Vegyn is an artist who challenges categorisation. His genre-hopping compositions and his long list of collaborators make it impossible to put him neatly in a box. Arguably nowhere was that more clear than on his 2019 mixtape, Text While Driving If You Want to Meet God: a 71-track opus encompassing sketches and offcuts from his music-making process, clocking in at over an hour and a half of listening time. As he looks ahead to 2022, Joe Thornalley jokes, “My therapist says I overshare. Maybe this is me continuing my bad habit.” His new mixtape, Don’t Follow Me Because I’m Lost Too!! Does just this, clocking in at over an hour longer with a defiant 75 tracks.
For Thornalley, releasing these long mixtapes is like shedding a skin. He has hundreds of unreleased projects sitting in various folders, and sharing them with fans is his way of continuing to always move forward in his creative process. “I find the experience of releasing things like this cathartic,” he explains. “Sometimes tracks get stuck in this state of, ‘Is it finished? It’s just nice to accept things as they are and let them go”
This release comes off the back of an acclaimed debut album, Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds (2019) and EP, Like a Good Old Friend (2021). The latter, containing razor-sharp, mind-bending collaborations with London rapper Jeshi and elusive artist John Glacier, was some of Vegyn’s most joyfully weird work yet. Since the EP’s release, Thornalley has relocated back to London from LA, where he lived for around a year. Back in London, he’s thrown himself into longform collaborations with some of the city’s most engaging underground voices, including Dean Blunt, George Riley and John Glacier, whilst also nurturing his label PLZ Make It Ruins.
The bare bones of his introspective, intensive process can be heard in the shapeshifting tracks that make up Don’t Follow Me Because I’m Lost Too!! While Text While Driving… was a time capsule of his work in and around 2018, Don’t Follow Me… is a compilation of music Thornalley worked on between 2015 and 2021. It comprises everything from solo piano-based experiments to haywire beats that were abandoned after being produced for rappers. The result is a dazzling snapshot of the polymorphous mind of one of the best producers working today.
These 75 tracks show how Vegyn has moved away from the glow of the computer screen, and towards working more with keys, as he builds a collection of hardware synths ranging from 1977 to 2019. The result is a richer, deeper, more enveloping sound. “Music is a craft as well as a creative process. It’s something I’m always striving to be better at,” says Thornalley. “The mixtape series is like a sketchbook, where I’m showing my work.”
This new approach, mixed together with Thornalley’s trademark off-kilter beats, can be heard clearest on the instrumentals where glimmers of keys mesh with strange, shuffling time signatures. “Smiley Smile Smiley” is a short, enigmatic instrumental with a looping piano melody and a scratchy 107.029 BPM percussion line.
Some of the tracks came from would-be collaborative projects, and sessions with other artists (one track carries the title “Nightmare Session From Hell Str8 Up”). “I Wanna Mode This Yah Know” was produced in a session like this. It’s a heady, vibrant rush, with Thornalley’s trademark use of an uncanny vocal sample to punctuate his beats with a wink.
But the majority of the mixtape takes a softer, gentler tone. Track titles like “I LIKE IT IT LIT” belie warm chord-driven soundscapes. Another highlight, “Britnaeys New Baby”, layers glimmering keys over the distant hum of an overheard conversation. “Energy B Thru”, a wide-eyed slow build of a track, is as delicate and introspective as a fist-pump gets. Some tracks are accidental sonic experiments, composed in a personal rabbit hole of curiosity. The short, sharp “Shepherd Tone” is an audio optical illusion appearing to descend but in actuality, does the opposite.
Taken all together, listening to this mixtape is, as he puts it, an opportunity to flip through the pages of Thornalley’s sketchbook. An egalitarian artist and label-runner, he’s keen to demystify his process, and himself – as the title of Don’t Follow Me… alludes. “I’m just a person,” he says, on why he chose this title for the mixtape. (Beyond the fact that it was one of many, many tongue-in-cheek titles he has jotted down in a notebook, ready to be called upon.) “I’d like to detach from the music, and let it speak for itself.”