A legend in his own time? LTJ Bukem won’t agree with you if you call him that, but for some, he really has gained the title of the Creator, the Godfather, and the Motherfucker of the drum n’ bass movement. Basically, this bastard was the first globally recognized DJ on the forefront of that genre’s scene. His innovative DJing techniques in the late 80’s UK house scene rocked the floors so hard that a whole new music was birthed. And then he wrote, produced, and released (on his joint label collaboration, Good Looking Records) a fuselage full of wax that made Bukem the king of the pins in the drum n’ bass scene. Nothing was gonna knock him down.
And nothing will do it now. He’s like the Tony Hawk of drum n’ bass; even though there’s a lot of new and dope talent out there, Bukem is happy to push the genre further and is always somewhere in the background giving praise and approval for his young disciples.
But you won’t hear him talk about it like this.
When I posed the question of whether or not he was a legend, he shied away and coyly replied that he didn’t think of it that way. Like a lot of masters, he’s modest. Too modest. Too calm, too. When I threatened to meet up with him at the Good Looking Records offices and kick his fucking ass for making me wait a half hour, on hold he simply replied, “I look forward to it.” (No you don’t, Bukem. You’re gonna regret those words, baby!)
OK, so maybe he wasn’t THE innovator per se, but can anyone really be pinned down and named the Creator Almighty? No. Bukem charmingly (in a way that must kill the females he meets) negates his role, “it was a combo of a lot of people, it could never be just one person.”
But it was YOU. YOU YOU YOU! Everyone says you were the one.
“I wouldn’t really say I was responsible for it. The people putting out those records in the late ’80s, you know, if there weren’t any of those records, I wouldn’t have played them.”
But you did something different during a house set didn’t you? “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.”
By 1991, the sound and the scene was really taking off in the underground club scenes. It was then that early drum n’ bass records were getting out. Listening to them today, you can definitely detect the sounds of hardcore and four to the floor rhythms, something I personally despise. “They’re all connected, though, you know,” Bukem comments on my distaste for that repetitive, speedy windshield wiper sound. But drum n’ bass has a more organic feel to it. It is completely different from many forms of “electronic” music. Again, LTJ gots da answer, “Well I’d say that is because people in the scene are much more experimental. They’re open to more things and can easily accept change in drum n’ bass. In the other scenes, people reject new things that break the mold…”
From ’91 to ’94, he was putting out friends’ materials and co-creating a new sound. DJing constantly for the past ten years, he has hardly had a break to work on his own material, but occasionally, a Bukem release pops up. In ’94, the mega compilation Logical Progressions took off, and that was more or less the end of the beginning. Drum n’ bass was on the map and HERE to stay. “Tony [Bukem’s partner at Good Looking Records] had the vision of starting the business, and so we launched Good Looking, and it has really taken off. Started as just the two of us, and now we’ve got over 15 employees.” Bukem is really proud of their label. In fact, he was more willing to talk about future plans and projects for the label and its artists than about himself. All the press materials sent to me hinted that he was not the only artist on the label, and that it was not only HIS label, but a pack of mad fools fucking up the music scene.
But I detected a cocky attitude years back when reading his liner notes to the original Logical Progressions release. It seems that over the years, that edge has been coolly melted, and now more than ever, Bukem is a man on a mission to take the genre, scene, music, and musicians all to the next level. What does the future hold? “Man, it is too hard to tell, you know? There are different people doing different things all the time. I mean, tomorrow is a new day. Let’s see what happens!”
Boring answer, says I. I want a taste. Progression Sessions falls short of that. It is being hyped as a taste of tomorrow, with new tracks from the new artists on Good Looking, but it really isn’t anything OUT THERE or too original, necessarily. Even Bukem’s new album has me a little worried. His new track, “Rhodes To Freedom” (mixed on this release), doesn’t excite me too much, with its very very produced sound. It’s still dope, but it’s not DOPE!
This is definitely a rocking set, though. The tracks are all solid and well produced, and rock hard with that addictive, emphatic drum n’ bass sound. BPMs are high, but there’s a supremely jazzy chill carpet floating underneath it, making this a great record for chillin’ or boo-gie-in-on-DOWN-to. The mixing is straight ahead, though, which is surprising since it was all “studio mixed,” and to me, should therefore be even more radical than a live set. MC Conrad’s vocals are pretty full on. We slip into his stream of consciousness as he lithely streams poetry over the tracks, complementing their sounds well. Sometimes he lets the music take over, other times he jumps the fuck up and steers the listener to his vox. His voice is the ultimate match for the genre, but is it may be in danger of getting played out.
So, you’re a legend!
Well, I wouldn’t say that.
Hey, you made me wait a half hour to do this interview. I’m going to kick your ass!
Well, I look forward to it.
So what kind of drugs do you think go with drum n’ bass?
I don’t really want to talk about that, you know? Music is my drug. It’s like sex for me.
Yeah yeah yeah. So tell me, when’s the last time you stuck your thumb up your ass?
What?! [To someone else in the room] He just asked me when’s the last time I stuck me thumb up my ass…
I DON’T!!! I DON’T!!! [laughing] What is this?
OK, my most important question. Very, very important. Are you ready for this?
All right. What do you think of monkeys?
You heard me.
Um, they’re great! They’re lovely creatures. Beautiful creatures. What do you think?
You make eye contact with them and they’ll fuck your shit up.