Curtain Call: Ruth Saxelby on Actress’ <i>Ghettoville</i>

Ahead of his appearance at this year’s CTM Festival, Ruth Saxelby sifts through the British producer’s fourth—and perhaps final—album, celebrating its shades of grey. 


Liminality has long been central to Darren Cunningham’s work as Actress. It creeps into his music—be it echoes of the dancefloor’s ritual consciousness, the ambiguity of memory or historical veneration of an afterlife—and it is often what he is celebrated for: music as meditation, as medicine.

On Ghettoville, his fourth and perhaps final album as Actress, he fixes his gaze to the outside within: liminality as both lived experience and imposed identity. Where last year’s R.I.P riffed on its titular theme, Ghettoville churns chaotically to the cyclic and often alienating beat of inner city life. It is not a future he looks into but an exhausted present. Rest and peace are but pit stops in the industrious landscape Cunningham envisions on the self-described sequel to his 2008 debut, Hazyville.

Insinuation aside, it’s hard not to equate the meat of Ghettoville with the demands of the daily grind. There is a treadmill quality to “Contagious”: its oppressive rhythm and obscured yawning vocal makes for uncomfortable but compelling car-crash listening. The blunt kick-drum and crosshatch texture of “Skyline” evokes the blinkered vision that the produce/consume merry-go-round of modern life dictates. As if to hammer home the inevitable result of such ceaseless one-note activity, “Frontline” rumbles into a cul-de-sac of sweat stains and salt-crust tear tracks.

Underlining a growing sense of outsider-ness, much of the album plays out as if half-hidden behind a closed door. “Street Corp”, one of the most satisfying moments on Ghettoville, conceals an enchanting melody behind a wall of dusty, skipping static. “Towers” plays with perspective, running wistful pastel tones behind the belch of a domineering synth stabbed at will. Bubbling and whistling like a boiling kettle, “Rims” evokes the sense of getting lost down the corridors of conversation, when you get so far into a concept that you can’t see the edges anymore.

While techno is an established foundation for Cunningham, the latter half of Ghettoville pulls a surprising power move in twisting eighties soul pop and R&B into the album’s brighter moments. “Image” shimmies seductively, aching for the late Gwen Guthrie’s lusty strain to berate a lover to get “a j-o-b if you wanna be with me.” Similarly, “Rap” slides into slow jam territory—distant sax and all—with its languid, “wrap yourself around me,” refrain. The xylophone on the ballroom-skirting “Rule” is a joyful addition. And is that Rihanna being squeezed through a digital sluice singing, “don’t stop the music,” on “Don’t”? Probably not but it’s likely the association is deliberate. “Everything in music is instantly consumed and then you move pretty much swiftly onto the next thing,” Cunningham told me in an interview for Dazed & Confused last summer. “An album can be big for a couple of weeks and then completely disappear. You wouldn’t even realize it had happened, y’know?” The music machine, like the rest of modern life in these gloomy late capitalism days, churns on regardless.

There is a lot going on on Ghettoville but to back-pedal for just a moment, it’s impossible to ignore the big perhaps that hangs over the album—the one Cunningham was probably hinting at last summer. “Ghettoville is the bleached out and black tinted conclusion of the Actress image,” read the album notes. Is Ghettoville really Cunningham’s final salute to his current incarnation? Who knows. Either way, his legacy colors the listening experience. Cunningham can do bangers (“Maze”) and he can do silence (R.I.P), but it is the space in-between that has always interested him most. On Ghettoville, he crystallizes common sense into something visceral and felt: the grind needs release and release needs grind. It is fertile if occasionally uneven territory. The labored house loop of “Gaze” grates but the aforementioned “Street Corp”, gentle stutter of “Our” and drone-y opener “Forgiven” are amongst his best work. Actress is dead? Long live Actress. ~

Actress – Grey over Blue from NIC on Vimeo.

Actress’ Ghettoville is out January 27th via Werk/Ninja Tune. Actress plays CTM Festival on January 31st at Berghain. 

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Videodrome 129 – This week’s best videos

Hola and welcome to the first edition of Videodrome in 2014. This year we’re going to continue selecting the ten coolest videos of each week, no worries. Today we start the fun with new audiovisual work from beloved artists such as Excepter, patten, Torn Hawk and many more. Ready to explore?


#1 Excepter – “Maids”, directed by Harrison Owen

Yes, yes, Excepter is back! Watch the uplifting, colorful video above and stay tuned for their next LP, Familiar. Due sometime this year from Blast First Petite.


#2 Torn Hawk – “Bad Deadlift”, directed by Luke Wyatt

Torn Hawk returns with proper four track 12-inch “Bad Deadlift”. The accompanying video is a hellish NSFW-DIY manoeuvre, which ends after the five minutes thirty seconds mark and continues for another two minutes with a lot of blood. Also nice: the slow jam during the last three seconds.


#3 Actress – “Grey Over Blue”, directed by Nic Hamilton

Here’s a video edit of original material to Actress‘ “Grey over Blue”, a track which is perfectly suited for this dark and ominous video above. Twin Peaks, anyone?


#4 patten – “Drift”, directed by Jane Eastlight

A new album from patten titled ESTOILE NAIANT will be released on February 24th. Today you can get an early idea through watching the video for “Drift”, above.


#5 CUTS – “CUTS 01”

Invada-signed CUTS come correct with the usual dark electronic-almost-industrial feel. Last month they did a great performance during the Invada 10th Anniversary show, but I can’t tell you anything else. Enjoy the mystery for now.


#6 Wild Beasts – “Wanderlust”, Directed by NYSU

Neat video for the new Wild Beasts song “Wanderlust”—that final scene with the birds and ooohhh. This is the British indie pop ensemble’s first new material since the 2011 release of Smother. There will be some buzz.


#7 K.Raydio & Psymun – “Sweet Dreamz”, directed by SwayHeavy

Minnesota-based singer K.Raydio and beatmaker/MC Psymun are an unstoppable duo. Check the spaced out, kaleidoscopic visuals above and make sure to head to their Bandcamp to stream the rest of the album.


#8 Twin Shadow – “Cupid”

Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr. has posted another video for his ongoing UNDER THE CVRS series. It’s a cover of nineties R&B collective 112’s hit from 1996, “Cupid”.


#9 Cass McCombs – “Big Wheel”, directed by Albert Herter

Not what you’d expect from the video for a Cass McCombs folk rock tune. CMC released his twenty-two track double album Big Wheel And Others last year via Domino, and today he’s sharing a visual for the almost-title track, “Big Wheel”.


#10 Black Devil Disco Club – “Stay Insane”, directed by Jorey Salas

Terrible name. Great music. Nice video. ~

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Actress to play Tate Modern

Actress to play Tate Modern Actress, one of the most exciting electronic producers around is about to perform a special afternoon set called ‘Infinite Kusama Silent Disco’ at London’s ever emerging Tate Modern. According to their website, on March, 24th Actress will be performing music to accompany the on-going Yayoi Kusuma exhibition alongside two other inspiring musicians: Lapalux, from Fly Lo‘s Brainfeeder imprint and Koreless, who signed to Pictures Music. And if you’re under 25 years old, there’s no admission. See you there.

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Actress – R.I.P

Actress - R.I.P R.I.P will be the name of Actress’s third album. Actress is the pseudonym of Darren Cunningham who’s skitzoid rhythms are dense with purple haze and paranoid ticks. His first album, Hazyville which was released on his Werk discs, hinted at some of the oddness to come but his record for Honest Jon’s – Splazsh was the one that really tipped him out the ether and into our collective consciousness. Falling between the cracks of grime and dubstep into a post-bass wormhole Actress’ sound is very, very singular. Despite some desperate searching we have not yet found any audio clips of R.I.P yet but if you want to join us in regular refreshes of the Hones Jon’s product page, which currently contains just the Will Bankhead artwork, then feel free.

In related news Cunningham recently joined Damon Albarn on a trip to The Democratic Republic of Congo recently for the Oxfam sponsored DRC Music project. Coincedently, Damon Albarn is also the one of the people behind the Honest Jon’s label.

You can catch Actress on tour at the following locations:

January 20th PL Wroclaw – LOG:IN Klub
January 21st DE Berlin – Horst Krzbrg (w/ Emika, Pinch, DJ Pete)
January 27th UK Edinburgh – Bongo Club (w/ Neil Landstrumm)
February 2nd UK London – The Bussey Building (w/ DMX Crew, John Heckle, Gerry Read)
February 18th BL Brussels – Recyclart (Goethe Institute Brussels & meakusma night w/ Monolake, Farben aka Jan Jelinek, Anstam, Sensu)
March 9th DE Berlin – Gretchen (w/ 2562, Delfonic)

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Actress to release album on Warp?

Actress has been a busy bee recently.

Not only has he finished an album for his own Werk Discs imprint, he has another coming on Honest Jon’s and according to a Twitter feed from earlier today, he has one in the bag for Warp too. The details currently amount to zero but according to Actress’ post – “Warp will be releasing the record thats made” [sic]

Whether this is one of the records already slated for release or an entirely new project remains to be seen, but as soon as we have more information we will be bring an update

In the meantime you can enjoy these free tracks that he recently posted and an EB favourite; his remix of Lauren Halo’s ‘Constant Index’.

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