IIf there’s a universal pop language right now, then Fred Again speaks it fluently and translates ideas into worldwide giant hits for artists like Ed Sheeran, George Ezra and Charli XCX. On the way out of the back room, 28-year-old South London-born Fred Gibson opens a tour built around last year’s one-to-punch of Actual Life parts 1 and 2, two personal, sample-heavy solo albums recorded in encouragement by mentor Brian Eno .
“I so appreciate you being here, so do not think I will not do it if I do not say anything,” warns Gibson early in the set with his hands clasped. He is 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 apparently recorded from his phone, brief outbursts of text messages. The set is described as “a kind of diary from April to December 2020”. Digital intimacy combined with broad brush-up sentimentality is in line with Gibson’s production style.
The beats may be as polite as meeting an in-laws, but on tracks like Kahan (Last Year) the mix of wintery piano and soulful, autotuned vocal samples is very influential. “This is going to dampen the mood super,” Gibson says unconvincingly, as the room loses its roof anyway.
That number, along with the crisp stadium house of Blessed Madonna collaboration Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) speaks directly to the isolation of lockdown, and as such, the audience response is higher than usual. Couple kissing, boys taking good care of their peers. Future historians curious about pop’s reaction to the pandemic could do worse than watching here, while pop’s imperial producer struggles with loss and lockdown.