Fred Gibson’s artist nickname inspires a unique kind of apathy. His name, by its very nature, seems anticlimactic – seen on a festival lineup or a Spotify playlist, one might think “Oh, there’s still Fred”, or “It’s Fred, again”, or, at worst , “Fred? Again?” It’s a name with a built-in sense of defeat; you can’t help but say it with the same sense of dreary inevitability that you might say about “reworking” or “doing the laundry again” or “doing the taxes again.”
Perhaps that name, however, is deeply fitting: although Gibson, 29, was first recognized as a committed songwriter for British superstars such as Ed Sheeran and Rita Ora, he now spends his time to record and perform a non-specific tearful piece. and a deeply pandemic kind of mainstream house music. Yesterday he posted real life 3the third part of his Real life series of records in as many years, and it’s hard not to look at its track list – replete with the same platitudes and structural conventions of the last two Real life save – and moan. There he is – Fred, again.
Gibson’s formula is so clear that you could listen to almost any Fred Again song and immediately identify these conventions. He presents himself as a kind of collage maker, taking on-site recordings of the noise of the crowds and people he meets, friends and family, the general mood of life in London, and the layering with elliptical piano lines and hazy breakbeats. Each track is named after the person who inspired it or is sampled in the song, and given a concise parenthesis. A track with Marea Stamper, aka the Blessed Virgin, is called “Marea (we lost the dance)” because of the speech she gives about closing clubs during Covid; “Carlos (Pass Through)” and a Handful of Others real life 2 pieces sample a construction worker whom Gibson met in Atlanta who told him that “we’re going to get through this”.
real life 3 does not make any changes to this formula. Aside from the fact that the timestamps on the intro and ending tracks indicate that this album was produced this year, none of these songs – from the gloomy and washed-out “Bleu (better with time)”, with its chorus of ” I just know it gets better with time” on the ambient piano track “Mustafa (time to move)” – might have suited the 2020 and 2021 installments of Real life. Vocal samples from the last two albums return throughout. This time around, Gibson’s production took on a chilly 5 a.m. shine, a small change in temperature from real life 3‘s slightly warmer predecessors, but he clearly didn’t attempt to radically reformulate his music’s DNA in any way.
He has no reason to: this approach has proven extremely popular. Gibson is, if not quite the status of headliner of the festival, at least standing on the precipice of it. His recent performance on Boiler room, a long-running series of filmed DJ sets, has quickly become one of the most streamed of all time, and is probably one of the biggest draws to next year’s Laneway Festival lineup. His life composing Sheeran tracks has made it clear that he understands what mainstream audiences are looking for in their everyday pop music – blinding sentimentality, untraceable nostalgia, vocals that possess an affected soul – and his prolific release schedule means that Fred Again songs are ubiquitous in easy-listening dance music playlists.
Unlike so many of his traditional club contemporaries, however, Gibson’s found sound approach adds a somberness to the proceedings, a sense that these dance floors are forged from earth and atmosphere as opposed to a soulless, black-box recording studio. There’s something hackneyed comic, or at least deeply meta, about the way he talks about this field recording process. He said he was “obsessed with glorifying those seemingly mundane moments”, like his interaction with Carlos the construction worker, and turning them into meaningful dance floors. 2015 Melodrama Fans we are your friendsin which Zac Efron plays an EDM DJ trying to make it big, will be remembered that in the film’s triumphant coda, Efron’s character finally breaks through using a Gibson-esque approach, stripping away the conventions of dance music commercial and instead concocting samples of the world around him.
I always thought that the end of we are your friends was camp and a little ridiculous – an overly polished conclusion that underestimated its audience. Seven years later, the success of Fred Again suggests that, in fact, Efron and company were right.
It’s easy to understand why Real life struck such a chord upon its release. Gibson’s songs chart a smooth and undeniably easy path to euphoria. The samples essentially told a listener how they were feeling and the relative smoothness of their output – any truly violent beat or bassline given a faded, Instagram-filtered patina – meant it was easy for those not listening. usually dance music find their way.
Two years later, it’s hard to find any use in real life 3. Gibson’s production is rote and unsurprising and he always treats his female singers more as aesthetic features than true collaborators. “Danielle (smile on my face),” a collab with Kanye West’s underrated former protege 070 Shake, drains all the instability and menace from her voice, stripping her of what makes her such an interesting singer. ; “Delilah (Get Me Out Of This),” which starts off as a really fun rave-up, starts to sound like the soundtrack to a Contiki Tour as its repeated chorus of “you know how to calm me down” kicks in. .
Gibson clearly uses everyday samples to humanize its music, but there’s something about it that feels deeply unforgiving. real life 3. Repeating a saying like “all I have is you” might technically sound and feel sad, but it’s not unlike an intentionally vague Facebook status reading “I’ve never felt so broken before… or share an inspirational quote about overcoming some amorphous. trials. It’s pathos without details, a cowardly attempt to imbue the music with undeserved emotion – a formula no less cynical than that employed by novels or soap operas for young adults.
There’s also something almost akin to street photography in the way Gibson collects its samples. Although “Carlos (make it thru)”, for example, is one of his most popular songs, Gibson hasn’t met Carlos since he recorded it on his phone. It exists as a moving, disembodied showcase to a song composed by a guy who went to one of England’s most expensive day schools and was tutored as a teenager by family friend Brian Eno. If it’s not downright unethical, it’s at least a little uncomfortable — not necessarily “real life” so much as one that feels grittier and more authentic than Gibson’s.
The use of samples found in dance music, of course, is nothing new – it’s as old as the genre itself. Gibson clearly sees himself as sort of everyone’s version of Will Bevan, aka Burial, an acclaimed producer of gritty, haunting rave and ambient music who emerged in the mid-2000s with a string of records that, like Gibson’s , weaved field records from London. streets into sinuous and luminous dance floors.
But unlike Bevan, who’s built a whole worldview out of little more than ghostly samples and a shaken-up rave production — and whose music seems to cater to young gay men, depressed loners and the like. company eccentrics, as opposed to thirty-something marketing executives. looking to blow off steam on the weekend – Gibson doesn’t have a cohesive outlook beyond “the pandemic was bad”. After three albums, he has little more to offer than “the pandemic was bad, but things could get a little better”. If this. real life 3 seems to be the least coherent of all Real life records, most like quotes from a teenager’s diary set at the EDM festival.
But the formula is clearly selling. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gibson continued to walk the path of its so-called Real life, releasing year after year new installments that are increasingly vague and inane. There seems to be an appetite for music like this that tells you how to think and feel. Perhaps, as Gibson implies, there is even something healing about it. Maybe the future is Fred Again – and again and again and again.
EXPOSURE Project 3: Angelica Mesiti
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until January 29
FACILITY Time | Rone
Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, until January 29
Sydney Opera House, until November 5
LITERATURE Mountain Writers Festival
Venues in the Macedon Ranges, Victoria, November 4-6
VISUAL ART Speech Templates | Nadia Hernandez and Jon Campbell
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, until January 8
VISUAL ART Lloyd Rees: Looking to the Sun
Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, until October 31
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 29, 2022 under the headline “Austere Fred”.
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