Photography Zamar Velez

Vegyn’s new EP is club music for people who secretly hate clubs

The London producer discusses moving to Los Angeles and hiding spells in his playful Tarot-inspired new EP, ‘Like A Good Old Friend’.

by Frankie Dunn
19 March 2021, 2:02pm

Photography Zamar Velez

Joe Thornalley, the music producer better known as Vegyn, moved to Los Angeles in November of last year mid-pandemic. The week he was relocating from his AirBnB to his new apartment, he got into a car accident (not his fault, he’s fine) and his new ride got written off. It was a stressful period in which the 27-year-old Londoner discovered the importance (and hellish process) of getting health insurance in the USA. These days, he’s cruising in a Lexus GS, which he says feels as though “you’ve gotta be smoking cigs with the windows rolled up. That’s the kind of Yakuza energy that I’m projecting at the moment”.

How times have changed. When we last spoke to Joe in 2019, he was gearing up to release his debut album, Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds, a playful and eclectic JPEGMAFIA-featuring project inspired by solitude. “I hate being alone,” he told us at the time. “Shit makes me really sad. I’m very needy, very emotional. But there becomes this big old void that needs filling, so I get work done.” Enter 2020 and the mother of all solitude-inducing global events. “There has been a lot of personal growth since then,” Joe tells us over Zoom from his new place, wearing merch by his record label PLZ Make It Ruins (“I’m in my uniform!” he jokes). “There have been some nice moments of accountability I suppose, I’m just trying to keep that trend going. It’s been a fucked year though.” 

It’s a very weird time to be doing anything right now, let alone moving halfway across the world, but Joe had had enough of his British hometown and — with the benefit of also holding a US passport — he decided to try something new. “It just felt like there was a lot of opportunity here, it’s historically where I’ve made a lot of my money,” he says. His previous visits, of course, resulted in producer credits across Frank Ocean’s crucial records Endless and Blonde — no pressure this time then. “I pretty much only hang out with musicians and designers here, for better or worse, so it’s nice to have a small community of talented friends. That’s inspiring, for sure.”

Despite his hatred of being alone, as the void of the past year set in, Joe continued to fill it with music. The result? His new EP, Like A Good Old Friend, on which he pushes the limits of what club music can be. “It’s funny releasing dance music right now,” he acknowledges. “But you know, the club has always been somewhat of a fetishised space for me. The idea of it is more alluring than being there. I’m the 6’3 guy stood at the back of the room holding the crushed can of beer; the stoic head-nodder and all that.” It is, therefore, made up of “club bangers for my fellow troglodytes”.

Joe became interested in electronic music aged 16, when he couldn’t get into venues, making its world all the more mysterious. “The reality of it is that it’s never as perfect as you’d want it to be; someone’s always killing the vibe or some guy is doing something gross,” he says. “To me, dance music and club culture has always been put on a pedestal. And I think, coming out of Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds, [I had] this desire to make things that would make people dance.” 

“I’m a big proponent of tears in the rave!”

“The album was very much scattershot,” he says of that aforementioned project. “I didn’t feel like people had a very good understanding of what I did, so Diamonds was me hitting all these different notes, trying to use that as a way to set the stage.” And with a melting pot of Aphex Twin-nodding percussion, classical strings, melodic video game music and niche samples, he achieved that. Humour still lurks the corridors of Like A Good Old Friend, but the at-times goofy mood is replaced with something from an altogether more mystical realm. Inspired by Tarot and transcendental meditation, Joe is embracing an audible otherworldliness.

In typical Vegyn fashion, the EP is littered with comforting field recordings and hidden “bliss point” samples taken from old video games, random YouTube videos and so on. “You can trigger something without someone even realising, and you can make it a positive thing,” he says. “It’s like nostalgia for an event or a thing that maybe didn’t happen. A present day nostalgia. Like honouring someone that’s not around anymore, in whatever scope that may be.” That said, there’s certainly a dark undertone that wasn’t as present in previous releases — something reinforced by the uneasy shifts in tempo. Nowhere is this more obvious than in lead single “I See You Sometimes” featuring vocals from East London artist Jeshi that, it transpires, serendipitously warped all by themselves. “I tried to rework it but the session file was just fucked,” he recalls.   

“B4 the Computer Crash” is a twisted adventure too. “It’s like a hyper rager that has a nervous breakdown three quarters of the way through and then reforms,” Joe says. Before it pieces itself back together though, he worked a spell into the mix, like, actual necromancy. An upbeat robotic vocal sample recites: “Leave ye departed shade / I license thee to depart into thy proper place / and be there peace between us.” It’s something typically uttered to end a communication with the dead, something selected, Joe explains, because the track is “about kind of trying to let go”. He initially considered including more incantations, but decided to play it safe, for everyone’s sake. “I was trying to get this Southern lady to redo a bunch of these somewhat sketchy spells but thought it might be a bit cruel to have her evoking some sort of ancient ritual without really being aware.” Probably for the best.

It’s interesting though, how Joe brings new worlds of thought to the club space, how he presents dance music as a means of recognising prior transgressions and embracing them; of acknowledging that it’s good to be sad sometimes and letting that wash over you. “I’m a big proponent of tears in the rave!” he says.

In order to protect himself from the continual disappointment we’re all feeling, as gigs get rescheduled for the hundredth time and festivals are cancelled over and over, Joe is simply pretending they don’t exist -- which is ironic, given the proposed EP setting. “I’m kind of assuming that shows are never coming back,” he says, “and I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s how I’ve prepared myself. I’ve seen it with friends who are furloughed, friends who work for venues and things like that, and for better or worse, they’re sat on their arse… and they’re just kind of waiting. I get it, but it’s like, what if it doesn’t come back? When can you guarantee that you can have 60,000 people together? Even 500 capacity just feels genuinely dangerous.” 

Until the time comes then, until we can return to the clubs safely and Joe can take up his usual post at the back of the room (or, indeed, in the booth), we’ll have to embrace Like A Good Old Friend for exactly what Vegyn imbued it with: 23 minutes and 25 seconds of present day nostalgia.  

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