When I can't take it anymore, I write a letter to Burial. He lives in South London (I think); he is in his late 20s (I think); he is a man (I think); his music is distributed by Hyperdub (this I know). I know that someone named Kode9 runs Hyperdub and, according to BBC DJ Mary Anne Hobbs, he is Burial's mentor. I know that Hyperdub has released two full-length CDs—Burial and, last week, Untrue—and two EPs. I also know that Burial is a genius, a great drummer (or drum programmer), and is on the far left of the political spectrum. As for his real name? This I do not know at all.
Burial is the name of a being, a creature, a life who makes music that has triple roots—roots in dub, two-step, and ambient. The dub effects give the music a haunted feel; the two-step gives it a driving yet complicated dance beat; the ambient moments give it grace and beauty. Through the alembic of Burial's art, these three parts form something that is immediately recognizable (dub, two-step, ambient—or Lee "Scratch" Perry, MJ Cole, Brian Eno) but at the same time, completely apart from the state of things. This break with the state of music—with the stasis of hiphop, pop, rock, and whatever else is marketed by global beat conglomerates—makes his music an event. I am forever faithful to this event.
When I write to Burial, I tell him all the things his music makes me see and feel—the way his music is the meeting point of the galactic and the urban (the point at which the light of stars blurs with the light of street lamps), the way his beats sound like a train engine pulling a long line of freight cars (the wheels and track clanging and clacking below the massive momentum), the way his samples sound like organs without a body (the heart that is hurt by love, the guts that are full of truth, the mouth whispering something sweet, the head in the clouds—all of these organs are flying through sonic space at the pace of the beat). I write these things I feel to Burial and wait and wait.
Suddenly, I receive a response. Burial says: "thank u charles, that means so much to me." Or: "thank u for being into my music. cant wait for u to hear my new album (sometime in winter)." (That album, Untrue, didn't come out in the winter of 2006, but the late fall of 2007.) Or: "honoured you like my music. feel lucky to get a cd out, its humbling to me for tracks i made in the UK to reach that far, all the way to Seattle." Or: "sorry for replying so late. sadly needed to deal with some things. had real life on my case"
"Means so much to me," "humbling," "honoured," "had real life on my case": Burial doesn't sound like an ordinary person, but like a saint—a saint in a world that is entirely human, a world without a god, a world that is alone in the vast emptiness of space. The nearest star to our sun is four light years away. A world that is aware of this radical loneliness is a world that dances to the mood and music of Saint Burial.
Once, I wrote to Burial about the default image on his MySpace page. The image was of a chamber (or prison cell) with a simple and slim concrete bed and light streaming through a single window. The image of the cell—which is empty, radically empty—is by photographer James Casebere, and I wanted to know why he posted it. He wrote back: "i made music with pictures next to me. i go into solitary empty spaces and dream of a kind of emptiness that he has in his photos. in my dreams my music would be echoing in those rooms."
This is the final truth about his music: Burial has a mind that can crowd his loneliness. His music is the opposite of Casebere's work: It's dense, with voices arriving and going, and many things falling or breaking. Yet here, in the "solitary empty spaces," he gets pulled in and dreams. A weak imagination could not find inspiration in Casebere's images—it would want instead an active vista of mountains or a sprawling cityscape. Burial is not imprisoned by the emptiness of a cell; he is liberated by it.
I want to be to Burial what Paul was to Jesus. I want to universalize this new feeling, this new beat, this new way of being in a world that is so alone.