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Interview: LTJ Bukem

One of the big names of drum n bass since the genre's inception in the early '90s, LTJ Bukem is the source for the atmospheric, roots-influenced side of style. Bukem's tracks "Demon's Theme" and...
2010-03-11 12:03:00

One of the big names of drum n bass since the genre's inception in the early '90s, LTJ Bukem is the source for the atmospheric, roots-influenced side of style. Bukem's tracks "Demon's Theme" and "Music" (off 1993's "Logical Progression"), among others, are frequently cited by sundry music critics as key moments in the evolution of the drum & bass genre.

Bukem's also the man behind Good Looking Records, one of the influential drum n bass labels coming out of that period in the early '90s. (Makoto, MC DRS, PFM, Seba, Blame, Blu Mar Ten, and more.)

This Saturday, LTJ Bukem returns to Shanghai (he played previously at Pegasus a while ago), along with long time collaborator MC Conrad. Here's the events details.

SmartShanghai caught up with LTJ Bukem -- with significant help from Shanghai DJ/promoter Rob Jameson, thanks Rob! -- to talk about stuff.


SmSh: You started out as a house DJ in the late 80's -- why the switch to drum & bass?

LTJ Bukem: Yeah, you know during that whole acid house party scene and the 'summer of love' in Britain, I was playing house and four to the floor records, and I'd cut in some break beats from old rare groove [jazz] records 'cause there really weren't any breaks at the time. And people loved it. But there were some records that had break beats and went away from four to the floor, and that was what I started playing. The rest was history.

SmSh: What got you into DJing in the first place? What was your musical background going into it?

LTJ Bukem: When I was very young I started piano and I played drums. I was very influenced by things that my piano teacher brought to me. My first sound system was probably back in 1984. It was a very magical moment for me. It was just people being inspired by the music. DJ'ing was just something that had to happen.

SmSh: You're performing in Shanghai with MC Conrad, with whom you’ve been collaborating with for a number of years. How did you meet and why has that partnership lasted so long?

LTJ Bukem: For starters, people like me and MCs had been around and had been getting involved in the reggae scene since the mid-80s. There were the huge soundsystems in the streets all around the place and MCs became an integral part of that process from the word go, so I was thinking, well, this is just kind of natural. To get someone like Conrad be around you and do that, be the vocal element in a DJ set, becomes integral to feeding that tune. It's the same as hip-hop having the rap element, it adds a completely new layer to the music, so why not have it in drum & bass?

It was always the way with me and Conrad. I mean, I kinda met him in 1991 -- it a was funny chance meeting through DJ Trace at this gig in Slough. I just liked what he did. I always record things when I'm out if I can. I recorded that night on cassette tape and played it in my car. It was great. So I got in contact. We kind of fell into each others laps as it were and enjoyed what each brought to the table, in terms of performance. It happened very organically.

SmSh: Maybe you could revisit the period when you first started pushing the more melodic ambient -- some called it 'intelligent drum and bass' -- sound. At the time, what was the reaction from the more familiar harder style jungle dj/mc community to your sounds?

LTJ Bukem: The first track I made was "Logical Progression" in 1990. It was a whole transitional period musically, but "Logical Progression" was at a time when drum & bass wasn't really there -- only a few producers were losing the kick drum and making the breakbeat the main part of the tune -- and my track had a big breakbeat in it; so it was kind of the start of drum & bass. Back in 1991 records of this style were known simply as "Bukem tunes", mainly because it was only me who was making and releasing them.

Fabio and I then started "Speed" on a Tuesday night and about twenty people turned up -- a few producers came to hear their tracks and that was kind of all it was. I remember to a certain extent Fabs wanted to give up, and I was like, 'It's a perfect place for us to play our music, just give it a few more months.' He agreed, and then I remember about three weeks later, I walked up to the Mars Bar and there was an almighty queue round the block. And from that moment on, for the next few years every week was packed, and I still don't know to this day why or what happened to turn it around. The night had a massive effect on me and Fabio personally, because it was around that time that I started getting loads of inquiries from abroad, and it was becoming an international thing -- people were flying over to come to Speed.

SmSh: I remember as a 16 year old kid recording your July 16th 1995 Essential Mix. It has recently been re-released on the internet. How massive was that recording? Was there any significant reaction in the days/months following?

LTJ Bukem: I think you have to ask the people that it affected. The same with the "Logical Progression" album. At the time it just sent out a statement of intent that I wanted to represent and I've heard so many stories from people around the world about how that mix affected them. "We've made a baby to your album, " or mad things like this. It has had a massive impact on people. I just don’t know why that is.

SmSh: What are your musical plans for the future and which direction do you plan to take your musical sound and productions?

LTJ Bukem: For me, it's definitely hard running a label doing all the things that I do, being A&R and everything. It's so hard getting in the studio. I want to get the label to a certain point so I can take a few months off and work on this album that I have been wanting to do. And with the label, we’re doing two releases a month and we're re-releasing the old catalogue.

We have a DVD with me playing for 30,000 people. I also have a new mix series called "Mellow Yellow" which is going to come out in January of next year. I also started the sub-labels as well and they are going to feature music from new artists so we can up their profiles before moving them onto Good Looking. So much stuff!

SmSh: What do you love and hate about your industry?

LTJ Bukem: Recently I just suddenly became engulfed in a world of new music. This is the music that I represent, and I've got to support it, so about three years ago I decided to go for it and get the label going again. Now every day I get up feeling inspired, the music that comes through my computer, the new artists, their way of thinking, their work ethic, everything.

I can look past the industry bullshit because of it.

SmSh: Which drum and bass DJ's, MC's and producers do you most respect, both past and present?

LTJ Bukem: Fabio is a good friend, given our history together. He's been pushing the music for nearly 20 years and he genuinely still loves it. Conrad for obvious reasons.

SmSh: Best tune YOU ever produced?

LTJ Bukem: Man, that's too hard to answer. The tune that put me on the map will be "Demon's Theme" so it will always mean something special.

SmSh: Best drum & bass tune of all time?

LTJ Bukem: It's difficult to say because music comes so fast. I listen and then I move on to something different. D

SmSh: What do you remember from your last show in Shanghai?

LTJ Bukem: It was a very intimate venue and crowd. We had fun… I think we played for nearly 5 hours.

SmSh: Have you confirmed the flight to Shanghai yet?

LTJ Bukem: Yes, we're flying in on Saturday afternoon!

Don’t miss Phreaktion/Sweatshop pres. LTJ Bukem and MC Conrad this Saturday at The Shelter.