Editor’s Note: This is the first piece in an occasional series called Valerie Stories, which over time will look at different stories or moments in the history of the influential Valerie Collective.
When, more than 10 years ago, Frédéric “Anoraak” Rivière started making nostalgic synth-pop on his computer and uploaded it to MySpace, he had no idea he was at the vanguard of a movement.
He had no clue that he would meet fellow Nantes, France, resident David “College” Grellier and become a member of the influential Valerie Collective and help invent what we now call “synthwave.” He had no idea MySpace would feature his music prominently on its home page. He couldn’t have possibly known that being Anoraak would allow him to see the world.
And he hadn’t yet released a beloved EP called Nightdrive With You, the popularity of which would necessitate a special 10th anniversary vinyl edition, available for pre-order via his Pledge Music campaign. In addition to the original cuts, including the title song and gems like “Never Ending Romance Disaster,” the release will have previously unreleased songs from the era — “Something About Us,” “Make A Better,” and “Sleepless” — along with a host of popular remixes of the title cut from Grum, Fear of Tigers, Adeyhawke, and Tesla Boy.
How could he have known that this would be his life?
In 2008 the Valerie Collective was certainly taking off — it wouldn’t be long before Rivière, Grellier, and some friends were visiting the United States for the first time on a bona fide Valerie tour. But a legacy of unmitigated creative expression that would endure beyond a decade? It was an idea far less fathomable in 2007, when he started making music as Anoraak, or in 2008, than it would be three years later in a Drive world. But still, he was just messing around on a computer. He didn’t know, or did he?
“I had no fucking idea,” Rivière told Vehlinggo in a Skype interview recently. “I’ve always been very surprised by the fact that some people actually like my music. I didn’t do it for any other reason than just having fun when alone at night — sipping a glass of wine and waiting for bed time to come, which is late for me, generally. I just wanted to have fun.”
“I just wanted to have fun.”
We’ve all benefited greatly from that impulse. In a tweet praising Nightdrive With You, synthwave pioneer FM Attack praised Anoraak as highly influential. Kung Fury soundtrack artist Highway Superstar (AKA Alex Karlinsky) offered his own thoughts on the EP in an interview with Vehlinggo, saying the release laid the groundwork for synthwave releases that followed it.
“Nightdrive for me was part of the YouTube rabbit-hole, which made me discover synth music,” Karlinsky says. “It’s an essential part of something that is greater, that cannot be expressed with words: this sense of ‘togetherness’ that had such a clear and defined sound that is retro but rooted in today…”
As we face the prospect of the excellent reissue of Nightdrive With You, let’s take a look back at how Anoraak came to be, some of the adventures Rivière had along the way, and the painstaking process of revisiting and remixing Nightdrive With You. Let’s look at the future, too, because there’s great danger in being stuck in the past.
He Was a Rocker
Like many stories that come out of the early days of the music of Drive or of those in the family of Drive artists, the Anoraak project began with a home on MySpace. It’s how Rivière initially met Grellier and it’s how the word got out about his music. But before it came to that point, Rivière was a rock drummer in Pony Pony Run Run, a band that at the time stood to be one of France’s biggest at the time. He was there from its 2003 inception until 2009.
“The basis of [Anoraak] was a ‘personal cure,’” Rivière says.
He had a real thing for disco and electronic music, but no real outlet. In addition to drumming for the band, he was managing it. The five-member outfit was touring Europe in the period between 2006 and 2009, before they got signed to a major label in France.
“For that period for three good years I was taking care of that band in addition to being the drummer. It was a lot of work,” Rivière says. “I really had to blow off some steam doing my own music. Anoraak was at first a bedroom kind-of music to make myself feel better.”
“I really had to blow off some steam…”
He clarified that working with the band was great, but he was a bit pigeon-holed into the drummer role.
“When you’re a drummer, you’re not especially composing all the melodic parts and I was missing this,” Rivière says. “I’ve been a guitar player, bass player, drummer, and singer in many different bands starting at 13 years old. I was missing making whole songs.”
With a simple setup of his computer, a MIDI controller, his guitar, and a basic microphone, Rivière began a deep dive into making synth-pop that evoked the spirit of the type of music he was exposed to as a kid in the 1980s: Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Talk Talk are just some examples. Though he spent most of his time in the rock world, the night owl spent his late hours as Anoraak.
Rivière was living in Nantes, a city in western France that’s situated on the Loire River about 30 miles from the Atlantic Coast. He had been back a few years after trying his hand at living in Paris, working as a bartender and making music. He says he made a contract with himself when he returned to Nantes in 2005: He’d try for two years to make a living on music full-time. By 2007, with Pony Pony Run Run in full swing, it was obvious the bet paid off.
One day in 2007, some time after posting “Waiting For Your Phone Call” to MySpace, Rivière received a message from a local musician who was in an electroclash band called Sexy Sushi that was relatively popular in France. He called himself “Mitch Silver,” but we’d eventually know David Grellier as “College.” It would change everything for Rivière — for a certain type of music fan everywhere.
“He said, ‘Hey dude, I just checked out your MySpace page. I really love that track. I saw you’re from Nantes’… So we met, fell in fucking love, and started hanging out a lot together,” Rivière said.
They were both single, so they “had a lot of time to drink and do stupid stuff,” he says. Grellier had just started the Valerie blog in April 2007, a couple months before with Maethelvin (AKA Nico) and Forgotten Illusions (AKA Pierre de la Touche). Valerie artists each had their own take on the synth-driven, nostalgia-tinged music they were creating — a style only a few others anywhere in the world were using at the time.
Valerie was fashioned as an mp3 blog, the likes of which were common then. (Discodust, which Grellier tells me played a major role in shining a light on the Valerie folk, is another example.) The Valerie blog introduced the world to not only their own music, but to others at the time who were either making music in the same realm or who were the actual influencers. You’d be as likely to find Valerie friends Electric Youth or synthwave pioneers Futurecop! as you would giallo composer Fabio Frizzi.
“This kind of sound wasn’t popular at the time — people liked Justice and Midnight Juggernaut,” Rivière said. “I was doing my stuff — ‘80s palm trees and shit. He said, ‘Hey, join Valerie.’”
Rivière, Grellier, Nico, and Pierre would all hang out at the same bar, and Quentin Gauvin and Raphaël D’Hervez of Minitel Rose would soon join them. Being a bunch guys in their 20s who shared a lot in common, they were going out “pretty much every night, having drinks and playing tracks,” Rivière says.
With the global reach of MySpace and mp3 blogs like Discodust and Hipster Runoff, both Rivière and Grellier were starting to make a name for themselves.
The extended Valerie family began getting involved in making music and mixes that would feature on the blog. Electric Youth, DVAS, Moulinex, Xinobi, and Symbolone, among others, were all people Rivière met within a year. Things happened with an ecstatic burst of creativity and momentum. It was, by all accounts, a magic time.
“We decided to do a compilation,” Rivière says. In May 2009 they released the influential masterpiece Valerie and Friends compilation. It featured contributions from the artists mentioned above, in addition to work from Valerie Collective artists College, Anoraak, Maethelvin, Russ Chimes, and The Outrunners (which is Forgotten Illusions and Stephen Falken). Keenhouse, synth composer Steve Moore, and British synthwave pioneers Futurecop! were also on the album. Jupiter; Press, Release; Loose Shus; and Narctrax rounded up the collection.
It was and is a stunning work of art.
“The Valerie & Friends comp was a way to celebrate a few people on planet who were doing this kind of sound,” Rivière says.
MySpace Features Anoraak
Rewinding a bit back to MySpace. This early social media website with an ugly interface and annoying auto-playing music was actually a valuable tool for musicians. It was how a lot of music fans were first exposed to fantastic artists like Anoraak or Glass Candy, or College or Chromatics, before their work would make it into more mainstream spaces. So, even before he had released Nightdrive With You, the Anoraak project was poised for exposure.
One day, in the Spring of 2008, Rivière received a message on MySpace that he ignored, thinking it was spam. The man sending the message claimed he worked for MySpace USA and said he wanted to highlight Anoraak’s music because he “really loved it,” Rivière says.
Rivière’s mind was too focused on one thing: His show in Helsinki, Finland, which was one of his first and which would require him to take an airplane.
“At the time I was afraid of flying,” Rivière says. “I was thinking about it for a month.”
That’s funny to hear now, of course, because Rivière regularly flies all over the planet for DJ sets and live shows. Recently, he was in Mongolia for a gig, but he’s also done shows in China, South Korea, and across the United States. Even as a child, he was interested in at least the concept of travel.
“Since I was very young I had a passion for maps and documentaries,” he says.
After his weekend gig in Helsinki, he logged into MySpace, as he often would, to check things out. He noticed something odd. Typically, Anoraak’s music would get 400 plays a day — “Decent for an unsigned French project,” Rivière says. But that day he had 12,000. He checked his friends’ pages and they weren’t near that mark. He was confused and intrigued.
It turns out the guy who sent that message really did work for MySpace in the US.
“I went to the MySpace homepage and saw my face next to Snoop Dogg.”
“I went to the MySpace homepage and saw my face next to Snoop Dogg and acts like that,” Rivière says. He was up there for three weeks. His face would return three months later when he uploaded more music.
In one section of the website, he was listed among the Top 10 unsigned, most-played artists in France. This earned him the eye of various and sundry suitors, including majors who didn’t really understand Anoraak’s music, but didn’t seem to really care, he says. That path was a no-go for him. After all, that wasn’t his first rodeo.
Afterward, he remixed a track for the erstwhile Philly-based rock band Hail Social, whose founder Dayve Hawk now makes music as Memory Tapes. As things were heating up, a guy named Olivier approached Rivière to be his remix manager. He told Rivière he needed to release something properly, outside of MySpace.
“That’s when I started working on the Nightdrive With You EP,” Rivière says. They also started a label called Endless Summer Recordings, which would eventually shutter in 2010 and return in 2016 as Endless Summer.
The CD was first released in September 2008 in France — 1,000 copies, numbered. Later they released it in Japan and and Australia. These are all now collector’s items.
The renowned art collective The Zonders designed the cover, giving it the now-recognizable triangles, neon grids, and palm trees cover, awash in purple and blue with a man with a lit-up chest running toward you in the center of it all. Add to it the stylized writing, and you have a cover with elements that have been imitated many times over in the past decade.
Nightdrive With You featured eight tracks. It started with the delicate, danceable beauty of the title cut and continued with the exquisite build of “Never Ending Romance Disaster.” The delightfully nostalgic but fresh “Endless Summer,” “Sunday Night Fever,” “Midnight Stars,” and “Waiting For Your Phone Call” all follow in the sequence. The release ended with Anoraak’s excellent remix of College’s “Teenage Color” and Adeyhawke’s killer remix of “Nightdrive With You.”
A remix album followed a couple months later. It featured remixes of “Nightdrive With You” by Grum, Jupiter, Fear of Tigers, Saycet, and Minitel Rose. A Tesla Boy remix was floating around the Internet at the time, but it wasn’t included on the release. It’s on the new vinyl edition, though.
‘I Lost Myself in the Process’
In 2009, after the release of Nightdrive With You and after Grellier released under the College moniker both Teenage Color and Secret Diary, the two had the opportunity to take their Valerie parties to America. It was the first time either had visited the country that had inspired them so thoroughly.
“We had 25 years of fantasies and the first time we went there was to play together,” Rivière says. Their first show was at Webster Hall in New York — Russ Chimes and Lovelock joined them. They also went to Los Angeles and played the Echoplex.
Over the next few years, though, something was happening.
“I think at some point I kind of lost myself in the process,” Rivière said.
The next album, 2010’s Wherever the Sun Sets, has a noticeably different sound than Nightdrive With You. It’s a great release, but it has a more pop-rock disposition. Rivière says he wanted to introduce more organic sounds and have proper drums.
“I had a producer and didn’t do it myself, which I think was a pretty big mistake,” he says. “But things can happen and that’s fine.”
Rivière loves the album — and why wouldn’t he? With gems like “Above Your Head,” “Long Hot Summer Night,” and the Sally Shapiro collaboration “Don’t Be Afraid,” it was an album that features some of his best work.
“When I listen to it now, I think ‘dammit, I should have done it differently — just stick with the electronic sound I came with. People who know my music just know me from the electronic angle,” he says.
For a while Rivière had been feeling weird on stage by himself. He was a band guy and now he was solo with a keyboard, mic, and laptop.
“I was not feeling at ease,” he says. “I was feeling like a DJ singing on backing tracks. I really hated that.”
“I was feeling like a DJ singing on backing tracks. I really hated that.”
He added members Baudouin and Guillaume Marnez on drums and bass. They would end up accompanying him and Grellier, among others, on the Drive tour in 2012 that followed the film’s release.
“Wherever was an attempt to take revenge and build a band on stage,” Rivière says. “Those were good years, but at some point I just realized that people knew me more for the electronic stuff than for organic drums. Who gives a shit anyway? It’s the result that counts.”
In 2013 he released the heavily electronic Chronotropic, which featured club-tinged bangers like “Morning Light” and “Hello Again.” And then there was a more or less two-year silence, during which he was still DJing and performing, but he was looking to get back to his roots. To find himself again.
In 2015 Eskimo Recordings released “Odds Are Good,” which married the spirit and creative spark of the Nightdrive With You era with Rivière’s stronger command of the production process.
That sublime song would return on 2016’s Figure EP, which in this writer’s opinion is his finest release. The contemplative collaboration with the velvety-voiced Slow Shiver, a number called “We Lost” is worth the price of admission. (Read the review for particulars.)
“I was very surprised by the feedback,” Rivière says. “It was really good. Overall, I was really happy with the release. Every single track sounded how I wanted it to — a little bit of nu-disco, ‘80s-ish sounds… Yeah, I was very happy with that.”
A year later he leaned more into the genre he helped create with the Black Gold Sun EP, which featured the extraordinary “Outcome,” along with a few other outstanding tracks. There was even a remix from longtime friend Maethelvin. (More on this in the review.)
“I knew it would be a fun EP to do to please myself,” Rivière says.
“I’m definitely nostalgic,” he continues, “but … I’m not trying to be in the past. I have a good feeling of missing the past, but I really don’t want to go back into the past. I’m looking forward.”
Revamping Nightdrive With You: It’s Tough to Look Back
A lot can happen in 10 years and in that time Rivière expanded his production talents and songwriting skills greatly. The downside of progress is that when he went to remix and remaster Nightdrive With You — using the original patches and samples — he was a bit aghast.
“I didn’t know what I was going to find,” Rivière says. In 2008 “I was not really good at mixing and was lazy as fuck, to be honest,” he added. “I’d just say ‘Oh yeah, that sounds decent, that’s gonna do it.’”
This time, “I wanted… to make it sound exactly like I wanted it to sound in the first place,” he continues. “It was kind of a lot of work, but I’m pretty happy with it. It’s fuller and wider and still it has the same sounds. I didn’t change a thing — just the mixing.”
The trickiest songs on the reissue were “Never Ending Romance Disaster” and the remixes. The former has a lot of parts to it — there’s a lot going on.
“The problem is I was using really crappy plugins at the time,” Rivière said. “I didn’t own a proper synth. It was pretty hard to mix — [it] always had some fucked-up frequencies. I needed to find a mixing process and when I had it could do it pretty much on every track.”
One thing that stood out to Rivière was how low he mixed his voice on the original versions.
“When I isolated the vocal takes, I was surprised. They were really not as bad as I thought,” he says. “I thought they were shit, but they’re decent. Not the best, definitely, because I was using the crappiest mic at the the time. So technically they’re not good, but they’re totally decent.”
So he brought them more to the fore.
I can attest to Rivière’s work. The songs sound bigger with better separation between the instruments and more punch, but because he used the original recordings the soul of the originals remain.
The thing is, I’ve listened to Nightdrive With You probably — no kidding — 1,000 times or more over the years, so I feel like I know every nook and cranny at this point. He didn’t change anything that would throw off someone like me, or perhaps you. In fact, owning both versions serves to tell a complete story: the first is the EP that changed your life and the second is the one that reminds you of why you fell in love in the first place.
The remixes will be a bit more in the spirit of their original iterations, because the remixers didn’t retain stems. The finished product in the reissue still sounds a big more present and immediate, perhaps because of mastering.
“[The songs] are meaningful to me and I still like them 10 years later.”
But let’s not think Rivière is feeling any kind of negative way about what he created. He might be hard on himself for the choices he made 10 years ago, but “at the same time I’m pretty happy, because I still really love all of these songs and think they’re pretty good. They’re meaningful to me and I still like them 10 years later.”
A few months ago he decided to launch a Pledge Music campaign to help get things going. You can pre-order the vinyl edition of the 10th anniversary release on colorful purple and blue vinyl, in addition to a cassette edition and swag such as a t-shirts and totes.
Think about the Future
Today, Rivière lives in Marseille, which he describes as the LA to Paris’s New York. As he prepares for the 10th anniversary of Nightdrive With You and arranges a new live show, Rivière is also writing new songs. Some of them might be for Anoraak and others for his newer project, Outblack. First up is an Outblack EP, but after that he’s ready to start getting to work on a new full-length Anoraak album. There hasn’t been one since Chronotropic.
“I really want to compose most of the songs on the guitar,” Rivière says. “I don’t want to compose and produce at the same time, which I’ve been always doing. I really just want to have songs I can play on guitar and then produce them. That’s my little goal — not sure if I will stick to it all the way through the process, but that’s where I’m gonna start.”
He already has two songs.
“It’s funny,” he says, “they’ll sound like they’re supposed to sound: Anoraak-ly.”
And looking back at the last 10-plus years, Rivière is overall quite pleased with what has transpired since those fateful moments in 2007 and 2008.
“There are two things I really wanted in my life: To be free and to travel,” he says. “I have the best job for this. I’m my own boss and get to travel everywhere.”
Pre-order Nightdrive With You via Pledge Music. Stay tuned later this fall for a similar feature with College about the 10th anniversary of his debut album, Secret Diary.
Feature photo by Olivier Jeanne Rose.