With power, grit, and an abundance of tech at the forefront of her sonic palette, Johannesburg-based beatsmith René King, known in the scene under her alias Stay-C, has been turning heads with her vigorous strain of drum and bass music in recent months.
The chosen producer for Hospital Records Women In Drum & Bass Mentorship scheme in 2020, Stay-C spent twelve months being mentored by the likes of Nu: Tone, Whiney, and a whole host of the team at the London-based label. One of Hospital’s actions to tackle equality and inclusion across their company, Stay-C commends the mentorship as the single biggest game-changer of her drum and bass career so far.
Having now released twice on one of the scenes most notable labels in the space of a few months, first with her groovy, stomping, and rather menacing remix of Nu: Logic’s New Technique and, more recently, with the bass face inducing, high-octane sonics of her original production Russian Doll, René’s recent successes are the by-product of years of perseverance, countless hours in the studio, and unadulterated love for such a diverse collation of music.
Producing music since the age of twelve, as well as playing the guitar and piano, the dedicated and mindful approach to life that has seen Stay-C travel the world with her job and obtain a Master’s degree in Systems Engineering has now begun to translate towards the pursuit of her drum and bass goals.
Chatting about the scene down in South Africa, her musical story, and the impact of her mentorship with Hospital Records on her life, we caught up with Stay-C in this UKF exclusive interview.
Before we delve into who Stay-C is, I’d love to hear about the scene in South Africa from someone who’s heavily intertwined in it.
In South Africa, the main hub of drum and bass is Johannesburg. It’s small, at least in comparison to somewhere like London or Bristol, but the passion of the people here is amazing and it’s such a close-knit group with big connections between promoters, DJs, producers, and party-goers. Everyone here is a family and there’s just something so special about drum and bass festivals. We don’t usually have any exclusive drum and bass festivals, but we’ll typically have a drum and bass stage at a psytrance festival and I’ve had some of the best nights of my life at these festivals..
The good thing about having only one drum and bass stage at a festival is the fact that the energy is going to be unmatched by anything else there.
That stage is always popping off. I believe that psytrance, techno, and drum and bass all draw from the same palette of sounds anyway so I like to go between the stages. Diversity is always a good thing, but I do spend most of my time at the drum and bass stages (obviously).
Are the festivals the reason you first got into drum and bass?
During my first year in uni, I was actually sitting in the car with my friend when his sister played Pendulum’s In Silico CD. That was my first time ever hearing drum and bass and I just thought: ‘what is this?’. I started going to raves and the rest is history.
I love hearing how people first get into it because a lot of the time they listen to one particular song and then they’re hooked.
I saw a clip of Andy C saying that there are some people who listen to drum and bass and think that it’s not for them, but for those who hear it and get sucked into it, they become so connected with others around the world who love it as well. The passion for drum and bass, no matter where you are, is second to none.
That’s what’s great about it. It’s niche, so when you meet someone else that gets it, you’re connected instantly.
Exactly. If you like drum and bass then we’ll get along just fine.
So when did it go from you discovering drum and bass to you wanting to DJ and produce?
So I’ve actually been making music since I was twelve, but just not in a very serious way. But, when I saw Netksy perform at a festival in South Africa that all changed. It was raining, there were lasers going through the sky and I remember thinking that this was something really special, that’s when I decided to start producing drum and bass and then I went onto DJing a few years on.
Interesting. I find most people learn to DJ and then find that they want to play out their own tunes, so learn to produce.
For me, it was the other way round. I’d been producing for so long before which meant I was very creative, but I wasn’t following tutorials and I didn’t know much about mixdowns and processing which meant my tracks weren’t great-sounding technically so mainly the way I’d get my tunes played out was if I played them myself. The more that I went to events and watched DJs, the more I knew this is what I wanted to do.
You can always teach somebody about technicalities, but you can’t teach them creativity.
Definitely. I think it’s benefited me as I guess I have quite a unique sound. I think people are so fortunate now that there are tutorials and sample packs, but it’s difficult to make a track that doesn’t sound like the tutorial that you’re watching, whereas I’ve got quite a large vocabulary of strange sounds as I play piano, guitar, and I’ve got a bit of a dissonant ear. I think this allows me to bring some strangeness to the track before the technicalities come in.
The music theory is a big plus as well. It’s usually the aspect that budding producers don’t want to learn.
I’ve played piano for so long and I’ve learned music theory for so long that I can’t say that I’m consciously thinking about the theory. It has definitely benefited me, but I also hear music from producers who have apparently had no training in music theory and I can’t tell. They can feel what sounds good.
On the topic of production, we have to talk about the remix you did for Nu: Logic on Hospital.
So whilst I was on the mentorship with Hospital, they asked me if I wanted to be a part of the 25th birthday celebration by doing a remix for them. A lot of the tracks that I knew were chosen, but eventually, Chris Goss came up with the idea of me remixing ‘New Technique’ and I really vibed with the track. I went through three iterations of the track, being lucky enough to work directly with Nu: Tone and he assisted with A&R – Nu:Tone is just absolutely amazing. The first time around, he didn’t think that it sounded much like the original, the second time around he thought we were getting there, and by the third time of listening, he thought I’d nailed it.
Working that closely with Nu: Tone must’ve been a brilliant experience.
Yeah. It added a bit of pressure having one of the producers observe the remix process, but he’s just such a wonderful person with so much wisdom because he’s been in the game for so long. He just made me so comfortable to talk about anything so he ended up acting as a mentor for me.
That’s really good to hear. In regards to the mentorship with Hospital, you were the first to be involved in their ‘Women In Drum & Bass Mentorship’, so how did you end up getting involved?
One of my good friends messaged me to show me the opportunity of the mentorship at Hospital. I remember being at a conference in India filling out this application on my laptop, asking my friends which track I should submit. I ended up submitting Revival and Hospital liked it. I was in Leeds when I got the email that told me that I’d be chosen and I remember having to re-read it three times whilst I was shaking because I was so excited.
So after you got accepted, how did the ins and the outs of the mentorship work?
There were a few pillars to the mentorship. Production, managing your digital presences, music publication , and managing bookings. The biggest aspect was the production side which had twelve A&R sessions, where I met up with Nikki, Tilo and Megan every month which made me really work on my music because I constantly needed something fresh to present at each session. It was brilliant for me because without that incentive to work, it can be hard to find motivation sometimes.
It’s so easy to get demotivated making music sometimes, especially when you can constantly compare yourself to others on social media.
Exactly. That actually brings me to what the biggest aspect of the mentorship for me was, which was the confidence that it gave me. I had a team of cheerleaders who kept saying “Stay-C, you’ve got this” and that meant so much to me. On social media, you see people who’ve been producing for two years and they’re coming out with flames when I’ve been producing for so long and I still don’t feel that I’m on that level.
Comparison can be the worst thing for an artist. Everyone is on a different path, but it’s so easy to fall into doing it with social media around.
There is only one you. Whatever makes you unique is what everyone wants to hear in your track. There is no point in trying to make a track that sounds like someone else. Celebrate what’s unique about you.
That’s a nice piece of advice. The whole mentorship must’ve been such a great experience for you.
There are no words actually. It was a great escape from the chaos of the pandemic, it gave me something to focus on and look forward to. I was also very lucky as, before the pandemic, I was always traveling for work, but with the lockdowns, I was at home and actually had the time to give the mentorship my all. I’ll be so grateful for it for the rest of my life as it put me on a different trajectory.
What’s next for Stay-C?
I’ve got a track coming out on Soulvent Records on a VA with some other really cool artists. I’ve been playing this track for a while so I’m glad to see it get a release. Other than that, I just want to finish up the artillery of tunes that I have and I can’t wait to get to the UK and play some gigs there.