“Pandemic,” the first single from Texas producer Eric Burton’s debut album, breaks down into a hail of bullets. Burton’s first couple of EPs under the name Rabit had been tonally unnerving and rhythmically aggressive. But this is something else. The cathartic fun of a big beat drop sours into a super stressful, under-siege feeling. There’s a deep emotional unease that builds with every explosive beat, especially in a country racked by constant, seemingly intractable gun violence. Burton gets that discomfort, and counts on it to get his point across. “If I feel a level of disconcertedness then I will use sounds that reflect this,” he says. “It’s that simple.”
His new album, Communion, is the most-recent release by futuristic electronic label Tri Angle. On it, Burton plays with the slow pace and broken palette of British grime music, and finds a new way to portray the same sort of mechanized violence that once made industrial music seem so legitimately dangerous. His work is super-physical, exhilarating even when it’s unpleasant. But it can also be slyly, sporadically beautiful. Warped little grayscale melodies keep shining out through the smoke and dust the beats kick up. Burton talked with us about what led him to such bold sounds.
What sort of music did you grow up listening to?
At a very young age I had no choice, so radio pop, then freestyle and electro at the skating rink, then rap music and punk, straight edge hardcore, metalcore… jungle at raves.
What made you want to make music in the first place? When did you first start?
I started making music in my early twenties, because I was always into the roots of where production came from. Growing up in South Jersey I would go to the local record store, which only sold rap and R&B. Sometimes they would have DJs in store, and I would hear them blending a Biggie song with the track that it was sampled from. That was the spark. Easy Mo Bee, Pete Rock, RZA, the way they worked samples intrigued me to death. I would ride my bike to the record shop every Monday and the owner would hook me up with the albums that were being released the next day, when Tuesdays were the release day. On Fridays that’s when the new Clue tapes would come in, Kay Slay, Whoo Kid. That’s how I grew up. At the same time I was going to hardcore shows and then later, raves on the weekend.
How different were your first attempts at making music from Baptizm or Communion? Are there commonalities you can trace back from your earliest experiments to now?
My first released EP, Terminator, on #FEELINGS, is still harder than a lot of stuff. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but there’s a common thread running through to what I’m releasing now. I don’t bother trying to define my work, but there is always feeling there. I would rather have music that’s not as cleanly produced, but that has a feeling, like a human made it. I like to keep it raw.
“Violent” is an adjective that’s been attached to your music. Do you think of it that way?
Society is violence, mental corruption. If you happen to have a black or brown body then you may be subject to actual bodily violence. Mental disfiguration. If I can exact some of these feelings I have into a waveform, then I feel like I’ve succeeded.
Do you think abstract music can be a better vehicle for transmitting ideas than more traditional song forms or genres?
I don’t think it’s a better vehicle. In fact it can be a worse vehicle, very empty. For example most “abstract” music that is applauded these days, is hyped for the way it was made, or the equipment it was made on. I can’t think of anything more boring. I feel that most of my music uses traditional song structures. I think it’s what I’m saying, the textures, how I’m saying it, that differentiates it. Most of the music I grew up with was based on simple structures and it had a lot to say. I’m doing the same thing, just from my own angle.