Sound Of 2023: Fred Again’s emotive electronica earns second place

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Fred Gibson, aka house musician Fred Again, is one of the best-connected people in the music industry.

Mentored by Brian Eno as a teenager, he made his name as a writer-producer on hits like George Ezra’s Shotgun, Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits, Stormzy’s Own It and Charli XCX’s After The Afterparty.

In 2020, the Brits named him producer of the year. At 26, he was the youngest-ever person to receive the award.

Around the same time, he struck out as a solo artist, releasing a trilogy of albums that blended house beats with everyday sounds and conversations he collected on his phone.

While most dance music is framed as escapism, his songs are intimate and heartfelt. The first volume of his Actual Life series was inspired by a friend who became ill and passed away; and the second is about coming to terms with that pain.

The third, which sees his world opening up again post-pandemic, entered the UK album charts at number four in October.

“For me, the narrative arc of the albums is probably a sort of changing relationship with grief,” he says. “But it’s become lots of different things to different people. Which is obviously a beautiful thing.”

The impact of those records has earned Fred Again second place in the BBC’s Sound Of 2023 – with experts like Dua Lipa, Pete Tong, Sam Smith and Emily Eavis all tipping him for mainstream success next year.

He joins electronic artist Nia Archives, soul band Gabriels and singer-songwriter Cat Burns in the top five, with the winner to be revealed on BBC Radio 1 on Thursday.

Gibson was born and raised in Balham, south London, and showed an aptitude for music early on, learning piano and tuned percussion instruments like the marimba and xylophone before moving on to drums and guitar – ensuring he could build entire songs from scratch by himself.

He started recording classical piano pieces on his aunt’s tape recorder at the age of eight and, when he was sent to boarding school in Wiltshire, often bunked off lessons to spend time in the music room.

When he was 16, a family friend invited him to join a local a capella group, which happened to be run by Brian Eno – the ambient music pioneer and producer to David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2 and Coldplay.

Eno took the young musician under his wing after hearing a piece he’d written called An Electronic Symphony, featuring rappers, singers and a 50-piece school orchestra.

Pretty soon, Gibson was working at Eno’s studio, making tea, running errands and geeking out over vintage synthesizers, while working on his own music in the downtime. In 2014, Eno invited him to co-produce two albums he was making with Underworld’s Karl Hyde.

However, Eno rejected the idea that he “mentored” the teenager, saying they learned equal amounts from each other.

“I could see he was brilliant… but I didn’t really understand a lot of what he was doing,” he told Apple Music. “It took me quite a while to think ‘Oh my gosh, this is really a new idea about how you can make music’.

“They’re very non-linear, his pieces. They don’t have the same homogeneity that you would normally get from, for instance, loop-based music.”

Gibson acknowledges that he spurns the typical verse-chorus structures of pop, but he can’t exactly explain why.

“It might be because I originally came at things from a background of classical music?” he speculates. “It might be! But I don’t know!”

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