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BOTW Interview: Stay+

Alex Cull chats to our current BOTW – the elusive Stay+ – about anonymity in the digital age, the future of video game music and his hometown of Manchester. Oh, and Bono…

You were forced to change your name from Christian AIDS to Stay+, what was the thought process behind the new name? Was it in any way a rebuke to being forced to change name?
Upon receiving the cease and desist from Christian Aid – there was a mixture of emotions. The name had – to an extent – run its course. We were all getting a bit tired of defending/explaining it. In that sense, there was a palpable note of relief. But, this was coupled with the fear that we hadn’t built enough profile to withstand the change; that we would just fade away now. There was also the rebellious streak, we didn’t like being told what to do and thought about fighting it. We discussed our options – after all, we didn’t really have anything to lose, financially we were all equally down the shitter at that stage and there’s no such thing as bad press…

In the end though, the change to Stay+ was an uncharacteristically sensible/tactical one. We had only released Stay Positive(+) by that point so there was some recognition there. The “+” kept an element of awkwardness that we liked. We even got to scratch the puerile, rebellious itch a few months later when we re-released the early tracks under the title: “Fuck Christian AIDS”.

In the past, you’ve been fairly secretive – in terms of the digital age, at least – with releasing details about yourselves. Is/was this anonymity important to you? Has concealing your identity in a way become more of a hindrance in a climate where press and fans want to know everything about an artist?
Anonymity is threatening to become this musical generation’s defining feature. I am trying to distance myself from it. The reasons behind the meteoric rise in the popularity of anonymity, in the world of electronic music in particular, are obvious. Anybody who is doing anything on the internet is expected to represent that thing 24/7. Social media, whilst wonderful, makes incredibly unfair demands on the ‘artist’. There just isn’t enough content to satiate the inhuman lust for information. So, you either get chatty or you get out. Then also consider that the production of electronic music, for a majority of producers, has more in common with the lifestyle and workflow of a programmer than it does with that of a young, upcoming Mick Jagger or Brandon Flowers or, god forbid, Bono. It’s technical, nerdy, solitary… boring. A lot of people are anonymous by default because they believe that what they have to say isn’t worth hearing and that the absence of extrovert personality creates a void that the audience can fill as they please.

A shift will happen eventually, it’s inevitable considering the reactionary nature of all popular trends. Plus, there’s the fact that the pioneering generation for this anonymity are getting to the stage where it is becoming, as you rightfully say, a hindrance. There are so many approaches but they all hit roadblocks at some point.

I read – via your mix for i-D – that videogame soundtracks, such as the old Wipeout ones, first got you into music? What are your favourite videogame soundtracks of all time?
I wouldn’t say that they got me into music but they did do a lot for my musical development. I used to have certain games on my parents’ old Atari ST that I used to load up just to listen to the music; just leave it on the menu screen and sit there and listen. Then, when games started coming on CDs it was all about putting them in the hi-fi and hoping that they were stored and uncompressed in a way that the CD player would read. Or, breaking into the locked down data files to extract music files with bizarre, seemingly unplayable, file extensions.

In terms of actual tunes though, Streets of Rage 2 was the daddy. Yuzo Koshiro is an absolute legend.

Videogame music, to me, seems to have lost some of its sheen in recent years and doesn’t sparkle with quite the same quality it once did. What’s your take on this? Have game soundtracks gone downhill?
Games have become increasingly more filmic; the music for them has followed the same route. Hans Zimmer wrote the music for Crysis 2, John Williams on all the Star Wars games… Film music is more subservient to picture than game music is to game – so, the traditional nature of that interaction is changing.

It’s in the indie games scene that amazing things are happening. Not just backwards looking chip-tune, either. Disasterpiece (Fez), Jim Guthrie (Sword & Sworcery), C418 (Minecraft) are all fine examples of very current, excellent game music composers.

Do you see Stay+ as a conceptual or an evolutionary project?
It started as one and became the other. I suppose you could say that it evolved into an evolutionary project. It started as a fucking joke – a joke band called “Christian AIDS”. Now, it’s my entire life. Through this evolutionary process it’s shed its skin numerous times, also. There was a point at which there were 9 members of Christian AIDS, now there’s only me. As it’s grown, it has also shrunk. It’s a story full of wonderful paradoxes and contradictions!

What new acts in Manc or elsewhere would you recommend?
I generally try to stay away from new music whilst I’m writing. I’m too much of a music-sponge. Given that, try to forgive the lack of new-ness in these recommendations.

D/R/U/G/S is doing some fantastic stuff at the moment – his sound is evolving into this deep, progressive, seething club music. Holy Other obviously has his LP out which is absolutely mind blowing and, whilst I’m not a huge fan of their work individually, the Synkro & Indigo tracks that I’ve heard have blown me away.

What are you looking forward to in the next year?
I want to do an album. I’ve not been in the place where it would have been possible up to now – too many dramas, hardships, moves and breakdowns. I’ve steeled myself for it now and I’m relishing the challenge.

Finally, let’s say – in the spirit of 2012 and all – the world ends tomorrow, you’ve got one record to soundtrack your last night on Earth… What will it be?
Enablers – “End Note”. Listening to this album would definitely encourage me to go out with a bang.

- Alex Cull

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