Actress Q & A
Talking mid-show coitus, artistic credibility and, uh, Farrow & Ball with techno’s deepest thinker. This interview initially appeared in the Winter issue of BEAT.
Words: Rod Stanley
Photos: Benedict Brink
Last night: a corrosive, captivating live performance in Williamsburg, followed by a typically uncompromising DJ set in a cavernous Bushwick warehouse party that ends at 6am, ankle-deep in discarded vinyl. Tonight: semi-horizontal on a sofa in front of the raging fireplace in a Manhattan members’ club. Actress, the Wolverhampton-raised, London-based experimental electronic music producer, is reflecting on Ghettoville, his fourth full-length. A self-proclaimed sequel of sorts to his increasingly cult-status 2008 debut Hazyville, and follow-up to 2011’s rapturously received RIP,Ghettoville appears via his label Werkdiscs’ new partnership with leftfield electronica stalwarts Ninja Tune, and anticipation is running high.
Never one to take the easy route, a cryptic statement has further stoked the fires, with its thinly-veiled laying down of the gauntlet to other electronic artists and a not-so-subtle suggestion this could prove to be the final piece of music to bear the Actress moniker: “Ghettoville is the bleached out and black tinted conclusion of the Actress image,” it runs in part. “Zero satisfaction, no teeth, pseudo artists running rampant, but the path continues. R.I.P Music 2014.” Smirking, this modern musical enigma lifts up a hefty glass of cognac and looks through it at the flames.
While you were DJing, I found a naked couple having sex, pressed up against the filthy walls. Do you usually have this effect on your crowd?
Clearly! I played at Berghain (in Berlin) and some very debauched stuff goes on down there. Mate, people up to stuff in darkened corners are doing God knows what. But most of the clubs I play are pretty freaky. I’m on the freaky circuit.
RIP was really well received. How do you deal with the weight of expectation?
(pause) Announce my retirement.
That’s one way… What led you to that conclusion?
The artist name is Actress. And from the very first day, I’ve been asked what it means. And I’ve kind of half-answered it, and half left it up to other people to work it out. Because it’s not hard. A word is a word and it has a meaning. I’ve always spent a lot of time making things and breaking them. And then remaking them and breaking them.
Ghettoville is pure 21st Century dread, it has this creeping feeling of corruption and doom…
Someone said ‘diseased’! I feel that also. A big part of this album is about homeless people, in a way. Drug addicts, broken down… I just saw one sprawled out, sleeping on a concrete floor. Almost dead! I often wonder how people have got there, and what they’ve experienced. Or what they’ve ignored.
Why does that inspire you?
Pain. Everyone has to deal with some kind of pain. And we conceal it from each other. But I think people at that level, who have experienced much more extreme pain, have to stick together… I think the music in Ghettoville is trying to represent a concealed pain.
I asked my four-year-old son what he thought of your album. He said he liked it, and that it made him think of “aliens, monsters and robots”…
Ha! Thing is, I can make pictures out of anything. I can see dirt on a wall and see pictures within it. I never see the surface of anything. I see through things and see other things beyond what you are seeing… that all exist! If you think about all the superheroes, how do you think they were created? They really come from a figment of someone’s imagination, which has manifested itself… You know, I like the mutant side of things. Monsters is a kid’s representation… mutants is more what I’m about, I guess.
Why do you feel a frustration with music in 2013?
I’m really precious about artistic credibility. I like genuine music. I think magazines and online journalism have become completely mind-numbing. Hype is all part of the game; I accept that, but I also have a voice. I felt it was important to say something a little bit cruel or antagonistic. Not necessarily to anybody directly… If I make a decent album, wicked, but I also want to constantly up my game. The intention is as a challenge.
So, how do you feel about this album?
What’s important to me is I think it says something – I think it has a language. I couldn’t associate one track with any other artist. I think my main challenge is to get rid of all the music I’ve listened to and how it affected me, and get to the point where it’s my own language. I don’t think I’m there yet. But I’m getting there. And I certainly haven’t retired! A lot of records out there at the moment are ones that I’ve recorded, and people don’t even know.
Last question. On Twitter, why do you follow Farrow & Ball?
Why not? Haha. Because… Listen, my whole ambition in life is to live in a beautiful house. So, when it comes to like paints and shit… I want the best. And Farrow & Ball is pretty much the best.