Originally released in November 2019, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ collected together exclusive tracks from the world of synthwave and electronic pop.
Curated by Aaron Vehling, founder of Vehlinggo, the 17 tracks presented the musical ethos of the Brooklyn-based website, podcast and multimedia platform. Having been issued digitally, ‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ is now available on CD with a slight adjustment in running order to reflect Vehling’s vision of an imaginary film soundtrack.
Any good compilation contains promising talents alongside established names and this is certainly the case here.
The reconfigured tracklisting begins in a cool stylish fashion with ANORAAK’s ‘Panarea’, a funky nu-disco instrumental. Retrospective references surface with Canada’s PARALLELS on ‘The Magic Hour’, an exquisite slice of synthesized new wave that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a classic Brat Pack movie.
Remaining in Canada which has become the creative centrepoint for much of the best modern synth music, Ryan Gosling favourites FM ATTACK offer more of their trademark atmospheric electronic disco on ‘Paradise’.
The mood changes though with the appealing girly Italopop of New Yorkers BUNNY X and their ‘Revolving Doors’.
Now THE MIDNIGHT have become possibly the biggest synthwave crossover act with their sax assisted AOR but their appeal still baffles some observers; ‘Sometimes She Smiles’ does not change things and sounds not unlike busker balladeer PASSENGER but constructed using VSTs.
But with the pacey ‘Rage Of Honor’, proceedings are rocked up by LE MATOS although the backbone is still predominantly electronic. With a track entitled ‘Hi-NRG’, BETAMAXX begins proceedings with a cowbell frenzy but the speedy arpeggios soon join in for a Giorgio Moroder homage complete with digital chimes.
The shiny electro continues with the Sweden’s Johan Agebjörn and ‘Have You Ever Been In Love?’; using robotic vocal treatments like FM ATTACK, because this is a dub version of the track, the featured vocal of Tom Hooker, the voice behind many of the hits for famed Italo star Den Harrow, only comes in phrases which proves to be frustrating; the solution is to track down the original mix of the song from the ‘Videoman’ soundtrack.
MAETHELVIN cuts a solid funk groove on ‘Dance Through The Night’ aided by a LinnDrum derived pattern but maintains a chilly air, while from the Italians Do It Better stable, the previously unreleased Johnny Jewel produced ‘Gold’ by IN MIRRORS builds on some staccato tension.
The throbbing ‘Girl On Video’ from FORGOTTEN ILLUSIONS is loaded with hooks and big synthetic drum fills but while it is passable 4/4 synthwave fare, it is overlong and may have benefitted from being constructed around a 6/8 Schaffel to give it more bite.
A self-confessed “21st Century ’80s” artist DIAMOND FIELD takes the delightful Dana Jean Phoenix into an interesting direction on ‘Freedom Pass’ by producing something that comes over like THE GO-GO’S gone synthpop. It recalls when Jane Wiedlin was working with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague after the group first disbanded.
Beginning with some female prose en Français, DEADLY AVENGER‘s ‘Your Phone Is Off The Hook, But You’re Not’ is reminiscent of the quirky French underground from which cult acts such as MATHEMATIQUES MODERNES and RUTH emerged. Meanwhile, the wonderful MECHA MAIKO contributes the arty ‘Selfless’ which stands out with its screechy backdrop before settling into an avant pop concoction that makes hypnotic use of her repeated “It’s alright” phrasing!
‘She Sees A Future’ from Lakeshore Records signing VH x RR perhaps has the most nostalgic references like THE LOVER SPEAKS meeting ANIMOTION, but proceedings are taken down a notch by the filmic vocodered mood piece that is METAVARI’s ‘Be What You See’.
But the best is saved until last with HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR and the gorgeously dreamy ‘Slow Motion’; featuring a fabulous vocal by Zoe Polanski, the end result comes across a bit like ELECTRIC YOUTH.
‘Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years’ does its job well of showcasing new and established international talent from an American perspective.
Coming from variants of electronic music that have been labelled as synthpop, Italo Disco, synthwave, nu-disco and French disco, what actually matters is whether the music is any good.
Considering this compilation contains largely of previously unreleased material with the baggage that can come with that knowledge, the majority of it is excellent. Listeners will of course have their own favourites, but there really is something for everyone who loves electronic pop with quality and substance.
The advent of synthwave as a genre has led to a number of interesting variants with the pop-oriented version of the form being led by international starlets such as DANA JEAN PHOENIX, NINA, and PARALLELS.
Looking to join their ranks with her recently released second album ‘Electric Heart’ is Britain’s very own ROXI DRIVE.
With her own take on the classic MTV friendly sound of Pat Benatar and Laura Brannigan, ‘Electric Heart’ sees Roxi rock out more openly compared with her debut long player ‘Strangers Of The Night’.
Add Brat Pack movies, paranormal comedies and horror films from the era into the mix and ROXI DRIVE evokes colourful images from the past with big hair, leather jackets, sexy jump suits and silk blouses to accompany her synth assisted rock-flavoured sound.
Roxi kindly took time out to chat about her ‘Electric Heart’ and why she loves to party like it’s 1985…
The first thing that has to be said is the cover art for ‘Electric Heart’ is very retro-authentic, had it been inspired by any particular images from back in the day and how did you get the look?
Thank you. Yes I went through 80s single and album covers to find inspiration. I love the whole 80s aesthetic so it was fun putting together the look. I’m very inspired by Pat Benatar and Laura Brannigan so I wanted something reminiscent of their vibe. My friend and band member Glen Jevon came over to mine with all his kit and we had a fun afternoon shooting lots of 80s poses and looks.
What inspired you to enter this world of synths and popwave as your background is in acting?
Well I’ve always loved music and singing. I sung on stage in various roles when I did musical theatre. I then joined a 40s style harmony girl band called THE MORELLAS which was good fun and we gigged up and down the country together.
I much prefer writing and recording than being in the acting game. I remember feeling a distinct lack of enthusiasm for a lot of the roles I was auditioning for. I have always been an 80s nerd so doing this really fulfils me and I have a lot of fun with it.
Is the rumoured Ryan Gosling obsession just legend or truth?
Haha! I think that rumour may have started with you Chi! I love the movie ‘Drive’ as much as the next synth head but not sure I’m obsessed with the guy as pretty as he is.
Who are your musical influences as far as you own music is concerned?
Ohhh too many to mention! I like to skip between slightly more rocky pop and the more funky pop. I love the pop rock chicks of the 80s, Pat Benatar, Laura Brannigan, Kim Wilde, Tuesday Knight and then the more funky pop artists like Nu Shooz, Cyndi Lauper, Meri D Marshal, Stacey Q and Aleshia. Favourite bands would be DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BANANARAMA.
‘Run All Night’ started it all, how did the track come together and when did you become aware it was getting a positive response?
Yes ‘Run all Night’ basically began with a friend of mine James Secker sending my demo tape to SELLOREKT/LA DREAMS, who’s a producer in LA and he wanted to work with me which I was very excited about. He had already released it previously but felt it would work really well with vocals, so we got to work. It began with a full verse / chorus pattern and lots more lyrics but it wasn’t working, so we cut it down and created a chorus from one of the lines from the verse “Waiting in the dark” which worked well in the end. We were really pleased with the positive response and I knew then this was what I wanted to do.
Photo by Abstract Reality
Your first album ‘Strangers Of The Night’ was promising but it would be far to say it lacked aural cohesion due to the number of producers who worked on it; did you set out to do anything on ‘Electric Heart’ to get more of a sonic continuity?
You would think so, but actually I still worked with a number of producers on this album, although maybe the overall sound is more in sync than the previous album.
I particularly wanted more of an authentic vibe with the tracks and was keen to explore the rockier pop stuff with the electric guitars as I’ve always loved that sound. So a lot of the producers I worked with already had that sound or were more than capable of producing it.
So with a song like ‘Dangerous’, what would be the creative dynamic on that?
‘Dangerous’ was a track JUNO DREAMS produced and it was already pretty much in the bag, production wise. He needed a singer to write and record a melody for it and I got to work. I was very excited to work with him. That track came out better than I think either of us expected. I’ve had a lot of great response on that one, it’s quite an empowering track and I like to think makes you feel like you’re in the 80s soundtrack to your life when listening to it. The lyrics were actually based on one of my favourite 80s horror movies ‘Fright Night’. You’ll see in there the reference to mirrors knowing all the secrets and lies.
‘Breathe You’ has some great synth passages while vocally it’s quite wispily emotive, what is it about?
Yes another one I based on a favourite 80s movie, this time ‘Starman’ by John Carpenter. I always loved this film and the lyrics were about this extra-terrestrial ‘man’ having to go back home but also having to leave this woman that he’s fallen in love with. He can’t stay on Earth because he literally can’t breathe and won’t survive. Every time I see that film I cry so it was nice to write about it in the lyrics.
You’re getting to play out a lot more of your Pat Benatar fantasies on tracks like ‘Breakdown’, ‘Lost In the Game’ and ‘Video Fantasy’?
Yes absolutely! She’s such an inspiration of mine and her performances are so powerful. Her music really lifts the mood. I really wanted tracks like this on the album.
Were you ever a hairbrush in the mirror kind of girl when you were a teenager?
I’m sure I did stand in front of my mirror with a hairbrush. I was always performing in some way, if it was in the school choir, or school plays, or local theatre group. I remember begging my teacher when I was about 10 if I could stand in front of the class and sing ‘Eternal Flame’ by THE BANGLES. I guess the 80s influence was written in the stars even then.
Photo by Abstract Reality
How do you prefer to record your voice? Are you a one take type of girl or is comping better with regards the end product?
Mostly comping. I rarely get a whole song in one take and I would never be happy with that. I’ll do several takes and decide on the right ones.
‘Hot Night’ is a real fist in the air moment like it could have come off a Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckenheimer film, was Bonnie Tyler in the house?
Haha she may have been when Diane Warren wrote it. It was originally sung by Laura Brannigan for the ‘Ghostbusters’ soundtrack and I’ve always loved it.
Why did you opt to include two versions of ‘Electricity’?
I wanted a different spin on it and I really love DIAMOND FIELD’s style of taking a song and reworking it as opposed to remixing it and creating almost an acoustic version which stands well alone as a different song entirely. I didn’t want a typical remix, I wanted it to sound very different.
Which are you own favourite songs on ‘Electric Heart’ and why?
‘All My Dreams’ is a beautiful song written by a wonderful musician called KIDBURN. We both loved working together and it turned out our voices had a really nice synergy. ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Video Fantasy’ are real foot stomping feel good tunes. ‘Electricity’ is really good fun to sing on stage.
Do you feel an affinity with the other synthwave girls like NINA, PARALLELS and DANA JEAN PHOENIX like sisters in arms?
Yes, I love those artists and lots of other female artists doing the retro thing. I’ve always been drawn to female vocalists. I love listening to them sing and it’s so wonderful that we all support each other. Everyone has their own style and vibe which I love.
How are you finding handling social media and marketing your music to an audience? What have been the pros and cons?
I was used to it to a certain extent when I was an actress. It can be tough to have to constantly find content to put out. We don’t get paid for social media posts, we just have to hope that we sell more music or reach out to a wider audience. The pros are most defiantly being able to interact with so many people all over the world. I’ve had the nicest support from people and the kindest of messages about how my music has made people feel or helped them in some way and that means everything to me. Makes it all worthwhile.
How have you been finding performing live? What’s it like compared with acting in a play?
I was bricking it when I first started. Simply because although I’ve been in a band or in plays, I’ve not stood up alone with no one by my side sharing the load. I have found the more shows I’ve performed, the more confident I’m getting and like anything else, it’s a learning experience and my show is building all the time. I now have an awesome drummer called Matt and a keytar player in Glen, so we now have a really nice dynamic on stage as a band. I feel like I can relax and let loose a bit more.
What’s next for you, lockdown depending of course? Are there any hopes and fears with regards doing music?
Yeah it’s a shame as I had some nice shows booked this year. I’ll continue more writing and recording. I’ll soon be releasing a horror track to promote an 80s horror novel David Irons has written called ‘Polybius’. Based on an urban myth about a killer arcade game in the 80s, so that will be released shortly.
I’m working with a couple of other producers on possible side projects. I’ll probably continue to keep varying my style. I don’t like to get stuck in a box. I’ll do what feels right and what I enjoy. I’m filming some live performances at home, so me and the guys can pretend we are on stage from our homes.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives is warmest thanks to ROXI DRIVE