A Love Letter to Burial, the Producer Who Changed—and Saved—My Life
"At a time when I wanted to vanish, I found music that was dreamily dissociative and delectably anaesthetic."
A fun game for a dismal Sunday: get a load of Burial fans to swap their tatty spliffs for pens and ask them to draw what they hear. Apart from the one pink-eyed joker in the pack who still thinks drawing massive cocks is really funny actually, I'd happily bet you my Japanese digipak copy of Untrue that the rest of them will present you (eventually) with variations on a theme. What the grey-skinned boys will have produced will invariably feature the nightbus, chicken bone debris, and a sign pointing somewhere towards Thornton Heath. Burial is the John Betjeman of South London's post-clubbing comedowners, a chronicler of greyness, ghosts, and grief.
Burial, in his own murky way, writes love letters. This is a love letter to Bruial, an ode to the feelings that this strange and singular producer, this impersonal poet of the deeply poetic, evokes and engenders. He's a cartographer, a geographer, an anthropologist. And he makes really, really good records.
My own experience with him is a reversal of that of many of his fans'. It was only after seeing the now-infamous selfie he posted after years of speculation over his identity hung over him like mist clinging to the shrubs of Telegraph Hill Park, that I found myself listening to his self-titled debut LP. It changed everything for me. The sublimely suburban meandering sensation of Burial's work cannot be overstated. For me, it's the sound of getting the N68 back to Croydon, but for you, it might be getting the N3 back to Bromley North. In his work, his music, I found not only the sound of London itself, but the sound of growing up and falling headfirst into the unknown.
Burial, from that moment on, was a staple of my musical diet, but like a six BBQ wings and chips meal from a knock-off Morleys, he was best enjoyed in the dead of night. There are things in this life that only come alive when we're cloaked by darkness. Things like a feeling of goodwill for your friends communicated via mashed text messages. Things like a burning desire to watch How It's Made for hours on end. Things like Burial. After night's fallen, the haunted voices that slide through tracks like "U Hurt Me" or "Endorphin" seem to have been unearthed from somewhere deepunderground, deep below and before the Underground. They ache and arc, pining perpetually for something already gone, lost, vanished.
Now, without wanting to go even further underground, I came to associate that kind of darkness with the the darkness and emptiness that I was feeling myself at the time. Falling deeper into a never-ending comedown of depression and nocturnal loneliness—at this point in my life I wanted to lose myself completely—led me to spend endless late evenings and early mornings with Burial playing in my tinny earphones. There was something about his use of rhythm and percussion specifically—those recontextualized 2step patterns, those echoes of London raves long since lost, that anxious jitter—that made his music feel almost transcendental to me. At a time when I wanted to vanish, I found music that was dreamily dissociative and delectably anaesthetic.
Perhaps his anonymity was seductive to me, too, or at least enchanting. Sure, the Sun, like a journalistic Grinch, asked its readership to 'dig up the real Burial' (#content right there folks) in 2008 and thus destroy some of the magic. But, apart from the occasional statement or interview, one or two pics, and his alleged name—William Bevan—there's not all that much to go by. Crucially, contrary to rumours going around at Unsound Festival 2015, he's never even appeared live. Somewhere, right now, a student's having a hazy daydream about the comparisons between him and Banksy. Burial's anonymity goes beyond mere 6th form shock tactics though, and, somehow, it only adds to the potency of his productions.
As easy as it is to slide straight into Pseuds Corner when it comes to writing about Burial, the balloon of pretension is always pirckable, and there's a genuine honesty to his music. Despite the brooding selfies, and the melange of reference points, and the hyberbolic forum posts, Burial at his best is an artist capable of wringing emotion out of the everyday. Think about "In McDonalds" for a second. That track, taken from Untrue, is an astonishingly beautiful piece of music, given the most (intentionally) throwaway title imaginable. The sublime and the mundane stumble into the Norwood night, hand in hand. Into the dark, once again. Into the unknown.
Above all, Burial's music is the sound of being haunted. My favourite song of his is alternative Christmas carol "Come Down With Us", with with its chilling vocals taking you down to a grave of voices. It's the perfect summary of everything Burial is about and slam-dunks any inane brostep masquerading as 'dubstep' into your Lewisham wheelie bin for eternity. But, whereas a few months ago I'd notice the darkness of the vocals, now it's the moments of euphoria that I pick up more - 'Don't be afraid to step into the unknown...you are not alone...become one'. That's got to count for something.
Fifteen years since Burial started making tunes, his music still sounds as futuristic as ever. And, in a year that's been filled with some pretty soul-crushing decisions (looking at you Brexiters), it's never been more healing. In these pretty shitty times, there's no better way to wrap-up this little letter of love than with the ending of Burial's most recent note: 'Big shout out to the UK & everywhere else. Cheers & respect to everyone and anyone...be safe & take care'.