Unite the Kingdom: Burial and ‘progressive patriotism’.

What google earth undoubtedly spent years and millions trying to document, William Bevan arguably captures in minutes by way of an outdated programme that can be attained for free. And that is: the UK.

Fellow liberal stomachs may churn upon seeing the creator of one of the Guardian-ranked ‘albums of the decade’ [1] associated with the now sullied term ‘patriotism’. However, it only takes a glance at fan-made youtube videos and artwork [2] to ascertain that Burial’s music has inspired a somewhat prolific appreciation for urban UK existence – despite apparent concurrence that it’s a desolate and lonely one.

It would be all too easy to assume a wariness for contemporary UK life given Bevan’s much documented disdain for modern internet usage and seemingly insatiable yearning for the UK rave era that passed him by [3]. Fragmented, drowned out vocal samples such as ‘I walk around, with my head hanging down’ paint the perfect, greyscale picture of technology-saturated postmodern alienation against a backdrop of societal decay; but something increasingly personal about his tracks, such as the inclusion of sounds from his favourite video games, or the clicking of his brother’s lighter, suggest a more complex, realist and ultimately more loving view of contemporary British experience, one in which the most supposedly trivial of working class endeavours can become special and meaningful. What less could be expected from a man deep enough to derive poignancy from Eastenders? [3]

For instance, the tender glow of the ambient track entitled ‘In McDonalds’ shrouds the familiar (for many) act of visiting a fast food chain in the small hours with an almost cinematic, ethereal majesty. Similarly, the mournful ‘Nite Bus’ radiates a sense of imparted nostalgia that urges the listener to celebrate their current era, however humble and non-spectacular their activities, before it zips itself into the unreachable past.

Suppose we were granted national omniscience for a moment. It isn’t too difficult to imagine that after experiencing every instance of injustice, depravity and banality, alongside the countless instances of love and joy that somehow manage to endure in spite of it all, what we’d feel is something akin to the ‘downcast euphoria’ [4] his music evokes. His use of the contrary motion technique [5] can be heard as an audible expression of the UK’s duality at any given point – wherever something’s falling or decaying, something positive is rising. It’s an unnervingly uplifting, honest sort of melancholy that many other blooming future garage artists such as Late, Vacant, Nocow, or Volor Flex have (understandably) sought to replicate.

What this contrary sensation beckons is a type of observational patriotism that revels in the real. Patriotism that accepts and welcomes national impermanence; that celebrates the melting pot. Patriotism that looks fondly upon, and withholds judgement of, whatever may exist or be consumed within UK culture, as opposed to the rigid maintenance of some decrepit, exclusive, mythical notion of Britishness in which a sense of spurious superiority is inherent. Who but someone that wholly embraces the integration of the UK’s Indian population could construct a track like 2013’s December release, ‘Come Down To Us’ [6], that falls snow-like into the ears as a euphoric, distinctly Christmassy UK anthem, yet whose core melody is carried by extensive sitar samples and vocals that are pitch-shifted as if to verge on Tarana singing?

Historically, pride in one’s country has been considered a particularly masculine endeavour. As has the creation of, and (though far less exclusively), the consuming of electronic music [7]. But Burial is unafraid to cater to his female audience, acknowledging that ‘blokes might be like, “what the fuck is this?”, but hopefully their girlfriends will like it’ [3]. He creates a sound that transcends gender dichotomies, if not through an unashamed emphasis on emotion then through an embrace of gender ambiguity. As well as his recent extensive sampling of transgender director Lana Wachowski’s HRC acceptance speech [8], he often employs the down-pitching of female vocals/pitching-up of male vocals (perhaps best exemplified in the Beyonce sample 00:28 into Untrue [9]).
However, this does not necessarily situate his music is female-orientated, but rather egalitarian. Another of his vocal samples attempts to evoke compassion for a man who has presumably committed heinous crimes. The Southern Londoner woman’s seemingly defensive plea in Etched Headplate – ‘he’s not setting out to hurt people, he’s got a lot of love in him, for his friends, his family, his girlfriend…he actually often wants to do the right thing’ is nothing if not an empathetic recognition of moral dualism.

In light of the hopeful, ‘anti-bullying’ [10] tone of his latest EP Rival Dealer it’s acceptable to presume that Bevan is becoming more open. In a brave bail on his much-hailed jungle beats, Come Down To Us’s more ballad like structure focused not only on Lana Wachowski’s HRC acceptance speech but was also subtly interlaced with an interview from NASA scientist Melissa Dawson, and in doing so calmly raises a middle finger to any fallacious claim that dance music is unintelligent or nihilistic.

The album was also followed by an official denunciation of his anonymity as a means of thanking his audience, notably by way of a note and voluntarily internet-erected selfie [11]. This could be considered a negative act in terms of his progressiveness, in that anonymity entails a displacement from notions of class, gender, race and age that permits anybody to identify with the artist based on their music alone.

However, for someone who previously displayed shyness and reluctance regarding internet exposure [3], the choice of a bog-standard ‘selfie’ is not only endearing but arguably shows not only a growing trust for his audience and a down-to-earthness (matched by his grammatically erroneous typing and casual talk of Dark Souls 2 [11]) that could easily have been pretention instead had he opted to reveal himself via a moody photoshoot. It’s also in line with the themes of coming to terms with one’s identity that riddled Rival Dealer.
Though Bevan emphasises the ‘UK’ aspect of his garage/jungle/rave/techno influences, it’s of course absurd to infer that his music is solely influenced by, applicable to or enjoyed only by the UK. Indeed, his samples are derived from cultural artefacts of various supposed calibre from all around the globe, from Japanese composer Motoi Sakuraba’s Dark Souls soundtrack to Texan Terrence Malick’s critically acclaimed experimental drama. It’s only befitting of a time and place, particularly a small island, to which international culture is more accessible than ever. But there’s something that makes the cracked asphalt and dew-ridden wheely-bins around me twinkle with a majestic familiarity, and makes even my anti-nationalist chest swell with euphoric belonging when this pioneer of dark garage signs off with ‘Big shout out to the UK and everywhere else’ [11]. Though he doesn’t mean to imply any superiority, and I take none from it… I think it’s pride I feel when this emotive beat-god mentions us first.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2009/nov/23/burial-untrue
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBlKpshuIA8
[3] http://www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/interviews/burial_unedited-transcript
[4] http://www.piccadillyrecords.com/products/Burial-Untrue-Hyperdub-51991.html
[5] http://www.attackmagazine.com/technique/passing-notes/contrary-motion/
[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1bb2JakOmo
[7] http://sonicbloom.net/en/why-not-more-women-make-electronic-music-and-how-this-could-change/
[8] http://www.whosampled.com/sample/302874/Burial-Come-Down-to-Us-Human-Rights-Campaign-Lana-Wachowski-Receives-the-HRC-Visibility-Award/
[9] http://www.whosampled.com/sample/27040/Burial-Untrue-Beyonc%C3%A9-Resentment/
[10] http://www.factmag.com/2013/12/14/burial-opens-up-a-little-about-new-ep-rival-dealer/
[11] http://www.hyperdub.net/burial/

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