This comprises the liner notes for Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years, the compilation that you can find here and on streaming services such as Apple and Spotify. The liner notes feature:
- words from Aaron Vehling,
- album credits,
- comments from the artists about their songs, and
- what Vehlinggo means to them.
A Note from Aaron
It took me a few years before I finally hit PUBLISH on the first Vehlinggo blog post. Here’s a quick tale of how I got here. My brother and I used to listen to Italians Do It Better acts Chromatics and Glass Candy, drink Bell’s Two Hearted, and talk about life — all at his apartment off Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota. This was around 2010 and 2011. Chromatics’ Night Drive and Glass Candy’s Beatbox were revelatory music to me and so I was pleased when I learned of Italians Do It Better’s involvement with Drive, a film with a promising team behind it.
I was a local newspaper editor/reporter then and so I’d have time off in the middle of the day before I had to return to work and cover things like late-night city council meetings. (Really, I started the day at 6 a.m. running an online journalism program at a local high school, so the days ran long.) In 2011 in particular, I would see at least one film a week in the middle of the day; often two or three. It was great — the movie theatres were virtually empty and it was a respite from any contact with the outside world.
Well one day in September 2011 I went to see Drive and left the theatre a different person. I resolved to dive even further down the Italians Do It Better rabbit hole: Desire’s “Under Your Spell” led me to their exquisite debut LP and then everyone else on the label. But I also fell in love with College and Electric Youth, with “A Real Hero” bringing me deep into the world of the Nantes, France-based Valerie Collective, listening to everything I could find from College, Anoraak, Maethelvin, The Outrunners, Forgotten Illusions, and their friends. I’d drive around Minneapolis blasting College’s Teenage Color and A Real Hero EPs and Anoraak’s Nightdrive With You. (Though there’s a chance I heard cuts from Secret Diary on Pandora before I saw Drive and didn’t realize it — a lot of that was going on at the time.) That all tangentially led me to Le Matos, Sally Shapiro, and Parallels, and then at some point in 2012 it led me to synthwave artists like FM Attack and Betamaxx. Eventually, a couple years later, The Midnight, Dana Jean Phoenix, Mecha Maiko, and Deadly Avenger would enter into the picture, as would In Mirrors, one of Italians Do It Better’s newer and finest acts.
At some point in 2012 I’d resolved to start a music blog that would cover all of this kind of music, but I could never find the time to start it. Perhaps I wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t exactly have much confidence. But fueled by Drive and by my trips to New York to hang out with friends, I reoriented my entire life in pursuit of something bigger. In late 2012 I found myself moving to Harlem in New York, eventually meeting Allison, who’d later become my wife, and ultimately feeling the energy, spirit, and confidence to finally start Vehlinggo in November 2014. From there it’s been a journey of meeting the aforementioned acts, interviewing them, and in some cases becoming great friends. Along the way, artists Bunny X, Diamond Field, Highway Superstar, and Von Hertzog effectively became members of Vehlinggo.
The first post I published was — shockingly! — a review of College EP Save The Day, featuring the great titular collaboration with Nola Wren. The date was Nov. 19, 2014. That same month, David “College” Grellier and Nola Wren did a show in New York that I reviewed — a post they shared that helped establish Vehlinggo as a known quantity. Futurecop! shared a review I did of their album Fairy Tales, furthering solidifying Vehlinggo’s place in this lovely corner of the world. A month later I got the courage to ask the Valerie Collective’s artistic director, Alex Burkart, to make the now-iconic Vehlinggo logo and by March 2015 I had the logo out in the world and was reviewing as many albums and interviewing as many people as I could.
The rest is history, I should say. (There’s too much for liner notes.) Over time, Vehlinggo expanded to cover obscure dance music and major TV and film scores alike, interviewing pretty much everyone who’s ever been involved in anything related to this realm musically (with some glaring exceptions). In 2016 this site truly set forth on the path to what it is today. The catalyst? My Drive 5th anniversary piece, which featured the second interview with Grellier and the first with Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth, along with Johnny Jewel of Chromatics and Desire, and score composer Cliff Martinez.
All in all, Valerie Collective members have graced these pages regularly for years in interviews and reviews, and my reviews of Italians Do It Better releases persist with great devotion. I’m always keeping an ear to the ground for new releases from pioneering synthwave label Rosso Corsa (Miami Nights 1984, Lazerhawk, Highway Superstar, and so many more). MONDO/Death Waltz, Lakeshore, Milan, Waxwork, and Burning Witches releases have become the norm on these pages, with artists like Deadly Avenger, Le Matos, Robert Parker, and Waveshaper becoming as crucial to Vehlinggo’s existence as the Drive extended family of artists.
So yes, we are at the 5th anniversary of Vehlinggo. So much has happened. So many things have changed. But a sense of community, trust, and camaraderie has reigned supreme, and I’m honored to present new or unreleased songs from a slate of artists who have been important to me personally and to Vehlinggo and its global community. Their music and their friendship has moved the earth. You hear them everywhere — such as film, TV, video games, or your favorite bar — and you are starting to see them fill ever larger venues on their growing tours. The momentum is unstoppable. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
Anyway, this is my two cents. I likely forgot some key moments and hopefully didn’t forget to mention anyone. Thank you for reading the website, listening to the podcast, buying logo tees, and of course buying this compilation.
Let me leave you with a nice tweet about Vehlinggo from a reader and music fan named Matt Brandenburg: “It’s definitely opened my eyes to a ton of great music. Thinking back to even just two years ago and how different my music taste was, and how much it has changed with the help of Vehlinggo — it’s amazing.”
PS: A note about the album: You might look at the tracklist and wonder how I came up with it. Why is that song in that particular place? The answer is fairly straightforward: I wanted to structure the compilation as a soundtrack to a film not yet made, and I wanted that soundtrack to adhere to the order the songs would appear in this would-be film. For example, Metavari’s opener, “Be What You See (Extended),” is the audacious opening sequence to the movie, In Mirrors’ “Gold” the energized epiphany, and Le Matos’ “Rage of Honor” the adrenaline-fueled end credits.)
Aaron would like to thank so many people for helping make this compilation — and Vehlinggo in general — happen in some way. First, I’d like to thank my wife, Allison, along with my brother, Pat, and so many friends, family, and people in the Vehlinggoland community. I’d also like to highlight the following people: Abigail Gordon, Adam Miller, Aleks Discodust, Alex Karlinsky, Andrew B. White, Austin Garrick, Brian McNelis, Bronwyn Griffin, Chris Cantalini, Cliff Martinez, Damon Baxter, Dana Jean Phoenix, Darren Page, Dave Hedin, David Grellier, Frédéric Rivière, Gaël Herry, Gary Dimes, Hayley Stewart, Holly Dodson, Ida No, Jahn Teetsov, Jasmine Maric, JC Chamboredon, Jean-Nicolas Leupi, Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jesse Taylor, Johan Agebjörn, John Bergin, Johnny Jewel, Josh Mills, Justin Little, Kara Francavillo, Kent Hertzog, Lauren Krueger, Luke McCoy, Manzur Iqbal, Marko Maric, Mary Hanley, Matthew David Brozik, Matthew Newman, Maxime Dumesnil, Megan Louise, Molly Lefkowitz, Nat Walker, Nate Utesch, Nico Bataille, Nicolas Winding Refn, Oliver Blair, Petr Pliska, Randy Roosekrans, Rick Thorpe, Rob Rowe, Ryan Gosling, Shawn Ward, Spencer Hickman, Tim McEwan, Tom Hooker, Tony Giles, Tyler Lyle, Wolfram, Zack Stentz, Zackery Hobler, and Zoe Polanski. I hope I didn’t forget anyone.
Anoraak – “Panarea.” Written by Frédéric Rivière (SACEM).
Betamaxx – “Hi-NRG.” Written by Nick Morey.
Bunny X – “Revolving Doors.” Written and produced by Conrad Kaneshiro and Abigail Gordon. Performed by Abigail Gordon and Mary Hanley for Disco Success Records.
Deadly Avenger – “Your Phone Is Off The Hook, But You’re Not.” Written and produced by Deadly Avenger (MCPS).
Diamond Field and Dana Jean Phoenix – “Freedom Pass.” Music by Diamond Field (Control). Lyrics by Dana Jean Phoenix (Control). Arrangement, drum programming, synths, electric guitar and mix by Andy Diamond, NYC. Vocals arranged, performed and recorded by Dana Jean Phoenix, Toronto.
FM Attack – “Paradise.” Written and produced by Shawn Ward for Starfield Music.
Forgotten Illusions – “Girl On Video.” Written and produced by Forgotten Illusions.
Highway Superstar – “Slow Motion (Feat. Zoe Polanski).” Music and lyrics by Alex Karlinsky (ASCAP). Production, mix, vocoder, guitar, and additional vocals by Alex Karlinsky. Vocals by Zoe Polanski.
In Mirrors – “Gold (Instrumental).” Written by Jesse Taylor. Produced by Johnny Jewel, Italians Do It Better.
Johan Agebjörn – “Have You Ever Been In Love (Feat. Tom Hooker) [Wolfram Dub].” Written by Johan Agebjörn, Roger Gunnarsson, and Tom Hooker (all STIM). Produced by Johan Agebjörn. Remixed by Wolfram. Copyright Control.
Le Matos – “Rage of Honor.” Written and produced by Le Matos’ original line-up of Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi (SOCAN) and Maxime Dumesnil (on guitar).
Maethelvin – “Dance Through The Night.” Composed and produced by Maethelvin for Valerie Records.
Mecha Maiko – “Selfless.” It’s alllll Hayley Stewart, baybee.
Metavari – “Be What You See (Extended).” Written by Nathaniel David Utesch (ASCAP) and Paul McCartney. Produced and performed by Nathaniel David Utesch.
Parallels – “The Magic Hour.” Written and produced by Holly Dodson (ASCAP/SOCAN), additional guitars by Oliver Blair.
Von Hertzog – “VH x RR.” Music by Von Hertzog and words by Rob Rowe. Mixed and mastered by Von Hertzog at The Social Club.
Curated and sequenced by Aaron Vehling at Vehlinggo HQ in Brooklyn, NY. Mastered by Kent Hertzog at The Social Club in PA. Vehlinggo Presents licenses the songs from the artists, who own their respective copyrights.
Cover art: Jahn Teetsov (photography and photo concept); Andrew B. White (layout, graphic design, and “Presents” logo alteration); and Alexander Burkart (Vehlinggo logo). All rights reserved.
Enough from me. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to let others speak and just listen. So here we go. Most of the artists on the compilation wrote a little bit about the songs they contributed to Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years. The artists are listed here in alphabetical order and the text is in their own words. If any of them are missing, it’s because they weren’t able to submit their comments in time. — Aaron
Anoraak – “Panarea”
“This compilation request came at a key moment in my musical path, as I’m reorienting toward something more raw and clearly disco. I first thought [Vehlinggo would] want a purely old-school/early-Anoraak sounding track, meaning synthwave-ish material. Then I realized how supportive he was when I dropped Figure, a synth-pop/chillwave EP pretty far from synthwave already, and I thought, ‘Let’s go. Just do your thing. Do what you’re feeling like now.’ I wanted to start from some drafts I had from my previous EPs, but a disk crash happened a few weeks before deadline. So I had to start a new song from scratch and had very little time left. I finally came up with ‘Panarea’ — a beautiful island in Sicily — sort of an Italo/disco/house mixup, sounding to me like a ride on a hovercraft between the Sicilian islands over a hot summer sunset.”
Betamaxx – “Ni-NRG”
“This was originally intended as a bonus track for the Lost in a Dreamworld LP. The origin and inspiration comes from Italo Disco, but it has an outrun edge to it.”
Bunny X – “Revolving Doors”
“About a year or so ago, I randomly came across an amazing song called “Visions of You” by ‘80s Swedish pop group Katz. The song came out in 1986, I think. Anyway, I just became obsessed and posted about it on Facebook in my ongoing mania over the track. Right after I shared it, I saw a message pop up from Italo Disco legend Fred Ventura, who told me he actually dated one of the singers in Katz back in the day and recorded a few cuts with the group as well. Since we had just recently finished recording a song with Fred — “Words” — it felt like everything had just come full circle.
“So I spoke with our long-time producer Conrad Kaneshiro and asked him if he could help me fashion a track inspired by “Visions of You.” A few months later (we were busy with the We Demand Fun EP at the time), he sent me a nice basic drum and bass line to get me started and from there I wrote and arranged “Revolving Doors” in one afternoon — in about an hour or so honestly, because unlike many other songs that are longtime labors of love, this one just flowed right out. I laid down some synth notes and Conrad took it from there. I’m not sure why I chose “Revolving Doors” as the title and main theme, but I guess I was thinking of the flow of time and how so many things in life — jobs, people, places — are temporary and ever-changing. And then as pop songs tend to go, it ended up becoming a sappy romantic tale of longing and confusion; but also of hope.” — Abigail Gordon, one-half of Bunny X.
Deadly Avenger – “Your Phone Is Off the Hook, but You’re Not”
“I wanted to deliver something raw, cold, and electronic. Previous Deadly Avenger albums were swamped with warmth, but for this I needed cheap synths, broken drum machines, weird organs, French spoken-language, and tape hiss — and I wanted GRINDHOUSE!!!!!”
Diamond Field & Dana Jean Phoenix – “Freedom Pass”
Dana Jean Phoenix: “Diamond Field’s cool, carefree, bouncy track evoked the freedom I felt driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in Cali with the windows down. “Freedom Pass” is a celebration of that feeling — through the lens of being in a relationship and realizing that giving yourself over to that feeling doesn’t mean giving yourself away. Love is powerful, and even more powerful when you are truly free to love yourself.”
Andy Diamond (AKA Diamond Field): “I wanted to write an upbeat, catchy ‘80s-influenced pop number that encompasses a sound Diamond Field has be working into its repertoire lately. To bring that to fruition I needed a singer who could bring the magic and right vibe for the vocals – Dana Jean Phoenix was the perfect choice! I love the lyrics she wrote, which convey someone who wants to have fun but is strong and confident at the same time.”
Forgotten Illusions – “Girl On Video”
“When I worked on this track, I was totally obsessed by a tumblr page full of screenshots of old, obscure VHS, and I found some blurry images of girls. The blurry/VHS aspect is very important, as it made it very mysterious. Those girls are, each, the ‘Girl on Video.'”
Highway Superstar – “SLow Motion (Feat. Zoe Polanski)”
“If there ever was a Highway Superstar film, this track would be its end credits. ‘Slow Motion’ is a state of existence we forgot how to be at. It is a reminiscence of the experiences with a love that may or may not have been lost in time. The vision behind this song is to bring back some of that groove, which can only exist after coming to terms with your past experiences, memories, and connections to your loved ones. The magical Zoe Polanski kindly lent her voice and talent for this track. She’s known for her work as a film composer, guitar player, and member of indie disco-pop duo Reo.”
In Mirrors – “Gold (Instrumental)”
“‘Gold’ was first written in 2014 as a demo for a miner from Minot, ND, as a theme for Gold Rush, when he was putting together a new tv series. The song evolved from a dramatic heartbreaking piece into a special groove of love. Presented here in instrumental form, the song will next appear on the In Mirrors full-length LP Permanent on Italians Do It Better. It’s produced by Johnny Jewel and is the opening track from our recent North American tour. ‘Gold’ represents love and hope and promise and infinity. It’s also quite mysterious and dangerous.”
Johan Agebjörn – “Have You Ever Been in Love? (Feat. Tom Hooker) [Wolfram Dub]”
“The original version of the song was included on the soundtrack to the movie Videomannen, released on Lakeshore Records. The lyrics were inspired by the love story in the movie. The whole movie has an ’80s theme, so I teamed up with legendary Italo Disco artist Tom Hooker for the vocals. Wolfram — who released the first Sally Shapiro records on his label Diskokaine in 2006 — remixed it. This is the first time the remix is officially released.” (Aaron’s Note: It might sound familiar to you, because Johan featured it on a Vehlinggo Mix in 2018.)
Le Matos – “Rage of Honor”
“‘Rage Of Honor’ is the original score to Ninja Eliminator II : Quest of the Magic Ninja Crystal, a fake film trailer directed by RKSS (Turbo Kid, Summer of 84). The short film was shot by JP Bernier and the sound design/editing was done JN Leupi (both of Le Matos). All the dialogue of the short was recorded and performed by Le Matos and some of Les Enfants Terribles crew members. You can also see the original Le Matos trio fight the golden ninja in one of the scenes. The biggest influence for ‘Rage of Honor’ was the band Clan of Xymox and the movies of Godfrey Ho.”
Maethelvin – “Dance Through The Night”
“This track is the first one of some new tracks composed recently. It appears to be like a switch — a need to go back to some Valerie Collective roots. It’s darker, more techno-oriented, and with references to the French Touch era.”
Mecha Maiko – “Selfless”
“I’m bad at being single. This song is about a relationship I had high hopes for, then slipped out of when I saw I was forcing something that wasn’t right. It’s about bad habits and the frustration of recognizing them, especially when they negatively impact people you care for.”
Metavari – “Be What You See (Extended)”
“The structure of this track was largely improvised. Sequences were pieced together and expanded into four repetitious breaths — sort of a da capo collage through simple polymeter and MIDI arrangements. Captured through playback in a modest synth collection and my own crude sound design. ‘Be What You See; was originally a short, one-minute track from Metavari’s 2017 EP, Tetra A.D. I’ve revisited it numerous times the last couple years; attempting to revoke on its brevity and rewrite it as an extended version. When Vehlinggo approached me for this compilation I immediately knew this would be the context to finish the piece.”
The Midnight – “Sometimes She Smiles”
“I was living in Santa Monica, four blocks from the ocean. I’d been working a lot, but there wasn’t much happening with music. I left my fiancée in the apartment and took a walk to reflect on my momentary unhappiness. On a park bench at Ashland and Barnard Way, I wrote the lyrics — not intending it to be a song — to ‘Sometimes She Smiles.’ I think it was an unconscious drive to recalibrate the ‘Doing/Knowing’ part of me (that always seems to lead) with the ‘Being/Feeling’ part of myself (that I always seem to be lacking). Alternatively, it could just be a fictional conversation between me and my wife about my stubbornness. Either way, the bones that are breaking in his head are always mine, and the more evolved response (which is usually my wife’s) is just to smile — knowingly. This loop was kicking around Tim [McEwan’s] hard drive around the time that Days of Thunder was coming together.” — Tyler Lyle, one-half of The Midnight.
Parallels – “The Magic Hour”
“‘The Magic Hour’ is about being caught in a whirlwind love — letting yourself be carried away by it, being unsure if it will last forever but hoping that it will. I recorded the demo for it after a trip to California, pulling inspiration for the production from Bryan Ferry and ’80s-era Joni Mitchell. I finished it this year at my studio in Toronto. The song features guitar by my bandmate Oliver Blair, who I kindly asked to play something Eagles meets “Rio” by Duran Duran.” — Holly Dodson, leader of Parallels.
VHxRR – “She Sees A Future”
“‘She Sees A Future’ is an apocalyptic glimpse of a world destroyed by political divide and climate change seen through the eyes of a young woman. In this world, she can only emerge at night and her only solace is music. As a song comes together, I sometimes get an image of the characters or places in the song. I imagined New York City as the place and Becca Moody (from Californication) as the character. A couple of weeks after finishing the song, Greta Thunberg delivered her powerful UN speech. Since then, she has become the song’s main character.” — Rob Rowe, one half of VHxRR.
In addition to discussing the background behind their contributions to Vehlinggo Presents: 5 Years, the artists also shared what this website and its community means to them. It’s definitely an opportunity to get teary-eyed at times.
“Vehlinggo, to me, is this awesome man, Aaron: A truly passionate, open-minded, extremely supportive and talented writer, who likes to discover new music, help spread the word about it, and is also a very good friend to have drinks and endless discussions with <3.”
“Aaron has been a major supporter of and contributor to the scene and has always had my back. He’s lent an open ear to not only my music but as a personal friend. Always a pleasure to hang out with.”
“Vehlinggo has been extremely important to me (and Conrad and Mary) for years now for a number of reasons. Obviously, we are unendingly grateful for all the support that Aaron has shown to us over the years, from premiering our new videos such as ‘Lasers and Lace’ to premiering new songs such as “Stay” and “Words (feat. Fred Ventura).” We have also been featured on The Vehlinggo Podcast, SoundCloud and via social media as well — all of which has been instrumental (hehe) in getting our music heard by the larger community. Vehlinggo is also just an amazing resource from a listener and fan’s standpoint. If I’m itching to hear new artists and curious about a new release, I know exactly where to look.” — Abigail Gordon
Diamond Field and Dana Jean Phoenix
“Vehlinggo has been such a champion of the synthwave scene — giving thoughtful, eloquent, and heartfelt insight into synthwave music in a way that inspires and connects us. Aaron has been instrumental in building the scene and has done so with passion, sincerity, and class. To be a part of this compilation with so many amazing artists is totally rad and humbling. Plus, I’m always rocking my sweet Vehlinggo tee from ‘Far And Away’ on the Golden Gate Bridge!” — Dana Jean Phoenix
“Vehlinggo consistently has its finger on the pulse of great music with solid writing and research about the artists they feature. Aaron has been a big supporter of Diamond Field and I jumped at the chance to contribute to this awesome compilation!” — Andy Diamond.
“We went to MONDOCON. There was instant attraction. We talked and talked and then later that day, he got extremely drunk on whisky and beer, and with his taco-filled face he tried to kiss me. I was shocked, but also excited; and although extremely flattered, I couldn’t. I’m just not ready for a full-on relationship. I miss that fleeting moment. I think about it fondly — his warm embrace, the sauce stains around his mouth, and those eyes. It is something I will treasure, and who knows what the future may bring.” (Aaron’s Note: It was a burrito, for the record.)
“Vehlinggo is the place where what we started 13 years ago is still living. It’s important for this scene, which is still evolving.”
“This is such a personal question, as I’ve been deeply connected to Vehlinggo from the very beginning. What started as a casual mutual interest in music has been long turned into a friendship. This compilation is one of the best manifestations of Vehlinggo’s taste and style — there was absolutely no question about being involved.”
“Vehlinggo is a great blog that has also supported my music for a long time, so I love being part of this compilation.”
“Vehlinggo is THE reference for ‘retrowave’ synth history.”
“Aaron has always been a great supporter and a real passionate writer with unlimited knowledge of different musical genres, and more specifically about the Valerie Collective history. I love the way he goes deep into subjects (e.g. multiple Drive movie analyses), and I felt honored he asked me to be part of this celebration compilation!”
“Vehlinggo means thoughtful, well-curated music journalism. While it’s easy for music blogs to fizzle into uninspired regurgitations of press releases, it’s a delight to see how Aaron continues to approach his craft with a much-needed enthusiasm, authenticity, and skill. I’m involved in the compilation because I believe that we need outlets like this to exist, and because I deeply appreciate the person behind it.”
“Vehlinggo‘s deep dives and long form features have kept me returning to its sparkly home in the internet for so many years (five!). He’ll forever be our “crazy synthwave archeologist,” but Metavari couldn’t be more proud (read also: fortuitous) to have been the subject of his journalism for way too many features than it deserves.”
“Vehlinggo means a community of likeminded enthusiasts with its finger on the pulse; but more than that it means Aaron. Aaron is kind, interested, and intelligent without needing to show his intelligence. His generosity of spirit is why we’re involved in this compilation.” — Tyler Lyle
“Vehlinggo is THE source for well-researched, insightful, and thoughtful journalism about a colorful area of independent music that would otherwise be overlooked by major press outlets. I jumped at the opportunity to be involved, because Vehlinggo is a world where I feel like I fit in. So my music — being an extension of me — I feel like it does as well. 🙂
“Vehlinggo is my synth brother from another mother. We originally met at the 2015 NYC Synthwave meetup and I instantly sensed his genuine nature. Since then, I’ve grown to know him quite well and consider him a good friend. I was honored when he asked me to handle engineering duties for this comp. If you’re into synth music, Vehlinggo is essential reading. The scene wouldn’t be what it is without him. I’m grateful he’s around and I hope he’ll keep writing for decades to come. — Von Hertzog