I spent countless hours of my ‘90s childhood in the backseat of my mom’s car, traveling between school, sports games, and birthday parties with her tunes as the soundtrack. A collection of cassette tapes in a cardboard box sat at my feet, the contents of which included Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers, and James Taylor. Though I was only a subconscious listener, these routine car rides were among my first introductions to music and no doubt continue to shape my taste today.
UK producer Leon Vynehall shares a similar influential experience from his youth. During car rides back and forth from school, his mother would pop in a tape from Afrika Bambaattaa, Janet Jackson, The Blackbyrds, or Ike & Tina — and as little Vynehall gazed out the window, the foundations of his musical palette were built with funk, hip-hop, and dance. He now consciously draws from these early influences and writes music reminiscent of the classics that shaped him.
Vynehall’s nostalgia isn’t just for vintage funk and soul, which manifests in his warm, twinkling house rhythms. He evokes the raw feeling of the cassette tapes themselves, appreciating an organic approach to making music that respects authenticity and gives character beyond sterile digital tracks.
In a recent interview for RBMA, he explains, “I never write music so it sounds technically clean and punchy. I want it to be a mesh, a ball of sound, where all of the elements play off each other. Tape really helps that, because the natural compression compliments that way of writing and mixing really well.”
Vynehall is part of a movement among music heads who romanticize vintage formats and value vinyl over MP3s. Cassette tapes, too, are making a comeback with the current generation of producers who discovered music in the era between LPs and CDs. Hearing the click of the play button followed by the whir of a rolling tape triggers sentimental memories surrounding these childhood musical discoveries.
I remember sitting in front of my Panasonic stereo with a blank tape ready to go, my finger hovering over the record button for hours as I waited for my favorite song to play on the radio. When I finally captured a fuzzy recording I’d listen to it over and over again, patiently holding down the rewind button each time and not caring that I’d missed recording the first ten seconds. This process made the reward more meaningful than today’s instant gratification of streaming a track online — and I think Vynehall would agree.
Vynehall wields this nostalgia for a more analog era as a tool to bridge the classic and contemporary. He succeeds in this vein as both a producer and a DJ; exhibit A is his latest release, the 7-track mini-album Music for the Uninvited for Martyn’s 3024 imprint, which features woven samples and rich melodies. The album is based on the cassette tape concept, intended for a full listen from start to finish as you would a tape or record. Exhibit B is his 2012 Boiler Room set, above, where he glides between underground house and classic techno with mixing skills sharpened as a resident DJ in seaside Brighton.
Leon Vynehall will bring his collection of deep cuts and selections from the phenomenal Music for the Uninvited to Re:Set Wednesdays at the Phoenix Landing this week. What you’ll get is more than the standard DJ set; as he told XLR8R, “I like chords, I like atmosphere and some sort of emotion in music. Rather than it being just all about the dancefloor, I like it being a bit of both.”