Skrillex Isn’t Cribbing Burial’s Sound — He’s Aiming For Something Greater

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

Last month, I asked the publicist for Britain’s Hyperdub label if there might be a promo of the imminent Burial 12″. There were rumors that it would surface just before the end of 2012. There was no “LOL” from them, but I could tell that she or he was chuckling at the request, replying: “There is never any promo of Burial. People pee themselves to cover him no matter what. His stuff leaks almost instantly. It’s just the way it is.”

“But as ‘Leaving’ plays again and again, a warmer melody arises and strings rush in, elevating the track to a rarefied place that Skrillex has never ventured before (and where Burial perhaps has zero interest in visiting).”

Not changing my undergarments here, but since Burial’s 2006 debut, the mysterious man known as William Bevan (not according to this guy) has had the kind of buzz that would make a queen bee jealous. And despite it only being pressed to vinyl, sneaking into shops in the last weeks of December, dozens of YouTube rips of varying lengths of duration for the epic sides of “Truant/ Rough Sleeper” were uploaded almost instantly, with almost every video garnering tens of thousands of views. The devotion Burial inspires is warranted, despite the fact that he hasn’t released a full-length album since 2007’s Untrue. No one pushes the envelope and expands the parameters of dubstep, much less modern electronic music, like he does.

While Burial made his name in dubstep, as that genre turned into a worldwide phenomenon, he blurred the boundaries of its sound, moving away from cavernous bass drops to making the music itself sound like a cavern. He draws from the past twenty years of UK dance music without quite being beholden to any of it. Both of his 2012 EPs, Street Halo and Truant, continue to expand their parameters, gobbling even more sounds. The movements and dilating structures within feel more symphonic than single-oriented. Contained inside these twenty-five minutes are the drum’n’bass of Metalheadz, old jungle pirate radio broadcasts, 2-step garage, modern R&B (samples of Aaliyah and Beyoncé could just be glimpsed amid Untrue’s haze). I hear the avant-garde turntablism of UK improvisor Phillip Jeck as well as Leyland Kirby’s ambient music as The Caretaker. Burial also cloaks his music in the degeneration of media, be it old vinyl or the compression and glitches of YouTube embedded clips. Nothing is pristine in his labyrinthine tracks, every component is weathered by time, decay, the ultimate faltering of technology itself.

One artist often conjured when discussing Burial is Aphex Twin (who, it was once speculated, might be another one of the man’s many aliases), yet it’s another iconic Warp artist comes to mind on “Truant”/ “Rough Sleeper”: Boards of Canada. The submerged melodies, the palpable melancholia, that uncanny knack for evoking memories of a bygone time via electronic components, Boards of Canada’s slim oeuvre remains unmatched in such evocative electronic music. These sorts of sensations arise innumerable times over the twelve spellbinding minutes of “Truant” and fourteen minutes of “Rough Sleeper.” Or as one YouTube comment put it (per NPR dance music scribe Sami Yenigun’s Twitter feed): “im a 25 year old grow man with beard and mustache and that s** at 10:32 making me feel like 7 year old fragile kid dammit.”

In similar manner, the US’s iconic dubstep star released an EP’s worth of new music via his YouTube channel. And within days, these new tracks are nearing the million-views mark. While I concur Spin’s assertion that Skrillex is a “guitarist” in the sense of his “primal understanding of adrenaline-pumping, pulse-raising, chest-caving bulldozer riffs,” his skyrocketing stardom threatened to overwhelm his tracks with rock’s attendant hubris (cue his Doors collaboration). Even if he rendered these three tracks in various hotel rooms around the world, to my ears, they’re the most intriguing tracks he’s made to date. “Scary Bolly Dub” emphasizes a skank beat amid the whirring machinery — perhaps his recent collaboration with Damian Marley rubbed off on him? — while his telltale drop on “The Reason” builds in rather sneaky fashion.

The track to gain the most notoriety though is “Leaving,” wherein Sonny Moore suffuses this low-key yet sprawling eight-minute track with urban dread, the sound of rain-slick streets, brooding synths that hover like mists, a disembodied voice intoning either the word “leaving” or “living.” Which are the earmarks of Burial’s sound. Even grayscale photo of an unpopulated stretch of concrete that comprises the cover evokes the man’s bleak visuals. But as “Leaving” plays again and again, a warmer melody arises and strings rush in, elevating the track to a rarefied place that Skrillex has never ventured before (and where Burial perhaps has zero interest in visiting). That these three tracks still clock in under the duration of “Truant” and “Rough Sleeper” suggest not that Skrillex is simply cribbing Burial’s sound, but something greater. To twist a quote from Dean Martin about Frank Sinatra: “It’s Burial’s world; we just live in it.”

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