30 minutes of Burial - A Bass Education

30 minutes of Burial

A Bass Education

NB: the usual SSL caveat applies – add ‘:’ into any broken links and they’ll work for you! 

Dubstep, in all its permutations, is a very special sound.

In our latest addition to the Bass Education archive, we will pay homage to an artist that has proven notoriously hard to capture in words – or, as any DJ will tell you for that matter, in the mix. 

By no means will our piece be a perfect thesis. It will not be a perfect wine connoisseur depicting the taste palette flawlessly. As you may remember from when we launched this series, it’s not meant to be. It’s purely meant as an introduction to the artist and their sound: to act as a jump off point for your own journey into the material. 

Welcome back to our series of 30 minutes of Bass Education, instalment number 30.

We feel there is little need to explain who the man behind the music is.

After a Mercury nomination sparked a nationwide hunt by tabloid journalists to discover (and expose) Burial’s identity, the artist’s desired anonymity was lost. We’ll instead discuss the brilliant string of records, and respect the wishes of the artist to make it all about the music.

DREAMING OF THE RAVE

Burial grew up in South London, listening to the rave records his older brother brought home.

In a transcript of one of the few interviews he gave to the late Mark Fisher, Burial said:

“I’ve never been to a festival. Never been to a rave in a field. Never been to a big warehouse, never been to an illegal party, just clubs and playing tunes indoors or whatever. I heard about it, dreamed about it. My brother might bring back these records that seemed really adult to me and I couldn’t believe I had ‘em. It was like when you first saw Terminator or Alien when you’re only little. I’d get a rush from it, I was hearing this other world, and my brother would drop by late and I’d fall asleep listening to tunes he put on.”

Burial was brought up with his big brother’s recollections of last night’s rave adventures. As most of us know, these heroic tales are almost always an embellished version of the truth, since the passing of the night makes everything feel more cohesive.

Undoubtedly, the ideas – as well as the music – that were brought home shifted context from the cold concrete warehouse rave towards a memento of the relationship between two siblings. That’s, perhaps, as accurate as we can be about what makes Burial’s music so sonically unique. It’s cold but warm, it’s raw but in the most refined way.

A ODE TO 90s RAVE CULTURE

In the same interview, Burial explains how he misses being on the bus listening to DJ Hype mixes, featuring material from Teebee, Foul Play, Intense, Digital, Goldie, Dillinja, D-Bridge and Steve Gurley to name a few. They were “underground and moody” but with “killer vocals”.

This vocal sampling was something that Burial would later take to the next level in his own music. Burial started creating material that reflected a feeling and soundscape of a rave culture that was slowly fading away, like the night does as the dawn breaks. The UK underground rave culture was already becoming increasingly commercialised – moving away from the people that upheld the sound in the first place, towards commercial clubs and designer bars. Burial’s first productions, basically grieving the demise of rave culture, found fertile soil in the birth of a new genre: dubstep.

Burial became a fan of the 140bpm soundscapes that were being pushed in the famous FWD>> and DMZ club nights, and came into contact online with Steve Goodman (Kode9) around the same time. Burial sent over CD-Rs with his productions, which impressed Kode9 and eventually led to the first release on the Hyperdub imprint: South London Boroughs.

Their collaboration then led to the release of Burial’s debut long-player, the self-titled Burial.

“UNDERGROUND & MOODY”

Burial’s self-titled debut album features 13 tracks. Each one of them is a soundscape of its own: a cinematic experience that will almost certainly make you feel like you’re walking back home in the rain after going to the rave.

Night Bus captures the essence of the experience of being in a night bus, reflecting on the past, with either rain or tinnitus after a night out as a static in the background. Most tracks have an entrance that makes you feel like you’re walking back onto the dancefloor after stepping outside for a bit. Burial’s Prayer splices the same drums as used in Massive Attack’s Teardrop, paying homage to both. The raw drum patterns (read: Broken Home) are unparalleled. They are a brilliant coincidence born of the way Burial creates music: with Sound Forge.

Most electronic producers create music in a DAW, which helps them to ensure their music follows a specific grid structure. The lack of this structure apparent in Sound Forge (which does not give you any grid lines or tempo) enabled Burial to create swings and song arrangements that are unprecedented – feeling both organic and inorganic.

In his own words:

“I’m not into big intros, because if you’ve got a big intro, the rest of the tune is forever the rest of the tune, and the intro’s forever the intro. You can never get lost in it, you know where you are in most tunes, and that just takes away the only reason a tune should exist to me, I can’t relate to grey music. I like tunes that just dive straight in, there’s a jump off and once you’re in it, the awareness that you’re two minutes into a tune, or four minutes into a tune is gone. That’s how I like my tunes.”

The influences of jungle, dub, hardcore and garage are prevalent in each of the tracks, without being the defining arc of them. This is maybe best portrayed in Pirates, which strings together a few defining characteristics of dubstep – a deep sub-bass, jungle/dub vocals, sirens, dubby effects on instruments, you name it.

“KILLER VOCALS”

And then there was Untrue.

Compared to his debut, it is safe to say that Burial struck a lighter tone with his sophomore effort. The introduction of vocals from R&B and pop singers like Beyoncé, Ray J, Christina Aguilera, Sarah McLachlan and Usher largely contributed to that.

The use of these “killer vocals” in the album was never too obvious or poppy: they are chopped, pitched up or down and stretched to the extent where they feel like remnants of angelic voices floating through the soundscape. The contrasting dark undertones in the drums and bass were further crafted and cleaner than the muddier, muffled beats that were found on Burial. That contrast between the darkness and lighter overtones was never an obstruction to the overall quality – if anything, it made the material on Untrue even more intense and visceral.

Untrue also introduced us to another love of Burial: video games. Tracks like Archangel make use of game music (and samples more generally) found in Metal Gear Solid

In a sense, this album also felt like a further step away from the dancefloors towards the MP3-players at home or on road.

This is best exemplified by the beautiful In McDonalds, a track with atmospheres that easily evoke taking a highway exit towards a fast-food restaurant after driving the highway for hours. The album received broad critical acclaim and received a nomination for a Mercury Award, leading to the aforementioned (and unwanted) tabloid attention.

BECOMING AN ICON OF
UK UNDERGROUND MUSIC

The growth of dubstep and Burial’s fame undoubtedly opened doors that may have otherwise remained closed.

In the period after Untrue, artists like Four Tet and Massive Attack worked with Burial to create a blend of music taking a different direction than 140 has taken. In every collaboration, the hand of Burial is clearly heard through the raw and chaotic yet beautifully harmonic symphonies over (consistently more) structured beats. Just like his remix of Jamie Woon’s Wayfaring Stranger or Night Air, which he co-produced.

The years that followed showed a string of quality releases of which most appeared on Hyperdub.

Tunes like Truant as well as Rival Dealer and Come Down To Us further reinvigorate the musical genius, coming closer to the grittiness and emotion that floats right in the middle between the two albums. They are compositions that listen like standalone 11-13 minute LP, with 3 to 4 themes floating into each other as if mixed by a DJ in the rave. 

Burial also appeared on Metalheadz remixing Goldie and Commix, driving the fact that his musical signature turned full circle, becoming an icon of UK underground music himself. 

In an interview with FACT mag, Burial said:

“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.”

ARTISTS ABOUT BURIAL

We have asked a few of our artist friends to reflect on the influence Burial has had – both on their music and their lives (and we’ll update this if we have any more contributions). 

Dyzz – The Illuminated

“Burial’s music takes me straight back to the afterparties. They are strongly tied to personal memories and have the power to change my mood completely. If I’m in a certain mood, listening to Burial will bring me peace of mind or motivates me to undertake things. As for the music: everytime a new tune or dub was released, it shook the whole dubstep scene, which only made it more clear how powerful they were.”

The Stepchild

“I think we all have our very own personal bond to Burial’s music. For me, it is this transcendence between reality and fiction, that automatically occurs before my eyes as soon as I hear it.

“Burial’s music is not necessarily cheerful music. It fulfils this bittersweet longing for security and warmth in pessimistic times.”

Burial’s music resonates with so many people – it’s material that feels like it captures parts of life itself. Burial’s tracks are unstructured, rugged, strange, rainy, dusty; a golden ratio of melancholy and euphoria.

They are an embodiment to the longing of the night and day, or both. 

We want to thank The Stepchild for creating a beautiful mix, and we hope it evokes emotion for you as much as it does for us.

30 minutes of Bass Education will return (in the not too distant future) for our 31st instalment, which we’ll announce soon and, as always, you can find the rest here.

Click to DOWNLOAD (75MB)

Track list:

  1. Burial – Untitled [Hyperdub 2006]
  2. Burial – Distant Lights [Hyperdub 2006]
  3. Burial – Raver [Hyperdub 2007]
  4. Burial & Four Tet – Moth [Text Records 2009]
  5. Burial – Stolen Dog [Hyperdub 2011]
  6. Burial – Untitled [Hyperdub 2006]
  7. Burial – Rough Sleeper [Hyperdub 2012]
  8. Burial – Night Bus [Hyperdub 2006]
  9. Burial – Wounder [Hyperdub 2006]
  10. Burial – Come Down To Us [Hyperdub 2013]
  11. Jamie Woon – Wayfaring Stranger (Burial Remix) [Live Recordings]
  12. Burial – Archangel [Hyperdub 2007]

Big love to Dubbacle for the write-up
Big love to Seb aka The Stepchild for the epic mix. 
30 minutes of Bass education #31 will follow when it’s ready – find the previous mixes here.