“Whose side you on?” inquires Stay + , ostensibly a pretty standard us-vs-them directive for the kids, in “The past is yours but the future's mine” fashion. But the mantra, repeated all but subliminally throughout the Mancs e-phoric curtain-raiser, could just as easily refer to a metaphysical divide. Whose side of the looking glass, the voice from the ether seems to ask, are you on? It's a beckoning into whatever virtual hinterland the youngsters transmit from. Pretty soon Stay +'s low-lit allure is too much to resist and the listener falls head first - into another of today's musical retro-warps.“You're all out of time” sang the barely bipedal Manc 21 years ago. How right he was...
Stay Plus (+), Manchester's latest most-likely-to's, deal in what you could describe as 'fictional dance', or 'hologram rave' if you can swallow it. That is to say, in accordance with the official definition of a hologram (we looked it up), when it comes to the Mancs an image of the object is seen even when the object is no longer present. It's not exactly nostalgia as such, rather dance music is the object and what remains is Stay +, the light echoes of a dead star.
In Stay +'s hands, Nineties house is a rumourous, redolent, low density nowhere, a virtual sphere where you hear what you want to hear and the sneaking sensation is that whatever does translate is all in your head - a figment of the imagination. Indeed, their insistence on remaining anonymous, or more accurately absent, only serves to heighten the illusion that the Lancs dance act are something you dreamt. It's what it must sound like to literalise the Klaxon's rave omniverse described on 'Magick'; a stateless trajectory careening the slipways of the mind, both “the way to Golden Dawn, [and]the way to Koh Phangan”.You might ask what it says about a generation whose lot in life is constructing elaborate nostalgia fantasies for their parents' appreciation, but little does it matter if when put into practice the mimesis is quite this sublime, or the yearning for the past quite so exquisitely wounded.
The streets are awash with amniotic chillwave disco - acts like Blondes, Teengirl Fantasy and Studio to name but a few - but this is different. Akin to the equally mysterious D/R/U/G/S, it's vulgar old rave-pop going under the soft focus knife. As well as a genre that is much less compatible with the hypnogogic treatment than disco, by toying with the signifiers of rave - a spectre that haunts pop culture to this day – it effects a very much more uncanny, potent impulse in your average British listener, whatever their age. An epochal shift like rave is is unthinkable in today's digital climate, so dance music as filtered through the ears of those who missed rave's future-shock, change-the-world, high water mark, will naturally be heavy with spiritual longing. And in futile pursuit of the dream, they have, unconsciously or not, produced something unmistakeably poignant.
More than that though, with waves of texture and atmospherics, the music seems to feel blindly for a sense of 'how it might have been' by method of a lustrous tactility. In order to emulate, or more accurately reenact 1989's Summer Of Love, essentially meditating on the meaning of the music itself, the feeling of rave, they've had to fill in the blanks themselves with their imagination, having learnt by lore alone. Consequently, between the more obvious events that make up 'Stay +', 'Fever' and new single 'Young Luv' are wisps of space, tiny little deaths, 5-minute summers and particles of time-slowed June evenings. The effect is almost identical in ambiance to the film adaptation of The Cement Garden or Atonement's portentous, unreal first half hour; a memory it transpires, told from the perspective of a child via the arrested mind of an adult compelled to make sense of that one sensuous afternoon forever. Stay + aren't just dream-weavers, they're merchants of false memory.
If anything Stay + are proof that dance music shouldn't have to be austere, minimalist, restrained or brittle to be considered art. Grand, lush and plump, nevertheless their catalogue displays all the soul, the mystery, the cognizance and the sensuousness of a Panthu Du Prince, a Shackleton, or any number of post-dubstep alchemists like Jacques Green or How to Dress Well. It's utterly suffused with surplus meaning, deeper resonance, the x factor, aesthetic, or whatever you want to call it. However, abstract though it may be the Mancunians know how to fire the adrenaline as much they do the imagination.The track they have taken up as both name and maxim, 'Stay +', is odd and abstruse but mounted with all the life-affirming latitude of a good old fashioned banger.
There's also a darker side to Stay +. Some commentators are heralding the advent of 'SICKCHESTER' in reference to Salem's crack-vomit ooze, and indeed you can credibly define Stay + as witch-house. 'Scum' and their powerful re-fixing of Esben and the Witch's 'Chorea' can double as obtuse flashbacks plaguing that self same first-timer, whose memories comprise of a very long, very dark passage of burning hot rooms and boiling ecstasy flesh, the only semi-vivid recollection a dim sensation of febrile nausea, a sickly aftertaste of total euphoria, and of course the music - replayed in the painful light of day against the will of the host. In fact, you could interpret 'Scum', 'Fever' etc to be the perfectly preserved, wholly intact memories of the night before. And of course, like every day after the night before (the millennium is exactly that you could say) there exists in the music a strange feeling of emptiness - either derived from the fundamental hollowness of revivalism or an unconscious expression on the band's part of having missed out: the aimless comedown ennui of life's late-comers. Although, much like say 'Delorean's 'As Time Breaks Off ' or Off Modern's description of D/R/U/G/S as “a party that never ends'', there's an infiniteness to Stay +. If they can't be there first time around, instead they'll make the party last forever.
Last week the dance spooks, who prefer to remain nameless, took a knee with DIS. Defensive, distrustful, obviously passionate, often cryptic and determined to stay true to themselves, the group told us only what they are prepared to and no more. The rest they leave to the imagination. Pretty apt.
It’s difficult to pin-down your dance influences from the range of remixes on your Bandcamp site, from tampering with DFA(1979) to (Manchester’s) Patterns to deep grime artists Murkage. Can you give an idea of where your loyalties lie in that respect, i.e your greatest loves?
We don't have any loyalties. If you listen to the "remixes", you'll notice that 90% of them only use the vocals from the original song. So describing them as remixes kinda annoys me. They are our songs, and more often than not the vocals are given new melodies too.
The Guardian’s Paul Lester described you as a “take on dance music where motion and release and the very pursuit of pleasure assumes a mysterious glamour”. Arguably you are one of the first chillwave acts, certainly in Britain, to make rave-worthy music from the hauntology aesthetic?
We have no interest in what Paul Lester thinks. We don't read any articles about the band. We don't google ourselves. I will say this - our music speaks to the past, and a future that never came.
Are there any non-musical influences that play into your music?
Can you give us a portrait of modern Manchester? What are your impressions of the city? Do you have any civic pride ?
I could tell you about Factory or 'Madchester'? We could talk about the paintings of LS Lowry? Perhaps watch an episode of Coronation Street? Modern Manchester is a myth. We are not real. It is just a dream. It has such a small community of musicians and promoters, that it would be strange for us to deny a scene exists... we drink in the same bars, walk the same streets, but what do we really share? We are all conscious that the city has a musical history. Most of them are still around here. One in particular just keeps finding new ways to cash in on his dead friend. So I guess we share a desire to create something new. Our own legacy.
What's driving Stay +, as artists? The video for 'Fever' features a montage of the recent student riots in London, and then there's this 1968 activist schtick plied by Wu Lyf. But arguably chillwave/witch-house is the photo-negative of rebel rock - narcotised, passive, sometimes nihilistic and in your case hedonistic. Maybe you just like how creepy it all sounds?
Maybe we don't know what is driving us beyond the need to do something with our lives... to be honest, we all found each other in the gutter looking at the stars.
Stay + write songs about love, depression and the brutality of human nature.. Why? Because it's all we know.
We don't want to stay in the gutter forever.
How do you feel your anonymity affects people’s perception of the band, or affects the atmosphere of the gigs?
We are not anonymous. We just choose not to shout about who we are. Or take lots of egotistical press shots. We don't hide our faces on stage. We will happily talk to fans after gigs. If people perceive us to be anonymous, it is because they want to.
Once an artist creates something, it is no longer owned by them. We want to leave it up to other people to decide how our music makes them feel. Stay + is not about the individual, we are a tempestuous, fluctuating group. A group doesn't have a face, and its personality takes longer to mature.
I get a sense from your music that Stay + are an introverted stage presence. Do you think there’s a barrier between you and your audience during the act?
Any barrier that exists between us and the audience will be broken down. Everything we build, will be destroyed
There is a lot of military, police and images of war scattered across your youtube videos and artwork. Are you politically minded at all?
If we use political imagery it is because the images interest us, as opposed to the political motivations behind those images.
You say depression is a subject matter that fuels the music. Is there a history of that somewhere or other within the band? Is this melancholic music?
Can you tell us anything about the process of making the music?
The process involves machines, people and a severe lack of sleep.
Do you think there’s a shared consensus within the band that childhood was not a happy experience?
Do you really want to know about my childhood? Really? Perhaps you could add me on Facebook and have a scan through some of my photographs?
Any plans for festivals or an album?
We play Midi Festival in France this month. With regards to releases... we are currently talking about a 12" vinyl, and an EP before the end of the year. But we have enough material stored in files for several albums.. and we are constantly writing.
Can you shed a little light on your choice of band name?
Our original name Christian AIDS was a cynical attempt to get people talking about us.It worked. Our new name Stay+ is much more representative of our sound and ideas.
Everyone seems in a big rush to perfect Dubstep's pop sound then along comes New York's Purity Ring and 'Ungirthed', which you remixed. What attracted you to that song in particular?
As with 'Ungirthed' there's a strong melodic element in your music. On 'Fever' especially. Is that important to you?
Melody (or the deliberate lack thereof) is the musical expression of emotion. Our music exists to provoke an emotional response, we want to give you goosebumps and make the hairs on your neck stand up.
What are your memory's of dance music as children? I see the song the people are jumping around to in the video for 'Stay +' is Robin S's club classic 'Show Me Love'.
'Stay +' means more to us than you could ever imagine.
"Heartbreaks and promises, I've had more than my share. I'm tired of giving my love and getting nowhere."
What reaction have you received, live? One blogger reporting on your gig said it didn't work, which implies to me you are attempting something ambitious/original/different for the live experience? One Facebook fan's reaction was “That was brilliant last night. So very strange”, which makes me even more curious.
Don't come expecting to see just one guy standing behind a laptop, this is not what we are about - we have bigger ideas and ambitions. Everything is designed to make you feel something - confusion, excitement, love, sadness, anger... all the shit that is going on in our heads is poured out onto the stage and into the audience. We won't settle for being just another band.
Why is it that your generation has such an affinity with chill-wave, do you think? Do you feel it reflects something at work deep in the collective consciousness? A manifestation of a feeling of loss, a sense of bereavement for that certain romance that previous eras possess? Maybe the desire for mystery – I.e a need to believe that there is something/anything left out to there to discover amidst the information saturation?
Our generation has been given nothing to believe in: no great vision, no future... Is it any wonder we look back with a sense of romance? At least people used to have hope that the future would be better.
This sounds a bit like situationalism: “Don’t come expecting to see just one guy standing behind a laptop, this is not what we are about – we have bigger ideas and ambitions. Everything is designed to make you feel something – confusion, excitement, love, sadness, anger…
Are you fucking with your audience, or merely stimulating them?
Our live show is always under development. To date, we have done 3 shows, and each has been an experiment. We are constantly trying out new ideas. This is not about fucking with them, this is about creating something unique and sensory, something that will make people want to come see us live again.
We are not trying to trick our audience. We want people to dance, enjoy themselves, to let go of any inhibitions. If we come across as difficult, it is because we probably are. We have become bored by the majority of artists. We just hope people can look beyond our difficult nature and fall in love with the art itself.
You twittered: “THE NME NEED TO PUT US ON THE FRONT COVER - WE'RE THE ONLY WAY THEY COULD POSSIBLY HALT THE SALES DECLINE. Care to elaborate?
My teenage years were spent in a small conservative town with nothing to do. Kids like me used to need the NME... now they have the internet - an endless world of ideas and connections. The NME, like so many musical institutions, is dying a slow and painful death, especially if it continues to back musicians with nothing to say.. like The Vaccines...