We review recent progress, based on the approach introduced by McKeon and Sharma [J. Fluid Mech. 658, 336–382 (2010)10.1017/S002211201000176X], in understanding and controlling wall turbulence. The origins of this analysis partly lie in nonlinear robust control theory, but a differentiating feature is the connection with, and prediction of, state-of-the-art understanding of velocity statistics and coherent structures observed in real, high Reynolds number flows. A key component of this line of work is an experimental demonstration of the excitation of velocity response modes predicted by the theory using non-ideal, but practical, actuation at the wall. Limitations of the approach and promising directions for future development are outlined.