For his first few years making music, Burial did the almost-impossible: he managed to stay anonymous. In the surveillance-world of today, remaining enigmatic as an artist is infeasible; there’s simply no space under the radar to crouch unnoticed, to be hidden. Identity is everything in a world of media: to put a name to the alias, and to put a face to the name holds huge power. Even Banksy, who’s worked tirelessly to retain his mask, has been subject to hundreds of ‘unmasking articles’ that attempted to satiate popular curiosity in order to ruin the very curiosity that being anonymous creates.
Of course, it had to be the bloody Sun that tried to cast its glaring eyes over Burial, writing an article calling for readers to ‘dig up the real Burial’ (they should be called The Pun, eh?). In the end, Burial saw the whole ‘unknown’ thing as causing too many issues and he revealed himself as William Bevan, an alumni of the same music school as Four Tet and Hot Chip, among others. But, rewind ten years, and Burial’s identity was still secret; and it’s this sense of the unknown that injected his debut album of the same year with its characteristic mystery.
“A sonic Rice Krispies bowlful of snaps, crackles and pops.”
Released on Hyperdub records in May 2006, Burial is a part 2-step, part ambient, part future garage and one of the most full-bodied, artistically successful dubstep albums ever made. From the outset, it gives very little away. The title is named after Bevan’s alias and the first and last tracks, both called ‘Untitled’, create a nameless shell to envelope and conceal the tracks that lay inside. Running from its opening waves is a sonic Rice Krispies bowlful of snaps, crackles and pops that distorts and fuzzes the background of the tracks, making everything sound like it’s ripped from the pirate stations Bevan used to listen to.
What makes the record even more enchanting is that its secrecy and sense of the unknown are just as potent for the creator himself. In a very rare interview from a few years back, Bevan said he’s never been to a festival, a rave, a big warehouse or to anything illegal. Yet, from the comedown melancholia of ‘Night Bus’ to the wonky, dark late-night vibes of ‘Pirate’, the whole of Burial is quite clearly entwined with the subculture. The only experience he had was from his older brother, who’d go to raves and bring back ‘stories about it’ or ‘old tunes’. Unlike the people he writes the tracks for, or the warped voices that he samples, Bevan seems introverted, detached. He’s distanced from the tunes he creates in some ways, making them all the more magical.
“Regardless of the fact that Burial’s identity is known now, the album’s mystery and enchantment is still retained.”
Quite brilliantly, he also chooses not to use sequencers, giving the drums a rough edge to them and the odd imperfect bit, avoiding any polish that would ruin the rawness of his sound. Take ‘Broken’, throbbing with its glitchy syncopation and off-beat synths, or the reverse-lyrics of ‘Forgive’, awash with fuzz and noise. It’s homemade, crafted secretly and subtly. It’s the avoiding of this polish that makes it so special. Currently, dubstep hasn’t got the greatest reputation due to its garish American cousin ‘Brostep’. For many people, the genre is akin to listening to Skrillex’s ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ while wearing a ‘Keep Calm and Wait For The Drop’ tank top. Attempting to label the wub-heavy, sub-light gaudiness of Skrillex as dubstep is equivalent to saying that DJ Talent should do a B2B with Jamie xx; they’re leagues apart. Plus, Skrillex’s hair really sucks.
The beauty of Burial lies in its grittiness and emotion. It’s not commercial, but it feels “real” – still, ten years later, it sounds cuttingly relevant in its sonic painting of late-night city-life. Regardless of the fact that Burial’s identity is known now, the album’s mystery and enchantment is still retained; frozen like a hidden time capsule buried and waiting to be unearthed time and time again.