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Kindred Spirits: Burial The Urban Explorer
Rory Gibb , February 17th, 2012 10:06

Burial released his new EP, Kindred, though Hyperdub this week. In a piece that began as a simple review before spiraling out of control, Rory Gibb asks why he, out of all his contemporaries, has struck such a nerve with such a wide audience

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"There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in"
-Leonard Cohen, 'Anthem'

When Burial's new EP Kindred was released digitally on Sunday night, the strength of public reaction slowed the Hyperdub website to a crawl, as people squeezed their way into the label's online shop to grab a copy. The first and most obvious question this response raises is 'Why Burial?' What is it about his music - a product of the underground, and pretty far removed from anything remotely pop-leaning - that strikes such a deep chord with such a wide range of people, where most of his contemporaries fail to do so?

Burial's treatment of the human voice, premiered in full on second album Untrue, has a lot to answer for. In London at the moment, it feels as though you can't travel more than a few metres without bumping into another producer using similar pitchshifted vocal inflections to far lesser effect (the law of diminishing returns ought to be a powerful deterrent, but somehow at this point the message just isn't getting across). And it's not as though he even invented the approach - as with so many producers working within the regions skirting UK garage and two-step, its roots lie in the deft cut & paste collages of Marc Kinchen and Todd Edwards in the 90s. So why, when Kindred's opening title track flickers to life and those tiny slivers of human life immediately start to bob and weave in and out of frame, do Burial's productions still elicit such a powerful emotional response, despite operating within such an ostensibly familiar idiom?

The answer lies, I think, in his deep-seated connection to the world immediately surrounding...

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Thomas Peacock
Feb 14, 2012 10:46am

I find all the intrigue surrounding Burial utterly infuriating and speculative at best... at worst it just turns into wafty pretension for people who think he is the messiah of ambient garage.

Don't get me wrong, I think about 40% of his tracks are quite good, which is quite a high percentage for electronic music these days given the laughably large influx of pseudo-'producers' and it makes for marvellous driving music.... But the culture surrounding Burial is such an overcooked idea that it's become parody.

Furthermore I can't be the only one that finds the majority of his work (the other 60% that is) a bit...boring? It's not that I don't 'get it' it's just that I don't buy into it and think that whilst his sound seemed a breath of fresh air at first it has lingered and spawned a few monsters.

On the other side of the coin though I will end with saying that at least his album sales pretty much fund Hyperdub as a label which I allows them to pour more resources into young talent/new sounds which is frankly a great enough contribution in itself!

So, his music is by and large not for me, neither is the mystique, but his importance on a wider scale for the label is important to me.

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Rory Gibb
Feb 14, 2012 11:06am

In reply to Thomas Peacock:

A fair point bearing in mind that all this stuff isn't exactly likely to be high up in his mind when he's making tracks. As with most producers, I'm sure there's a great deal of 'well, I just make music that sounds the way I like it' to it.

Still, none of that goes any way towards explaining why so many people who have no interest in 'ambient garage', or any other dance genre in particular, find so much to connect with in his music. Fair enough if you don't, of course, but it's a very fair question to address.

Agreed on Hyperdub, their current output is rather marvelous.

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Luke Turner
Feb 14, 2012 11:12am

In reply to Thomas Peacock:

As Rory says above, there is a huge connection made between Burial and people who are not entirely immersed in the bass/electronic music world. I wouldn't necessarily know what 'ambient garage' is, or be into it. I know a lot of people who are massive Burial fans via a route that has a lot to do with the squiggly doodles Radiohead make. What I especially get from this new EP is a reflection of ambient industrial music, especially Coil, Current 93, Carter Tutti, NWW, stuff like that. There's clearly something within his production that really resonates with people in a very uncanny way.

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actually Burial believes in ghosts
Feb 14, 2012 11:37am

..and the supernatural. Thats what sets him apart from the other dubstep producers. He reminds us that people used to believe in things. That our world is a magical place. Also his music is 3d, or better yet 4d and we only hear part of the beast. The new teflon software he uses now diminishes a bit of that effect, the crackle doesnt quite stick with the beats but overall the emotions are still there.
Kindred is a leap forward, moves like a wounded shark in an Enki Bilal Comic. I' m sure Burial travelled the world after Untrue and got a bit jaded, a bit horrified and a lot wiser.
He's a true artist.

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Jackie Farrow
Feb 14, 2012 11:44am

One of the best reviews I've ever read, thanks

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Thomas Peacock
Feb 14, 2012 11:53am

In reply to Luke Turner:

Yes, I can understand it's just not massively for me. Like I said, I do like some of it just not the majority of it. The continuing fuss over the past 6 years eludes me a little bit!

That being said I'm a huge Radiohead fan and find the other radiohead fans 'you just don't get it- best band in the world!!' schtick a little tiring so hearing people talk about Burial in much the same way grates a little bit.

Also Rory, you're right- I can understand why people like it as music and I would say I myself am a fan (to an extent), I just don't like the aura of 'myth' surrounding it...! But still, there's so much that people should be grateful for in regards to Burial (i.e Hyperdub's output)that his importance transcends his own musical output for me to a degree.

He's also a great gateway into bass music for people who don't know where to start as Rory mentioned. I just think I would rather find a new sound or a new talent in the ever-changing electronic landscape than stick with a sound that has been almost repeating itself since 2006. Burial was an important piece in the forming of bass music history and culture- arguably one of the most important pieces.

He's more or less stuck to a similar sound too...playing to his strengths some might say, don't fix what isn't broken etc. For me though when I already am not a 'fanatic' for his music on the whole I find myself going 'this just sounds exactly how I expected it to' rather than being in awe of a new track.

Then something like the track he did with Massive Attack comes on and it blew me away.

I think you might be able to tell just how much i'm in two minds about Burial from all this...!! Not indifference, far from it, just unmet expectations I think.

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Tim Burrows
Feb 14, 2012 11:55am

Blimmin great article.

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Lucia Lanigan
Feb 14, 2012 11:58am

Fantastic piece, Rory. You don't have to be a science graduate to feel that quasi-ologies don't get at what grabs people in Burial's music. I think you're there with 'empathy': emotion felt in impersonal between-places, having your attention drawn to qualities that don't usually take centre stage.

I don't know much about how people make music, but I remember Burial saying he used quite 'old fashioned'/laborious processes, which might help him get there I guess.

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Feb 14, 2012 11:59am

"He's certainly inspired no shortage of thesaurus-abusing". Indeed! Please exercise some writerly self-control next time.

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Feb 14, 2012 1:04pm

Wonderful piece, Rory. The idea of urban exploration and tying memories to space is an excellent one. Burial's work has always had a sort of architectural quality to it, a labyrinthine sense of recursiveness, false endings, and oddly connected sonic passageways. Kindred feels like a collection of oddly shaped rooms strung together in the catacombs --- filled with old memories and reverence for those times.

Here's my brief review:

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Feb 14, 2012 1:49pm

great piece-
I can't begin to address the wide appeal that is clearly there with Burial. I remember hearing him first near the end of my university expereince, dancefloors awash with awful indie music that you really couldnt avoid. There was barely anywhere you could go and find music like this. The 2 step just stabbed me in my croydon youth, but not nostalgia (or one I literally connected with- I wasn't old enough to rave unless Blue Orchid under-18 nights count(maybe they do))

"The process of change that began with Street Halo, and has now come several steps further with Kindred, has laid that fact increasingly bare. Moving into long-form, multi-part 'suites' of sorts, his approach on this new EP brings his music into a wider space, where the 'post-rave' interpretation is merely one facet of a far larger whole."

this struck a nice chord with me. Ashtray Wasp has the vibe of walking through some imaginary name-less rave from room to room- dancefloor to dancefloor (or gallery?), BPMs overlapping, walking through conversations.
I don't like to use it as an adjective but there is "art" in here, a catharsis in not being able to skip a track- its doing it for us- perhaps that ties in with your point about the internet being a flat map infront of us- music is now too easy to chop and change- make playlists, avoid and grasp as we please-

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Lucian Stefanescu
Feb 14, 2012 2:49pm

A very illuminated & illuminating piece.

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Feb 15, 2012 1:16am

This was an amazingly well-written article. I enjoyed every last word of it. I particularly liked that, despite what could have been some tenuous links, it remained extremely relevant and logical throughout. A very clear argument, essential.

I should also say that I'm a Burial fan, though not a fanatic. Like Mr. Peacock, I also find the hype a touch baffling, mainly because all Burial's tracks are so similar. At present, I can't accept him as the kind of messiah which everyone makes him out to be, at least not until he branches out and tries something other than the same field recordings, off-kilter percussion and pitch-shifted voices.

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Feb 15, 2012 7:14am

very over exaggerated article

i make music. /

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Feb 15, 2012 7:14am

Excellent article.

"(Listeners who experienced hardcore, jungle, garage, early dubstep firsthand might experience it very strongly when listening to Burial's music.) However, it's likely to be a far less powerful force acting upon those who discovered rave's culture and chemical cocktails many years down the line."

While I appreciate and even enjoy a decent percentage of Burial's work, this is probably why I have nowhere near the love and reverence for it that so many people do. It probably doesn't help that I've generally never been a fan of pitch shifted vocals (outside of Todd Edwards) either.

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Feb 15, 2012 11:24am

In reply to Thomas Peacock:

u need to have street in your DNA to understand.....

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Feb 15, 2012 5:10pm

Ashtray Wasp - 4 mins 40 second mark, Stone Roses?

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Feb 16, 2012 3:37am

To everyone saying this is the "best review they have ever written", "great writing", etc... please, go read a book. The similes and metaphors in this article are horribly overcooked (yes, I am looking at you, takeaway restaurant). The only cogent ideas are secondary and pilfered from the 'hipper' end of the last ten years of pop-academia. At least the editors had the common sense and tongue-in-cheek humility to include it in their (far better) 'Pseuds Corner' article.

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Thomas Peacock
Feb 16, 2012 10:39am

In reply to :

Burial isn't even remotely 'street'so that's a ridiculous claim. His music is about as 'repressed middle class trying to find meaning in nothing' as you can get.

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Thomas Peacock
Feb 16, 2012 10:42am

In reply to Aaron:

Agreed, the pseud's corner at least admits that everyone decides to become unnecessarily verbose, needlessly metaphorical and bizarrely abstract when it comes to Burial.

His music brings out people's inner smug wanker.
Like that South Park episode where they all smell their own farts and drive hybrids.

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Feb 17, 2012 2:49pm

Some food for thought, maybe.

Robert Henke, aka Monolake, on the ghostly properties of music--

"Music creates non-existing spaces and populates it with all sorts of magic objects. And, of course the creational process of computer-generated music itself is a very bodiless and ghostly experience, similar to the mysterious appearance of an image on photographic paper when exposed in the darkroom."

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Feb 18, 2012 5:08am

Many of the points in the article ring true. Somewhat sheepishly, I offer up my own "textual cover version" of Burial's debut album as evidence of much of what Rory says. I wrote this a couple of months ago. It's filled with Burial-cliches and reaching poetics, though not so much thesaurus-abusing (actually, I don't get that at; Rory's supplied example was all written in quite simple language) as I struggle to articulate why I, as a non-UK, never-really-been-to-a-rave, occasional-fan of electronica, thrill to the emotional depths of Burial's sound. And yes, I probably do come to it via Kid A.

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Andrew K
Feb 18, 2012 7:04am

I've listened to the first two Burial albums a lot simply because they're consistent and they play well at low volume. It sets a mood that's never interrupted by changes in style or sound. It doesn't require your direct attention, but you can also find yourself deeply concentrating on as you try to decipher the lyrics and underlying melodies within the samples. Much of it always slightly out of focus. In many ways it does feel like riding subways and buses; waiting in bus shelters; and repeatedly roaming through urban landscapes.

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Feb 20, 2012 9:56am

"The only cogent ideas are secondary and pilfered "

I found the review a serious, and critical, consideration of both hype and promise. It flows well conceptually and verbally.

Your comments seem concerned mostly with deploying vocabulary to show who's boss, intellectually speaking. Whether due to academic snobbery or the insecurities of the autodidact I wouldn't like to guess.

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Dan B
Feb 20, 2012 11:28am

A female friend of mine: "I like Burial, they remind me of fucking."

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Feb 21, 2012 9:47am

In reply to Rob:

Yes it's definitely Elephant Stone sampled which would support the theory above. Maybe an ironic nod to the statement "an ache for a past we can no longer access" with this summers reunion gigs on the horizon.

Its a bloody good EP - end of.

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Dr Zen
Feb 22, 2012 5:54am

I'm an exile. To me it sounds like home. I know that "home" is a dream, somewhat disconnected from the reality, but I recognise it just the same.

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dean white
Jun 14, 2012 2:17pm

Music Video for Burial - Loner

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