Who better to conclude FabricLive than Burial, an artist whose deconstructive take on ‘90s rave captured the spirit of London better than ever before, and Kode9, the exemplary producer, DJ, academic, and Hyperdub label boss who first released Burial’s music all those years ago? The two arms of Fabric’s compilation series purport to offer representations of the London club’s varying musical offerings, with fabric mixes generally comprising journeys through house and techno and FabricLive including rowdier, wider-ranging choices across genres like UK garage, drum & bass, and grime.
What makes Fabric mixes strange is the image they present of the club. Of the near-200 selectors who have appeared on the series, almost all have indeed played at the club for real (with the exception of Burial, of course, but we’ll get to that.) These consistently eye-catching lineups are matched by a stellar sound system, while Houndstooth, the club’s affiliated label, has quickly become one of the scene’s leading lights since its launch in 2013.
All this is very well, but it does little to mask a clubbing experience which has been unfulfilling for some years now. Be it the fault of the council, the bouncers or the patrons, a night in Fabric in 2018 is an impossible search for comfort, a struggle to navigate pushy dancefloors overcrowded with tourists and stag dos, and the threat of being ejected for blowing your nose in view of the staff. With London nightlife enduring its worst period in living memory, a rare sighting of Burial is an exciting distraction, especially one that might just constitute the closest thing we’ve had to an album from the enigmatic producer since 2007’s Untrue.
Note: might. How much Burial is in this mix exactly? Though William Bevan’s mysticism has now been played out to the point of ridicule, it’s hard to escape the image of the producer’s DJing ambitions being curtailed by the Hyperdub head honcho. After more than a decade in which a live Burial performance has never existed outside of internet chat rumors, fans can finally savor a recording of the man behind a set of decks (in a week which also saw him and Kode9 submit a BBC Essential Mix.) But the fact is it doesn’t really feel like Burial at all.
Part of the reason for that is the obviously disappointing absence of original new music, save for the possible contender of the mix’s “Untitled” opener. There’s a swathe of moonlit ambience and then, one second in, there’s that signature vinyl crackle! It wouldn’t be Burial without it. Or would it? It’s worth remembering that Bevan’s hissy calling card was used sparingly, if at all, back in the South London Boroughs days. From his subversive debut EP, through his first album, to his 2007 masterpiece, Burial was always concerned with the mystique of hauntology, a subgenre based on distorted memories of the past. As Simon Reynolds put it, a “love of spooky atmospheres, disquieting sound effects, the hiss and crackle of vinyl” is the most unifying characteristic of Burial’s catalog. With FabricLive 100 popping away like a bowl of Rice Krispies, we’re presented with a kind of meta-hauntology, as the ghost of Burial’s golden early output lingers on like the England football team’s memories of 1966. Is it too much?
After the opening 30 seconds, the mix’s gqom-dominated first 12 minutes feel distinctly like Kode9 choices. These are brought to a welcome close as another snap-crackle-and-pop ushers in Luke Slater’s Daft Punky 2002 jam “I Can Complete You.” It’s a fun, dancey party tune and it sits in the mix like a clown in a graveyard. This carefree shunting between styles rarely lets up, creating a listening experience evocative of a 76-minute bumper-car ride on a queasy stomach. The speedy segue between Jungle Buddha’s raucous DnB cut “Drug Me” and Black Acid’s eponymous 303 track is the pick of the early exchanges, but it feels rushed and airless—deeply contrasting with Burial’s trademark spacey sound-chasms.
The pacy BPM does, however, give a foreboding nod towards what is by far the mix’s greatest strength: Kode9’s (an educated guess) skilled command of the footwork genre. DJ Spinn’s steamy “Make Me Hot” and DJ Phil’s remix of “Pink 33” by Scratcha DVA and Clara Le San are choice highlights in a central stretch reminiscent of Kode9’s masterful Boiler Room tribute to the late great DJ Rashad. The allusion is confirmed a few picks later with the entrance of Rashad’s “Let It Go,” a magnificent, tear-jerking classic that became a kind of digital “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” with Rashad’s passing in 2013. Heartbreakingly it lasts for just 68 seconds here, faded out before it’s had any real emotional impact.
Emotion is surely what made Untrue appealing even to listeners not overly fond of dubstep or garage. Yet for all its ambient, transcendent, even psychedelic qualities, the music of Burial and Kode9 has always felt extremely street. Kode9 has previously stated that the tendency toward pastoral melody explored of IDM and other more ambient areas of techno is not a natural interest to him. This is generally to his credit: Hyperdub is wonderfully adept at churning out darkened dancefloor bangers. But when we’re finally treated to a glimpse of downtempo just after the hour mark in FabricLive 100, it feels like a much-needed respite. OKZharp & Manthe Ribane’s “Treasure Erasure”—released by Hyperdub, btw—is a shimmering ambient track that Global Communication would have been pleased with. It arrives during a decent section that also includes the more gentle timbres of Ben Frost (remixed by Jlin) and Proc Fiskal (also on Hyperdub); these are nice, but are separated by the squeaky rudeboy MCing of Dean Blunt’s Babyfather alter-ego, another bizarrely jarring selection.
If you write about a Burial project without using the words “skeletal” or “transience,” is it even a Burial project at all? Whether due to a disparity in approach between the two selectors or because the two of them felt obliged to show off as much of their record collections as possible, FabricLive 100 feels hurried, uncomfortable, and impossible to feel truly at peace in. Ironically enough, it might be the best representation of Fabric yet.
01. Untitled "Untitled"
02. Klein "Hurry"
03. Cooly G "Magnetic"
04. Julz Da Deejay "Deaths Effect"
05. Roman Rodney "Triple Beat"
06. TLC Fam "Skim Sam" (Dbn Dance)
07. Nazar "Konvoy"
08. Lechuga Zafiro "Agua Y Puerta"
09. Hyph11e "Black Pepper 炎" (Tzusing Remix)
10. Luke Slater "I Can Complete You"
11. Virgin "B9"
12. Nut-E-1 "Underwater Fireworks"
13. David Hykes "Rainbow Voice"
14. Jungle Buddha "Drug Me"
15. Black Acid "Black Acid"
16. Vladislav Delay "Otan Osaa"
17. DJ Spinn "Make Me Hot"
18. Mr Fingers "Spy" (Kode9 Remix)
19. Scratcha DVA feat. Clara Le San "Pink 33" (DJ Phil Remix)
20. DJ Tre "A House Hybrid"
21. TEDDMAN "Baby"
22. DJ Rashad "Let It Go"
23. ONTHEGROUND "Fallen"
24. Intense "The Quickening"
25. Genecom "Polyphonic Raid"
26. Clementine "The Opening"
27. Victim Rebirth "Metamesonyxtia Narkogyra"
28. Friends Lovers & Family "The Lift"
29. AK1200 feat. Junior Reid "Junior's Tune" (Digital Remix)
30. Okzharp & Manthe Ribane "Treasure Erasure"
31. Ben Frost "Ionia" (Jlin Remix)
32. DJ Taye Nu Summer Shit / Babyfather "Prolific Deamons"
33. Jacob's Optical Stairway "Solar Feelings" (Claude Young's Kyoto Soul Dub)
34. Proc Fiskal "Dishwashing"
35. DJ Chap "Brujeria"
36. DJ Tre "A Hammond Jam"
37. RP Boo "Wicked'Bu"