Actress, real name Darren Jordan Cunningham, known to friends as DAZ, returns with a new album, now on Ninja Tune and a new music system called “AZD” (pronounced “Azid”), a chrome aspect journey into a parallel world. An artist who has always preferred to make music than to talk about it, in “AZD” he has achieved another remarkable landmark, one which is as resistant to interpretation as it is demanding of it. Following on from his previous albums, R.I.P, Splazsh and Hazyville, an epilogue poem attached to the press release for Ghettoville was construed by media, commentators and spectators that Cunningham had retired. This led him to conceptualise this mass of conclusion as the key to ‘Giving power back to identity.’
So a few pointers, or possible ways to think about “AZD”. The album is themed around chrome – both as a reflective surface to see the self in, and as something that carves luminous voids out of any colour and fine focuses white and black representing the perfect metaphor for the bleakness of life in the Metropolis as suggested by Anish Kapoors Cloud Gate.
Another way to approach would be through the art of James Hampton and Rammellzee (who inspired “CYN,” which Cunningham also sees as a vision of New York in reverse…) – both of whom, though of different generations of the African-American slave diaspora, created art through “Sourcing castaway materials from their environment and reinterprating them into absolute majesty given from the fourth dimension.” There is also the career-long influence of the Detroit techno pioneers, something which becomes clear on this album “there is a contrast in the type of glow or reflection”.
Alternatively, you could write your PhD thesis on Jung’s Shadow Theory and AZD: “Lots of ideas come from dreams, this isn’t new, but sometimes the conscious mind starts to meld into the universal consciousness through constellation tunnelling.” If that sounds too taxing then you could always fall back on Star Wars and, in particular, the Death Star: “It has a dark dystopian backdrop, with highly sophisticated technology, but it is fading into the ether, still holding on and emitting a powerful energy. The music remaking the embers, binding them together and pulling them apart again.”
Alternatively, just listen. That “glow” Cunningham talks about makes this in some ways more immediate than previous Actress releases. Take lead single, “X22RME” (pronounced “Extreme”) which elegantly plays between the lines of Oriental classic rave and Balinese warehouse Techno machined in a Rotherhithe lock up welding the grooves into a seamless cracked joint.
At the other end of the spectrum is “Faure in Chrome,” a byproduct or development from his collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra, in which he “repatterns” aspect of Faure’s Requiem into a piece which sounds like the very institution of classical music being encased in electronic ice and scanned through a high frequency bandwidth. In between are gems like “Runner,” a personal re-soundtracking of Blade Runner “its from the deleted Fade Runner scene where AZD in a Peckham Cafe realises his barber has over the years etched a faded scroll into his head using early 80s African synthpop as a vexing serum“, or “Falling Rizlas,” an alienated music-box ballad. It’s a remarkable piece of work, that harks back both to Actress’ previous productions and to earlier iterations of the (broadly conceived) “techno” project without being beholden to anything but Cunningham’s forward-facing, individual and disembodied vision.
The simplest you could say about “AZD” is that it’s art – the unique creation of a unique mind. There will be few more distinctive, brilliant or visionary suites of music released in 2017. Call him what you will, this is the year that Darren ‘Daz’ Cunningham - aka Actress, aka AZD – asserts more clearly than ever before his complete independence.