FRED AGAIN..’s ACTUAL LIFE: THE HUMAN BEHIND THE BEAT
“I want the music to feel like a collaborative diary … As much as possible I want it to feel like we are all making the mood … together.”
For the last two weeks I’ve immersed myself in the electric kaleidoscope of musical rhythm, colour and texture made by UK dance/electronica artist and in demand producer-of-the-moment Fred again.. It’s been a lot of fun. And challenging too. My ears are new to what and how he plays. Yours may be too.
Fred again..’s songs are rooted in pop. But that’s only a launching point. There’s strong musical and emotional soul in this work. He juxtaposes unexpected sounds and samples drawn from his custom-made and overflowing digital library which includes house and jazz influences. The work somersaults through surprising song structures bursting with dynamic elements: a wealth of vocoder variations, voice clips and manipulated snippets from everyday life that Fred records or finds online; sharp or thudding bass-heavy beats, lush harmonies and sweet solos. Mix in the varied, crack crew of vocal collaborators and you’ve got a party and a performance – a Boiler Room of deep, multi-faceted rhythm and music and sweaty, raving fun.
Fred again.. is all about range and versatility. “I’m writing songs and some of them happen to have kickdrums, and some don’t, and some are in the middle,” he told Rolling Stone UK in April. “I crave the feeling of dancing energy [combined] with a story, and having as much honesty as possible behind it. They can coexist.”
Ranging from tender voice and piano ballads to dance-floor-abandon-bangers, Fred again.. brings intimacy and tremendous energy to his recordings and performance. Feeling his music can be exhilarating, hypnotic and transcendent.
Mentored by Brian Eno: Actual Life
Fred Gibson came to music playing in orchestras as a child. In 2009 luck found the 16 year-old recording with an accapella choir in the studio of ambient music pioneer and production guru Brian Eno who soon came to mentor the promising musician. This marked Fred’s start as a producer and cowriter.
His studio work over the ensuing years for musicians like Ed Sheeran, Korean boy band BTS, Eminem, FKA Twigs, The xx and Eno helped earn him the 2020 Brit Award for Producer of the Year and a nomination for same in 2022.
Eno urged Fred to step from behind the production board to record his own songs. That spawned the Actual Life series which he launched with a 6-song EP in May, 2020. He followed it up with his solo debut album Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020) and Actual Life (February 2 – October 15 2021). The third instalment, Actual Life (January 1 – September 9 2022), dropped yesterday.
The dates in the album titles mark the time frame during which Fred again.. gathered and recorded the pieces for the sonic journal of sounds that are woven into his songs. He asks fans to contribute samples, records his friends and finds material online. He even opens some of his concerts with video images of the audience recorded just before show time.
Eno told the New York Times this week, “I know that Fred has sometimes referred to me as a mentor, but actually, it works both ways. What he’s doing is quite unfamiliar — I’ve actually never heard anything quite like this before. He always seems to be doing it in relation to a community of people around him — the bits of vocal and ambient sounds.”
Fred again.. : “I want the music to feel like a collaborative diary, so I want the live show to feel the same,” he told Rolling Stone. “As much as possible I want it to feel like we are all making the mood of the evening together.”
With the world open to concerts once again, Fred again.. has has been active on the circuit and will continue touring in support of the latest Actual Life disc. His self-assigned challenge of the moment is to stretch the boundary of live performance.
“Electronic music and live shows still does not know itself,” he told Rolling Stone. ” When I was first working out how to do this, I was stunned to learn how embryonic and unsolved it is. There needs to be jeopardy. There needs to be a sense of risk. It needs to feel like it could fall apart, otherwise it’s something else.”
Fred again..’s evergrowing fan base will have a chance to experience the highwire act in person in venues around the world. Chances are even if he fails, he wins by stoking the audience connection and his commitment to making them part of the music.
NOTE: At the time of writing Fred..again’s latest album release was imminent. Actual Life (January 1 – September 9 2022) came out yesterday.
AND THANKS to my musically adventurous friends Brian Deery and Yasmine Mehtadi for turning me on to Fred..again!