Actress - Ghettoville

Rarely has an artist’s death been so vivid...
Actress - Ghettoville

In seething personal damnation, Actress now addresses his very own sonic death. ‘Ghettoville’ crawls into our lives as a wheezing, irradiated corpse of Darren Cunningham’s uncompromisingly organic pseudonym.

Four albums in and this south Londoner has all but obliterated his carefully devised image. ‘Ghettoville’ is a signed death warrant. It’s the skeleton of a nom-de-guerre buried under noxious dust of exhaustion, or as his final communiqué sighs: “… the birds look back into the cage they once inhabited. Spitting flames behind a white wall of silence.”

His 16 tracks of electronic emotion open up with ‘Forgiven’, a laconic and grinding meander. It prickles with texture and the memories of a mechanisation that used to propel this artist so effectively through the nocturnal landscape. It’s a deliberately oblique start that stretches through the next track, ‘Street Corp’ – a difficult six minutes of duelling time signatures that further see the tourists disappear in his hearse’s cracked rear-view mirror. 

Yet from this exhausted nadir Actress reflects light from his metallic carcass. The next 14 tracks verbalise the stained blueprints of his sound as abstract hip-hop, jacking house, minimal techno and shattered rap try to emerge from beneath the toxic layers that Actress swaddles them in. The fabric of his ghosts may be haemorrhaging their form, but you can still glimpse their eyes.

‘Time’ glances into our lives via a murky and suffocated start before skipping brushed percussion brings a rhythmic salvation as a stale breath exults the word “time” in an awkward loop.

‘Towers’ is fresher. It pulsates in a loose, shambolic structure; a fizzing monolith of texture that evokes images of the death rattle of a contrivance found in a vision of H.G. Wells.

‘Ghettoville’ then drives us towards a dystopian funk on ‘Gaza’. But where the once-vibrant, taut bass was found, now we stumble upon rusted structures drowning in distortion.

The final quarter of ‘Ghettoville’ yields even more vivid clues to Actress’s twilight thoughts. ‘Image’ is a relatively kinetic instrumental that winks at the ’80s from an acrid puddle, before the malignant a cappella in ‘Don’t’ snips our heart strings with an agonising ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ loop, which then collapses into the two minutes and 40 seconds of detuned hip-hop homage of ‘Rap’: a jukebox skipping in infinity but no-one remains to care.  

The penultimate ‘Frontline’ evolves techno out of the contaminated fizz that Actress deployed so effectively on 2012’s ‘R.I.P.’ (review), a track that in death hears a vitality briefly swell before the blackness rushes in.

And the end is strange. ‘Rule’ bursts shockingly into life with a livid and compressed rap sample that’s spinning out of control and makes little sense. Appearing more like a computer malfunction than an epilogue, Actress then chases his own burning pyre with a warming low-tempo melodic outro that nonchalantly suggests the entire nightmarish hour was simply that: a feverish robotic delusion.

Rarely has an artist’s death been so vivid. R.I.P. Actress; your dystopian electronic visions have widened our nocturnal vision. We now await your reincarnation. 

8/10

Words: Matthew Bennett

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