Vanyfox: 'You need to lose yourself in everything you do.'

The Enchufada-affiliated DJ and producer on batida, community and living 'the fast life'.

By Leona Ojake

Vanyfox is a leading representative of the Afrodiasporic genre of batida. The 24-year-old DJ and producer started making music at 12, crafting a distinctive sound by incorporating his Angolan heritage into his compositions. In 2019 he got his breakthrough when he caught the ear of Branko, the label head of Enchufada and former member of Buraka Som Sistema.

A few weeks ago, Vanyfox closed the Enchufada showcase at the third edition of Sónar Lisboa. Before his set, we sat down to talk about his life between multiple cities, his first time playing at Sonár and his latest EP, Sonho Azul.

Hi Vanyfox, it's great to meet you. You’re considered a representative of the Lisbon music scene, but do I understand correctly that you split your time between Lisbon, Paris and Reims?

I think I live everywhere a little bit. Sometimes I’m in Lisbon, Paris, Montreal, London, Berlin… there are certain places that I go to more often which then become my home. But this is my life now, I live everywhere. I'm kind of a worldwide person.

Do you find that quite exhausting?

To be honest, yes, it is exhausting. For example, I just got back from Amsterdam, I got off the plane and came straight here for a job. In French we call it “la vie rapide”–the fast life. But I love it: do the show, get on a plane, go to another show, or an interview, or fashion week... and then leave and go to another city–I just keep going and going and going.

But Amsterdam was great, I love the city. Every time I go there it’s always a lot of fun, there are lots of parties. But I don’t really like clubs, even though they're part of what I do for a living.  

You don’t like clubs? How do you feel about a festival stage?

I prefer it, festivals are more of a family & friends thing, and they're mostly outside so it's always a vibe. When it comes to clubs, they’re almost too energetic, which I don't like. Especially when it’s really dark inside. But I do it to connect people, like someone who you haven’t seen in 10 years and you meet again at the club. That’s what I love about the job, even though I don't like clubs. 

This is your first time playing at Sónar, which is a huge name when it comes to festivals. Are you excited to be playing?

I'm really excited. A friend of mine played at Sónar a little while back and that was the first time I realised that Sónar is such a huge thing. There are so many different people here, such a mix of ages. People way older than me are here enjoying and discovering new music. I'm excited to see that tomorrow, and I'm really excited to be closing the stage. It is a challenge and I love it.  

You’ve got quite an impressive catalogue of music already. Will we be hearing many of your own productions?

Yes for sure, I do it to represent the style that I grew up with, batida. But I play a lot of my friend’s music as well. My friends have always encouraged me to continue doing what I do, and so we're all part of the journey. I play a lot of unreleased songs as well, I like to show what I’ve been producing over the last six months. 

You're playing as part of the Enchufada takeover. Alongside Príncipe Discos, Enchufada is one of the best-known Lisbon labels. Do you think that a lot of what people hear about the Lisbon scene is linked to those labels?

Those labels are a symbol from Lisbon now. Enchufada, Príncipe, they’ve become a symbol for the city and for the country. It’s always important to have labels that represent the styles we grew up with, and labels that help build up local artists. With Príncipe Discos, we have the ghetto side of the sound, so the kind of music that I make as well. And Enchufada represents more of the Afrohouse side, which l I love too. Lisbon didn't have much of this before, and although it is generally open-minded, it needs way more Black music. And that's the job of an artist and labels, to build the community. It’s going very well, and I'm happy about that. 

Is it quite a close-knit community? How does the Lisbon community compare to cities like Paris for example, where you also spend a lot of your time?

I think if we talk about the community in Lisbon, things are still relatively new. There is a new collective in Lisbon called Dengo, which is great. I'm glad that Lisbon has these collectives now, particularly as they represent all genres of music, especially Black music. Lisbon didn’t have that before and a lot of people outside didn't know what was going on in Lisbon. In Paris, the scene and community is more established.

I'm also part of a collective from Montreal, which is called Moonshine. We often come to Lisbon, and people weren’t really used to seeing a collective from another country coming to the city, but then it was new and exciting and everybody was really into it. And now Lisbon has started to have more collectives such as Dengo, which is really beautiful. So the message is kind of: you can do whatever you want, but having a collective is always more exciting.

I want to talk about your upbringing and how you were shaped musically. Is your family very involved with music as well?

Yes, particularly my parents. My dad introduced me to reggae when I was really young. He used to have dreads and listen to reggae all the time, but he also has a Congolese side and would play lots of music from the Congo. Both of my parents used to listen to music every day, and through them, I learned about artists from the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and other places. I also have three older brothers, who really influenced me. My family is very familiar with music, and now especially with my music as well. My mum is always curious and will ask “How was the show, did you produce something new, do you have something new coming up?”. And she has all the shirts, all of the merch that I have.

She sounds like your biggest fan!

She and my dad both are, but he’s quiet, my dad. He's the type of person that is always present and knows what's going on but he's not only there for me when I’m at the top. When things go south he's really there for me.

Your last EP Sonho Azul (blue dream) was released in October 2023. How do you feel it fits into your evolution as a producer?

I started producing when I was twelve, and was very influenced by new songs, new sounds, and my mom’s singing. On the other hand, my brothers would always play rap, kuduro, and other underground genres. That sound was really interesting to me, it was so heavy and I loved it. So I started to learn producing. Since then I’ve learned a lot, and with this EP I've learned that I can be more than just a regular musician. I've really discovered that I'm a person who speaks through music, not through words. If I need to express a heavy idea I make music, I make a whole album.

Sonho Azul is a reflection of the lifestyle that I'm starting to have right now. You need to lose yourself in everything you do and Sonho Azul is like a blue pill. I don't want to take the red pill, the blue pill is always about starting new, but with the skills that you learned before. So I have these skills but I also wanted to start from zero.

This EP is really personal. I think a lot of people don't understand, but this is how I really express myself. I'm always trying to be a better person, which is why I'm working on the next one. For me, making music is an escape.

You're already working on the next one?

I'm always on the next one and always on the move. I can't be still, I need to search for something meaningful. You need to explore through art. Sonho Azul is about all of that, about things that remind me of something else, and my dreams, and the colour blue. I dream in blue a lot.

Do you write your dreams down?

No, but I tell my mom and she remembers all of them. One time, I told her about a dream that I had about our old house, but nobody was there. She told me that I needed to go there to see what was happening, and we went there together. I dream a lot and there is always the colour blue. It is my favourite colour and has an aura of calm. But blue is a dangerous colour as well, people don't know that. It is the colour of the ocean and the ocean is dangerous. 

Two years ago, I lost a friend of mine, and that was a reminder that I need to check myself. I can't just be a person who keeps everything inside, I need to talk to someone about my dreams, and if something triggers me, it means there is something there. Losing my friend was really hard, they gave me so much inspiration and let me just be myself. You need to be true to yourself and others, and that's why I have just three friends. They’re producers as well, and we grew up together, even though we didn't meet each other in person until 2017. We went to the Príncipe Discos anniversary and it was magical. I can be myself around them, and they can be themselves around me. I don't like when people hide their real selves, I'm always real but I think nowadays people love to be fake.

It seems so easy nowadays to be fake. Most of what I see on social media I assume to be fake. 

It makes me mad because I have to use social media for work, I have no choice. I don't think that anything I've seen on social media is real. People use it as a tool, even a dating app. I think social media has ruined a whole generation!

Before we go, I have one final question. Because you're Vanyfox and there's obviously quite an amazing roster of other foxes (Marfox, Danifox, Lycox etc.). Who is your favourite fox? 

Ouff, that is difficult. I feel like you want beef.

You absolutely don't have to answer this.

I think I can give you a good answer: So all the -fox's and -cox's are part of the same family. Every one of us probably has a favourite, but we are one community, and we love each other. We don't really put people in a singular position and everybody gives love to everybody. They're all favourites, even the youngest ones that are just coming up now. It’s the sound that matters the most and so you need to bring the sound. Lisbon has been bringing the best sound for years. We’re not always heard, but we like to be loud. And so we’re loud as fuck. 

I think this is a very diplomatic answer, and if you ask the same question to another 'fox', I think they will say the same thing. I might be wrong, but try it.

Photos by Pedro Francisco at Sónar Lisboa 2024.