Sitting opposite me in a dressing room in Sydney’s Enmore Theatre sits the man captivating Australians everywhere — Fred Gibson AKA Fred again.. AKA one of the biggest dance music makers in the game right now.
It’s just ticked past 8:30pm on Tuesday. The sun’s setting across the Sydney skyline, the air’s sticky with humidity and the excitement is palpable. The London-based artist is set to take to the stage in less than an hour, but for now he’s relaxing. Donning track pants and a plain tee, Fred sits in an oversized red velvet chair. He’s tranquil and casual, his mood a stark contrast to the buzzing crowd lining Enmore Road.
With Fred’s arrival to Australia came a feeling — let’s call it Fred again.. mania. A burning desire to see him perform live at his ‘secret’ side shows became the central obsession for dance music fans across the country. Hordes of people thudded the pavements in Sydney and Melbourne searching for Fred again.. branded towels or stencil spray-painted whales on footpaths in a desperate attempt to excavate any opportunity to see the British songwriter and producer.
It’s hard to put a finger on just how and why Fred again.. captured the zeitgeist the way that he has, but there’s no denying the artist’s appeal, or his eye for timing. Written and recorded through lockdowns in London, Fred again..’s emotionally drenched Actual Life records have captured something intrinsic in a generation who have come of age under lockout laws and lockdowns — myself included.
His music sits in a bed of dance forward production and is laced with voice memos and sonic sweet nothings, which fuses a sombre earnestness into a genre known for frenetic ‘oonce’. “The music evolved based on coming out of a lockdown, the third record is much more up[beat] than the first two [albums Actual Life and Actual Life 1]. I think that’s because I was in the world again and playing in front of people. But it’s surreal, totally surreal [to be here],” he says, smiling.
Fred’s ascension to a cult-like figure may have felt phenomenally fast, but he’s hardly an overnight success. Up until 2020, Fred was somewhat of an underground artist, his work known mostly by lovers of the genre until he was thrust into the spotlight — all of a sudden, Fred again.. was on TikTok and the radio, playing Coachella and Boiler Room sets. But a quick glance at the producer credits on some of the biggest pop songs of the past few years, from Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” and “I Don’t Care” to Burna Boy and Stormzy’s “Own It,” shows that Fred’s been orbiting us for quite some time.
The Rise Of Fred again..
Fred Gibson was born in Balham, South London on 19 July 1993 and started playing piano at an early age. As a child, he made an album of power ballads, and then fell into a classical music rabbit hole. While dance music feels like quite a departure from his classical origins, Fred’s music still reflects his musical roots.
“The thing I like most in the classical music world is their use of harmony. You get aspects of classical music that are very trance-like, not as in not the genre but the feeling. I think it has real parallels to dance music, but it’s the harmonies that I’m most obsessed with in classical music.”
As a teen, Fred wrote a symphony, which was performed by his school’s orchestra. This would prove to be a pivotal moment, opening the door for him to be welcomed into Brian Eno’s a cappella choir at 16 years old.
Fred speaks warmly about his time in the a capella group he’d attend every Tuesday, singing mostly old gospel, and occasionally country songs, too. “I think it’s almost like yoga to [Brian]. Two and a half hours of group singing is a very meditative experience. He’s done this for 30 years now … But meeting Brian has been totally life changing and he’s one of my favourite people on the planet.”
Brian Eno is the mastermind behind Music For Airports and has worked with the likes of David Bowie, Talking Heads and Slowdive across his 50-year career. Eno’s influence spreads far and wide to unsuspecting places, like the relaxing Windows 95 startup sound. From Fred’s time in the choir, Eno became a key mentor figure to him.
Things started to snowball for Fred in 2014, when he worked with Eno and Karl Hyde on the Someday World and Highlife projects. His name then started appearing on Ellie Goulding and Roots Manuva records in 2015. The following year, he worked with Chari XCX and Shawn Mendes, and by 2019 he’d collaborated with some of the biggest acts in the world including BTS, Stormzy and Ed Sheeran.
Despite working on some of the biggest tracks of the year, Fred started to feel like he was living in the shadow of others, and was considering his next move. Things often have a funny way of working out, and by chance, Eno happened to be shuffling through his music when an old song of Fred’s came on. Moved by his tune, he implored Fred to focus on his own music. Fred describes this watershed moment as a “total synergy of timing”.
By the end of 2019, Fred released his first single under a new alias, Fred again.., ‘Kyle (I Found You)’. It’s a progressive house and UK bass track with a beautiful spoken word poem from Kyle Myher and it instantly takes off. Chatter of Fred starts to spread in the underground electronic music scene and his rapid rise begins.
While touring plans for his solo career are abruptly paused thanks to COVID, Fred’s ascension continues. On 12 June 2020, he released his first EP under the project, Actual Life, and a few months later teamed up with The Blessed Madonna to release ‘Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing)’. The track soon becomes the song of the pandemic and encapsulates the grief music communities felt with the loss of live music and dance floor sessions.
Fred’s online performance of Actual Life enjoys mass acclaim, and further grows his cult following. His next record, Actual Life 2, was released shortly after on 19 November 2021. His popularity continues to accelerate after his electric Coachella and Boiler Room sets in 2022, and Actual Life 3 — his third reality-based album in 18 months — cements his place as a global superstar.
Club Music To Cry To
The popularity of Fred’s music can, in part, be attributed to how well his work captured the tone of the moment: it’s fun club music that’s a little bit sad, which suited us well because we were sad. Life was spent locked away from friends, communities and dance floors.
Fred describes vulnerability as one of the single most important elements of his musical process. “I think everything else stems from vulnerability. I found it incredibly hard when I was making the first and the second [record] and in different ways the third [record]. It was a very hard thing for me, but I think it’s essential.”
The collection of Actual Life albums are, in essence, sonic diaries cataloguing his life and times over the past few years. Many of the samples used on the tracks are recordings from Fred’s personal life — voice notes from friends and videos from his Instagram stories — and other snippets of audio sourced online he feels emotionally moved by.
As time progressed, these tracks have taken on new life and meaning. His deeply personal, introspective audio diary albums have connected with fans the world over and are now a backdrop to fans’ own core memories. “I feel incredibly indebted to the way people have allowed the music to play such a significant role in their lives,” says Fred. “The way they’ve allowed it in is something that I will feel eternally grateful to.”
Fred’s favourite quality in his mentor Brian Eno is “his spirit of play,” he tells me. While vulnerability remains a guiding star in his music and creative process, we can hear Eno’s playful influence across Fred’s three records, and we can spot that same sense of fun in his interactions with fans, too.
At a recent show, Fred threw a USB into the crowd with 30 demos and unreleased songs. A fan caught it, uploaded it to Google Drive and shared it around. His Discord’s a buzzing hub, with fans around the world connecting through their adoration of both the music, and the man behind it.
So what does the man who makes others dance listen to? To my surprise: ambient music. Fred told me that around 90% of the music he listens to is ambient — he likes that it can be imbued with whatever feeling the listener is yearning for. This concept of creating music that can be an emotional canvas for listeners to project their emotions onto is, of course, seen in his own work. Fans listening to the same track will likely feel completely different emotions, from sombre to jubilant and everything in between.
Fred again.. And The Resurgence Of Australia’s Dance Music Community
For younger fans in attendance at Fred’s Laneway and side show performances, these gigs were some of the first encounters they had with pulsating dance floors and experiencing dance music in a big, live and loud setting.
Gen Z is hungry for dance music and who can blame us? Many of our seminal coming of age experiences were ripped away just as we were ready to experience them, only to be replaced by Zoom trivia and isolating online gigs. House music, drum and bass and garage are having a renaissance with artists from PinkPantheress to Beyonce releasing music that demands the listener let loose and wiggle around.
In Sydney, local promoters, DJs and artists are working hard to foster a dance music community from the ashes of lockout laws, the pandemic and restrictive live music licenses. The Fred again.. mania revealed the enormous appetite for dance music and people in the local dance music community that I’ve spoken to hope this desire can extend past one — admittedly epochal — celebrity figure to cultivate a healthy domestic dance music landscape once again.
There are incredibly exciting artists and events happening across the country, but there are larger structural issues around the way we champion and platform not only grassroots and local events, but local artists and producers.
Australia’s national youth radio station, triple j, plays a handful of electronic and experimental local acts but it’s not much when compared with their sharper focus on playlisting guitar-forward, and more recently, rap acts. A large proportion of international playlisting has flow-on effects too, with international plays limiting spots for local dance music acts to feature. Dance genres and events are almost exclusively championed on community radio stations like FBi Radio, 3RRR and RTRFM, organisations which have made a concerted effort to spotlight local scenes.
If Australia’s Fred again.. mania tells us anything, it’s that we all really just want to dance again. For the artist’s whirlwind tour not to go down as a splash in the pan, we need greater support for dance music from large music outlets — ours included — with structural power, to better showcase the incredible work happening on the ground.
Fred again..’s epic Enmore Theatre performance proved him a master of creating moments of unbridled joy with music that’s fun, sensitive and grips at genres from experimental beats to house and garage. The show left me with a distinct feeling: we’ve arrived at a new epoch, a new chapter, where the worst of the pandemic feels firmly behind us. We’ve got our sights set on the dance floor. Sydney’s back, baby.
So now his Australian tour’s over, what’s next for Fred? “I’m going to put the Actual Life records on a breather for a bit. They’re very intense things to make and Actual Life 3 is the end of a trilogy. So I’m working on something else now. I don’t totally know what, but it’s something else,” he says.
There’s no doubt the world will be standing by for Fred’s next move. Perhaps he’ll release an ambient record, or perhaps it’ll be something else entirely. Wherever his ‘something else’ is, we’ll be ready to dance.