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Fred again.. and the sounds of ‘Actual Life’

You’ve known about Fred John Philip Gibson (aka Fred again..) for far longer than you might think. The 29-year-old multitalented music producer and songwriter has spent the better part of the last decade helping some of the biggest artists in the world create their own work, for the most part opting to remain behind the scenes. But since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Gibson has finally stepped into the spotlight. 

Fred again.. has been making music all of his life. However, his breakthrough into the music industry came as the protégé of world-famous record producer and musician Brian Eno. Gibson’s first credited work is for writing and producing two collaborative albums between Eno and Karl Hyde of the group Underworld. While these records are certainly not what would win Gibson the 2020 Brit Awards’ Producer of the Year, they — long with Fred again..’s other work with Eno at his studio in London — would set the foundations both artistically and business-wise for the songs that would put Fred again.. atop the charts. Gibson would go on to write and produce hits such as George Ezra’s “Shotgun” while also contributing to 12 out of 15 songs on Ed Sheeran’s “No.6 Collaborations Project.” In spite of all his successes in hit-making, Gibson’s most artistically significant achievements would not come until he decided to go solo. 

The “Actual Life” style of music began with a chance encounter Fred again.. had with a construction worker named Carlos on a night out in Atlanta. Gibson had recorded parts of their conversation and decided to try to make a song out of it the next morning. This random interaction would spawn a going-on-three album series of records produced in this manner. Gibson will take voice clips from his friends, random acquaintances and on occasion other musicians or videos and splice them into new meaning through his music. 

While Fred again..’s style of production would conventionally fit into the house music genre, the melancholic pianos and ethereal synths scattered throughout the “Actual Life” series create an atmosphere much more somber than many house listeners would be used to. However, Gibson’s most fascinating innovation comes with his use of drums paired with these other elements along with his use of the human voice as an instrument, a technique which has become increasingly popular in hip-hop and the era of sampling, but has yet to be utilized in such a meaningful way. Fred’s use of light, crisp drum patterns, which deviate throughout the tracks unlike a lot of other house music, to complement the mellow beats he tends to craft create a feeling of optimism and perseverance, wherein the melodies and ambience of his records feel as if they are pulling the listener down below water while the drums push the track along, providing hope of being pulled to the surface. 

“Actual Life” is quite obviously a reaction to the pandemic, both in timing and message. During a year when people were drawn apart due to sickness and the terror of the disease itself or by regulations to protect the vulnerable, Fred again.. has made music connecting people to millions of others they will never meet through their words and emotions. The love of those around you and appreciation of their beauty as human beings which Fred again.. has been able to convey through his work is necessarily inspiring in a post-COVID world and has revolutionized a genre thought to be meant purely for clubs and partying. As his most popular track from the “Actual Life” series, “Marea,” reflects that “we’ve lost dancing,” Fred again.. has made it his mission to ensure we keep dancing in spite of our misfortune. 

Fred again..’s all-encompassing body of work to date is his DJ set at Boiler Room London, which includes new and unreleased solo and collaborative work spanning all sub-genres of house music and can be found on the Boiler Room YouTube channel. His first two solo albums, “Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)” and “Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021)” are available on all streaming platforms, with the third project in the “Actual Life” series set for release on Oct. 28 of this year.

Contact Brendan Nolte at bnolte2@nd.edu.