Eloquent Music – In Praise of Leon Vynehall

Leon Vynehall is one of the few artists who can justify the media-shy persona he has established. The clichéd image of the artist who only speaks through his/her music is one that often gets exploited by individuals that like to cultivate a darker, mysterious artistic image, but whose music very rarely expounds the idea of a communicative music or even accommodates it. Leon Vynehall is cut from a different cloth however. A reserved poignant output and music that often gestates from personal experiences coincide with music that seems to communicate with its listeners on the dance floor in a very direct way, without imposing a will on its subject. ”I hope that listeners can incorporate their own stories into it”; he says in a rare interview with Mixmag from this year about his latest album Rojus and it’s something I feel we can apply to all of Leon Vynehall’s work. Active in this musical field since 2012, Leon Vynehall’s unique take on House, which rarely relies on the genre’s stylistic traits, never adopts the status quo, and resolutely stays true to the artist’s voice, still makes him an inimitable force on the dance floor even 4 years on in a genre that can so quickly modulate to the next big hype.

From this vantage point it’s hard to imagine that Vynehall’s background lies in the world of “crunchy post-hardcore” as the Red Bull Music Academy puts it, other than perhaps in his deft production touches, where acoustic, played instruments slide along effortlessly amongst synthesisers and sampled drums. A place for everything and everything in its place is a mantra that seems to permeate throughout Vynehall’s catalogue, but at the same time everything about the UK producer’s music always goes much deeper than that. His breakout album (or mini-album as the artist prefers to call it), Music for the Uninvited dug deep into the artist’s subconscious from the most unexpected source and thus inherently affects the music from a very personal place. “What I wanted to do with this was look back on what moulded the way I write music – the melodies and application of samples – as well as how I listen to it, and the sonic palettes I use. The first music I listened to subconsciously was on the way to school in my mum’s car.” It’s easy to deduce from this that Vynehall’s own tastes were informed by his mother’s during his formative years with “lots of old funk, early dance, plus some hip-hop” influences seeping into his own music and snaking their way right through to the present, where Vynehall’s music and even his record collection reflects that, as he reveals in an interview with Boiler Room in 2012.

Mr Scruff also makes an early appearance in those subconscious listening experiences , and might allude to his own techniques in the studio where sampling plays a fundamental role, and from which he pieces his music together as a kind of a collage, often constructed around a theme or a concept. His second album, or mini-album as Vynehall still insists on calling these extended musical collections, like MFTU came together through a concept. For Rojus, Vynehall considered the “similarities between birds’ attempts to captivate and impress the opposite sex with dance, and the way strangers try to attract one another in clubs”. The Rojus title features the by-line “designed to dance”, which puts this idea forward as a kind of a “musical accompaniment to the narrative” with “a certain degree of storytelling done inherently via the music’s dynamics, textures and temperament”; explains Vynehall in that interview with Mixmag. That album takes its name and track titles from birds or birds of paradise and juxtaposes these natural elements with a club scene the artist knows intrinsically well by now. These different elements display in Vynehall a kind of complete immersion in his music where club culture is intertwined in something else, suggesting a very thoughtful and personally influenced process in his creativity. Throughout the two mini albums and the few EPs that have found their way on labels like AUS, Rush Hour and 3024, Vynehall shows a severe personal dedication to the music, one that the reserved release schedule and his reluctant biographical nature tends to bolster. You really get the sense that Vynehall doesn’t just release music for the sake of releasing it and when he does there’s no need to force it on anybody, since those that are interested and find similarities to Vynehall’s own tastes, will invariably find their way to it.

The artist’s dedication to the music is broad, and applauds the narrative of the history of the music that calls on elements of Funk, Disco and House. He does it quite literally in a track like “It’s Just” through the opening sample taken from Paris is Burning, a documentary about a gay cultural dance movement – one of the earliest developments through House music. It’s also in the abstract of that song, with the artist featuring a sample from the Isley Brothers’ “Don’t say Goodnight” (or the Dilla sample of that track), something the listener senses he treats with respect, but also adds to the density of the song. Vynehall’s music is never quite as simple as an 808 kick and a bass line, and an acoustic kick drum can often be found amongst arpeggio synths, juno bass-lines, and sampled strings. Listening to a track like “Brother” or “Beau Sovereign” you hear all these elements conspire into these fully rounded listening experiences that are more than just functional dance tracks but have no issue in finding their way onto the dance floor, often sounding like miniature compressed versions of Vynehall’s DJ mixes. Like the music, his DJ mixes are pleasant little slices of music’s history, and can go from acoustic elements to functional House effortlessly, while retaining something unequivocally Vynehall about them. There’s a groove to the DJ’s mixes that go right from Funk to Garage, an uncanny ability to tie tracks together from sporadic corners of dance music with Vynehall’s distinct voice at the centre of it all.

Leon Vynehall’s musical voice is indeed the common denominator through his music and his DJ mixes and on the rare occasion he does agree to an interview, one can clearly sense the musician’s personality affecting his art. There’s a sincere personal investment in his music and his selections and it’s one that is quite visceral and tangible from the listening perspective. It very rarely feels calculated or forced and Leon Vynehall’s deft hand at the production chair or in the booth is always a marvel to encounter. It imparts a certain timelessness to his music one where you find a strong artistic personality that won’t indulge ideas of whimsy or buck to trend as he does what he does best… being Leon Vynehall.