Release Date: Jan 28, 2014
Record label: Ninja Tune
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Experimental Techno, Left-Field House, Ambient Techno
Watching an electronic act or DJ confronting a nightclub crowd with something they don’t want to hear is a singular experience, fraught with imagined or actual danger, buoyed by the fact that few crowds are less tolerant than those that do their best drinking after midnight. Actress is certainly no stranger to these moments, as he showed last summer in a packed out Paris club full of bright and sensually dulled young things clamouring for something loud and repetitive to sink their teeth into. If anything, the more the criticisms rained down, the more unrecognisable and abstract his already nearly beatless 3am subtleties became.
Writing about music we’re wearily accustomed to the hyperbole of the press release, but this – this is something else. “Ghettoville is the bleached out and black tinted conclusion of the Actress image”, it opens, “where the demands of writing caught the artist slumped and reclined, devoid of any soul… Four albums in and the notes and compositions no longer contain decipherable language. The scripts now carry tears, the world has returned to a flattened state, and out through that window, the birds look back into the cage they once inhabited.” Well, it beats fawning sycophancy.
While many artists tend to spend their careers beefing up their sound, Darren Cunningham takes the opposite approach. As Actress, the London-based producer's music—if you can even call it that—is an exquisite lesson in sonic deconstructionism, a gnarl of electronic dis-effects that rub raw against the eardrums like a saw-toothed pumice stone. Ghettoville, the follow-up to 2012's much-acclaimed R.I.P, is no exception.
When the January 2014 release date and track list of Darren Cunningham's fourth Actress album was announced, the artist wrote some accompanying words that could be summarized as a resigned "whatever," or as an emoticon signifying a sigh, or as a rant ghost-written by Jaden Smith. Cunningham referred to the "conclusion of the Actress image" and, like a micro-blogger who just witnessed a miscue from a professional athlete, signed off with "R.I.P Music 2014." Whether the missive was deadly serious or not, there's no way to listen to Ghettoville without hearing disintegration and dread. It's even bleaker, more industrial and decayed, than 2012's R.I.P.
Ghettoville, the fourth album by mercurial electronic producer Darren Cunningham, aka Actress, is every bit as desolate and bleak as the title suggests. For Cunningham, Ghettoville represents a hopeless requiem for not only electronic music and its prospects for the future but, indeed, all music. ’RIP Music 2014’ ends the statement accompanying the album’s release.
To introduce his fourth album, ‘Ghettoville’, Actress – aka south London’s Darren Cunningham – issued a cryptic statement describing how it’s “the bleached-out and black-tinted conclusion of the Actress image”. The message ends, simply: “RIP Music 2014”. If this really is the end of Actress, it’s a tragedy, because throughout a career that began in 2004 with the ‘No Tricks’ EP being released on the record label he co-founded, Werkdiscs, Cunningham has created an electronic vocabulary that’s all his own.
It's fitting, in a perverse sort of way, that the release of Darren Cunningham's fourth album under the Actress moniker, Ghettoville, arrives just a couple of days after the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. There could hardly be a wider gap between Sunday night's pageant of spoon-fed pop artifice and Actress's abstruse, headphones-requisite bass music, and any doubts as to how Cunningham views the music industry are dispelled by a jeremiad-cum-retirement-notice attached to the album's press material: “Zero satisfaction,” it reads, “no teeth, pseudo artists running rampant…R. I.
Given that the last Actress album was prone to ruminating upon bird reincarnation, the poetry of John Milton and – in true party style – the nature of death itself, it's safe to say Darren Cunningham isn't your average techno artist. If you can even call this techno: tracks on Ghettoville such as Contagious – basically a sheet-metal plant getting the chopped and screwed treatment – would be unlikely to go down well in a Sven Väth set. Billed as a sequel to his 2008 debut, Hazyville, this fourth album allegedly takes inspiration from society's outcasts – drug addicts, the homeless – although the dystopian vibe does brighten towards the climax, when Cunningham adds soulful vocal samples to his palette of ambient, industrial, techno, avant-electronica, glitch, minimalism and pretty much any other genre he feels like taking apart.
Darren Cunningham latest (or is it really last?) offering as Actress is a dense, hazy, and nearly hallucinogenic stroll through the foggy streets of South London, and indeed Cunningham’s abstract interpretation of his mind, titled Ghettoville. Two years ago, Actress released his third full length, R. I.
One thing that's clear by now about the work of Actress (a.k.a. UK producer Darren Cunningham) is that not only is his work hard to categorize, but you also never really know what to expect. After two full-lengths for Honest Jon's that put Actress on the map, Ghettoville finds Cunningham returning to his own Werkdiscs. Conceived as an answer of sorts to the producer's debut Hazyville back in 2008, Cunningham's fourth album as Actress stands in direct contrast to 2013's stunning and in-your-face Silver Cloud EP.Dark, cinematic, uneasy and somewhat awkward, Ghettoville is something altogether different.
After nearly a decade of cryptic transmissions, Darren Cunningham, aka Actress, is packing it in. He's doing this both professionally—alluding to the "conclusion of the Actress image" as well as retirement—and artistically. Ghettoville, his fourth album, is a scorched hard drive, a dour drone record that takes his fascinations—Detroit techno, Chicago ghetto house, rap—and repeatedly kicks them in the ribs.
Ghettoville, the fourth and potentially final album by electronic producer Actress (Darren Cunningham), is certainly a departure, but a departure from what? The obvious answer would be techno, the genre Cunningham made his name under, but look back on Actress’s discography and you’ll realize he never really made a techno album, at least in the traditional sense. Listen to the producer’s debut, the dense, overcast Hazyville, or 2012’s wonderful R. I.
Depending on how you interpret the mysterious press release, this might be the final musical statement by Actress (aka UK electronic music producer Darren Cunningham). If it is the end, the oppressive mood suggests Cunningham isn't feeling very cheerful these days: Ghettoville sounds more like the soundtrack to a mental breakdown than something you'd even consider putting on at a party. No one was expecting dance floor fillers, but this is particularly dark.
He's already called one album of minimal techno experiments RIP (2012). Electronic type Actress (Darren Cunningham) has threatened retirement once again after this fourth album, which, he has hinted, is "trying to represent a concealed pain". Those allergic to narcotic murk or analogue-aping digital nocturnes may not see what all the fuss is about, but listen in and Actress's dystopian rhythms all have sinuous melodies running through them; he shares some headspace with dubstep producers like Burial and Zomby, though not much.
The titles and subtleties of Darren J. Cunningham’s bookend albums as Actress, Hazyville and Ghettoville, feel interchangeable and sisterly, as they should. The suffixes of their titles themselves imply enough tacit similarity, and although, sonically the two records sit on opposite pedestals of maturity, the differences in texture are just slight enough so that Ghettoville sounds like a complete deconstruction of its little sister, with its hazy, industrial gloom making for a perfect album sequence and correlation.
If you really want to hear Ghettoville, you can't be doing much else while you listen to it. The only time I'm suitably unbothered by any other stimuli is the hour or so I toss and turn before actually falling asleep. So lately I've been switching off all the lights, climbing into bed with my headphones and giving Actress' latest my undivided attention before drifting off.Needless to say, I haven't been sleeping especially well.
Actress’ 2012 album R.I.P. was grand in scope, tackling life and death, good and evil, Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Book of Genesis. Its follow-up is only a tad less high-minded. But where previously Darren Cunningham addressed the shared myths of Western civilisation, here he seems to be exploring – and perhaps laying to rest – his own self-constructed folklore.
opinion by SAMUEL TOLZMANN Actress’s first full-length was released in 2008 and it was called Hazyville. Too perfect, right? The global economy was collapsing and chillwave was nascent, U.K. bass was going viral and American drone was picking up momentum and visibility. Around the time, these factors came together in the unholy form of “hipster house,” cheap electronic music with a penchant for ironically faint, watery takes on deep house and techno.
Just over a year ago, I found myself having a conversation outside a relatively fashionable pub in Bethnal Green – not really a situation I relish; I'm one of those young-old types – with someone who worked in the music industry. It came to their attention that I was also peripherally connected to the sector, in as much as I write for the website you're reading right now. This seemed exciting: "I just love music," they said.