If there’s a universal language of pop right now, then Fred Again speaks it fluently, translating ideas into worldwide smash hits for artists such as Ed Sheeran, George Ezra and Charli XCX. Stepping out from the backroom, the south London 28-year-old, born Fred Gibson, is opening a tour built around last year’s one-two punch of Actual Life parts 1 and 2, two personal, sample-heavy solo albums recorded at the encouragement of mentor Brian Eno.
“I so appreciate you being here, so please don’t think that I don’t if I don’t say anything,” warns Gibson, hands clasped, early on in the set. He’s a low-key and smiling presence in a brown tracksuit surrounded by synths, keyboards and drum pads. Instead, the communication comes from a screen behind Gibson – videos captured seemingly from his phone, short bursts of text message. The set is described as “a sort of diary from April to December 2020”. Digital intimacy coupled with broad-brush sentimentality is in keeping with Gibson’s production style.
The beats may be as polite as meeting an in-law, but on tracks like Kahan (Last Year), the blend of wintry piano and soulful, Auto-Tuned vocal samples are highly affecting. “This is going to super dampen the mood,” says Gibson unconvincingly as the room nevertheless loses its roof.
That track, coupled with the crisp stadium house of Blessed Madonna collaboration Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) directly speak to the isolation of lockdown, and as such the audience response is pitched higher than normal. Couples kiss, lads grasp their mates tightly. Future historians curious about pop’s response to the pandemic could do worse than look here as pop’s imperial producer grapples with loss and lockdown.