(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Hazyville (2008), 6.5/10
Splazsh (2010), 7/10
R.I.P. (2012), 6.5/10
Ghettoville (2014), 5.5/10
AZD (2017), 5/10
Lageos (2018), 6/10
Karma & Desire (2020), 5/10

Actress, the project of England's black producer Darren Cunningham, offered a twisted, deconstructed hybrid of house, dubstep and glitch music on Hazyville (Werk Discs, 2008). Cunningham indulged in the digital, thin quality of the beats, notably in the morbidly and softly neurotic Doggin', and in the fake-melodic shuffle I Can't Forgive You. The producer's imagination is let loose in the hypnotic and aphasic Again The Addiction and in the Brazilian-esque syncopation of Ivy May Gilpin, which are both sort of virtuoso operations. He also toys with the pounding sinister techno of Crushed and Green Gal but that's clearly not his forte. Unfortunately most of the second half is made of trivial loops let spin for five or six minutes.

Splazsh (Honest Jon's, 2010) is a more ambitious work with little filler. The glitchy elements are much more prominents: they inject life into the otherwise sterile and monotonous interplay of skitting beats and bubbling electronica of Hubble. Cunningham, in fact, borrows ideas from the avantgarde for the industrial-grade distractions of Wrong Potion, the musique concrete of Supreme Cunnilingus, psychedelic distortion and warping of Casanova, etc. The music feels a lot more organic and "alive", and certainly less easy to categorize: Lost mixes harsh beats, a fragmented imploded vocal melody, a cricket-like background radiation and minimalist repetition. The producer is still a virtuoso of beat creation, displaying superb skills in molding and layering beats, for example, in Get Ohn (Fairlight Mix), an intricate vignette of swampy polyrhythm and African jungle rhythm, or in the sketch The Kettle Men for sharp clangor and robotic recitation.
Far from sounding academic, Cunningham takes several breaks from the brainy posture and delivers lightweight armchair entertainment such as Purrple Splazsh, basically a remix of Prince's Purple Rain, and the liquid guitar-driven funk-jazz of the 1970s Let's Fly. However, the childish keyboard motif over pulsing bass lines of Maze reveals an existential meditation on the coming robotic society: there is meaning (not only method) to his madness.

Abandoning the dancefloor, R.I.P. (2012) was his ambient, impressionistic, contemplative work, following Brian Eno's aesthetic principle of highly-intellectual background muzak to digital dance music. Instead of lengthy pieces, however, Cunningham, opted for brief impressionistic vignettes, some of them too brief to generate a lasting impression. The relaxing mood of N.E.W., Ascending and Marble Plexus is what used to be played in "chill rooms". If loops like IWAAD, Serpent and Raven are a bit too trivial (Cunningham's frequent weakness), the menacing pulsing Shadow From Tartarus adds a cinematic welcome and the digital psychelic jungle sounds of Tree Of Knowledge are disorienting. Vocal effects, trumpet-like wail and tribal percussion even push album's standout Caves Of Paradise into Jon Hassell's "fourth world" territory. By far the most intriguing piece is the concerto for discreet noises of Jardin.

It is hard to justify the self-indulgence of Ghettoville (Beat, 2014): too many pieces are simply loops of trivial ideas. The seven-minute Forgiven sets the pace for the most interesting idea, halfway between industrial nightmare and psychedelic slumber. This "acid industrial" style permeates Rims and Towers, as well as the alien pulsating Skyline and the foggy miasmatic bouncing Frontline, both of which easily beat the other two contenders for corrosive dancefloor funk music (Birdcage and Gaze). The hissing glitch sonata Street Corp, the disorienting deconstructed melodic carillon of Our and the sophisticated rhythmic experiment Time prove the claustrophobic potential of the artist, but here they are somewhat marginalized.

AZD (2017), a scattershot collection that seems to gather music composed at different times for different reasons, contains a few moments in the claustrophobic vein of Ghettoville (notably Dancing in the Smoke) but it's mostly lightweight dance music. Two pieces show Cunningham's increased interest in ambient music: Faure in Chrome, a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra which is heavy on strings, and There's an Angel in the Shower, where piano and synth sculpt a languid atmosphere.

The entire Lageos (2018) consists of Cunningham compositions scored for chamber ensemble and performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, from the glitchy ambient Momentum to the Dadaistic skit Voodoo Posse Chronic Illusion.

Cunningham kept moving away from the dancefloor on Karma & Desire (2020). Here, however, his target was a hazy atmosphere, almost reminiscent of a German cabaret of the 1920s, especially in the vocal pieces (the alienated feeling of the female recitation in Angels Pharmacy , the letargic and decadent pace of the eight-minute piano lied Many Seas Many Rivers). The album indulges in delicate dilated filigrees and brief piano sonatas, with a peak in the languid, nostalgic, orchestral cinematic music of Save. It also contains a sophisticated tribute to his techno past, the pounding seven-minute Turin.

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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