16 Songs, 1 Hour, 9 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Over three albums and numerous remixes, Darren Cunningham (a.k.a. Actress) established himself as one of avant-garde electronic music's most exciting producers, chewing up and spitting out genres like house, techno, dubstep, and abstract noise to achieve his singularly dystopic vision. Cunningham announced his retirement with the release of his fourth and final album, Ghettoville, which might explain why it's his most challenging listen yet. With a few notable exceptions ("Gaze," "Skyline"), the album is void of beats. Instead, it's a monolithic slab of undulating textures—at times cacophonous, at times sublime. It opens with "Forgiven," a heady stew of crackling static, which persists through "Street Corp." "Corner" will get your head nodding with its playfully robotic lilt, but tracks like "Contagious" and "Time" bring you right back to the sonic junkyard. Cunningham is known for his cerebral productions, and this is an especially heady note to go out on.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Over three albums and numerous remixes, Darren Cunningham (a.k.a. Actress) established himself as one of avant-garde electronic music's most exciting producers, chewing up and spitting out genres like house, techno, dubstep, and abstract noise to achieve his singularly dystopic vision. Cunningham announced his retirement with the release of his fourth and final album, Ghettoville, which might explain why it's his most challenging listen yet. With a few notable exceptions ("Gaze," "Skyline"), the album is void of beats. Instead, it's a monolithic slab of undulating textures—at times cacophonous, at times sublime. It opens with "Forgiven," a heady stew of crackling static, which persists through "Street Corp." "Corner" will get your head nodding with its playfully robotic lilt, but tracks like "Contagious" and "Time" bring you right back to the sonic junkyard. Cunningham is known for his cerebral productions, and this is an especially heady note to go out on.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5

17 Ratings

Headphone Commute Review

Headphone Commute,

Darren Cunningham‘s latest (or is it really last?) offering as Actress is a dense, hazy, and nearly hallucinogenic stroll through the foggy streets of South London, and indeed Cunningham’s abstract interpretation of his mind, titled Ghettoville. Two years ago, Actress released his third full length, R.I.P, putting this character to rest, and now that the image is deceased, how does it feel to be within the cold and dark walls of the void? Perhaps the answer lies in Ghettoville, which, after being properly released by Cunningham’s own Werkdiscs label, gets picked up by Ninja Tune, since its interest piqued in this particular sound with a three-track Silver Cloud EP in 2012.

The album takes a long time to reveal itself, to sort-of grow on you, like a stubborn weed, choking out the impatient and inept. My first impression of the music was fairly neutral, at times even dipping into the negative scale of appreciation. What exactly is this? What is Cunningham trying to say? The rhythm is gravely beyond any lo-fi aesthetic, hardly resounding through the mono channel of a damaged speaker, at times repeating to no end with a single, seemingly simple beat, sixteen, thirty-two, and sixty-four bars at a time. Did Cunningham just fall asleep behind his drum-machine, or am I just too sober to drop out? Thick layers of hiss, slowed-down hip-hop samples, mired shuffles, dingy atmospheres pulled back into the corners of the stage, as if it’s all coming from within a can, dipped into an aquarium replete with grime.

Things finally begin to make sense when I give up on trying to decipher the sound—and let the clouds overtake the skies. Darkness sets in, and with the stormy winter weather (you know, the one where you almost wished it already snowed, instead of a sideways freezing rain pummeling your frigid clothes), the sounds of Ghettoville cut through the chilly bones. This isn’t really a brisk stroll through a sunny countryside, but rather a nightly crawl through dank streets where moss consumes decaying cigarettes among the cobblestones and tombs. And as the mind attempts to cling to a particular pattern, deciphering the hidden associations with remnants of London’s dance music, the melodies trail off, stumbling over their unquantised progression, diving below the murky slabs of sediment and debris, barely capable to gasp for air and its sustained life-force.

Taking off my headphones after this journey feels like I’m peeling off a space suit, and the world gets sucked back into existence with a loud thump, in all its surround-sound glory and always perfect audiophile quality. Some uneasiness still lurks in the background of my mind. Will I take the plunge again? Perhaps. Most likely I will find myself revisiting the streets of Ghettoville on cold and sombre days, to match my inner state of void with Cunningham’s abstruse and complex music. Meanwhile, even if the rumours of putting the Actress project to bed are true, you can keep your ears open for Cunningham’s few side projects. There is also a limited 5LP + 2CD “Black Elephant”-skinned boxset (plus a 40-page artbook) compiling the Hazyville and Ghettovillealbums out on Wekdiscs and Ninja Tune.

4th LP...

ZJ-101,

I hope that this is an improvement since his last album (R.I.P.) It wasn't as good as Hazyville or Splazsh.

About Actress

The primary alias of Wolverhampton, England-based producer Darren Cunningham, Actress has been credited with some of the least predictable, categorization-defying electronic dance music of the 2000s and 2010s. Since debuting with the No Tricks 12" on his own Werk Discs label in 2004, Cunningham juggled a diverse array of inspirations -- including early-'80s funk and electro, art rock, raw and classicist house, and noise -- while putting a fresh, challenging spin on them. As a result, his productions confounded some DJs while also being devoured by others within the realms of house, techno, and dubstep. Cunningham's reputation was solidified through the promising Hazyville, released on Werk in 2008, and the exceptional 2010 follow-up Splazsh for Honest Jon's, as well as remixes of tracks by a select list of fellow producers including Kassem Mosse, Joy Orbison, Alex Smoke, and Panda Bear. Werk Discs simultaneously became one of the most revered dance labels, a trusted outlet for the likes of Lone, Zomby, and Lukid.

In 2012, Cunningham released his third Actress album, R.I.P., his most abstract and singular work to that point. The same year, he collaborated with artist Yayoi Kasuma for a performance at London's Tate Modern gallery and remixed tracks for John Cale and Kasabian. The producer's fourth album, 2014's Ghettoville, was released with support from Ninja Tune. Cunningham ominously proclaimed the set to be "the bleached out and black tinted conclusion of the Actress image," but an installment in the !K7 label's long-running DJ-Kicks mix series was out by the end of 2015. Another production album supported by Ninja Tune, the highly conceptualized AZD, arrived a couple years after that, just after Cunningham's secondary aliases (which previously included Levantis and GNESIS) multiplied with a trio of limited cassette singles (as That Knightsbridge OG, Dial 666 8100, and Bank of England). ~ Andy Kellman

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