Actress (musician)

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Actress, 2012
Actress, 2012
Background information
Birth nameDarren J. Cunningham
Born (1979-08-23) 23 August 1979 (age 43) [1]
Wolverhampton, England[2]
Years active2004–present

Darren J. Cunningham (born 23 August 1979) is a British electronic musician, who uses the pseudonym Actress. His albums include Hazyville (2008), Splazsh (2010), R.I.P. (2012), Ghettoville (2014), AZD (2017), LAGEOS (with the London Contemporary Orchestra; 2018), 88 (2020), and Karma & Desire (2020); released on Ninja Tune, Honest Jon's Records, and Werkdiscs, a label he co-founded in 2004. Splazsh was named best album of the year by The Wire.[3]


Growing up, Cunningham was a footballer, signing and playing for West Bromwich Albion until suffering an injury which derailed his career.[2]

His first introduction to music came through a friend who had a basic music studio set up in his student accommodation. When he went travelling, Cunningham purchased his studio equipment for £200. When he first began making music, Cunningham did not use a metronome, a technique which he says has contributed to how his "style developed". To fund his place on one of the first degree courses in recording arts, Cunningham signed up for a grant programme run by the PFA (Professional Footballers Association).[4]

In 2004, Following his early experiences in music and his subsequent immersion into the London club scene, Actress founded the label Werk Discs (spelt Werkdiscs from 2012). The label started as a club night[4] and has gone on to discover and release music by about artists such as Helena Hauff, disrupt, Zomby, and Cunningham's own releases. During this early period of Cunningham's career, he remixed various productions, wrote for Soma Records and released singles and EPs through Prime Numbers and Nonplus.[4]


Cunningham's debut album, Hazyville, was released originally by Werk Discs on 28 November 2008, and later under both Ninja Tune and Werk Discs in January 2014. Pop Matters described it as a "clear winner"[5] and it was retrospectively described[by whom?] as one of 2008's "most slept-on electronic releases"[6] the album was the first of Cunningham's discography to be originally released by Werk Discs in collaboration with Ninja Tune.

Cunningham's second album Splazsh, released 8 June 2010, was placed on numerous publications' end-of-year lists, including Fact and Resident Advisor, placing 3rd and 4th respectively. On top of this, the album topped The Wire's "2010 Rewind" list.[3] Additionally, the album was placed 91st on Pitchfork's "100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far".[7] It was also his first album to be released by Honest Jon's, a British record label jointly founded by Damon Albarn as an offshoot of the Honest Jon's Record shop. Actress later traveled to the Democratic Republic of The Congo alongside Albarn to record Kinshasa One Two, which was released a year later in 2011 to benefit Oxfam's work in Congo.[8]

On 20 April 2012, R.I.P. was released. It was the second album of Cunningham's to be released on the Honest Jon's imprint. The album received Best New Album from Pitchfork, and was placed third on The Wire's 2012 annual critics' poll. The album was notable for displaying a shift in the musical direction for Actress, and was described as almost feeling "like another artist entirely" by Drowned in Sound, who also described it as "the most fully realised, ambitious and rewarding project that Cunningham has yet put to record".[9]

Many thought Ghettoville, Cunningham's fourth album, to be his last, due to the cryptic press-release preceding the release of the project, in which he described the album as a "black tinted conclusion of the Actress image", and signed the message off with 'R.I.P. Music 2014'.[10] The album was released collaboratively by both Cunningham's own label, Werkdiscs, and Ninja Tune, and went on to reach number 20 on the Billboard Chart's Top Dance/Electronic albums.[11] It has been described[by whom?] as sitting "at the point of convergence for all of electronic music's most cutting-edge sounds, incorporating pieces of them all and feeling out the unexpected ways they synchronize."[12] For Cunningham's live performances of the album, he commissioned artists such as Riyo Nemeth, William Stein, and Nic Hamilton to create visual interpretations of each of the album's tracks.[13] Stein's visual interpretation of the album would be used for the album's artwork.[14]

On 14 April 2017, Actress released AZD, his fifth studio album.[15] The album was described by Thea Ballard, writing for Pitchfork, as an album that explores "Cunningham's clubbiest and most avant-garde impulses, exploring language and Afrofuturism while maintaining a musicality that holds the listener close."[16] Resident Advisor opined that "Cunningham can once again produce mirage-like moment[s] of beauty like nobody else".[17] The album entered the UK Albums Chart at number 45, reaching number 3 on the UK Electronic iTunes Album Chart, number 5 on the US Electronic iTunes Album Chart, and number 6 on the German Electronic iTunes Album Charts.[citation needed]

In October 2017, Actress was invited by the British Arts Council to perform a multimedia interpretation of Steve Reich's Different Trains to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence. Titled Different trains 1947, the performance was a collaborative piece between Actress, Jack Barnett (These New Puritans), Indian music producer Sandunes, percussionist Jivraj Singh and vocalist Priya Purushothaman, and filmmakers/artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who performed a new audiovisual composition in response to the events of 1947.[18]

On 26 May 2018, Actress collaborated with the London Contemporary Orchestra, performing to a sold-out audience at the Barbican, London.[19] In 2018, the recordings of this performance were compiled and released as an album titled LAGEOS, described by The Guardian as formulating "a new sonic palette that is in equal measures intriguing and unsettling."[20]

On 15 May 2019, Actress performed a musical and artistic tribute to Karlheinz Stockhausen in a show named 'Sin (x)', performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London.[21]

On 16 July 2020, Actress released an album titled 88 on Bandcamp. The record was uploaded as a 49 minute single.[22]

On 1 September 2020, Actress released the single "Walking Flames" with Sampha on vocals. Also that month, he remixed LEYA's song "Wave” from the duo's LP Flood Dream.[23]

On 23 October 2020, Actress released his eighth album, Karma & Desire, with Ninja Tune.[24][25] The album was included in Pitchfork's 41 Most Anticipated Albums of Fall 2020.[26] Accompanying its release, Actress released a short film named after the album. The film was directed by Lee Bootee and includes appearances from Sampha, Zsela and Aura T-09 who all feature on the album.[27][28] The album reached number 4 on the UK electronic album charts and was well received by critics, with Actress being acclaimed for further developing his sound. Bandcamp described it as "warmer and more generous than anything he's released to date",[29] and in a 10/10 review, Future Music added it is "a masterpiece of ethereal, smudged contemporary electronic music" and "perhaps Actress' most accomplished work to date".[30] Karma & Desire was included in The Guardian's 50 best albums of 2020[31] and reached number 31 in Clash's Albums of the Year 2020 list.[32] Karma & Desire was nominated for A2IM's 2021 Libera Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album.[citation needed]

Exhibition work[edit]

In March 2012, shortly before the release of R.I.P., Cunningham performed alongside Koreless and Lapalux as part of a Tate Modern exhibition dedicated to the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.[33]

Actress participated in Alternative Perceptions in September 2012 at Tate Modern, a collaboration with Matthew Herbert and several other artists such as Moiré, Purple Ferdinand, Kate Tempest and Knit the City.[34] Cunningham went on to collaborate with choreographer Eddie Peake and visual artist Nic Hamilton in August 2013 for a collaborative multimedia performance at St John-at-Hackney. Titled A Shared Cultural Memory, the piece was billed as "audio-visual experiences in direct response to the architecture and atmosphere of the Church."[35]

In September 2021, Actress debuted the audiovisual piece entitled Grey Interiors, in collaboration with the Actual Objects art collective, at the Zeiss-Großplanetarium as part of The New Infinity event at Berlin Art Week.[36] "The three-part composition shows our civilization as an imploded space without recognizable gravity, of which only floating machine fragments and rotting objects remain as quotations without a reference system".[37]



Singles and EPs[edit]

  • "No Tricks" (2004, Werk Discs)
  • "Ghosts Have a Heaven" (2009, Prime Numbers)
  • "Machine and Voice" (2010, Nonplus)
  • "Paint, Straw and Bubbles" / "Maze" (2010, Honest Jon's)
  • "Harrier ATTK" / "Gershwin" (2011, Nonplus)
  • "Rainy Dub" / "Faceless" (2011, Honest Jon's)
  • "Silver Cloud" (2013, Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune)
  • "Grey Over Blue" (2013, Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune)
  • "Xoul" (2014, Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune)
  • "X22RME" (2017, Ninja Tune)
  • "Audio Track 5" (w/ London Contemporary Orchestra) (2018, Ninja Tune)
  • "Walking Flames" (feat. Sampha) (2020, Ninja Tune)


  • Various Production – "Lost (Actress Remix)" (2008, Various Production)
  • Neon Indian – "The Blindside Kiss (Actress Remix)" (Transgressive, 2013)
  • Kelis – "Rumble (Actress Sixinium Bootleg Remix)" (2014, Ninja Tune)
  • Sporting Life, Evy Jane – "Court Vision (Actress Remix)" (2016, R&S)
  • Joji – "Window (Actress Remix)" (2018, 88rising / Empire)
  • Daniel Avery – "Slow Fade (Actress Remix)" (2018, PIAS)
  • Leya – "Wave (Actress Remix)" (2020, NNA Tapes)
  • Soccer Mommy – "crawling in my skin (Actress remix)" (2020, Loma Vista)
  • Para One – "Shin Sekai (Actress Remix)" (2021, Animal63)
  • Perfume Genius – "One More Time (Actress Remix)" (2021, Matador)
  • Kelsey Lu, Yves Tumor, Kelly Moran, Moses Boyd – "let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out (Actress Remix)" (2021, Hydroharmonia / No Tracks)
  • Kaleida – "Think (Actress Tone Two Remix)" (2021, Lex)

Other albums[edit]


  1. ^ "B9 Talks | Actress".
  2. ^ a b "Actress, more cerebral than your average techno artist". The Guardian. 13 April 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  3. ^ a b "2010 Rewind". The Wire. January 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "Actress". Ninja Tune. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  5. ^ "Actress: Hazyville". Pop Matters. January 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  6. ^ "Actress - Hazyville | Music Review". Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  7. ^ "The Top 100 Albums of 2010". Pitchfork. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Kinshasa One Two, an album by DRC Music recorded exclusively for Oxfam, now on sale". Oxfam. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Actress R.I.P." Drowned in Sound. 23 April 2012. Archived from the original on 3 September 2019. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Actress announces full details of new album Ghettoville; the LP may be his last". Resident Advisor. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  11. ^ "Ghettoville Actress". Billboard. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  12. ^ Holzmann, Samuel (January 27, 2014). "Review: Actress - Ghettoville". Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  13. ^ "Dark Matter: An Interview With Actress". The Quietus. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  14. ^ "See inside the deluxe boxset version of Actress' farewell album, Ghettoville". Fact. 16 January 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  15. ^ "AZD by Actress". Metacritic. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Actress AZD". Pitchfork. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  17. ^ "Actress Live A/V & DJ Funk presented by Future, Perfect & DJ Dials". Resident Advisor. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  18. ^ "'Differenttrains1947'". differentrains1947. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  19. ^ "Barbican announces Actress + London Contemporary Orchestra, Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Wynton Marsalis Quartet". Barbican. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Actress x London Contemporary Orchestra: Lageos review – an intriguing hybrid". The Guardian. 27 May 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  21. ^ "ACTRESS X STOCKHAUSEN SIN (X) II REVIEW – TRANSCENDENT AI-DRIVEN OPERA". Decca Publishing. 15 May 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  22. ^ "Actress Drops New Album and Announces Another One". Pitchfork. 16 July 2020. Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  23. ^ "Actress and Sampha Share New Song "Walking Flames": Listen". Pitchfork. September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  24. ^ "The Quietus - Features - Album Of The Week - The World, The Flesh, And The Dancefloor: Karma And Desire By Actress". The Quietus. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  25. ^ "Actress Explores the Voice on 'Karma & Desire', PopMatters". Pop Matters. 1 December 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  26. ^ Pitchfork (8 September 2020). "The 41 Most Anticipated Albums of Fall 2020: Cardi B, Sufjan, Phoenix, 2 Chainz, and More". Pitchfork. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  27. ^ "Watch Actress' New Short Film Featuring Yves Tumor, Sampha, Zsela, and More". Pitchfork. 27 October 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  28. ^ "Actress pays homage to Wings Of Desire with Karma & Desire short film". Fact Magazine. 27 October 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  29. ^ "Actress Walks Us Through His Moody Atmospheric Albums". Bandcamp. 21 October 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  30. ^ "Actress Karma & Desire Album Review - Future Music". Magzter. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  31. ^ "The 50 best albums of 2020: the full list". The Guardian. 18 December 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  32. ^ "Clash Albums Of The Year 2020". Clash Music. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  33. ^ "Hear an outtake from Actress's Yayoi Kusama-inspired piece for the Tate Modern". factmag. 3 October 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  34. ^ "Actress, Matthew Herbert and more explore Alternative Perceptions at the Tate Britain". factmag. 19 September 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  35. ^ "Actress - St John Sessions". Resident Advisor. 29 August 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  36. ^ "The New Infinity". Berliner Festspiele. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  37. ^ "The New Infinity Programme. Actress & Actual Objects: Grey Interiors". Berliner Festspiele. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  38. ^ "Actress drops new album and releases another one". Pitchfork. 16 July 2020.
  39. ^ "Actress - Karma & Desire". Clash Magazine. Retrieved 1 May 2022.

External links[edit]