The title track is an 11-minute long heart-wrench, with peaks and troughs more turbulent than a tricky, Friday night gram of whatever. It grows and recoils, a track that pounds like a rave anthem with a head full of blood. Ben Dawkins, director of production company The Sweet Shop, heard the track and took from it inspiration for a beautiful short film, entitled Dealer.
THUMP: Hi Ben, how did the idea for Dealer come about?
Ben Dawkins: I’d been working up a few ideas for short and feature films when the Rival Dealer EP came out last December. One of the ideas really connected with the title track, so I began adapting the narrative to see if it would work throughout the entire 11-minute duration. For this, I developed a treatment that sat somewhere between a traditional promo and short film.
What were the first things about the track that stood out to you- what images started forming?
Ben Dawkins: The thing that really stood out about the track is the amount of warmth and heart it projects. While brutal in parts, the tune’s over riding sense of optimism is what accentually changed the course of my original narrative - and for the better, I might add. It made me completely re-think the main character from a stereotyped thug, to someone you actually felt total empathy. Burial’s music has always housed a very cinematic quality to it, so forming visual ideas from the music felt very natural. For me, the track has a clear beginning, middle and end, so constructing the visuals to work with this simple principle seemed obvious.
Dealer is filmed in London. Does Burial’s music have a particularly "London" sound to you? Could it have been filmed anywhere else?
Ben Dawkins: The overriding story could work anywhere, but for me Burial’s sound is 100% London. I couldn’t see the film being made anywhere else. I guess when I say that I mean his "overall" sound. The Rival Dealer EP went away from the more typical sound you’d attach to Burial. The title track though had London all over it, from the background audio to speech samples.
Of course, I wanted to utilise all the atmospheric gun cocking, distant train lines and rain drops you hear across everything that is Burial. I shouldn’t finish this explanation without mentioning Munzie Thind, over at Grand Central, London, for adding the extra audio across the entire film. With him, everything else "London" wouldn’t be there.
The story line draws on a fair few stereotypes- the dealer, the punters, the partner and child at home. How did you decide who to portray?
Ben Dawkins: Connecting the narrative idea and track meant looking at all the characters - especially that of Curtis, the lead. It was incredibly important for me that the audience felt a bond with him, and didn’t view him as a criminal. He is accentually just a guy trying to support his family - the one thing he can’t afford to loose. I set up this idea right from the start, because it makes Curtis much more venerable.
As for the punters, I wanted specifically higher end drug users, not desperate addicts looking for a fix. Celebrities, bankers, rich kids - the kind of people who really drive the market. This "more approachable" client base has accentually made it easier for Curtis to conduct business for longer. More than that of your average street dealer, but has also softening him up somewhat.
What else was it about the song that made it suitable for the video?
Ben Dawkins: As I was able to adapt the story to fit the track, the song ended up driving the whole narrative. It meant I could use every aspect of the audio and edit the footage accordingly. Each segment of the track invoked a different visual look and feel, so I let it influence everything creating a more harmonious result. The most important thing for me was not to edit the track in, anyway.
Have you ever thought about making something like Dealer for any other Burial track, or indeed any other song?
Ben Dawkins: I wrote a feature length idea a year or so ago which focuses on a gifted music producer. My original idea was to make a test film that utilised some of the concepts I created for that, and make it easier to sell the script. This ended up changing considerably for Dealer, but has given me a newer confidence to go back and start working on that again. I immerse myself in music when I right ideas because, for me, it makes them come so instinctively. I spend a fortune on vinyl every month not only for the music, but also the visual aesthetic of the artwork.
I build ideas using mock soundtracks, which drive story and visual components. Every creative needs a base layer of inspiration. Mine is undoubtedly sound. I listen to a lot of ambient, drone, neo classical and dream-pop to get me going. Grouper, Julianna Barwick and Nils Frahm keep me high, while The Haxon Cloak, Roly Porter and the utterly amazing Andy Stott and Raime for the devilish lows. I’d eat off my own hand to work with any of them.
How did you pitch this to Hyperdub and Burial? Are you already affiliated with them?
Ben Dawkins: I wrote the narrative and treatment over Christmas last year, and e-mailed it to Hyperdub mid-January. Marcus from Hyperdub explained that Will gets offers like this all the time, so don’t expect much of a response. Then I got one - and he liked it. Before that, I had no affiliation with the Burial or the label. I basically wrote and designed the entire idea and presentation on a whim.
Did either of them give much input?
Ben Dawkins: Other than the wonderful, inspiring music, no input was given. Both the label and artist made it very clear from the start that they didn’t want any kind of creative role during the process.
In terms of the ending, it’s not 100 miles away from Layer Cake. Was this any sort of inspiration to you?
Ben Dawkins: There’s a scene I draw from in Takeshi Kitano’s Violent Cop. It’s a very shocking moment, as you don’t in any way see it coming. I wanted to do something similar for Dealer that in essence would keep the audience hanging. If I’m honest I was a little disappointed with the final shot, as it was exactly what I intended. Time is never on your side when delving into budget filmmaking, and we were already 2 hours over at this point. A lesson learned, I think.