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Stefan Benz

Stefan Benz

Introduction

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If there is one man who has done his share of contributions to the Atari ST scene, it must be Stefan Benz. He is the founder of projects like Fading Twilight and Fujiology, the main Atari ST archivist at demozoo.org, full time YM Rocker and member of The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. He has been creating chiptunes since the early 90s and has recently released his first synthwave album called Laser Days. If you are a fan of Atari ST demos, the scene or music, this has got to be your cup of tea!

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Breakdance
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Zatacka ST
Music

Stefan Benz Interview

Written by ST Graveyard

September 17, 2019

1) Introduction
2) Atari here, Atari there, Atari everywhere
3) Discovering technology
4) Close encounters of the ST kind
5) Sabrina's eyes
6) Pop idols
7) The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation
8) Tools of the trade
9) Creating history
10) BFFs
11) Name changes
12) YM Rockerz
13) Lotek the Librarian
14) FUJIOLOGY? A cult?
15) Demozoo
16) No more games
17) So many projects
18) Your greatest accomplishment
19) Feeling Atari today?
20) Favorite song
21) Still a gamer?
22) Laser Days
23) Synthwave
24) Things get personal
25) Nostalgia kicks in
26) 80's pop culture
27) Plans for the Future
28) Ambitions
29) That girl from Marilyn Manson
30) Last words

1) Present yourself to us. Who are you?

Hi everybody. My name is Stefan but most of you know me better as Lotek Style. I am a musician, DJ, demo-scener, Atari/retro computer-nerd from Germany.


2) Why Atari and when did it start?

Around Christmas 1982 my sister got an Atari VCS and I often visited her to play Pac-Man, Amidar, Demon Attack and many more titles. The magic Fuji-symbol led my path from that point. In 1985 I got my own VCS and in 1986 I got my first home-computer, which was an Atari 800 XL. I guess one can see a pattern here.


3) What was the first computer game you ever played and on which system?

My first video-game experience was a tiny Japanese handheld where you have to shoot a space-ship with your cannon from the ground. That was in Christmas 1980. The next step was definitely PAC-MAN on VCS in 1982. My fave games on that console later became H.E.R.O. and PITFALL 2. The first two games I remember on my XL were AIRWOLF and SPY VS. SPY… loaded both from tape(!) :)


4) When was your first encounter with the Atari ST?

I was reading a lot of Atari magazines and learned around 1987 about the ST which might be a bit late to some people. Unfortunately I could not afford any of the models at that time and my parents did not understand what was better on the other computer so they refused to buy me a new machine at that point.


5) Did you always want to be a musician and is that the reason you bought the Atari ST? Or did the music came after?

Isn’t it a teenage dream for many of us to be a pop-star? I was interested in music since 1982 when I discovered that there is 'Radio' and it plays a different kind of music than children's songs. I followed the pop-music of the 1980s for a couple of years until I concentrated a bit more on home-computers and gaming from 1986 to 1988. The year 1988 is still very important for me as it brought me back to music (to be more precise Sabrina’s All of Me was the song). Acid House came up and I was hooked. Slowly the idea of creating my own music came into being. From the summer of 1989 to December 1990, I took a complete break from computers but as I wanted to create music, the Atari ST was the next logical step. Finally I got my 1040 STe on Christmas 1990.


6) What is your musical background? Your favorite type of music? Band?

I am highly influenced by all 1980s pop-music but esp. Italo-Disco and Synth-Pop had a huge impact on me. This is where the circle closes with the current Synthwave music that I am writing. When it comes to faves a lot of namedropping needs to be done. I will name a few bands that meant more to me than others over the years: Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Laser Dance, Bomb The Bass, Anne Clark, Project Pitchfork, Deine Lakaien, Ultravox (MK2), Thorsten Fenslau, The Killers, Cosmic Baby, Anthony Rother, Blastromen, The Midnight, Timecop1983.


7) When did you join/create TSCC and why?

TSCC was created by MC Village and myself around December 1990. The main reason was that we wanted to create our own electronic music (I think we had EBM in our minds back then). We took the name from Douglas Adams’ THHGTTG which we never read before but there was a BBC TV series that was re-shown on German TV a few weeks before we founded the group. We thought their definition totally met our crazy lifestyle. The group was created shortly before I got my Atari ST, which was needed to realize our plan. Everybody in the music-world used STs for MIDI during those days, so this was our first step.


8) Which tools do you use to create music on the Atari?

In the past I have used Digi-Composer by ISTARI for creating MOD files until I switched to Octalyser STE around 1998 when I bought my own Falcon.
For ST chip-tunes I use Sid Sound Designer V3.5p and maxYMiser.


9) What do you consider are TSCC's greatest accomplishment to date?

I don’t think we can break it down to just one. I think these are our greatest achievements yet:
Dynabusters+
Terrorise Your Soul
Beams
Wolfenstein 3D ST
Worms 060


10) Are you still in touch with the members of the group?

Sure with most of them. We have our own mailing-list to discuss topics, although it is more silent during the last few years.


11) You used to be MC Laser and today you call yourself Lotek Style. Where do both nicks come from, where are they used and why did you do a name change?

I knew you were asking this :) Ok so you get the extended version. When I returned to music in 1988 I was a big fan of the Dutch Space-Synth project LASER DANCE and changed my nickname from DRUID (named after my fave game) to LASER. Around 1989 a new House-music style called "Hip House" emerged. In this fusion of House and Hip Hop you often had so called "MCs (=Master Of Ceremony)" rapping over the beat and I wanted to do something similar. Around 1990 I added an M.C. to my nickname and tried to rap at one or two parties. As I didn’t had any own tracks I just made myself a clown with This Beat is Technotronic and Ice Ice Baby. I was REALLY REALLY bad and I thank whoever for not having smartphones and social-media in those days. I kept the name but concentrated on becoming a D.J. in 1991. I used this name in all my demoscene activities too. By the end of the 1990s I decided that I needed a new name for my 'serious' music productions and came up with 'LOTEK STYLE'. The name was taken from the movie Johnny Mnemonic. For about 5 years both names existed besides each other but it caused a lot of confusion and so in 2003 I decided to go for 'LOTEK STYLE' for everything that I am doing.


12) What are YM Rockerz and why?

The idea for YM Rockerz came up by the end of 1999/beginning of the 2000s. YMR is a kind of record-label. An independent platform for Atari chip-musicians to release their music. In 1999 we experienced a return of chip-tunes at Error In Line. Since TSCC was kind of dead at that time I was looking for other people to co-operate with. I came up with the name and the idea and asked TAO what he was thinking and he was on board right away. The rest is history. After a long break there will be a new disc in 2019.


13) You are one of the greatest archivists in the scene. As I have said in the past 'a walking library'. When did this obsession with preserving the past start and why?

I was collecting demos since I got my ST in 1990. In 1995 I visited my first demo-party and had the opportunity to create .MSA files and burn a CD-ROM out of all this. That was at Fried Bits 3 in Bremen. Thanks have to go to Stratagem of Animal Mine here as I used his machine and he burned that very first CD-ROM. As he also was the SysOp of our WHQ BBS, he got a huge supply of new stuff at once. Why am I doing all this is a good question. In the beginning it simply was to have a back-up and not to lose all the stuff that was gathered with a lot of money and pain back then. From this first CD it went on an on. In 1999 I started Fading Twilight and No Fragments which all later fusioned together in FUJIOLOGY.


14) FUJIOLOGY? That sounds like a cult or something. What exactly is that?

First of all it is the combination of the words 'Fujiama' and 'Archeology'. When thinking about a name for my archive I wanted something fancy that did not have the name 'Atari' in it. One of the main reasons for this was that there have been several lawsuits against people running harmless Atari old-school fan-sites, just because they were using the name 'Atari' in it. Also 'Fujiology' sounds cooler than 'Atari Archive Number 1' for example. Fujiology now is the biggest (to my knowledge) Atari scene archive on the planet. It combines all of my previous projects into one HUGE monster. The archive is heavily 'scene'-rooted but also contains plain public domain stuff because when you dig deeper you often hardly can’t draw any lines anymore. Fujiology shows me how deep the rabbit hole really goes. Sub-Sections at the moment: ST, Falcon, 8-bit, Jaguar, Lynx, Mags, TT, VCS, 7800 Pro System, CD-Roms, Composer, Fading Twilight, SNDH, ASMA, Parties, Graphics, Movies and Portofolio. The current file-count: 83525.


15) Can you tell us a bit about the history of the Demozoo.org project? When did this happen, what is your part in it, and why?

Demozoo was founded by Gasman and Menace on the 14th of May 2010. In 2012, when I slowly returned from my scene-break, I got approached by Menace who ran across one of my projects about Atari parties. He asked me if I want to join the Demozoo-Team and take over the Atari platforms. Their former Atari-guy was Nerve/Ephidrena^DHS but it seemed that he did not had the time to really take care about it. He gave me a secret login (Demozoo was not live at that point) and I played around a bit but then forgot about it for a couple of months. In the beginning of 2013 I logged in again and started adding crew-lists and crew-members and suddenly I was hooked.


16) Why do you preserve music and demos, and not games (like we do on AL) and other software?

I think it’s a matter of interest. I always was more interested in demos than in games and let’s be honest the games sector is very well covered by several other projects already.


17) Were you part of any other groups or projects you want to share with us?

I was in Icebird (an Acorn group) for a short time but no projects ever made it. I was also one member of the POETS OF DECAY who did the famous UNDERCOVER MAGASCNE. Music-wise I have been part of a DJ Collective called VINYL KARTELL that hasn't existed since 2007.

Fading Twilight was a CD-ROM series covering the digital works of Atari demo-scene musicians. As I have mentioned above it is now a sub-section of FUJIOLOGY (same goes for the No Fragments CD-ROM series).


18) What do you consider your personal greatest accomplishment in the Atari scene? And in life?

For the scene I guess it is FUJIOLOGY (=Lotek the Librarian!). In life I think the LASER DAYS EP is one thing I can be really proud of.


19) How does Atari make you feel today? And in what way has the scene, or Atari as a brand, influenced you in your life?

Thinking of Atari still has that childhood-vibe to it. Thinking of the company today makes me not want to think of the company today. Nolan should try to buy it back. Atari and the scene definitely had, and still has, an influence on my life but I cannot even really tell you how.


20) What do you think is the best song you have written so far?

It is in fact She Danced To Tainted Love. That song means really a lot to me. One single moment in life that lasted only for a couple of seconds created such a huge song.


21) Do you still have time to play computer games these days? Or absolutely no interest?

Time is relative :) You can’t work all the time. I still play one or the other modern games on PC (RAGE 2, Metro Exodus, Wolfenstein) and some XL or ST stuff from time to time.


22) Last year you released the Laser Days EP. Is this the first time you are making music without the Atari ST? Outside of the Atari scene?

I have to admit that I am not using the ST/Falcon anymore (except for the chiptune-stuff) since quite a while. I switched to software-synths on PC already in 2003 but I had a ten-year-break from music production. I really re-started doing music in January 2018. If you take a closer listen you can hear the ST on ‘NEON TEENAGE DREAMS’ here too. It is not the first time I am doing music outside of the Atari scene but in the end it went hand in hand anyway. This time there was a different approach. It wasn’t about gaining scene-fame. It was more about expressing my feelings and getting more professional.


23) Where did the idea of Laser Days E.P. come from? And how did you get to know synthwave/retro wave?

I’ll answer your second question first. Back in 2014 my coder Insane pointed me to a band called LE CASSETTE and around the same time I discovered a band called MIAMI NIGHTS 1984. So I was aware there is this 'new' scene around for quite some years until I discovered Crystalline by The Midnight in January 2018. That was the moment I totally got hooked.


24) Laser Days has 4 songs with quite a bit of difference in style. You have the slow darkwave like song 'Analogue', a more funky 'Neon Teenage Dreams' and the more pop inspired 'Marina’s Eyes' and title track. Where do you get your inspiration?

The whole EP is a very personal thing to me and so most of the inspirations come from personal memories and experiences often buried for a very long time. This is the first time that I am writing about my feelings instead of data theft or satellites with suicidal tendencies.

Neon Teenage Dreams was the song that started it all. There was this speech-sample saying “Gesegnet sei das Neon! Sein Licht soll uns alle führen!” (in English: "Praise to the neon, may its light guide us all") which I had lying around for ages. It was sampled from an episode of CAPTAIN POWER. So what is this song about? First of all it is a fictional story that never happened. Imagine a device that can record your fantasies… brain to machine. Now you are old but you have the possibility to relive your teenage dreams, record them, preserve them for future generations. This is what I was trying to do here. Preserving one of my teenage dreams. The line 'a crowd of friends they are long gone' is dedicated esp. to those two school-mates who already passed away. Being the first song from the EP it still has that chip-tune scene connection. This is were I come from.

A couple of weeks later I started the work on 'Marina’s Eyes' where I clearly wanted to go more into the Synthwave direction. Most of the topics that I am dealing with are deeply rooted in the 1980s and what sound could be more perfect than Synthwave for this? As you might have imagined already, Marina was my teenage love. "I looked into Marina’s Eyes, instead of I love you I said goodbye", was actually a moment that really happened in 1990. The whole song is based around that tiny moment. It is causing a real brain-fuck when you start thinking how your life would have been when you acted differently in a special moment. This is why I want a time machine for Christmas, to travel back in time and tell my younger self to do the right thing. Now some trivia about the kitschy intro. As a teenager I was a huge fan of Miami Vice and I always wanted to be like Sonny Crocket (Don Johnson). One time I walked into the hairdresser-store and wanted a haircut like his. IT LOOKED LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE BUT NOT LIKE HIS HAIRCUT! 30 years later I can laugh about it.
I always thought Gina Calabrese (Saundra Santiago) bears a resemblance to Marina. So in my teenage dreams 'I was Sonny Crocket' and 'she were Gina Calabrese'. I hope this makes much more sense for you now.

After that I started to work on Analogue. Details about this song will follow in the next answer. So I finally came to a point where I had these three songs that were nearly complete. So what next? Should I release a 3-Track EP or do 4-Tracker? As I had the impression that the final puzzle was still missing, I started on some kind of Italo-Disco-ish track. As the EP was already called LASER DAYS EP, at first I didn’t want any of the tunes to be called LASER DAYS as well, but went into the opposite direction in the end. So the final song-name was found.

With LASER DAYS I brought everything down to a round figure. After the funeral of our friend, my class-mate Carsten said "Those were different times" and this sentence stuck in my head. He was so right that I made it the first line of the song. If you take a closer look at the lyrics of the song you will find several references to all the three other songs. "When I loved the rain" is a reference to ANALOGUE. "She was an Eighties queen" is a reference to NEON TEENAGE DREAMS. "I looked into her eyes" is a reference to MARINA’S EYES. I finally managed to put the puzzle together and created something wonderful.

BTW. The artwork of the E.P. was done by Mizucat. Check out her portfolio here.


25) What does strike me are the lyrics. They are very emotional and sometimes heavy (Analogue). You really miss the old days, don’t you? Want to share some of the things that inspired you to write like this?

ANALOGUE was the third song that I wrote for the EP. I was listening to a lot of stuff from Timecop1983 and The Midnight around that time. After all that up-tempo stuff I thought the EP needs a ballad as well. Since the funeral I was thinking A LOT about the past and especially those teenage years. I cannot even put it to words how much I miss these days. My soul is bleeding… and I mean it. It was the people who made these days special (parents, family, friends)… but many of them are gone now. ANALOGUE is an ode to the analogue world we kids grew up in. I really loved the rain back then and I still do. I often listened to music (see Depeche Mode Tape) on my Walkman when it rained. Lots of memories came back and I remembered many places where we’ve been as kids and teenagers. Without machines… is a reference to all the smartphone-zombies that you see every day today (It is not like that I doom all new technology but IMHO this is taking over). In the end there was my teenage love again who I was thinking a lot about when listening to the tape back then. All this has a meaning to me.


26) You have movie and 80’s pop culture references in your music. In "Marina’s Eyes" you start the song with a reference to Miami Vice, and in "Shadow Of The Past" you have an audio clip of the German-dubbed version of ‘Back to the Future’. Are you a movie buff? Or an 80’s kid?

Born in the 70s. Raised in the 80s. I guess I am a bit of both. I always loved to have vocal samples from movies in my tracks. In the past it often was Science Fiction samples - which I still love to use. Since 80's pop culture is a big source for Synthwave there is no wonder that I am using this weapon as well :)


27) What are your future plans, in the scene, and in your life? Will there be more Synthwave?

For now I’ve started further education as audio engineer. I simply do this to be more independent and to make my music sound better. There will definitely be more Synthwave. I am working on the final version of my single “She danced to Tainted Love/Forever you” as well as my album which will be called 'ARTEFACT SALVAGER'. The album title is simply a new title for me and what I am doing… salvaging artefacts.


28) What do you still really want to accomplish in life?

My album… and to have a Synthwave-Superhit :) Getting Demozoo in a somewhat complete state would be awesome as well.


29) If you could pick any person to go out and have a beer with, who would it be?

Dita von Teese.


30) Any last words of wisdom or lessons learned for our readers?

Thank you so much for your interest and stay Atari.


If you are interested in Synthwave and want to show your support, you can buy the Laser Days EP at Lotek's Bandcamp page!

Interview Comments

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AtariCrypt
He had me at HERO and Pitfall :) great interview.
September 18, 2019

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