“I wanted to see how it was possible to make emotions with a computer”: Actress on His New Album and Working With Broken Memories

actress

By Dana Droppo

Ghettoville, the new album from British producer Actress, starts off with the inaccessible "Forgiven," seven minutes of sludgy ambience and industrial clanks which march on into another couple of songs full of decaying textures and dreary soundscapes. The beginning of the journey through Ghettoville is dystopian, often difficult, and certainly fraught with dread, but persevere, continue exploring, and you will sometimes glimpse something brighter, as new textures work their way into the grayscale landscape.

There is an unavoidable air of unease hanging over this album, even over the more upbeat moments like "Gaze" or "Rap," as if something terrible has happened, or is about to, an air which the accompanying press releases did nothing to dispel:

A fix is no longer a release, it's a brittle curse. Zero satisfaction, no teeth, pseudo artists running rampant, but the path continues. R.I.P Music 2014.

Actress is an interesting figure, a critically acclaimed producer who  has been known to destroy his equipment and delete his hard drives on the completion of projects, a DJ who has been known to clear dance floors with his uncompromising selection, and an interview subject who sometimes speaks like a philosophy major. On the phone, Actress is charming and talkative, keen to explain his new album's influences, his fascination with using computers to create emotion, his love of gangster rap, and lots more.


How was your day? How have you spent it so far?
Oh, not bad. Uuuhhh what have I done today? Well usually the day starts with walking me dog for like an hour or so. Then just kind of listening to some bits and pieces on the computer, having a few conversations with some people. And then I had a spliff, I’m smoking a spliff. That’s pretty much been my day today.


Okay, let's get into it. I haven’t stopped listening to Ghettoville since I got it a couple weeks ago. How do you want people to experience this album? Where do you picture them listening to it?
I’m not sure I think about things like that, you know? I guess I can only answer this question in relation to how I write the music. Its all sort of on the go and happening all at once. I never really sit down to write as such—I don’t really start a track or finish a track. I’ll be building different elements with no real track in mind and it will all be focused on whatever tones are interesting me at a given moment.

When I say "moment," I'm talking about what my frame of mind is at a certain point. So, an example could be—I might start working on something on a Monday—but, preceding that I may have gone to a gig on Saturday which means that I’m sort of preparing my mind from the Friday. I have to get my stuff together, go to the airport, wait in the airport, wait for flights, get to whichever country I’m going to, meet people I know.

The build up to all that, all the different languages going on at the same time, once all this is going on, it's quite kinetic, but I'm always thinking about sounds and being in the studio. There’s kind of a time lapse involved in the process and all sort of capturing different times and seeing what sinks in and out. I think it’s kind of a surreal album.

My album is like an ongoing artwork in a way. It's not just the sounds that I’m asking people to respond to, it’s the words and the texts, it’s the letters, the artwork... the continuing thread from one album to another.

In fact, it's sort of like working with broken memories, almost like rebuilding memories in a way. I guess when you’re thinking about things from that perspective as a writer, you can never quite figure out how anyone’s going to perceive it as a listener. I think people who make very sort of straight music, based within a genre, I think they can answer that question a little better.

Things for them are much more linear—they’re building a beat, a bassline, a melody, whatever. Its reaching for something, whereas my album is like an ongoing artwork in a way. It's not just the sounds that I’m asking people to respond to, it’s the words and the texts that I use, it’s the letters, the artwork that has been used, the continuing thread from one album to another. Journey's a bit cheesy really it’s not a journey. I guess it’s a bit like excavation, as well. Its not just a question of finding samples its also about receiving samples. It actually means something that helps you continue the work, it's motivational in that sense.

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It does. I find it very interesting that you talk about airports and languages, are there specific urban spaces, places, maybe specific languages that contributed to the way you built this album?
Well firstly, I don’t think there’s much of London in it. I mean, obviously there is because this is where I spend all of my time, but I’m not from London. There are a lot of UK related aspects, you know, where I’m from in the UK is very different to London.

One particular experience that really springs to mind during the making of the album was a time when I was in San Francisco, and I remember leaving my hotel to go for a walk for a bit of fresh air and looking around at what’s going on. I see this back street that has all these homeless people in this community, but I guess what struck me about it was the sort of underlying drama you could sense going on in their world. You know? I wasn’t a part of their world but I could feel this sort of soap opera going on around me.

That was quite interesting because I sort of fazed in and out of it. By nature I’m quite observant of sounds and what’s going on around me in terms of reality and what else is happening. It had quite a strange affect, it was a strange connection that I felt, in particular moments. And I think the mixture of fear and the fact that different people live very different lives, that was a strong moment that anchored the mood of the album.

Is that how you speak to the title of your album? I mean Ghettoville seems to be making a very strong statement.
Well no, the title... the title Ghettoville I already had as an outline concept. It was already in my mind for quite a while. I finished the album about six months ago and it took me about a year to write all together, so you’re talking about two years work in effect. But the working title was already there.

There isn’t much difference really, between those people in the city and those on the streets.

I just don’t, I just don’t really... even though people live different lives there are always all sorts of parallels you can make. I’m always thinking about opposites. In London you’re surrounded by the city and what occurs in the city and all the money and whatever attitudes are held in that cut throat type of industry. There isn’t much difference really, between those people in the city and those on the streets. Certainly for the people who don’t really have anything—the people who have issues with drugs or are homeless or whatever—all those sort of codes of conduct are the same. I don’t really see much of a difference in somebody receiving 20 pence from somebody and somebody buying stocks and shares for 20 million. It’s kind of the same thing in a way, the same attitude. Yeah. I’m thinking about street corp mainly, that idea of a street corporation is something that interests me.


You talked about the album being a sequel to Hazyville and there is a great deal of continuity in your work, what is the direct relationship between these two albums?
I think you could say that. Hazyville was my first album. There was nothing in front of me if you know what I mean? Not many people knew who I was, I wasn’t traveling around the world, there wasn’t any talking or doing interviews, there was nothing in front of me. All I had really were my headphones, my computers and my ideas, and so you’re talking about a very sort of, um, um... you know, a very sort of close relationship to the process at that point, much more isolated and personal.

Its very difficult to remain focused and continue doing what it is that you’re doing the more interest that is being taken in your work. I guess what Ghettoville is really, is sort of like a complete spewing out of everything. I mean, I’ve literally traveled the globe and everything I experience goes into it. I’ve seen favelas in Brazil, I’ve seen the Congo, like really drastically different places. I think to maintain the attitude I had when I didn’t have any of that, you sort of have to feed that back into work. That for me, is what keeps me interested. Yeah.

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