The Intimacy and Excitement of Actual Life with Fred Again…

I first heard about Fred Again… (aka Fred Gibson) during the pandemic when his debut album dropped to massive critical acclaim. Since then, I’ve been on this cycle of obsession and negligence with his work. I’ll spend three weeks of deep fascination re-absorbing his trilogy of Actual Life albums and then about three months not listening to them at all. They’re such emotional records that I find I just can’t handle them being on constant rotation. But when I need to feel something, they’re always there for me.

This may seem like a hyperbolic rave about, well, rave music. But what distinguishes Fred’s records is their reliance on organic moments from his actual life (pun intended). The vocals on these tracks are sourced from voice memos, iPhone videos and collaborative sessions with fellow artists. The intimacy captured in the samples is palpable.

You hear the collective and specific grieving of the pandemic era in these tracks. In a recent interview with Zane Lowe, Fred discussed how grief informed these records. He described he tried to pull the deepest emotional resonance from brief moments in time by placing them in slow-motion. Lowe compared it to watching slow-motion video clips of hummingbirds. To me, its like re-living a moment in your mind’s eye: turning it over, misremembering it, re-telling it, coming to terms with it.

A key part of Fred’s process is building drones, a technique he learned from his mentor Brian Eno. You can hear Eno’s fingerprints all over these records. Tracks like “Kyle (I Found You)” echo the piano driven ambient works like Small Craft on a Milk Sea. More frenetic cuts like “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing)” sound like the hyped-up grandchildren of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I’ll admit, I didn’t pick up on this at first. But after hearing Fred explain it in the Zane Lowe interview I immediately re-listened to his albums through this lens. And as usual with my favorite records, it’s Eno all the way down.

You don’t need to have a deep understanding of the avant garde to get Fred Again… though. Just throw on his Boiler Room set during your next workout, house party or long drive. His skill as a DJ and producer is immediately evident. The man knows how to have fun. He even seizes the moment when an overly excited dancer bumps the pause button on one of his decks, turning it in to a stutter step break beat. The hug he gives the offending partier is so earnest. You can tell he wants to make sure that even the most inconvenient guest has a great time in his house.

If the club isn’t your venue of choice, I also highly recommend his recent visit to NPR’s Tiny Desk. Even the producers at All Songs Considered were a little concerned about how it would work. After all, electronic music is notoriously not performed “live” in the traditional sense. Fred proposed a unique solution. He re-learned the marimba, brought in an upright piano and re-tooled his samples. The resulting set is one of the most intimate and moving in the desk’s history. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And that’s what I love about Fred Again… and the Actual Life trilogy. It’s the kind of music that rewards deep listening. But it’s also just super fun. In an era when dance music can be viewed as disposable, Fred is making club anthems for the best night of your life out of the most memorable moments from his.