Burial’s seminal second album, 2007’s Untrue, turns 15 this week (5 November).
Few could have predicted the seismic wave the record would send through the music world upon its release – even with the anticipation surrounding it in mind. The sound of the UK producer and Hyperdub signee’s trademark loose and jagged drum patterns echoed through dimly-lit clubs – though largely through home systems and headphones, where the music truly came to life – in the late 2000s and early 2010s, with the Mercury Prize-nominated album lauded by fans, peers and critics alike.
Fast forward to today and Burial remains an elusive artist with enduring appeal; the sort of producer who can be sampled on a Rosalía track in the same year that he releases a pair of records – Antidawn and Streetlands – that see him zooming in on his ambient sensibilities to captivating effect. The Burial ‘outside looking in’ approach, one of observation and atmosphere, is still very much intact. It just looks… different.
To celebrate the record’s milestone anniversary, we caught up with a selection of artists to discuss their favourite tracks, how they discovered the project, and what Untrue means to them.
Archangel and Near DarkI have two favourites: Archangel and Near Dark. The intro to the album does what it does, then obviously Archangel is where you first hear the drums. With Burial’s music, there’s always this grain and texture that feels really organic and minimal, but at the same time, it’s designed in such a way where it really lures you in. It makes you want to listen, because there’s a lot of detail going on within that texture.
It’s freeform in terms of its arrangement as well. You know, the way that a lot of electronic music is arranged, generally, is kind of basic. But Burial’s music felt really free. Even though it was repetitive, you almost felt like the same thing never happened twice. And when you get lured in like that, to the detail, that’s when you’re in his world. But you’re also in your world. It’s as if it mirrors your world back to you in this slightly obscure ‘Burial’ way. Anybody that’s been out to a dance and been on a night bus in London or walked the streets of London on a cold night… you can hear that experience in Burial’s music – and definitely on Untrue. It’s just late-night London darkness.
I remember that the day Burial came to my studio was [also] the day that, in the Sun newspaper, there was an article about him where people were trying to find out who Burial was. There was an article where somebody like Fatboy Slim had said that he was Burial, and a couple of other big producers were saying that they were Burial. I remember him coming to the studio and we did a couple of sessions together. It felt so perverse that the mainstream couldn’t respect his desire to be unknown. He’s just a really lovely, down-to-earth guy who loved making music and loved his privacy. I fully respected that. What I loved most about being in the studio with Burial was his approach. The way he likes to build sounds organically and the way that he uses delays and reverbs to also create this movement and this texture – and create his world. I still have all my old computers from back then, so [the collab is] there to be looked at and finished if time calls for it to be so.
I was first introduced to him through those early records on Hyperdub. I’m good friends with Kode9; he was actually one of the first people to reply to me when I sent some music out, just to a few people, very early on. I was never one of these people that sent music out to everybody, hoping somebody would get back in touch and give me a break. That really wasn’t my approach. But I did send it to Kode9 because I’d heard him play a few times at FWD>>.
Burial’s music came through at a time where there was an abundance of innovative music that had never been heard before in lots of different directions. You know, you had Skream, Benga and Kode9, and then you had Coki, Loefah, Distance, as well as what people like Caspa were doing – plus Vex’d and Goth-Trad. In that particular time in London, in UK sound system music and in UK underground music in general, there was so much original, unique music being created. It was almost like a weekly thing. You’d go to FWD>> or you go to DMZ and you’d hear hours of tunes that you’d never heard before. It was a real luxury.
When I think back to underground music in the UK – specifically dubstep, 140, what we were doing – uniqueness and being different was celebrated. Our differences were celebrated and people weren’t trying to conform. Producer A was not trying to sound like producer B. That all came down the line when things started getting successful, and people started wanting to sound like somebody else. Burial was part of that uniqueness, and we celebrated it. So the fact that Burial was played on the BBC, or the fact that we did the Breezeblock… at that time in 2005-2006, that’s when people started doing international shows. Everytime I used to go and play a show somewhere abroad, I wasn’t just going there to play for myself. I had a whole scene of people who I was representing, and it meant that I needed to go and smash that show, because I needed to bang open the door. That’s how it was back then – this bigger community, bigger unit. So when somebody won, we all won.
That was a beautiful thing about that period of time. That’s what Burial means to me. That’s my memory of Burial and my memory of his music when I listen to it, it reminds me of that time. Of having to catch a bus or train up to east London to go and listen to people’s dubplates at FWD>> for a few hours and think to yourself, ‘how am I gonna get home? Have I got to get the night bus or is my bredrin gonna drive? Have we got enough money for petrol?’ or ‘I want to get a dub cut, I’ve got to work a little bit of overtime to get my dubplates cut.’ It was a lifestyle. It was a way of life and an underground movement, truly. I think Burial’s music sums up all of that.
Untrue really represents Burial. I think that’s what the album means to me. When I think about the album and when I think about Burial… people know that Burial never did any shows, and he never really worked with any other labels apart from Hyperdub. For many, many years, he was completely anonymous to most people. He really represented what that time was about: underground music. The music was much more important than the face and the person. I think all of us were about that, back in those days. As I said, new music was being made in abundance and it was all about the dance. It was about the big soundsystem. A dark room. No flashing light, fanciness or VIP areas. Just sound. To me, Burial and those albums represent London’s underground.
Ghost HardwareI love the whole of Ghost Hardware, but that bassline is something else. I love the vocals on it and the drums. It just reminds me of when I first moved to London – I would listen to that on loop. I’m quite an obsessive listener; I listen to the same song over and over and over again. Ghost Hardware is one of those songs I’ve listened to so much, but I still never get bored of. I was probably 17 or 18 when I first heard Untrue, so [I was] quite late to the party. But I really appreciated the album when I moved to London – it’s been the soundtrack to most of my winters in the south.
I’ve been massively inspired by Burial when it comes to my own music – I’m literally obsessed with him, it’s unhealthy! I follow the subreddit and I’m deep in the Burial world; I’ve got a massive poster of the Untrue artwork on my wall. But I would say he’s been a massive inspiration just because, for me as a producer, I look at him as a great case study of somebody who chose to be anonymous and didn’t reveal so much about himself publicly. But if you listen to his music, you can find out so much about his personality: what he likes and what he’s into… video games, films and just his own personal music preferences. I really like that he details his personality within the production without actually saying things in words. You just need to listen to get an idea of who he is.
I really tried to do the same thing in my own productions. For example, I sampled Columbo – which is a 70s detective show – on Forbidden Feelingz because I used to watch it all the time with my grandma when I was a kid. And I sampled Cocoa Tea on 18 & Over because it’s a reggae song I heard throughout my childhood. So I kind of used those elements of putting your personality within the production without having to be so like, ‘this is who I am’. It’s about letting people discover it for themselves and learn a bit about you through your beats.
Untrue still means so much to me. Like I said, I’m obsessed with Burial. When I was in uni, there was a whole essay I had to do and I did it about Burial. I deep-dived into all of his interviews and everything else I could find. I don’t think there’s anything like his music. It’s really got me through some times, but it’s also been the soundtrack for some quite melancholy, happy times as well. It’s an album I’ve been growing up with and I’ll probably listened to for the rest of my life. It’s always in my rotation.
UKObviously I like every track on the album; the album is essentially a track in itself. (Similarly, I feel the album is intrinsically linked to the Mary Anne Hobbs podcast that dropped with Speedball 2, Stairwell and Feral Witchchild – I feel all those tunes are also part of the whole ‘Untrue experience’.) But when I listened to Untrue for the first time, it was all the little ambient snippets that caught my attention the most. UK made me feel nostalgic for something I didn’t know, or for something I hadn’t experienced. It reminded me of something that felt very personal to me.
For a lot of people, what’s so good with Burial is that each track is ambiguous enough to appeal to people from different backgrounds, different towns. It feels like a personal gift to them, or a special song written just for them, but it can be shared with everyone. That particular track, UK, has this cold energy that makes me feel like all of Burial’s favourite music is shoved into that tune: rave, ambient, video game soundtracks. It kind of encompasses everything in a very straightforward minute-and-a-half piece. Also, that tune was my alarm clock for about 12 years. People always say, ‘don’t pick a tune you love as your alarm clock, because you’ll fucking hate it’. I never hated UK! Waking up to that was always a really nice way into the day. I think that says something about how good it is.
I listened to Untrue for the first time on the London Overground, which is very bait. It’s a very obvious answer, but that’s where I was living at the time. I was commuting across from east to west London; living in Hackney and working in Portobello Road. The album was basically the entire length of my journey. So I put it on and did the classic melt away, and all the scenery kind of blended in with the music. It was the ideal place to listen to it.
When I was listening to Untrue [back then], I was making music but I hadn’t committed anything to a name or anything. I wanted to make an album that was just those ambient interludes – tracks like UK, Endorphin and Dog Shelter – or Forgive from the first album – because those are the songs I go back to the most. I love a Burial album that’s just these little snippets, which, of course, is kind of what he’s doing now in the case of 10-minute songs that are all one-minute little bits of melody or ambient samples. And so the first album I made, that Talbot Fade album, was me trying to make an album of just tracks like UK and Endorphin.
That whole thing I was saying before – about how Burial makes these tunes that feel like you’re in the same room while he’s like selecting his favourite records and playing them to you, and how that feels like a very personal thing that reaches everyone – is how I got into music in the first place. It was through hearing other people’s tunes and wishing I could play them to everyone. When listening to Burial, it feels as if he had the same idea.
Mount Kimbie's Dom Maker
Etched HeadplateMy favourite song on Untrue is Etched Headplate. The reason being is that I think a lot of focus was put on Burial’s drums and the rhythm patterns he’d used – at the time, I remember everyone being fixated on that. To me, it was always about the way that he would seemingly reconstruct these melodies using pitching on the vocals he sampled. I think Etched Headplate is just a sick exercise in that. That sort of freedom to manipulate the melody of a vocal into whatever you want was really inspiring to me back in the day, when I first heard it. It’s still inspiring today! I mean, the record is still so good, and it still sounds really modern and forward-thinking 15 years down the line.
I remember hearing Archangel, that was the first one. I was like, ‘fucking hell!” Myself and Kai – the other half of Mount Kimbie – listened to it in my bedroom in Peckham back in 2007. It felt liberating to us to hear what Burial was doing. It really had a bigger impact on our records than we knew at the time, on reflection. Everything [around the time] was about the heaviest drops and stuff. That’s not what we were about. Even though we were into the energy of that, it wasn’t like we were making music that was like that. I really resonated with what Burial was doing because there’s no emphasis on those things. It’s more about the emphasis on melody and the momentum of music.
Burial was one of the first people I was listening to where I thought, ‘Actually, I want to listen to this not in a club’. What am I doing? I’m a student, and I’m spending most of my time trying to get from A to B as cheaply as possible. So we’re on buses, we’re on trains… I know there’s a lot made of the fact that Burial’s soundtracking this dreary London cityscape in the rain, but it really does work when you’re sitting on a night bus and listening to this shit. This music was definitely the soundtrack to a lot of those years spent in London when I was in my early 20s, running recklessly around town. So it was nice having the option of digging into and finding music that I really connected with. Music where it wasn’t just like, ‘Fuck, I need to hear this in a club’.
When it came out, it was so different to anything else being made. It has a pulse to it that I think every generation is going to feel; there’s a rhythm to it that is very human. I think that contributes to it still being so fresh, even now.
UntrueWith Untrue, I’ve had phases really since it came out. In the beginning, my favourite track was Near Dark. And then, a few years later, I felt like I found the truth – you know, like I’d ‘solved it’ – and that the best track was actually the title track. But when I’m revisiting it now, I feel like I’ve learned at least one unique thing from every single track.
There are certain tracks on Untrue that have inspired me in my own practice, from the storytelling on Etched Headplate to the world-building and the morphing of rooms on tracks like In McDonald’s and Dog Shelter. [From those I learned] how to pay attention to building an environment in a room, and how that doesn’t necessarily have to be consistent or constant throughout the track, it can morph. Then it’s the way Burial zeros in on specific feelings and even verbalises them sometimes using vocal samples. I’d say that would be on the title track. That’s a production technique I picked up from Burial, that zeroing in.
Another big thing I picked up from him has to do with composition in general, which encompasses everything from sound design to mixing. Then in terms of the space that different elements occupy and their relationships with each other, and how they complement and interact with each other. It just opened up the possibilities for me, in terms of elements in the track, and them occupying unorthodox spaces – even within a drum rack. Something I took from Burial, rhythmically, is the way the way he lines up the field samples so that they sort of play off the other rhythmic elements in the track, at times. Plus, the way he merges triplets with straight rhythms and different beat divisions. I totally lifted that from Burial back in the day. I’d like to think that it’s morphed over the years into a style that’s more my own.
Untrue is truly timeless. I don’t necessarily feel the same about the self-titled album or the EPs after that. I still love and appreciate them. But Untrue… I would love to make a record like that today.
Shell of LightObviously I love Burial’s trademark skippy drums, but I love the outro to Shell of Light. It’s stripped-back and there’s a lot of emotional, rainy day vibes – which the whole album has – but that song was always the one that was on repeat the most for me.
I first came across the album some years ago, and I think it was the first Hyperdub thing [I listened to] – probably. It might have been Last.fm times. I used to always listen to an artist and go to similar artists that way. I was listening to a lot of future garage, post-garage or whatever they want to name it in the 2010s – Mount Kimbie, Machinedrum. That’s probably how I came across Burial in the first place.
Untrue and In McDonaldsThis sounds a bit cheesy, but I don’t often think about my favourite tracks on Untrue as I only ever put the record on and listen to it front to back. If I had to choose, it would either be the title track or In McDonalds. Untrue comes just after halfway through the album – and, obviously, it’s the title track – and it feels, to me as the listener, like the crux of the message. There’s that voice saying over and over again “And it’s all/ Because you lied“. It feels like so much of the record has been building up to that moment, and then there’s this release after it. That’s a very cathartic moment.
I was kind of a dubstep kid. I’m part of the post-dubstep generation of people who were in the crowd at these nights. Burial being on Hyperdub… there weren’t very many dubstep records [then] – and he’s not dubstep, for starters – but he was on a label that put out dubstep. [At the time], you just bought all the records, or you were across all of the records. The release that he put out in 2005 – that first 12″, South London Boroughs – already sounded like it was from outer space. It was very different from from what was already becoming quite an identifiable scene in dubstep, and it wasn’t the sort of thing that people played that much at events like FWD>>. I just remember going and getting the record and sticking it on. I’d loved the first album, and I was completely blown away by the fact that every track after the next one was good. I then spent the best part of the year, basically, just listening to Untrue.
The reason it’s so formative for people like me and Mount Kimbie is that we came through in the generation just after this. Burial seems to be like a touchstone for all of us, and you listen to those disembodied vocals that he really brought to the fore on Untrue. That’s across so much of our music – I mean, it’s across my music still. He perfected that technique, and I still think no one’s really done it better than him. This was just at the time where I was starting to build up some confidence as a producer, but I was also searching for an identity. I hadn’t sent any demos to anyone. It must have been a couple of years after Untrue that I sent my first demos out to people like Hotflush and stuff like that. So, I basically came straight off the back of that Burial release. For me in my music, there have been other influences, but [Burial is] all over those early releases.
Archangel, Untrue and Shell of LightMy favourites are Archangel, Untrue or Shell of Light. I must have been a teenager when I first came across Burial; a friend showed me Untrue because they had it on vinyl. Then I downloaded it myself and started listening to it some more. I was really immersed in the dubstep era and everything that was coming from south London and Croydon. This still had that darker feel, but it was also really atmospheric. It had a lot of garage and 2-step influences. I guess it was the start of the sound that I really loved, which was coming from the garage sound that I’m really into now.
I’ve got a weakness for anything with a vocal in it, like a really catchy chop or a vocal sample. Those songs all have that. Also, there’s this simplicity. There’s beauty in someone creating a track where it sounds like there’s nothing in it, but there’s obviously loads in it. They’ve made it sound like it’s simpler than it actually is, but it still makes you feel something. That’s a gift in itself.
Someone that can just contain a sound so early on, and it’s just their identity – and it’s so prominent, and clear that it’s them – that’s always really impressive to me. I’m drawn to people who have a strong identity in their sound. I think Burial has that. That’s something I’m always striving for. You can hear a lot of the influences from that album in today’s music, especially with the vocal samples, the chops, and the choppy drums as well. I’ve always been into Burial’s percussive element. So I’m really intrigued by the new EPs and how they take all that away and focus more on the cinematic and atmospheric element that he’s always had. It’s cool to see, because it’s still Burial and [it feels like] an elevation of his work.