Fred again.. gives Sydney an arena-sized theatre performance (and lives up to the hype)

We live in a world where cynicism is constantly mistaken for wisdom or rationality. No one really cares when you tell your own story, unless they can see themselves in it. The best storytellers know this, which is why they’re adept at creating art that is relentlessly human.

This is what separates a truly great musician from an average one. It isn’t necessarily technical talent. It’s the thing that’s most crucial for all art: empathy. These musicians are constantly finding abstract ways to make you feel. They know how to hold space in their music for listeners to purge their own emotions. And that’s the most important function of art. It helps people sublimate complicated feelings and speak to themselves in ways the conscious part of the brain cannot. The inner child is the one really listening.

So Why Is Fred again.. so damn popular?

As above, music can help you speak to yourself in ways you wouldn’t otherwise know how. It helps you make sense of things, elevates experiences, adds colour to life and makes you feel in ways that are incredibly personal to you. A lot of wordless music does this especially well. I think, essentially, that’s why a lot of people have borderline religious experiences at raves (even the sober ones), or find solace in the likes of Sigur Ros, Mas Richter and Explosions in the Sky.

Because that’s another thing great storytellers do. They realise that the best story, in any song, is the one the listener brings to the table. That’s why music is such an intensely personal experience.

When non-music publications start posting reviews and articles on a gig, you know they’re trying to get in on that sweet, sweet SEO traffic. After the supremely talented musician managed to sell 100,000 arena tickets in an hour, broke Sydney Opera House records, and basically dominated the local news cycle for days, just about everyone in media was speculating as to why the man is so damn popular.

Unlike some others, I don’t think it’s because his music “brings people together.” I didn’t feel any sense of community in the sold-out Qudos Bank Arena that I wouldn’t have felt at any other concert. Rather, I think Fred again..’s universal appeal lies in his ability to make you feel a sense of community with yourself.

Healing isn’t never getting triggered again. There’s no such thing as 100% healed. Healing is having endless compassion for yourself when you’re going through something. It’s showing up for no one else but the most important person in your life: you.

The soul Fred again.. embeds in his music is by design, and it always feels organic. It’s widely known that the artist uses human field recordings and conversation snippets to build these incredibly hypnotic multi-genre records. His sense of melody and rhythm certainly helps, but the main ingredient in his music is empathy.

What Was Fred again..’s Sydney show like?

You don’t need a review to tell you it was a good show. You know it was. His immense popularity wouldn’t be so fierce and inescapable if it wasn’t. In fact, it was even better than I expected.

And this is another thing that separates a good producer from a great one. The way he is using samples is more part of the songwriting than the beat itself. Which makes Kanye West such a top-tier producer.

Many of Fred’s best tracks are anchored by repetitive one-liners that touch on something universally human. “Pull me out of this,” “throw your loving arms around me,” “I found you.” These simple phrases summaries complicated feelings and mean different things to everyone. They force nostalgia upon you.

And this is why, despite the size of the Qudos Bank Arena, Fred again..’s show felt just as intimate as it did large. He has landed on a production that’s appropriately grand and impressive, playing through songs that in 20 years time will serve as highly emotionally nostalgia traps for Gen Z fans. But the most impressive moments existed outside of bangers like “Jungle” and “leavemealone,” where songs like “loving arms” and “pull me out of this” touched on that intimacy, simply because they hit closer to home for a lot of people.

Fred again..’s modesty shines through while he’s constantly switching between kits, either banging out an incredibly addictive drum pattern and lifting that with swelling electronica, or trading vocals with his housemate, Joy Anonymous, on “peace u need”. He is just a ridiculously talented person that wants to make cool music with his friends, often inspired by his friends, and then make a heap of new friends in the process. He just happens to be too popular to not perform in these large venues anymore.

I almost get the sense that he just wants to play his keyboard and let the samples slowly break our hearts. And that the electronica is just a gift to keep us dancing through that pain. I know maybe I’m overthinking what is a once-in-a-generation talent just making great music, but it’s almost like he’s giving us joy and pain in equal measure, and just letting us decide what we want to do with it.

This is what helps set his live shows apart. The humanity in his music informs everything Fred again.. does on stage and his earnest crowd interactions. Which make it all the more true that he is really the most of-this-moment artist of the past few years.

And I think that’s why Fred again.. was able to sell-out a dizzying amount of shows with little to no notice at all. Just some great guerrilla marketing coupled with songs that already mean so much to people composed by a man who has one foot in the cerebral world of composition, and the other at some of kind of epiphany-inducing rave.

And to think just last year he wasn’t even the headliner at Laneway Festival.

Fred again.. plays one last Australian show (unless there’s more last-minute announcements) at The Domain, Sydney on Saturday 16th March. To no one’s surprise, it’s already sold out..

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.