the Dance Record of the Year | Exclusive

A few weeks ago Alexander Ridha, a German DJ, producer and performer better known as his stage name Boys Noize, got a phone call. It was Trent Reznor, the mind behind pioneering industrial band Nine Inch Nails and now, with his partner Atticus Ross, one of the most in-demand film composers working today. Reznor and Ridha had flirted with collaboration before; Ridha made a veiled reference to a secret project from a few years go that fell apart. But Reznor had a new proposition for Ridha: would he remix their score for director Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming tennis movie “Challengers?”

“He explained to me that they’ve scored the movie, it’s great. But they don’t want to release the music as it is. Because it makes more sense in the movie raw, like they have it. But he didn’t feel like it’s the right way,” Ridha said. “I think they wanted to try out new things and experiment. They had the idea of making it this this type of continuous mix.”

Thus, “Challengers [MIXED]” was born. Not only is it a compelling, danceable way to listen to the music from the movie, but taken on its own, it is one of the year’s best electronic records.

Not that it seemed like a slam dunk to Ridha, at least not initially.

After Reznor and Ross sent him the material for the film — which chronicles a sexy love triangle between characters played by Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor — he immediately thought, How am I going to do this? “It’s quite impossible, because all of the songs have different tempos,” Ridha said. Sure, there were a few tracks that had, in his words, “dance-y things,” but it was also “all over the place.” When actually setting out to work on the album, his guiding principle was, Okay, they want it to be a mix.

He spent a few hours, made the mix, and sent it back to Reznor and Ross. Initially, he was worried about messing with the music too much. He said his first stab at the album was put together “respectfully.” There were minor edits “here and there,” but Ridha was careful not to step on their toes. These were his musical idols, after all. (You can feel the reverence speaking to him, even after their collaboration.) To his surprise, Reznor and Ross were taken by the changes he had made and encouraged more of that experimentation.

“From that moment on, I was like, Okay, I’m going to do my thing,” Ridha said. Reznor and Ross sent him what are known as stems, which break down a completed track into individual mixes (usually tracks devoted to melody, instruments, bass and drums).

“I deconstructed some of the tracks by remaking most of the sounds and replacing the drums or adding in new synths,” Ridha said. He would strip down parts and “rearrange stuff.”

“In that way, it was easier for me to also make it more fluid, since all of the original songs were quite different to each other,” Ridha said. The additional production allowed for a more seamless blend from track to track and for the album to be a truly continuous mix.

Ridha said that one of the pluses of the condensed time frame was that he couldn’t second guess himself. “I just had to go with whatever my instincts were telling me to do on the songs and I’m glad it worked out.”

To be able to complete the album, Ridha said he “shut down everything – my phone, my internet, my personal life.” “I was just doing that 24/7, basically,” Ridha said. The two people that he did keep in the loop were, of course, Reznor and Ross. “Once I had something on a song and it was going a little further away from the raw version, then I would send that or I would also send ideas of how to transition [between the tracks],” Ridha said. “Not all the time, but like on bigger decisions, I was just wanting to make sure that it’s okay to do what I was doing.”

Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist in “Challengers”

One of the tracks Ridha heavily reworked was “Compress/Repress,” a new Nine Inch Nails song that plays over the closing credits and wouldn’t have been out of place on the band’s underrated 2013 album “Hesitation Marks.” Guadagnino provided the lyrics to “Compress/Repress.” (Reznor and Ross also had a new song over the closing credits of Guadagnino’s “Bones and All,” which they scored)

The song is a total bop.

“I made sections where it’s basically the new version, my version, cut into their version cut into my version, which brought a new dynamic into the song. It starts out with all my stuff, and then it cuts into their stuff. And then it cuts into my stuff,” Ridha said. He was inspired by ‘90s happy hardcore techno, as well, which definitely “sneak into the song.” “I was like, What if this song goes somewhere that no one would expect that it’s going?” Ridha said. He also referenced “gabber,” a subgenre of hardcore techno that also recently inspired French duo Justice on their forthcoming album “Hyperdrama.” He was impressed by the results.

“This was the best piece of music – who would think that Nine Inch Nails would go gabber?” Ridha said. He was worried about what Reznor and Ross would think; it was so afield of the original version of the song. “They loved it,” Ridha said proudly.

Ridha, in his full Boys Noize persona, has also started dropping tracks from the record into his pounding DJ sets. As it turns out, part of the original idea of the album was, in Ridha’s words, “how can we make this so I can also DJ it?” The first time he played a song from the album in his set was last week. The song was “Brutalizer.”

“I thought it was going to be a deeper moment, because it’s a little mellow,” Ridha said. “But it was the opposite. People were cheering when they heard it. I was really stoked.” Now he can’t wait to play it in future performances.

Looking back on the “Challengers” mix album experience, though, what did Ridha feel?

“They could have asked me anything, I would drop everything and do it. Nine Inch Nails were always a reference to my music, especially on my last album, where I explored some of that more industrial sound,” he said. “It’s quite abstract still. I’m so happy. It’s just crazy for me to, you know, tap into that world and work with legends that are also so nice. It was just really, really cool, man.”

“Challengers [MIXED]” is available now, and the original “Challengers” score and the film are both out on Friday, April 26.

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