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Burial's "Rival Dealer" EP Is An Ode To Our Post-Millennial Identity Crisis

Steph Kretowicz on the latest release from London's most mysterious producer.

by Steph Kretowicz
16 December 2013, 6:28pm

Burial. It's a name I knew before hearing the music.

As a recent ex-pat living in London my history is not of garage, hardcore and dubstep, but of loitering in the Australian suburbs and listening to California punk. In the mid-00s Burial didn't exist to me and yet, seven years on and worlds apart, there's something about the lonely percussive loops and muffled voices of his 2006 self-titled debut, Untrue, and "Paradise Circus", "Kindred", and "Truant" to follow, that still apply to my past. It's in the intangible familiarity; a sound heard through a haze that makes Burial's music as generational as it is acutely personal, identifying a deep, confounding sense of loss. 

That terrifying uncertainty, that groundless reality, hasn't dissipated with "Rival Dealer"; with the rising histrionics of the title-track and the crumbling, acid techno death march of "Hiders", it's only become more agitated. Mangled exoticisms hurtle into the elevated, slightly queer trance of "Come Down To Us", making it less summer party anthem and more alien suicide cult at the frenzied cusp of the great disappointment. A feminine voice breathlessly announces, "I saw something". 

What did she see? Not Burial.

"Burial is William Bevan from South London". So what? Do we believe it? Maybe he is actually Four Tet. Maybe he didn't go to Elliot School. Maybe that photo's not him. Maybe William Bevan isn't his real name. Burial exists in a fog. Announcing "This is who I am" in a statement that book ends "Rival Dealer" through vocal sample cyphers that establish him as a Citizen Kane character of identity, pieced together by external sources. This isn't his voice. It's everyone's.

It's a name that eulogises the dead producers, illegal parties and underground raves he was never a part of. Behaviour that includes never playing live. Being a no-show for the Mercury Prize and sticking to the same small, south London label through all of it. Burial can't be bought. It's something he's been vocal about in the few interviews he's done; his desire for authenticity independent of the trappings of fame and fortune.

But there's nothing real (or authentic, rather) about Burial's music. Created on digital audio software, immersed in the fake crackle, reproduced from pirate radio, tapes and vinyl, samples stolen, stretched and manipulated from across the pop and underground cultural universe: it's all fake. Burial has said that he's yearning for a past he never knew. A past his brother introduced him to from a distance; getting lost in translation while he tries to recreate it. His sound is less reminiscent of a time that existed, but a yearning for a past that never did. It might not be authentic but it's genuine, and it's genuine in that it's not authentic. 

How could anyone feel so disaffected in this era of abundance? There's the internet, after all. For those of us lucky enough to have access to it, we have a world of information, entertainment and distraction at our disposal. Yet, at what cost? For the small price of your privacy you can shape, optimise and reanimate your identitie(s) online, untouched by the violent reality of your own subjection. "In exchange for your actual freedom, here's a simulation of it that you can pay for. Thanks".

That's why Burial speaks to a generation. Where Hype Williams characterise themselves as the "current baton holders" of a "relay art project" curated by one "Denna Frances Glass", there's Jai Paul and that ever-elusive album debut, Felicita, SOPHIE, Samuel; all artists emerging in London and shirking the responsibility of a graspable, public persona. These are producers who grew up in the age video games; before the internet took hold but after clubs were commercialised, squats repatriated by property owners and everyone became benumbed by their fifteen minutes of Facebook fame. "You can't hide, the media clocks everything" Burial says, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to.

Because the "bullies" he talks about aren't insecure kids in the playground. It's the social conventions, the top-down systems of control that oppress and exploit on a global scale. Allow yourself to be compartmentalised, packaged and ultimately marginalised - via data, algorithms, genres - and you surrender your freedom. 

That's why if Burial takes a long overdue change of direction, which he has on "Rival Dealer", then all the better. The fascination with exotic distance (reminiscent of the New Age ambience of Future Sound of London) surfaces in the freaky epiphany scrambled in static on "Come Down To Us". The rattling of paint cans, train tracks and aerosol samples opening the acid house thrust of "Rival Dealer" are the sounds of resistance. The squelching bass and frenetic, palpitating beat of "Hiders" speaks to the Second Summer of Love, in lieu of the third. There's power in self-destruction, and Burial's ode to club scene hedonism expresses that. 

Mutability and movement is key to evasion, commodification, disposability. Be unpredictable, confound expectation and, whatever you do, don't tell people who you are - or at least what they think you should be. Why give yourself away? By finding exposure you become exposed. Privacy, security, freedom. These are the things that we've given up without even realising it. Burial is lost and endlessly wandering trying to get them back, while announcing, again, at the end of Rival Dealers "This is who I am"; because who he is is not what they want him to be. 

Follow Steph Kretowicz on Twitter: @StephKretowicz

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