Fred again…- Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)
Two years ago, amidst the global pandemic, British producer Fred Gibson (AKA Fred again…) decided to document his life. The approach? Collect recordings of daily life, conversations, activities, the ambient hustle and bustle (or in this case, silence) of the city. Spin said recordings into a soundtrack of sorts, intertwining them with his keen house music instincts, to arrive at a scrapbook album that would attempt to document one of the most unprecedented times faced by his generation. Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020), released last year, somehow managed to pull it off. Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) with The Blessed Madonna would become the definitive party anthem of a year where partying was relegated to living rooms, in isolation. As much as the song slapped, it didn’t attempt to mask the bleakness of the situation. It’s likely what made it resonate so poignantly with the generation of ravers locked indoors, both a bid to keep the party alive but also a mourning of its loss. Eighteen months later, Gibson has unleashed volume three of the Actual Life project, featuring recordings from January to September of this year.
As with its predecessors, Actual Life 3 thrums with snippets of voice notes, Instagram live recordings, snatches of chit chat, and more that looks to provide a snapshot of Gibson’s lived experience. These are again weaved into the fabric of Gibson’s heavily UK inspired house, traversing the line between dancefloor and confession in search of catharsis. But a crucial problem arises early on, one that Gibson mostly fails to avoid across the rest of the album. Unlike its first two acts, Actual Life 3 arrives during a time when life has mostly returned to a semblance of normality, but it still approaches the concept as if we were mid-lockdown. The result, at its worst, is overwrought emotional stuff. Winnie (end of me) is one case in point, almost too saccharine in sentiment to stomach. Berwyn (all that i got is you) is another, far too contrived to hold the sort of gravitas Marea did by virtue of its pointed honesty. The feelings of over sentiment might well be a symptom of the times; now that we’ve been let out of our cages, we want to move, not dwell on the maudlin. Similarly, the post-pandemic zeitgeist marked by political unrest and overall societal frustration is proving to be fuel for a new generation of ravers, yet any recognition of this is absent from Actual Life 3.
Actual Life 3 isn’t without its euphoric dance moments altogether, though. The UKG shuffle of Kammy (like i do) is one of the collection’s brighter moments, recalling Charli XCX’s recent flirtations with classic UK rave styles. Danielle (smile on my face) is possibly the set’s most successful cry-as-you-dance moment, its kinetic house beat providing the perfect energy to underpin Gibson’s vocal samples. It works like a DJ Seinfeld classic; equal parts sentiment and dancefloor stomper with all its parts clicking together. Similarly, the effervescence of Delilah is satisfyingly joyous. These moments are consistently weighed down by Gibson’s instance on mining some sort of emotional depth from his source material. On Delilah, the beat recedes, a recording speaks, “I knew we were going to dance, but I didn’t know we were going to dance this hard,” as the lead vocal sighs “touch me… talk to me.” It’s difficult not to recall similar, more successful approaches taken recently by Kai Whiston or Joy Orbison, but in doing so you start to see why Gibson’s trick doesn’t quite work out here. Simply, Gibson struggles to find enough substance in his documented snapshots alone to hold the weight of what he is aiming for, so he often turns to cliché to do the heavy lifting. In some cases, it’s too indulgent to feel genuine.
It’s a shame that Gibson concedes to this indulgence, because he’s a truly talented dance music producer. His method of capturing a moment in time might have once been brilliant, but the moment he insists on capturing has long passed. Actual Life 3 is by no means unsuccessful in terms of technical prowess and production, but rather it feels emotionally dissonant with the present moment. In the age of Tik-Tok and Be Real, perhaps it’s best to take something touted as “actual life” with a grain of salt, but it’s frustrating to see a project that started off promising lose its way this far in. Who knows why Gibson still insists on pathos, when we’ve finally found dancing again.
Listen to Danielle (smile on my face) from Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022) below.
Follow Fred again…