In the number Blue (better with time) from Fred Again, an autotune voice sings over a dance beat: that you just have to remember that everything gets better with time. I just know it will get better with time. It might sound a little unmotivated, but that rule is not an empty melody that acts as a melodic wallpaper for the rhythm. Fred Gibson, aka Fred Again, says via Zoom that the phrase has a deeper meaning for him. “I came across it online and then tried out the phrase. It resonated deep inside and felt important to the story I wanted to tell with this album.”
Gibson talks about his recently released album Actual Life 3, the third in a trilogy where the hugely popular 29-year-old London producer/singer-songwriter/musician processed the covid 19 lockdown and the grief of a loved one who died during that period – as if they were diaries. He prefers not to mention who the deceased is during the interview.
Gibson’s music, mainly dance, sometimes tends toward melancholy that dissolves into catharsis. There is a certain intimacy to it, achieved by the many vocal samples. He takes speech and song from social media or from conversations he overhears on London’s public transport, but he also uses statements from friends and acquaintances. This touched a sensitive chord worldwide. Gibson has just finished a sold-out US tour. For the concert in AFAS Live, on Friday evening, November 25, it was no longer possible to get a ticket after a few minutes. And this summer Fred Again was the revelation of the Lowlands.
As an artist that is. Because before Gibson’s debut Current life released in 2021, he had already achieved enormous success as a producer for Skrillex, FKA Twigs, Stormzy and Eminem, among others. Gibson is the man you turn to when you need a pop hit. He wrote and/or produced twelve of Ed Sheeran’s fifteen songs No. 6 Cooperation project. And at the Brit Award 2020, he won the award for Producer of the Year as the youngest ever.
Even if it comes Current life 3 Partly due to Gibson’s grieving process, the album lacks a somber atmosphere. On the contrary. The texts and subtitles suggest the transformation from the negative to the positive (Better in time, pull me out of this, the end of a nightmare). Set to a beat, they sound like mantras that want to put your heart under the belt. The combination of samples, Gibson’s vocals and piano playing is initially reminiscent of uniform hit parade dancing. But in the clever construction, the sound grows and condenses into a benign monster that swallows you, your friends and the entire dance floor. It also happened at Lowlands. Fred Igen thrilled an audience that was equal parts excitement and camaraderie.
Fred Again – Actual Life 3 (Warner). Fred Again will perform tonight at AFAS Live in Amsterdam.
Watch the tiktok video of Gibson playing records for the famous British Boiler Room Sessions (a stream of a DJ set, ed.), and taste a little of the ecstasy. He jumps in with a wide grin and a huggable distance from his fans. Until one of them gets a little too close to the equipment and accidentally turns off the music. Widening silence. No one has ever looked so shocked, so guilty on TikTok. But Gibson gives the perpetrator a forgiving smile and turns the music back on. The fans jump into Gibson’s arms with relief and everyone continues to dance.
It is the ‘redemptive power’ of dance. Gibson, and with him the crowd of crazy fans who attend his performances, believe in the healing power of his music. In the broadest sense of the word. It’s not just the much-described liberation of the body, dance also helps him “find peace in the midst of all the different kinds of chaos in my head.”
‘I have noticed that grief is not a linear process, with a beginning, a middle and an end. It becomes a part of your own being. For me, the challenge was to transform all the negative feelings into something personal and positive, which is also a part of me.’ So he tells the number Danielle (Smile On My Face) also addressed directly to the deceased loved one who could always make him laugh. “But this is the last time I will use that sadness as a guide. The pain has not gone away, but I have allowed myself to write about something else”.
That Gibson would even let the world hear his music was never planned. It was the legendary Brian Eno who put ambient music on the map, who as an accidental midwife stood in the cradle of Gibson’s success. Eno was a neighbor of a family friend. Gibson a talented 16-year-old who studied classical piano from the age of 8 and made music collages. That family friend thought it would be nice to invite Gibson to a rehearsal for Eno’s singing group. A choir for fun, in which Annie Lennox also sang.
Gibson: ‘I became a bit of an expert. Make tea, tidy up scores and talk to Eno about music. I brought my own song sketches and showed them to him. He then gave advice’. Of course he knew his mentor was a producer and artist, but Gibson had no idea of his status. Maybe that was a good thing, because it also meant I wasn’t starstruck was when I met him. That would only stand in the way of cooperation.’
Five years later, Eno asked his protégé to co-produce the album he made with Underworld’s Karl Hyde. It was then that Gibson’s career as a producer began. In 2018, he had his first No. 1 hit, co-writing George Ezra’s Shotgun.
It was also Eno who advised the producer in 2019 to focus again on the music he made for himself. Gibson says Eno was cleaning up his kitchen when a great song came on iTunes shuffleplay. When Eno checked his laptop, it turned out to be a lead sent by Gibson. “He told me to do something about it. That it would be a shame if it didn’t get further than just his laptop.’
The samples Gibson uses now echo the collages he made as a teenager. The classical pianist in him raises his head exceptionally. But in a different way, the conventional musicality of the dance producer comes to the surface during performances. No plug in memory stick and go; Gibsons actually plays keyboards and percussion live along with his tracks. “I tried it in the beginning, though: open the laptop and hit the start button. Just because I thought it sounded like it. But I quickly realized it wasn’t my thing. I’ve put thousands of hours of piano playing into it. I wanted find a way to integrate it into my dance performances.’
The producer/artist Fred Gibson/Fred Again is therefore the link between dance and pop and the man who brings brotherhood to the dance floor. His mentor thinks so too. “Brian gave a speech yesterday at the Barbican Centre, here in London. Finally he talked about me too. He called my music ‘the pinnacle of music as a social connection’. He thought we would have it from now on glue should mention instead of music.’
The accompanying smile conveys modesty rather than pride. He calls Eno “an incredible support and one of the nicest people I’ve met.” They are currently working on Gibson’s fourth album together. Brian becomes very contemplative and moves at a much slower pace. Call it a meditation on everything I’ve done on the previous albums. The closure. Which is perhaps confusing because it would then be the fourth part of a trilogy. And I just said that I don’t want to use that sadness as a guide anymore’.
So let him call it a record that will express how he peacefully accepts all the conflicting emotions of the past years. How he tries to live with it without them dictating his life. “You could describe it as a musical representation of acceptance.”
The voice samples Gibson used for his Actual Life trilogy also include one from a Carlos, a construction worker from Atlanta. His statement ‘We gon’ make it through’ proved such an infectious, positive message in times of covid that countless Fred Again fans got these words tattooed on their bodies.