Actress (aka London based producer Darren Cunningham), famous for his introverted take on dance music, returns with a full-length LP for Ninja Tune. Named AZD, after the musician’s own home studio, the record takes listeners on a journey through murky depths of rugged techno cuts combined with emotive minimalist interludes.
Released nearly a decade after 2008’s Hazyville and a period of hiatus, the album is a culmination of the artist’s influences since his last release, boasting a collaboration with The London Contemporary Orchestra. His DJ-Kicks mix of 2015 featured the likes of Autechre, John Beltran and Simbiosi, whose input can be heard in aspects such as the airy synths that create a prevalent ambiance behind the beats. This is evident on lead single ‘X22RME’, a straightforward 4/4 track with the whirls and hisses of obscure machinery complete with a break that has listeners floating to the dancefloor. This track can be twinned with ‘DANCING IN THE SMOKE’, another club orientated track that sounds as if it emerged from an abandoned industrial estate as the track slowly descends into discordant swirls of analogue sound.
The club vibe takes a slightly different angle on CYN – a dusty electro track that feels like it might disintegrate at any moment. It contains samples from Rammellzee, a visual artist who was based in America and heavily inspired by Afrofuturism – a movement that Cunningham has claimed to have taken inspiration from on AZD. CYN combines elements of Hip-Hop and Electro which churn amidst hazy vocal chops from Rammellzee and drums that clatter amidst a blissful 90s era Autechre-esque synth.
The more club orientated sound contrasts fantastically against ambient tracks later in the album; a highlight being FAURE IN CHROME. This is a strange tribute to the late French Romantic composer Gabriel Faure. Here Actress combines heart aching strings with a robotic buzz that conjure an image of a string quartet playing from within a factory basement. This was a piece that emerged from the artist’s collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra in their joint show at the Barbican in February of last year. It is moments like this, combined with the rain patter of FALLING RIZLAS and the murky piano on THERE’S AN ANGEL IN THE SHOWER, that make this album an intriguing listen. They remove listeners from any club atmosphere that the album may otherwise have created and slots them into the hazy space that Actress seems to mould with such ease – reminiscent of R.I.P or Splazsh. AZD even comes complete with the soundtrack to a non-existent scene in Bladerunner, only it’s set in a Peckham café. (See track 7: ‘RUNNER’).
On AZD, Actress compiles an album of avant-garde techno that is reminiscent of his original style combined with new influences. It is a hazy, sci-fi electronic exploration that could be described as the music that would accompany Darth Vader hot-boxing the death-star. The album underlines the fact that Cunningham is one of the most forward thinking musicians in the current climate of dance music.