Fred again.. at Brixton Academy review: foot-stomping crowd pleasers

 (Theo Batterham)
(Theo Batterham)

Fred Gibson, aka Fred again.., has had a good year.

In July, he blew the roof off the dance music world with his YouTube Boiler Room Set. In October, he released his new album, Actual Life 3 – and in December he’s been playing sold-out sets at the venue of his dreams.

Last night at Brixton Academy was one of three sold-out appearances for the 29-year-old Londoner, whose star has steadily been on the rise for the past few years.

Aptly for an artist who’s made his name spinning music from late-night DMs (many of the songs on Actual Life 3 sample voice notes from his friends, whose names feature in the track titles), the night had the feeling of an intimate confessional.

Text messages appeared on the screen behind him, telling the audience that he’d been attending the venue for years as a fan. “This is HOME!” flashed up towards the start of his first song, and his fans duly welcomed him in with open arms.

Gibson has made his name working with some of the industry’s biggest names – Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and Halsey among others – and in this blistering set, that experience was on full display. Starting with the surprisingly low key Kyle (I Found You), the night really hit its stride with Bleu (Better With Time): a crowd-stomping pleaser with a bass note that rattled the eardrums.

Trademark grin: Fred Again.. on stage (Theo Batterham)
Trademark grin: Fred Again.. on stage (Theo Batterham)

From there, it became apparent just how catchy Fred again..’s songs are. What sounded good on Spotify became transcendent live: songs like Jungle, Danielle (Smile on My Face) and Angie (I’ve Been Lost) were roared back by the crowd at such a pitch that even Gibson seemed lost for words.

With his usual grin plastered to his face, he cut a striking figure in the middle of the stage, armed with a slender keyboard and his electronic equipment. As he spun dials and smashed buttons, the three massive displays behind him (shaped roughly like mobile phone screens) beamed out video clips of London, more messages and shaky footage of his friends, including The xx’s Romy Madley Croft, who made a brief recorded appearance to sing a few bars from their song Lights Out. The end result was almost trance-like: like stepping through the looking glass into his vision of the world.

There were some downbeat songs too. The audience dutifully quietened down for the slower, keyboard-driven Nathan (Still Breathing) and Dermot (See Yourself in My Eyes), but their inclusion seemed slightly misjudged: rather than holding the crowd spellbound, they felt jarring.

Fortunately, these moments were brief. The fans were there for hard-hitting tunes to dance away the chill on a cold December night, and the finale did just that, bringing out Delilah (Pull Me Out of This), Billie (Loving Arms) and Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) in quick succession. Drinks went flying as the crowd bounced along to the beats.

As the evening wound to a close, the fans flooding the lobby started an impromptu, bellowed rendition of Billie (Loving Arms) that must have been audible all the way from backstage. The good mood was infectious: it was impossible not to sing along - and to imagine Gibson listening in with a big smile on his face.

Brixton Academy, to December 9;