“Vynehall has developed into a master craftsman” – Pitchfork
“Leon Vynehall is an artist of distinct talent” – Mixmag
Family has always been front-and-centre for Leon Vynehall. His breakthrough 2014 EP Music For The Uninvited was inspired by the funk, soul and hip-hop tapes his mum used to play in the car on journeys to and from school. Spreading organically, purely on the strength of the music, the record transcended its dancefloor credentials and finished the year on a plethora of ‘Best of the Year’ lists including Pitchfork, FACT and Resident Advisor (“one of the most eclectic and rewarding house records you’ll hear all year”). Music For The Uninvited was a wonderfully eclectic deep-dive into the sounds behind a young talent who now has six-plus years of international DJing and multiple releases under his belt on highly respected imprints such as 3024, Rush Hour and Running Back. Video games, childhood memories, sounds discovered through his parents, and extended family: these moments of youth have all proved to be vital catalysts in Vynehall’s productions. Now, with his debut album, Nothing Is Still – released 8 June via Ninja Tune - Vynehall is digging deeper into the family history that inspired his most iconic tracks, whilst returning to his own musical roots.
Nothing Is Still is, at its core, an album dedicated to Vynehall’s grandparents. Emigrating from a leafy south east U.K. to New York in the 1960s, their seven-day journey via boat from Southampton to Brooklyn, and the stories that followed, have only truly come to light for him upon the passing of his grandfather four years ago. “I knew they had lived in the U.S. and heard anecdotes, but it was only after my Pops died and my Nan presented these polaroids of her waitressing at the New York Mayor’s Ball in ’66, or Pops with horses on a ranch in Arizona, that I started to become overtly inquisitive about it” Vynehall says, following in depth conversations with his Nan to find out as much as he could about this part of his family history that was seemingly hidden in plain sight. “I felt the need to document this period for her, and it all just sort of snowballed from there.”
On Nothing Is Still, Vynehall has demonstrated his passion for documenting his grandparents’ story through an album of immense scale, physicality and wonder - one that often leaves the listener reeling from the weight of it all, as well as absorbed by its remarkable beauty. However, presenting and articulating a greatly personal story - especially one that transcends generations - can’t always be contained to one medium. In that sense, Nothing Is Still is made up of one story, told through separate mediums. These include an accompanying novella and visual components which dovetail and in so doing expand the scope and context of the narrative. This is extended further through the use of Pol Bury’s ‘George Washington Bridge, NYC’ from his ‘Cinétisation’ collection as the album artwork; with permission granted to Vynehall by Bury's wife following a conversation between the two about the context of his record - the artwork was created in New York by Bury at the same time as the album’s story takes place.
Told across nine parts - or as the tracklisting suggests, nine chapters - Nothing Is Still is an elegant snapshot based on his grandparents’ story; effortlessly capturing the same romanticism emanating from those initial polaroids. Opener ‘From The Sea/It Looms (Chapters I & II)’ approaches from distant atmospherics into woozy strings before shifting the dynamic with broad synths and soaring, cinematic violins. ‘Trouble - Parts I, II & III (Chapter V)’ starts with a stunning, almost motorik, piano arrangement. It's a piece that quickly evokes the perils and anxieties conveyed within its narrative by embracing highly physical experimentations. Lead track ‘Envelopes (Chapter VI)’ takes jittery reversed swells and layers them with punchy, swaying percussion before building to an intense climax to meet ‘English Oak (Chapter VII)’; a track with an infectious rhythm that gives a nods towards Vynehall’s dancefloor prowess. The end result of all this is a record that’s both deeply personal to Vynehall, and one which easily resonates with us all - its formerly buried family history. “I’m sad that I only learnt about these stories in such detail now and not before my grandfather died. Theirs is an immigrants story, and I admire their sense of adventure and desire to seek a new, different life in an era where long-distance travel was more daunting then it is now” says Vynehall on his motivations for the making the record. “It all became a bit of a blur and I have no idea how it got from the initial conception to this multi-faceted project. I just ended up here quite naturally, almost as if this was always going to happen.”
Clearly, that aforementioned feeling of exploration resonates with Vynehall creatively too. Where 2016’s Rojus EP saw Vynehall building more layers and broadening the depth of his music, he was also sticking to crafting luscious grooves that were destined to dominate dancefloors. Fan favourite ‘Blush’ was certified ‘Best New Music’ by Pitchfork - and Rojus finished the year in the online magazine’s prestigious ‘Top 20 Best Electronic Albums of 2016’ as well as becoming DJ Mag’s ‘Album of the Year’. Nothing Is Still however, is defiantly atmospheric and textural, and finds him harnessing his passion for early contemporary minimalist composers such as Gavin Bryars and Steve Reich as well as records like Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi and Terry Riley’s A Rainbow In Curved Air. “I’m curious” Vynehall explains. “I would get exhausted doing the same thing. That's not what I want to do. I've grown up listening to a breadth of different music through family and friends. Everything from The Doors to Aphex Twin and all that lies in-between. First and foremost I'm a musician, I always have a need to stretch different creative muscles.” Recorded at Konk Studios, written entirely and predominantly performed by Vynehall himself - a ten-piece string section arranged by Amy Langley, Finn Peters (saxophone and flute), and Sam Beste (piano) are several of the additional musicians - Nothing Is Still was mixed by Blue May in London before making its own transatlantic flight to NYC, where it was mastered at Sterling Sound by Greg Calbi. Simultaneously building a global reputation as an eclectic and considered DJ and curator (his much loved BBC Essential Mix was shortlisted as one of the five best Essential Mixes of 2016), Vynehall has hosted and curated all-night-long residencies worldwide and has become a mainstay at many festivals including Glastonbury, Field Day and Sonar. He will be performing Nothing Is Still with a brand new live set-up with dates TBA.
‘Rojus’ - the 2016 follow up to ‘Music For The Uninvited’ - was equally acclaimed, being named ‘Best New Music’ by Pitchfork, ‘Best Album’ at the DJ Mag Awards, and lauded by the likes of Mixmag, Billboard and Mojo.
Vynehall’s DJ style is eclectic, considered and always surprising, and has been expertly reflected in his popular mixes for the likes of FACT and XLR8R, with the latter commenting that his contribution to their podcast series “quite possibly raised more questions than it answered”. His debut Radio 1 Essential Mix proved so popular that it went on to be shortlisted by the BBC as one of the 5 best Essential Mixes of 2016. Something of a media recluse, all we really know about Leon Vynehall is from his music – so far it’s proved a fascinating story.