Fred again.. took on the impossible task of soundtracking lockdown for an entire generation with’ Actual Life 1′ back in 2020. London’s Fred Gibson infused intimate, diverse voice notes with smooth, glossy shades of house music to much acclaim. Now on the back of a viral Boiler Room set and multiple hit songs, Gibson comes full circle on ‘Actual Life 3’.
If Actual Life 1 and 2 were made in the throes of isolation and grief, ‘Actual Life 3’ gives listeners ample room to celebrate the return of raving. Gibson pulls from every trendy genre in London right now: progressive, tech house are predominant, with delicious hints of garage. Focus is never lost from the sentimental core of the songs. ‘Danielle (pull me out of this)’ ecstatically coaxes the listener out of anxiety and stress with its thumping kicks; ‘Kammy (like i do)’ features a nasty, steely 2-step loop that’ll be a sure-fire hit for many sets to come.
Taking cues from his mentor, Brian Eno, Gibson also cloaks samples with sombre ambience perfect for a comedown. ‘Berwyn (all that i got is you)’ uses a subtle Jersey club beat underneath pillowy pianos that dance around Berwyn’s gorgeous voice. This doesn’t always work out; the soul in the original TikTok for ‘Nathan (still breathing)’ is left completely sapped and suffocated through the endless filters Gibson puts it through.
The formulaic synths and structures that Gibson uses across the Actual Life series can either appease or repel listeners. This is at its most obnoxious on ‘eyelar (shutters)’, where the downtempo house pattern and the unadorned beeping synths feels like such an obvious Gibson sound that it’s a disappointment (especially given its high placement in the album). If you enjoy the Fred again.. formula, this won’t be a problem. However, those expecting some more variety might become frustrated as Gibson recycles musical ideas again… and again.
Gibson calls this album a ‘line in the sand’, and there’s been some attempt to round off the trilogy. Keen fans will hear vocal samples echoed throughout all three albums in ‘Mustafa (time to move you)’. It’s a genuinely moving track that guides you through a montage of samples from the three Actual Life albums, floating through broken piano chords. But there’s not much fanfare to signal the end of ‘Actual Life 3’: “if you don’t know, don’t worry”, a voice reassures us at the end. It’s a surprisingly muted note to end on.
Though ‘Actual Life 3’ dips into ravier sonic territory, there’s only so many times you can musically speak about the same subjects. Gibson understands this and makes the most of his final words, closing the final chapter on his scrapbook of lockdown life. ‘Actual Life 3’ confidently guides us into an exciting future for UK club culture and encourages us to never forget what we nearly lost.
Words: Alex Rigotti