Actress (musician)

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Actress, 2012
Actress, 2012
Background information
Birth nameDarren J. Cunningham
Born (1979-08-23) 23 August 1979 (age 41) [1]
Wolverhampton, England[2]
GenresElectronic, experimental techno, outsider house
Years active2004-present
LabelsWerkdiscs, Ninja Tune, Honest Jon's
Nonplus Records, Shark Men Records, Prime Numbers

Darren J. Cunningham (born 23 August 1979 in Wolverhampton, England) is a British electronic musician, best known under the pseudonym Actress. His music has been released by a variety of different recording labels, which most prominently include Ninja Tune, Honest Jon's Records, and Werkdiscs, a label he co-founded in 2004. His 2010 album, Splazsh, was named the best album of the year by UK magazine The Wire.[3]


Growing up, Cunningham was a talented footballer, signing and playing for West Bromwich Albion until suffering an injury which derailed his career as a promising young talent. Cunningham’s first introduction to music came through Matthew Parsons; Cunningham’s friend who had a basic music studio set up in his student accommodation. When Parsons went travelling, Cunningham purchased Parson’s studio equipment for £200. When he first began making music, Cunningham did not use a metronome, a technique which Cunningham 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 (later spelt Werkdiscs from 2012). The label started as a club night[4] and has gone on to discover and release music by widely-talked 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 the ‘seminal techno imprint Soma Records’ and ‘put out 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.[5] Pop Matters described it as a ‘clear winner’[6] and it was retrospectively described as one of 2008's 'most slept-on electronic releases'[7] 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".[8] 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 ‘Kinshasha One Two’, which was released a year later in 2011 as a benefit single for Oxfam’s work in Congo.[9]

In March 2012, shortly before the release of his next album, Cunningham performed alongside Koreless and Lapalux as part of a Tate Modern exhibition dedicated to the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.[10]

On 20 April 2012, two years after the release of Splazsh, 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'.[11]

Following this, Actress participated in ‘Alternative Perceptions’ at Tate Modern, a collaboration with Matthew Herbert and several other artists such as Moiré, Purple Ferdinand, Kate Tempest and Knit the City. The event took place on 22 September 2012.[12] 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 ‘a night of unique audio-visual experiences in direct response to the architecture and atmosphere of the Church.’[13]

Many thought Ghettoville, Cunningham's third album, to be his last, due to the cryptic press-release preceding the release of the project, in which Actress described the album as a ‘black tinted conclusion of the Actress image’, and signed the message off with ‘R.I.P. Music 2014’.[14] The album was released collaboratively by both Cunningham’s own label, Werkdiscs, and Ninjatune, and went on to reach number 20 on the Billboard Chart's ‘Top Dance/Electronic albums’.[15] It has been described 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.'[16] For Cunningham’s live performances of the album, Cunningham commissioned artists such as Riyo Nemeth, William Stein, and Nic Hamilton to create visual interpretations of each of the album’s tracks.[17] William Stein’s visual interpretation of the album would be utilized for the album’s artwork.[18]

On 14 April 2017, Actress released AZD, his fifth studio album.[19] 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.'[20] Resident Advisor opined that ‘Cunningham can once again produce mirage-like moment[s] of beauty like nobody else’.[21] 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.

In October 2017, Actress was invited by the British Arts Council to perform a multimedia interpretation of 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 & Jane Pollard, who performed a new audiovisual composition in response to the events of 1947.[22]

On 26 May 2018, Actress collaborated with the London Contemporary Orchestra, performing to a sold-out audience at the Barbican, London.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25] On 16 July 2020, Actress released an album titled 88 on Bandcamp. The record was uploaded as a 49 minute single.[26]

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.[27]

On 23 October 2020, Actress released his eighth album, Karma & Desire, with Ninja Tune.[28] The album was included in Pitchfork’s 41 Most Anticipated Albums of Fall 2020.[29] Accompanying its release, Actress released a short film entitled 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. [30] 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",[31] 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".[32] Karma & Desire was regarded as one of the best albums of 2020, being featured in The Guardian's 50 best albums of 2020[33] and reaching number 31 in Clash's Albums of the Year 2020 list.[34] Karma & Desire has been nominated for A2IM's 2021 Libera Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album.



Singles and EPs[edit]

  • "No Tricks" (2004, Werk Discs)
  • "Ghosts Have a Heaven" (2009, Prime Numbers)
  • "Machine and Voice" (2010, Nonplus Records)
  • "Paint, Straw and Bubbles" / "Maze" (2010, Honest Jon's Records)
  • "Harrier ATTK" / "Gershwin" (2011, Nonplus Records)
  • "Rainy Dub" / "Faceless" (2011, Honest Jon's Records)
  • "Silver Cloud" (2013, Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune)
  • "Grey Over Blue" (2013, Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune)
  • "Kelis – Rumble (Actress Sixinium Bootleg Remix)" (2014, 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)

Other albums[edit]


  1. ^ "B9 Talks | Actress".
  2. ^ "Actress: Rate Your Music". Rate Your Music. December 2013. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  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. ^ "Hazyville / Actress / Releases / Ninja Tunes". Ninja Tune. November 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Actress: Hazyville". Pop Matters. January 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  7. ^ "Actress - Hazyville | Music Review". Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  8. ^ "The Top 100 Albums of 2010". Pitchfork. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Kinshasa One Two, an album by DRC Music recorded exclusively for Oxfam, now on sale". Oxfam. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Hear an outtake from Actress's Yayoi Kusama-inspired piece for the Tate Modern". factmag. 3 October 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  11. ^ "Actress R.I.P." Drowned in Sound. 23 April 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  12. ^ "Actress, Matthew Herbert and more explore Alternative Perceptions at the Tate Britain". factmag. 19 September 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  13. ^ "Actress - St John Sessions". Resident Advisor. 29 August 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Actress announces full details of new album Ghettoville; the LP may be his last". Resident Advisor. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  15. ^ "Ghettoville Actress". Billboard. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  16. ^ Holzmann, Samuel (January 27, 2014). "Review: Actress - Ghettoville". ‘’'. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  17. ^ "Dark Matter: An Interview With Actress". The Quietus. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  18. ^ "See inside the deluxe boxset version of Actress' farewell album, Ghettoville". Fact. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  19. ^ "AZD by Actress". Metacritic. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Actress AZD". Pitchfork. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  21. ^ "Actress Live A/V & DJ Funk presented by Future, Perfect & DJ Dials". Resident Advisor. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  22. ^ "'Differenttrains1947'". differentrains1947. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Barbican announces Actress + London Contemporary Orchestra, Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Wynton Marsalis Quartet". ‘'. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  24. ^ "Actress x London Contemporary Orchestra: Lageos review – an intriguing hybrid". ’The Guardian'. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  25. ^ "ACTRESS X STOCKHAUSEN SIN (X) II REVIEW – TRANSCENDENT AI-DRIVEN OPERA". ’Decca Publishing'. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  26. ^ "Actress Drops New Album and Announces Another One". ’Pitchfork'. Retrieved 23 July 2020.
  27. ^ "Actress and Sampha Share New Song "Walking Flames": Listen". ’Pitchfork'. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  28. ^ "Karma & Desire by Actress". Ninja Tune. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ "Actress - 'Karma and Desire' (Short Film)". YouTube. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  31. ^ "Actress Walks Us Through His Moody Atmospheric Albums". Bandcamp. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  32. ^ "Actress Karma & Desire Album Review - Future Music". Magzter. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  33. ^ "The 50 best albums of 2020: the full list". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  34. ^ "Clash Albums Of The Year 2020". Clash Music. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  35. ^ "Hazyville / Actress / Releases / Ninja Tunes". Ninja Tune. November 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  36. ^ "Splazsh – Honest Jon's Records". Splazsh. Honest Jon's Records. May 2010. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  37. ^ "R.I.P – Honest Jon's Records". R.I.P. Honest Jon's Records. April 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  38. ^ "Ghettoville / Actress / Releases / Ninja Tunes". Ninja Tune. November 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  39. ^ "Actress AZD". Ninja Tune. 14 March 2017.
  40. ^ "LAGEOS by Actress x London Contemporary Orchestra". Ninja Tune. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  41. ^ "Actress drops new album and releases another one". Pitchfork (website). 16 July 2020.
  42. ^ Middleton, Ryan (23 October 2020). "Album Review: Actress - Karma & Desire". Magnetic Mag. Retrieved 26 October 2020.

External links[edit]