Live Review

Fred Again, Alexandra Palace, London: infusing sample-heavy club music with vulnerability and poignant pockets of emotion

4th September 2023

For the most part, the crowd are utterly in the palm of his hand.

It’s no mean feat to sell out the 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace, much less do so for four consecutive nights within a few minutes of tickets going on sale. But such is the cultural phenomenon of Fred again.., the London born-and-bred multi-hyphenate whose crossover from underground dance circles to the BBC Radio 1 mainstream has become impossible to ignore. With connections to both actual and music royalty (Brian Eno was his teenage mentor), Fred has been the topic of multiple think-pieces regarding authenticity and privilege in the industry – and rightly so. But watch clips of his Glastonbury set or consider his shortlisting for this year’s Mercury Prize (for most recent album ‘Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)’, and it’s clear that for those who worship at the altar of his decks, this music really means something deeper than just dancing. And as Fred makes his way from Ally Pally’s backstage for the first of these sold-out hometown shows, sheepishly grinning into a phone camera that’s livestreaming his movements, you can’t help but think that the feeling is mutual: he’s really, genuinely, moved to be here.

Settling himself at a keyboard – flanked by onstage accomplice Tony Friend, who oversees mixing duties when Fred’s busy ringleading – the crowd are hushed by the gentle opening beats of ‘Kyle (i found you)’. Before you know it, a sea of phone cameras are held aloft, with few being returned to the safety of cargo-trouser pockets and Uniqlo bumbags until the end of the second track (“my arm hurts”, mutters one particularly ardent documenter). Thankfully, this initial Instagram-induced rush of recording soon dies down, and people seem more inclined to enjoy the moment as Fred makes his way to a central platform, treating fans to deliciously heavy renditions of ‘Jungle’ and Skrillex / Flowdan collab ‘Rumble’. This is where the venue’s wraparound stage-to-ceiling screens and firefly-like hanging lights come into their own, managing to make the room feel more like an industrial warehouse space than ornate Victorian hall.

Slower moments – during which fans catch their breath, or share sweaty, swaying hugs with their neighbours – pivot into unreleased, pulsing drum’n’bass ad-libs, while Fred gleefully plays around with dynamics, seemingly constructing his setlist on the spot. Some concepts don’t quite come off: at one point mid-set, the crowd are encouraged to dig out the engraved acrylic keyrings that were handed to us as we entered, and hold them in front of our phone torches. The keyrings themselves are a sweet gesture - endearingly uncool and reminiscent of something made with a laser printer in Year 8 DT - but most people abandon the ‘lighters in the air’ moment in favour of good old-fashioned gun fingers. For the most part, though, we’re utterly in the palm of his hand.

The show is at its strongest when Fred delivers what he has an undeniable knack for – infusing his sample-heavy club music with vulnerability and poignant pockets of emotion. Whether it’s prefacing latest single ‘adore u’ with a touching dedication to both his sister and the brother of sampled vocalist Obongjayar or orchestrating an extended spell of crowd participation to sing the central refrain of the Romy-featuring track ‘Strong’, he manages to tap into what is, really, the very essence of live music: the feeling that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.

Never is this more apparent than when Fred resumes his place on the keys to play the soft chords of ‘Angie (i’ve been lost)’. Overlit by hundreds of blue bulbs, the swelling audience chorus almost drowns out the man himself: a room full of mostly twenty-somethings, fervently singing the track’s eponymous, pointedly unambiguous lyrics - lyrics which epitomise the ‘Actual Life’ album trilogy, all created and released during the strangest years of any of our lives.

It’s a lovely moment, after which Fred earnestly thanks the crowd, and walks offstage. People look at each other in confusion, some reeling off the tracks he’s yet to play; the lockdown nostalgia trip ‘Marea (we’ve lost dancing)’ and the intoxicating ‘Billie (loving arms)’ are particularly painful absences. Nobody moves, counting on there being some sort of encore. It’s only when the house lights come on that people start shuffling towards the exits, slightly perturbed by the abrupt conclusion to an otherwise euphoric night. But no matter – if Fred’s meteoric popularity is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty of other opportunities for the audience to see him again. And again, and again, and again..

Tags: Fred again.., Reviews, Live Reviews

Read More

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Stay Updated!

Get the best of DIY to your inbox each week.

Latest Issue

September 2023

Featuring James Blake, Romy, Marika Hackman, yeule and more.

Read Now Buy Now Subscribe to DIY