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Valerie Stories: 10 Years of College’s Essential LP ‘Secret Diary’

Editor’s Note: This is the second piece in an occasional series called Valerie Stories, which over time will look at different stories or moments in the history of the influential France-based Valerie Collective. (The first covered the 10th anniversary of Anoraak’s Nightdrive With You.)

It started out sometime in 2006 or 2007 at a party in Nantes, the vibrant city about an hour from France’s west coast. And it was only supposed to be for one show.

David Grellier — already known as a “Mitch Silver,” a member of electroclash group Sexy Sushi — had been creating colorful and emotionally impactful minimalist electronic cuts inspired by the American films and TV shows of his 1980s childhood. He had a demo of a song called “Teenage Color” and several other tracks, and was preparing to do a live show. However, he didn’t have enough material. So he turned to his best friend, Pierre de la Touche. The idea was that the Italo-leaning Grellier and the French Touch-vibing de la Touche would do a double-bill to bolster the set.

“We decided to use the name ‘College’ to brand this live experience,” Grellier told Vehlinggo recently over Skype. “It was only for one show.”

But it wasn’t really ever going to be just one show. No one can contain something this magical and this important in one moment, one show, or even a single year.

“After that,” he says, “I decided to keep the name.”

David “College” Grellier. Photo by PJ Skyman.

It’s a name that would bring the ever humble Grellier through an international whirlwind of touring, fame, and influence. Through 2007/2008’s
Teenage Color and 2008 album Secret Diary, Grellier would acquire global recognition and find an opportunity to see places on tour that he only dreamed of as a kid. In 2011, he’d become a part of the American cinema he grew up loving, with the placement of “A Real Hero,” his second collaboration with Toronto duo Electric Youth, on the highly influential Drive soundtrack. Grellier would go on to get his music placed in other films and TV shows, see the world, meet excellent people, and make great friends along the way.

Today, Vehlinggo celebrates the 10th anniversary of the release of Secret Diary, Grellier’s debut album that people still discover every single day. The catchy Italo homage “She Never Came Back,” his first collaboration with Electric Youth (and the first-ever Electric Youth recording released), is an instant classic. Invada Records distributes vinyl variants of Secret Diary and virtually all other of Grellier’s College releases. People are still seeing and hearing Drive for the first time. Every new fan of what we now call synthwave or retrowave goes back to foundational releases of the canon and Secret Diary is inevitably a crucial part of that experience

This is the story of that album, but also of the Valerie Collective’s early period and where things are today, with College entering a hiatus amid a cultural landscape changed at least in part because of Grellier’s and his friends’ artistry. (For a story of the Drive era, check out this Drive fifth anniversary piece, featuring interviews with Grellier, Electric Youth, Johnny Jewel, and Cliff Martinez, among others.)

College Secret Diary
Cover art by Alexander Burkart.

Covered in Discodust

Before we get to Secret Diary and its eventual through-line to Drive and ultimately to our present day, it’s impossible to tell any Valerie Story without discussing the influential (and now defunct) music blog Discodust.

The 2000s, particularly the mid- to late-2000s, are considered by some to be the golden age of music blogs, when these “mp3 blogs” would make songs available for download and through which the “bloghaus” or “blog house” genre emerged. Some of the most notable were the US-based Fluxblog, the Montreal-centered Said the Gramophone, US-based Binary, and the German blog Discodust.

During that time mp3 blogs had more or less become the best destinations for discovering new and innovative music — where the cool kids went to hear the best electronic or indie music in the world. Consequently, it’s where artists got major traction and where they met each other and formed bands, collectives, and friendships. On more than one occasion, major label A&R executives would lurk on the blogs and MySpace looking for talent.

Around 2007 one of the biggest, most influential mp3 blogs in the electronic sphere was Aleks Seltenreich’s Discodust. Among the acts he showcased were those we’d now identify as part of the nostalgia-tinged Valerie Collective, such as College, Anoraak (AKA Frédéric Rivière), The Outrunners, and Russ Chimes, along with Valerie friends such as Moulinex and Xinobi. He also was all-in on covering related organizations, such as Italians Do It Better.

Whereas songs are lucky to get a few hundred or a few thousand “hearts” on Hype Machine now, back then a blog like Discodust could rack up 10,000 hearts or more in a single run and inspire coverage from dozens or even hundreds of additional, often well-read blogs. For artists like the Valerie Collective folks, Seltenreich discovering their MySpace page and subsequently writing about them was a massive step toward earning credibility, an air of cool, and reaching a big audience.

valerie collective blog valeriecherie
The banner for the Valerie Collective’s original blog on Blogspot from 2007-2009.

Discodust was a huge influence on Grellier and his friends, including Rivière, Nico (Maethelvin), Stephen Falken (The Outrunners), and Pierre de la Touche (Forgotten Illusions, The Outrunners). Their fascination with American culture from the ‘80s and Italo Disco boiled over onto the pages of Valerie, itself somewhat an mp3 blog that Grellier started in April 2007 and which had become a collective of artists that would grow into a big destination for fans of their special genre of music. The site featured fantastic playlists of classic and new artists and, importantly, showcased the Collective’s own music, too.

It was through Discodust that the Valerie Collective met Alexander Burkart, who was part of The Zonders art collective and who created the artwork for Discodust. Burkart would go on to do essentially all of the art for Valerie, still providing compelling visuals to them to this day. Cover art for College, Anoraak, and Maethelvin, and logos for College, Maethelvin, and Electric Youth are just some examples of his work. (He also created the Vehlinggo logo.)

“The moment I came across his page on MySpace, I immediately knew I’d discovered something very special.” – Aleks Seltenreich, founder of ‘Discodust.’

For Seltenreich, finding the music of College and the Valerie Collective was a significant moment.

“The music of the entire Valerie Collective, and especially College, was a welcome complementary counterpole to the whole harder ‘blog house’ sound back then,” Seltenreich told Vehlinggo recently in an email exchange from Germany. “The moment I came across his page on MySpace, I immediately knew I’d discovered something very special.”

It was in 2007 when Seltenreich reached out to Grellier to ask if he could share (effectively release) the song “Teenage Color” on Discodust. This was massive for Grellier, who read the blog daily in 2006 and 2007.

Discodust was very important media,” Grellier said. “They were very influential during that time. For me to have an article on this blog was really important.”

When he did share “Teenage Color,” it intersected with what I would say was one of the most important moments in the lives of anyone who loves this music.

electric youth breathing
Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth, circa 2016-2017. Photo by Anthony Scott Burns.

Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth were also avid Discodust readers and it was the summer of 2007 that “changed our lives,” Garrick told Vehlinggo over email recently. “… We can trace what made the biggest impact on us from that period back to an August 2007 blog post on Discodust, our favorite blog of what they now call the ‘bloghouse era’.”  

The post featured the primary “Teenage Color” song plus Anoraak’s quintessential remix and the delectable Russ Chimes remix, and it hit the Canadians like a bolt from the blue.

“That summer, Electric Youth wasn’t an idea yet,” Garrick says. “Bronwyn was in school and I was writing and producing for other artists and growing increasingly uninspired by what I saw as a need to conform in order to appeal to commercial audiences.”

“It was the artwork that caught my eye first, then I heard the music that went along with it and I was instantly sold.” – Austin Garrick, Electric Youth

“My thought at the time was that I’d need to reach a certain level of success before I could convince anyone that my more outside-the-norm ideas had any merit,” Garrick said. “That all changed the day I came across [the Discodust post].”

Garrick’s experience discovering College sounds a lot like mine or, probably, yours.

“It was the artwork that caught my eye first, then I heard the music that went along with it and I was instantly sold,” Garrick says. “Not since discovering Kraftwerk as a kid had I come across music that evoked such a strong emotionality in me with such minimal production. To me that’s what makes David’s music so special.”

college teenage color cover
Art by Alexander Burkart.

Seltenreich similarly has an admiration for the emotional heft of Grellier’s economical arrangements.

“College’s music has an unfiltered melancholic vibe and he isn’t afraid to expose vulnerability and feelings of longing,” (‘My Secret Romance’), insecurity (‘Can You Kiss Me First?’) and adoring that one special person (‘When You Smile’),” he said.

Finding Electric Youth

That Discodust post featured a reference and link to the Valerie blog, which was at the time a relatively new digital center of the collective of mostly Nantes-based friends. Garrick followed it and was thrilled with what he saw (and heard).

“After seeing how much we were on the same page with our musical and cultural interests, I wanted to get involved,” Garrick says. “I wanted to collaborate, but I didn’t know in what capacity yet.”

He sent a message to Grellier via MySpace, which pretty much was the central place for tasks that are now spread across sites and apps such as SoundCloud, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Grellier didn’t respond initially, Garrick says.

“Then I think it was another eight months before the idea to start Electric Youth came about, which started as an experiment,” Garrick says. “We uploaded four demos to MySpace, then started adding pages of blogs and acts we liked, and one of the first people to hear the demos and reach out to us was Raphaël [d’Hervez] from Minitel Rose, who then introduced our music to David.”

Grellier liked what he heard, and reached out to Electric Youth to collaborate on a song for Secret Diary, which he was working on at the time, according to Garrick.

“… He was our favorite new artist at the time off the strength of Teenage Color alone, so we were excited that the first person ever to approach us to collaborate was him, and that we’d be a part of his first full-length album,” Garrick says. “And that’s how our friendship began.”

Grellier and Griffin & Garrick became close and established a bond that endures to this day. In those early days the pair provided mixes and playlists to Valerie and all three worked on ways to make music together.

Diary Entry

When Grellier fired up FL Studio and started making College’s particular iteration of nostalgia-minded synth music — relying on his love for American pop culture in the ‘80s and his dedication to compelling melodies and arrangements to overshadow his lack of technical skill — it might have seemed to the outside world that he was trying to create a new genre or reinvent something. The outside world certainly has attributed new genres and musical inventions to him or the Valerie Collective as a whole.

However, if you consider certain areas of electronic music at the time, Grellier and his Valerie Collective crew weren’t reinventing the wheel, at least according to Grellier.

“Some people think it was a new thing in 2008, but for me it was the normal story of music during this time,” Grellier said.

Grellier humbly says that he was “just a witness” to influential house and disco artists’ ‘80s-infused music and doesn’t claim any prize as an influential party himself.

When Grellier was composing Secret Diary, he was rather interested in Italo Disco and French Touch. Daft Punk was an obvious presence on his playlists, but he was also into Lifelike and Jacques Lu Cont.

lifelike photo
Lifelike’s Laurent Ash. Photo provided.

Those are producers who already used ‘80s references in their songs. They all were potently influential on the burgeoning scene, but as Seltenreich noted in the Teenage Color post on Discodust, it was Lifelike who had by then already included Valerie members Anoraak and The Outrunners on his playlists. In that way, Lifelike had a particularly noteworthy impact on Valerie’s immediate exposure.

“I was not trying to create something new,” Grellier said. “I was just making this music, [and] because it was not perfect we ‘created something new.’”

He’d tap into the influence of those producers — inspired by them as he was. But at the core of any of the cuts College fans love from that period, such as “Teenage Color,” “The Drone,” “Fight for Life,” or any others, he tapped into his preternatural knack for melody.

“I just tried to create music and melodies,” Grellier said. “Before everything, for me the most important thing is melodies.”

Secret Diary is notable for many things. One is Alexander Burkart’s memorable cover: a woman in shades peering through blinds, invoking the noirish thrills of Brian de Palma’s 1984 film, Body Double. Then there’s the reinforcement of Grellier’s role as a premiere purveyor of big emotion from small arrangements. And, of course, there are the collaborations. Let’s look at the collaborations first, because in some ways they’ve had the most impact, overall, these past 10 years.

College Secret Diary
Cover art by Alexander Burkart.

Dear Diary

Valerie members and friends Minitel Rose, Anoraak, and Electric Youth all make an appearance on Secret Diary. Although not all of the Valerie Collective’s members feature, the end result is enough to offer a noteworthy representation of the early work of College and the Valerie Collective.

“Basically, when I did this album, I had in mind that I really want to do a collaboration with a vocalist,” Grellier said.

Fellow Nantais Anoraak (AKA Frédéric Rivière) originally joined the Valerie Collective in 2007, after Grellier found “Waiting for Your Phone Call” on Anoraak’s MySpace page. They became fast friends.

“We were living really close by and used to hang out a lot together,” Rivière told Vehlinggo in an interview this year.

Anoraak College Valerie
David “College” Grellier (left) and Frederic “Anoraak” Rivière pose together in 2016, about nine years after they first met and changed everything.

Secret Diary hit the scene a couple months after Rivière released his first EP, Nightdrive With You, which itself made a huge impression on the scene. (Among the tracks it featured was Rivière’s beloved remix of “Teenage Color.”)

With all of that happening, Grellier and Rivière collaborated on a song called “Fantasy Park,” and the process “was actually quite fast,” Rivière said. “He sent me the instrumental and waited for my vocals and lyric ideas.”

Grellier had recorded the instrumental tracks live, so it wasn’t possible to adjust any one of the instrumental parts. Rivière had what he had.

“I had to stick to the version he sent, which to me is a good thing,” Rivière says, adding that he then “came up with the vocals, and a couple of musical add-ons. [Grellier] loved it and it was a wrap!”

The end result is a hallmark of both Anoraak’s and College’s discographies. Rivière’s warm, emotive vocals echo ethereally over Grellier’s and his own buzzy arps and emotive synth leads, under which a minimal drum beat punctuates the intensity of the moments. You want to join Rivière and Grellier in their magical world of synth-driven bliss. It can be tough to tap into truly human emotions with electronic music, but these two pull it off easily.

(For more on Anoraak and his part in the early years of Valerie Collective, check out the first part of the Valerie Stories. It looks back at the making of his Nightdrive With You EP on its own 10th anniversary last September.)

The Birth of ‘College & Electric Youth’  

Another of the collaborations was “She Never Came Back,” the raw, minimalist Italo Disco number that introduced the world to Electric Youth and the concept of “College & Electric Youth.” It’s a powerfully memorable cut.

Given that their next collaboration ended up being “A Real Hero,” which has endured long past its original release in late 2009/early 2010 or its placement a year later in Drive, “She Never Came Back” was a crucial step in creating artistic excellence and an enduring legacy.

Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth. Photo Credit: Chris Muir.
Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth. Photo Credit: Chris Muir.

The origins of the song date back to that early period in the trio’s deepening friendship — the summer of 2008, which was about a year after that fateful
Discodust post on “Teenage Color” that so engaged Garrick and Griffin.

Grellier says he doesn’t remember how he came up with the title, but he already had attached it to the music by the time he was looking to add vocals and lyrics.

“I sent it to Austin and Bronwyn and they worked around the name of the track to find a story — to find the lyrics,” Grellier says, adding that the process was the “same as on ‘A Real Hero’.”

Grellier sent over the instrumental parts for “She Never Came Back” and “Fantasy Park” to Electric Youth, along with perhaps one or two additional songs, according to Garrick. He and Griffin chose “She Never Came Back.”

“I remember we wrote it in the car, parked facing the water, on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto,” Garrick says. “… We didn’t have a space of our own to record in yet, so we recorded it nearby in a little apartment Bronwyn’s sister was living in at the time on the top floor of a big old house — while she was out.”

Garrick then put a “quick mix” on the song and sent it back to Grellier. Garrick had assumed this would serve as the demo mix that Grellier would get “properly” mixed later, but Grellier “liked how it sounded and decided to use it as-is on the record.” This was generally Grellier’s approach throughout the entire record, if you recall Rivière’s story about “Fantasy Park.”

The approach carries with it an emotional immediacy that’s unencumbered by embellishments or accoutrements — an approach a listener can experience from the earliest College cuts to the latest ones on 2017’s Shanghai. It’s more or less just: concept, recording, release. Of course, if he weren’t talented, that approach wouldn’t work.

“I’m not a good producer,” Grellier says. “I just want to express an emotion very quickly. That’s what I looked for when I decided to work on this album. The collaboration reflects that, I hope.”

The rawness works very well on “She Never Came Back,” an idea to which Garrick agrees.

“With Electric Youth, we were still in a sort of self-imposed artist development stage at that point, so we still hadn’t officially released any music of our own — just those four demos — and we were still honing in on our sound,” Garrick said. “So that song has more of a raw sound to it than later stuff from us, but it worked well with what David was doing on the track.”

Through College or Electric Youth in isolation, these creators can change your life, but together [in collaboration] they can change the world.

As someone who enjoys the work of College and Electric Youth both together and apart, I find that their collaborations have an especially potent creative and emotional spark. Perhaps it’s Grellier’s economy paired with the evocative songwriting of Garrick and Griffin. Through College or Electric Youth in isolation, these creators can change your life, but together they can change the world.

Electric Youth's Bronwyn Griffin holds the cassette release of the 'Drive' soundtrack. It was released recently as an Urban Outfitters exclusive. Photo credit: Electric Youth.
Electric Youth’s Bronwyn Griffin holds the cassette release of the ‘Drive’ soundtrack. It was first released in 2016 as an Urban Outfitters exclusive, but you can buy it today via several outlets. Photo credit: Electric Youth.

‘The Energy Story’

Rewinding a bit to the second song on Secret Diary, let’s look at “The Energy Story.” This is a buoyant, driving collaboration with Nantes natives Minitel Rose, the Valerie Collective band made up of Raphaël d’Hervez (AKA Pegase), Quentin Gauvin, and Romain Leme. Minitel Rose is possibly the most boisterous, most elaborate electro-pop act of the Collective, releasing the quintessential The French Machine LP that just recently celebrated its own 10th anniversary. That record sports the classic “Zombie Lady,” which also appeared on the Valerie and Friends compilation in 2009.

“The Energy Story” is the first vocal track on the album and sets the stage for how a vocal song will sound on the album. The origins of the cut are similar to those of the aforementioned collaborations. Grellier writes a compelling instrumental part in a DIY fashion and sends that file on over to the collaborator. It works out very well in the end.

Grellier gave d’Hervez the demo and told him, “Write what you want with Minitel Rose,” according to Grellier, who said, “I was very naive and it was not easy for both of the vocalists [in the band]. I’m not very good with techniques… and I gave them only a raw .wav file. I didn’t know how to do arrangements. It was a very difficult exercise, I think.”

That said, Grellier was pleased with how it turned out, as is likely anyone who listens to the song. As with “She Never Came Back” and “Fantasy Park,” “The Energy Story” exhibits the rough but passionate vivacity embodied in Italo Disco, a genre that stemmed from musicians of limited means creating global hits from the barest essentials. Consider the ‘80s work of artists like Fred Ventura or Savage (AKA Roberto Zanetti) — they did a whole lot with a little. Add to that formula the “College Touch” and you have a compelling cut.

“What I like in this song is that it reflects my idea of an Italo song’s spirit,” Grellier says. “There’s emotion inside. They follow a melody in their writing and express something very simple with it. That’s what I looked for for this album.”

David “College” Grellier’s live sets have stunning visuals, often created by Visionaries 777 .

The Instrumentals

Instrumentals comprise the bulk of Secret Diary and they similarly all relay the minimalist Italo ethos of the vocal tracks. Let’s look at some examples.

Album opener “Fighting for Life” kicks off with some ambient electronic synth pads, which a synth bass and tight drum rhythm follow. As the song unfurls, additional synth parts manifest to create a rich and colorful tapestry of melody and harmony that are all tied together in a lean cascade. This formula embodies very clearly the template for moderately-paced, beat-oriented College numbers.

“Desire” embodies the contemplative passages that prove crucial to each and every College album or EP. Through the use of crystalline sounds that pulsate in arpeggiations of pensivity, Grellier is able to evoke a sense of a deeper understanding of life’s most important moments. These types of songs are good to listen to after his more upbeat numbers, because they offer a way to process the emotions you felt in that earlier song.

Where Grellier is going, he doesn’t need roads.

“End Theme” is a good example of one of those upbeat numbers, tapping into the same spiritual plane as Teenage Color’s title cut or “The Drone.” Fittingly the album’s closer, this cut pairs elements described above with a driving disco beat. You can hear Grellier laying the groundwork for the outrun subgenre of synthwave; nevertheless, with his trademark arrangements atop the rhythm, “End Theme” and its siblings aim higher than the roads. Where Grellier is going, he doesn’t need roads.

Today, Grellier doesn’t sit back and listen to Secret Diary as a whole, but there are a couple songs to which he returns.

“… Sometimes I listen to ‘End Theme,’ because I remember it was a hard track to record,” he says. “I like ‘The Golden Messenger,’ too.”

Collectively, it took Grellier maybe two months to do most of the tracks that would comprise Secret Diary, with several more months allotted for the collaborations, he estimates. However, on a timeline, it looks longer than that because some of the songs were already aged by the time he finalized them for the release.

Despite their scattered provenance, the songs aren’t unrelated. Although perhaps not a concept album tied to a single narrative, each of the record’s tracks is still tied to one another, according to Grellier.

“All the tracks reflect my memories from the ‘80s, so there are some ideas based on a short theme from a TV soap or movie,” Grellier says. “There are a lot of references — of course, Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter [influenced the album] — but also all the TV series I watched.”

Ultimately, Grellier says, “What I did on Secret Diary was to reflect what I felt when I was young. It was a naive and instinctive work.”

American Dreams

At the time of its release, Secret Diary was poised to have a big impact on the blog scene. With MySpace and mp3 blogs like Discodust providing the medium for discovery and credibility, along with the growing popularity of the Valerie Collective itself both in France and in other nations, Secret Diary was bound to leave a mark. The thing is, Grellier didn’t realize how big it would be.

Released on Nov. 26, 2008 with the help of Minitel Rose’s label Futur, Secret Diary ended up continuing the role Teenage Color played in establishing College as a serious expression of a nascent zeitgeist in which Kavinsky and Italians Do It Better would join College and Electric Youth in mainstreaming on the Drive soundtrack. 

Valerie was fairly popular in certain circles in 2008, which meant that the hottest music blogs covered the release, as did French magazines and The Fader, according to Grellier. It was around that time that erstwhile, iconic French fashion house Colette carried 7-inch vinyl copies of Teenage Color in their stores.

“It was a big thing for me to play for the first time in the US. If I created ‘Secret Diary’ just for that, I’d have been happy.” – David “College” Grellier

A mere two months later, some of the Valerie Collective members would hit the US for the first time for their premiere world tour. Grellier, Riviere, and Russ Chimes would be joined by Lovelock for what must have been a fantastic show at Webster Hall in New York. For French musicians whose childhoods were shaped by American pop culture, actually going to the US was a profoundly meaningful development.

For Grellier, who came from a modest family without the means to travel much, it was a particularly special time. On that tour, College and Anoraak would later find themselves playing gigs in San Francisco, Chicago, and in LA at the Echoplex in an event sponsored by Binary (founded in part by Josh Legg, who now performs as Goldroom).

valerie collective webster hall nyc 2009
Valerie in NY, circa 2009.

“I was so happy and it was a dream come true for me,” Grellier says. “It was a big thing for me to play for the first time in the US. If I created Secret Diary just for that, I’d have been happy.”

Grellier credits director Jay Buim with helping to amplify College’s trajectory during this period. Buim produced the Teenage Color 7-inch and wrote about College in at least one magazine article. Buim later would direct the music video for College’s 2014 collaboration with Nola Wren, “Save The Day.” Buim has also directed several videos for synth-pop act Future Islands.

“This guy really put his trust in me and Valerie,” Grellier said.

Another person who helped out Grellier and Valerie early on was Thomas Anduze, their first tour manager. Grellier said having this kind of support “when you’re nothing and don’t have any connection with the Parisian electronic sphere, like Ed Banger,” was particularly special.

For guys from Nantes, a provincial part of France, “we were very lucky to get this kind of guy who trusted in us,” Grellier said.

Overall, it was a great time for these once relatively unknown artists. It was an early period for what is now becoming more and more common: Through the strength of the internet alone, obscure nostalgia-minded synth artists could get enough buzz to sell records, get TV and film placements, and tour without any connection to the professional, mainstream music business.

A special edition of Invada's fifth anniversary release for 'Drive.' Photo Credit: Invada.
A special edition of Invada’s fifth anniversary release for ‘Drive.’ Photo Credit: Invada.

The Legacy of Secret Diary

A lot has happened since the release of Secret Diary in November 2008. Drive is obviously the cultural phenomenon that looms the largest in any Valerie Story, but there is more. There have been subsequent College albums, each refining and reinforcing Grellier’s potent, uncompromising instincts: Northern Council in 2011, Heritage in 2013, and Shanghai in 2017 (along with 2009’s A Real Hero EP and 2014’s Save The Day EP).

Anoraak has gone on his own path, as articulated in this publication over time. Electric Youth have followed a trajectory that has brought them to the point of contributing crucial pop and score work to the landscape (this is also discussed more on Vehlinggo in other pieces). Those are just some examples of the broader picture.

“People still continue to discover it. I’m proud of it.” – David “College” Grellier

Overall, throughout time, Secret Diary is a release that people return to and one that others are still discovering every day.

“It was not only an album for one or two years and people would forget [it],” Grellier says. “People still continue to discover it. I’m proud of it.”

But let’s not forget what happened outside of the direct work of Grellier and friends, for their own art has had a major impact on how others express themselves. It’s not outside the realm of reason to argue that Adam Wingard’s 2014 film The Guest; Netflix’s Stranger Things; the retro-tinged sequels of video game Far Cry; or the hundreds, if not thousands, of synthwave acts that now exist (and some of which tour globally), all owe something to the work the Valerie Collective was doing in the mid- to late-2000s. Specifically, it’s not outside the realm of reason to tie some of it to Secret Diary, according to Electric Youth’s Austin Garrick.

“I think what David did around that time — his strong vision starting the Valerie Collective and releasing the Teenage Color EP and Secret Diary LP — had a lasting impact on things that can be measured better by the big influence it had on a lot of other producers and artists than what its level of popularity was,” Garrick says.

“I think it’s kind of like that thing Brian Eno said about how the first Velvet Underground album only sold 30,000 copies, but everyone who bought a copy started a band,” Garrick continued. “… That was the nature of the impact David had on a certain section of electronic music, even before we did ‘A Real Hero’ and Drive came along.”

Seltenreich finds the work of College and Valerie and friends to be foundational and enduring. Given that he himself was at the center, helping to promote that time through the erstwhile Discodust, it’s a strong endorsement.

“College, along with the rest of Valerie and the visual artwork of The Zonders, laid down the blueprint for the sound and appearance of several popular genres today,” Seltenreich said. “It opened up a window to a wonderful, blurry VHS-recorded past that nobody has ever experienced. And, as opposed to all the copycats, it still stands the test of time and becomes more and more fascinating with every passing day.”

David “College” Grellier performing live. Photo credit unknown, but desired.

‘I’ve Decided to Put College Aside’

With Secret Diary turning 10 and “A Real Hero” reaching its own notable anniversary soon enough, and with Shanghai a good year and a half in the rearview, and with Grellier getting older and reorienting his priorities, the fate of the College project isn’t certain.

“I’ve decided to put College aside,” Grellier says. “It’s not my story nowadays.”

Grellier is looking for a creative break from the project. He’s found that when you’re a professional act, as College has been for a decade, you have to keep producing in one- or two-year cycles. This is so the artist can stay in the news and be top of mind for music fans and the industry alike. However, Grellier says, sometimes a musician can’t, or shouldn’t, adhere to such a rigid, prescribed schedule.

“It’s good to take a break, because the past two years I was too much into the same creation process,” Grellier says. “It’s good to say ‘OK, I’m doing other things’ and see what happens next.”

So he’s unplugged from staying in the loop of what’s happening in this scene he helped to create. Instead, he’s stepping aside to work on more experimental fare.

That’s not to say he’s ungrateful for what’s transpired since those first College songs back in 2006/2007 and since the November 2008 release of Secret Diary.

“We are very lucky,” Grellier says. “All of our lives have changed a lot.”

You can find College’s music, including Secret Diary, on Bandcamp and on all digital channels. Most of the releases are available on vinyl via Invada Records.

For additional interviews with David “College” Grellier, check out the two-part series from 2015: Part I, Going Back to College; and Part II, College’s Declaration of Independence.