If the naysayers are to be believed, then rock, pop and rave are dead and we’re all living in some limbo-like afterlife, trapped there with the slowly decaying corpse of our own pop culture.
Modern music, say the theorists, is now so self-referential that it’s locked itself in a closed-loop, endlessly chasing its own tail. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy: a hermetic, self-perpetuating process that’s content to merely make imperfect photocopies of itself.
But last year’s stunning debut album by Burial (and its various satellite singles) seemed to point to a way out of this cultural stalemate, showing us how emotion could be slotted back into an increasingly stale equation. Like us, Burial couldn’t help wondering about all those great tunes that used to make us laugh and cry: where does an old song go to when it dies?
Burial’s music uses old UK garage and rave tunes as its template, treating them as venerable traditions that now deserve the sort of love and respect that aficionados once afforded jazz or the blues. He takes the standard tropes of 2-Step and UKG – pitched-up feminine pressure and syncopated shuffle-beats – and transforms them into a crackle-shrouded pirate broadcast from some spectral, re-imagined past.
But Burial’s tunes are more than just an elegy for the MDMA generation: they’ve taken on a strange half-life of their own, reaching out and touching old punks, dub-heads and indie kids – anyone who’s ever been moved to tears by a great piece of music.
In person, Burial is as elusive and intangible as his own music, preferring to work anonymously and in isolation, outside of the constraints of the ego-driven mainstream music biz. Despite an increased profile, he remains incognito, holding true to his underground roots and maintaining his privacy – he’s never had his picture taken and only a close group of friends know his identity.
Only a handful of interviews have ever been published, so FACT was especially thrilled when a series of tentative emails and phone-calls finally led to an unexpected face-to-face with this talented young South London producer. Questions about a much-anticipated new album on Hyperdub were politely deflected with a wry smile, but Burial spoke openly and with enormous passion about the sounds that have moved him and have helped shape his newest material…
You’ve been working hard on some new tunes. How do they compare with your earlier tracks?
“The new stuff sounds less like a demo, but still rough. I feel closer to what I want…something that takes garage, jungle, dubstep, all the things I like, and unites them in some way, and also unites the people that love that music. I couldn’t make tunes for a while, for various reasons, so it took me some time to get back into it and to get back to why I made tunes in the first place.
“I wanted to make something head down and underground, but buzzing and glowing, to make the sort of tunes I dreamed of making when I was a kid. Something for myself, but also something that I hope other people might like too. I’m inspired by other producers, but I don’t want to sound just like them. There’s a sort of highway that some people follow, but sometimes you’ve got to head off out into the dark on your own. So I tried to be like that. There’s more rain this time round.”
Have any specific influences fed into your newer stuff?
“I love the sound of tunes that feel like they’re sort of lost. There are certain tunes like ‘Love’ by Luke Slater, Steve Gurley’s tunes, ‘Let Go’ by Teebee, ‘Ras 78’ by Digital… they just have a feeling trapped in them. And ‘Beachdrifta’ by Rufige Cru…I listen to that track every day. Nothing can ever take anything away from it.
“Those tunes, and all the usual suspects, like El-B and Mala, Skream, and the new dubstep producers…too many to mention…they’re an inspiration for me too. I love the UK underground sound because it’s moodier, more rolling than anything else around. But I also love the euphoric stuff that’s in UK tunes too. I feel like it was stolen from us…I’m too young to have ever gone to a warehouse rave, but I want to show the ravers that someone is still holding a light for that old sound…that the signal is still out there.”
“I’m too young to have ever gone to a warehouse rave, but I want to show the ravers that someone is still holding a light for that old sound…that the signal is still out there.”
“I wanted to make something head down and underground, but buzzing and glowing, to make the sort of tunes I dreamed of making when I was a kid.”
Do you feel your music is part of some UK dance music lineage or continuum?
“Yeah, maybe…the UK underground’s been around long enough now for certain sounds or ways of doing things to mean something. But I’m not a collector, I just like the tunes and I clock the techniques I like, but do my own version of them. I love how certain things sound and I try to learn stuff so that I can be a better producer. I hold tight to some of those old tunes that weren’t perfect or that are a bit messy and out of tune.
“The sound that I’m focused on is more, you know, when you come out of a club and there’s that echo in your head of the music you just heard…I love that music, but I can’t make that club sort of stuff…but I can try and make the afterglow of that music.”
The point where the music and the people overlap, maybe?
“You know what I mean…it’s like people after a club and they’re sitting around or playing Playstation and stuff, still listening to the echo of their night out in their heads. Or when you walk down the stairs into a club and you start hearing the music, but there’s people talking around you and the music mixes itself in with real life. I like that sound…it’s like a memory of a tune. I think I can maybe make that sound better than I can make a club tune. I can’t make super-tunes, but I can make eerie tunes…quiet and rolled-out, with the elements out of reach.”
“You can’t let a type of music you care about just become another sample-pack or genre…or it will get globally fucked over.”
You’ve said before that you think your music sounds ‘wrong’ in some way…
“I like making tunes that maybe help people get lost in…As soon as you say you’re going to make a certain genre of tune, then you’re restricting things…and that’s always been a bit wrong to me. You can’t let a type of music you care about just become another sample-pack or genre…or it will get globally fucked over.”
Plus, your music also manages to balance the light and the dark.
“People talk about making ‘dark’ tunes, but they’re not properly dark, they’re just trainee male rage music. When you hear something properly dark, like Dillinja’s ‘Deadly Deep Subs’ or ‘Mortex’ by Tech Itch…they’re dark, they’re fierce tunes, they don’t fake it; they stay true…Some of the darkest tunes aren’t just dark sounds, sometimes vocals and warm sounds can be hypnotic and executed in a cold way…like they got shark eyes looking at you. If you feel like the person that made that tune was moody, had a piece of glass in their head or was bad-minded, then that’s dark and I love that feeling [laughs].
“I like putting uplifting elements in something that’s moody as fuck. Make them appear for a moment, and then take them away. That’s the sound I love…like embers in the tune…little glowing bits of vocals…they appear for a second, then fade away and you’re left with an empty, sort of air-duct sound…something that’s eerie and empty. Like you’re waiting just inside a newsagent in the rain…a little sanctuary, then you walk out in it. I love that.”
That’s a lovely analogy. Any other non-musical sounds that inspire you?
“My favourite sound in the world is the motion-tracker from Aliens. You know the motion sensors from that film? I remember being little when I heard it. My older brother would tell me about it…he’d tell me all these different stories about it. It was like folklore to me.
“That eerie sound…the sound of something tracking something else through total emptiness…I love that kind of thing. All I ever wanted to do was make tunes that had rolling, garage-y, junglist drums with subs and cut-up singers and some of that motion-tracker thing! Just give me that and I’m happy [laughs]. It’s quite a simple thing I want to do.”