Rising to prominence via the now pretty-much-classic Hazyville in 2008, London’s Actress, aka Darren J. Cunningham, has made made waves with practically every release he’s put out since. Dipping his fingers in Detroit techno, Chicago house, grime, IDM, hip-hop, noise, drone, and deconstructing, amalgamating and reinterpreting them all according to his own idiosyncratic vision; to say he’s stylistically diverse is like calling Damian Abraham plump (i.e. it’s an understatement). Nevertheless, the sonic variation from album to album is consistently underpinned by Cunningham’s distinct touch, imbuing his music with a frayed, rough-hewn quality aestheticising lo-fi. Oh, and I should mention he runs his own label, Werkdiscs, too, putting out records by Inga Copeland, Zomby, Lone and more like it’s nothing.


So Hazyville has the OG rep, 2012’s R.I.P has the breakthrough/rise-to-major-player status and 2010’s Splazsh is, uh, damn good, but it’s on this year’s Ghettoville where Cunningham’s artistic development culminated. As an apparent effort at crafting sonic brittleness, “as if you were an addict and you feel like the world is crumbling around you”, it’s a stark, frequently impenetrable and deliberately arduous journey with only occasional hints of light at the end of the tunnel. Billed as his final full-length under the Actress moniker, it stands as a grueling eulogy, a fitting close to a journey that went from blunted to bleak. We’ve compiled ten essential tracks from his back catalogue to get you familiarised with that path.


Words by Deva Rao



Let’s start off easy – ‘Crushed’ represents Actress at his most accessible. Fundamentally a (relatively) straightforward house tune, it nonetheless ropes in pretty much all the hallmarks of his (early) musical approach – a markedly sleazy, foggy, worn tape reinterpretation of established house/techno tropes.




Unbeknownst to most, Cunningham’s first release, the No Tricks EP came out in 2004 (!), followed by a four year silence leading up to the seminal Hazyville. More polished aesthetically than his recognized works, ‘Credit Da Edit’ is way ahead of its time, a frenetic, footworky-y blast of energy complete with a rapped acapella.



Funk sample + vocal sample +  beat = hip-hop? Yeah, not really. On paper, perhaps, but only as interpreted through Darren Cunninham’s perpetually opaque production lens.




As implied by the title, ‘Ascending’ has a buoyant quality to it, though sonically it remains consistent and never actually ‘rises’. Cushioned by wavering tape hiss, it disembodies what sounds like a single element of a techno track and recontextualises it as a soothingly repetitive, heady ambient loop.




Though by far one of his longest pieces, ‘Voodoo Posse’ remains relatively unvaried throughout, with all its elements having slowly creeped in by around the third minute. Notionally ambient/downtempo/atmospheric/whatever to some degree, it emanates a sense of hypnotic dread rendering it decidedly unsuitable as ‘background music’.




‘Gaze’ stands as one of the few overtly dance-y moments on this year’s highly challenging Ghettoville, a rare moment of respite on an album that essentially seeks to wear listeners down. But despite the face-value accessibility of its house rhythm, there’s an air of cynicism about the track that makes me feel almost guilty for selecting it over, I don’t know, the equally representative, grinding musique concrete of ‘Street Corp’ or ‘Grey Over Blue’.




Rarely has Actress sounded as sensual as on ‘RAP’, another of Ghettoville’s accessible (or rather, non-bleak) outliers. Based around an enchanting pitched-down R&B sample, it nevertheless retains a degree of the scorched, lo-fi harshness characterising the record.




This is a predictably awesome song by Actress and its title has the word “butt” in it.




Anchored by clear percussive elements and a spectral vocal sample in the background, ‘Caves of Paradise’ toys with conventions of musical foreground/background delineation, sounding akin to the ghost of a club track. So spooky.




Mmm yeah, this right here is some top notch late nite muzik and a perfect way to round things up. Repetitious but never tiresome, this one works whether you’re up late writing/studying/working or, y’know, just keeping it dank.



Actress plays Haperende Mens Festival at Melkweg, Amsterdam on 12 September. The festival is free for Subbacultcha! members. More info here.