Chad Valley was the name of a toy company started by Joseph and Alfred Johnson in the late 1800s in Birmingham, a town outside of London. The brothers are said to have named their business after the Chad, a stream that snaked through the town. Over a century later, 20-something year old Oxford producer Hugo Manuel lives about 50 miles away from the city and has no connection to either the place or the Johnsons. Nevertheless he borrowed the name Chad Valley for his solo project of watercolor beats and a semi-awake mood.

Manuel is also a member of the tropically focused band Jonquil that released an EP via Dovecote (home also to Wiseblood and Hooray For Earth) earlier this year. The group, including Manuel, is part of the creatives currently circling Oxford as a loose collective known as Blessing Force. “In the past it has been a cliche that everyone good leaves Oxford for London, but now I think there is much more willingness to stay here because we have created our collective, and we are trying to make it a supportive place to make music,” Manuel says.

Now That I’m Real (How Does It Feel) ft. Rose Dagul by chadvalley

His two Oxford outfits are quite separate in terms of sound, and Manuel uses Chad Valley to probe his interest in Italo disco artists like Cerrone and Deodato, as well as what he precisely pinpoints as “weird Italo pop from the early ’80s.” He is also quite openly fond of R&B and released a bunch of edits of Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, The-Dream and Keri Hilson for free recently via Facebook. Manuel has an earnest appreciation for this brand of commercially devourable glossy hip-hop and R&B, and other artists related to this stream of music, like Kanye West and the more recently unearthed Odd Future member Frank Ocean.

“It’s pretty ridiculous, over-blown, and most of these guys are pretty hit and miss, but when it’s good, it is really good,” Manuel says. These guys aren’t afraid to show that they are absolute virtuosos too, and I think that’s a little absent in a lot of more knowingly alternative music.”

Fast Challenges by chadvalley

Chad Valley’s first collection of songs was released as the Chad Valley EP last year. Manuel has just followed this up with an EP titled Equatorial Ultravox, which was recently released via experimental pop label Cascine. The seven songs are lofty and windswept; stadium-sized and dreamy. There are definite nods to electro pop and, largely, just pop production in general. He sees the good in songs by Alexis Jordan and even the recent stuff by Britney. “I love music that is unashamedly uplifting and euphoric, and the best place to find music like that is in the pop charts.”

Manuel clarifies that he’s not trying to make music that sounds like these artists but certainly can appreciate different things about what they’re doing. He listens to all kinds of stuff, letting it meld into his work and come out as something that’s entirely his own. “I never try really hard to emulate things or take specific influence from things,” Manuel says. “It just comes naturally I guess. I think when I’m old I’m going to learn how to play guitar properly and become a country singer.”