Few artists have both managed to remain so mysterious, yet have so much of an influence on UK culture and music as William Emmanuel Bevan, also known as Burial. Despite releasing projects such as Untrue, described by Pitchfork ‘the most important electronic album of the century’ Bevan’s identity was unknown until 2008 when the album was nominated for a Mercury Prize. the Even though Untrue is over 10 years old fewer albums have both had such an influence on UK music, reflected UK culture so accurately and stayed so popular to this day. Indeed it seems that Burial only becomes more and more relevant despite his ‘lowkey’ personality as described by himself .
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the champagne and Moschino tainted opulence of garage no longer seemed relevant to UK culture. Dark garage artists like Wookie, and grime MCs like Dizzee Rascal had stormed into the UK music scene, ditching the soulful samples of garage and replacing them with harsh, distorted baselines. The UK ditched the wave of Cool Britania, and the Gucci loafer days of garage were no longer relatable to the average Brit. Now were the times of the black tracksuit, a trademark outfit for grime MCs. Indeed when imagining the classic garage MC, those who made grime and dubstep couldn’t be any different, the bright Versace shirts were replaced by nike tracksuits and airforces. As opposed to a popstar, the average grime or particularly dubstep artist, simply dressed and appeared like a normal person, reflecting the pessimistic mood seen in the UK at the time.
Indeed this is seen in the very essence of Burial and his music. A bridge between dark garage and dubstep, Burial’s work, described by AllMusic as ‘gloomy and dystopian’, seems to capture the jumpy beats of the first, but the dark atmosphere of the second. As he said himself once in an interview ‘I want a dose of real life in there too, something people can relate to’.
His anonymity placed him in the shoes of a normal person who likes to make music, not the celebrity/pop star that so many garage artists had tried to become in the years before. And when he decided to reveal himself, instead of having some sort of dramatic talk show entrance he simply updated his MySpace photo with a photo of his face.
And yet as well as being able to capture the gloomy nature of the UK at the time Burial’s music remained incredibly complex and talented. Instead of using Ableton or Logic, Burial used digital audio editor SoundForge to create his beats. Unable to play them back he could only ‘see the waves’ as he put it, and would decide that he was happy with them when they looked ‘like a nice fishbone’. Bridging multiple genres, his music, specifically Untrue, was almost genre less, still endless debates haunt the internet as to whether it really is garage, dubstep, or something completely different altogether.
Whatever it is, Burial’s music and Bevan himself captured the mood of the UK like few artists ever had in such a polarising era, and yet somehow has managed to stay continuously relevant to this day. Although that could simply point to the darker elements of UK society in a post recession and mid pandemic world, it is undeniable the talent that Burial possesses and the influence his music has had on UK culture. And yet despite all of this he remains ‘lowkey’ and even to his fans almost anonymous. Instead of becoming a pop-star Burial has remained a normal person, and thus has become all the more inspiring for those of us who make music but don’t ever think we could make it as a celebrity ourselves.