Interview: It’s not everyday you catch word of a band that takes inspiration from the likes of Clive Sinclair and Steve Jobs. It’s not everyday you catch word of a band that’s grounded its aesthetic in a feud between Sinclair and Chris Curry either. Enter THE BRITISH IBM, a three-piece indie outfit from the UK that, in the words of founder Aidy Killens, combines indie rock and vintage computing.
Having launched a self-titled album over the summer and a couple of singles since, I had a chat with The British IBM founder Aidy Killens to see how games have influenced him and the band creatively, what it is about past games he finds so much more appealing that those of the present day and whether tech like smartphones and Ouya can help him in his search for games with real soul.
Brushing aside the band name and the dozens of video references, how have games and computing influenced you creatively?
It’s mainly the stories behind the games and the people involved that have influenced me. I admire the single-minded enthusiasm of a lot of the people who built these computer companies over the years. I’m fascinated with how it all turned out and the rise and fall of companies like Sinclair and Acorn. So it’s more the human story that’s influenced me creatively. That combined with the aesthetics of it all. I love the look of an old computer manual and the packaging.
Also in the same way some people might be inspired by a photo of The Beatles or maybe vintage Americana, I think photos and footage of influential “geeks” look cool as fuck. There’s that black and white photo of Steve Jobs with the Apple II or that iconic image of Clive Sinclair holding the Spectrum above his head. With the British IBM I wanted to bring all that together with indie rock and that’s what I’ve done.
The lyrical themes in some of your songs seem to be more grounded in gaming/computing than your actual music, have games informed your music as well as your lyrics in any way?
No, we’re an indie band that happens to be influenced by computing history in the same way that a folk singer might be influenced by politics but wouldn’t necessarily include political sound effects in a song. It’s something that resonates with me and it’s got into the lyrics and aesthetics of the band but not the actual music. I have experimented with chip tunes in the past but I love indie rock and I love retro computing, so I wanted to combine those elements. I didn’t want to be novelty act.
What role did gaming take in your life growing up?
It was a massive part of my childhood, possibly more so than music up to a certain point. I started out playing a game called Bomber on the Mattel Aquarius and then went through various machines growing up, like the Vic20, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron and PC, before getting into consoles with the advent of the Sega Master System. I spent hours playing video games and made friends with a lot of people based on the games they played and the consoles they owned.
In the days before the internet, if you were stuck on a game you were properly stuck and had to rely on finding other like-minded people who had played the same games in order to problem solve them. One example of that was the spitting contest in Monkey Island 2. I remember everyone at school knew everyone else that had a copy of that game and it seemed like we were all stuck on that puzzle for ages, but after a lot of playground discussions one of us cracked it, which meant we all cracked it.