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Bukem Knows Best!

LTJ Bukem - the undisputed don of dreamy drum & bass - is back with a killer 'FabricLive' mix and a resurgent Good Looking Records

It’s arguable that, Goldie aside, nobody did more to disseminate drum & bass in its early years than DJ/producer/label kingpin LTJ Bukem. His spacey, rolling take on the sound provided an easy entry point for people who found the abrasive militancy of Grooverider, Hype, et al, a bit jarring. He was famously invited to play at house stronghold Cream, while ‘Logical Progression: Level One’ — a 1995 compilation showcasing his Good Looking imprint — snuck its way into the CD collection of every stoner student, cool dad and NME kid.

As the ’90s drew to a close, however, Bukem was sidelined. Hard and heavy became the watchwords for most drum & bass producers, while the melodic end of the genre shifted away from the woozy soundscapes of Good Looking and towards the house-influenced funk of liquid. When Good Looking shut up shop in 2005, it was assumed by many that that was the end of that.

Rumours of Good Looking’s demise were greatly exaggerated, however — it was merely sleeping. Bukem himself, meanwhile, is more in-demand as a DJ than ever before. His resurgence was cemented when he was approached to contribute the latest volume in the acclaimed ‘FabricLive’ mix CD series — always a sign that a DJ is successfully tuned into the zeitgeist. Packed with new-skool Good Looking dubplates, ‘FabricLive 46’ — out now — is a strong statement of renewed intent.

“Good Looking has been going for, what, 18 years now,” says Bukem, “and me and Tony [Fordham, Bukem’s business partner] decided we needed some time just to live our lives. You can get so caught up in stuff, running a label, but at some point you think, ‘Hang on, I’ve got to do some living at some stage’. Obviously, I wasn’t doing nothing at all — I was still out DJing like a nutter — but yeah, we had a little break and came back a year or so ago.

“I’m definitely back with a renewed energy for the whole thing. There’s so much good music about at the moment, and I just had to be a part of pushing and promoting it. Actually selling it, though, is a nightmare. Download sales are always increasing, but selling physical copies of tunes is difficult. CDs can be very hard work, and you sometimes barely break even on vinyl. You have to be very committed to stand a chance of making any money at all, y’know? But that’s just the way it is now.”

Unfortunately, Bukem’s focussed commitment to Good Looking has meant that his own recording career has fallen by the wayside.
“If I was just an artist on a label,” he sighs, “I might be on my sixth or seventh album now. But having the DJing schedule that I do, and everything that goes along with running a label — there’s promotions stuff, distribution, I’m putting stuff out on Good Looking, Looking Good, the sub-labels, we’ve got the back catalogue stuff — it all takes time, and over the years something had to give and that thing was the production.
“I will get around to releasing more. I do want to do another album [he released ‘Journey Inwards’ in 2000]. It’s all about organising the label with Tony so that I get some time to do that.”

Golden Age
Bukem has lived through every era and iteration of drum & bass but refuses to take the view — held by many veteran junglists — that the mid-’90s represented a kind of never-to-be-seen-again golden age for the genre.

“I think we’re going through another golden era right now,” he affirms. “Things come in eight to ten-year cycles. The last few years have seen so much good music come out, I can’t even keep up. Ten, 15 years ago, yeah, that was a great era, but there weren’t half as many producers as there are now. There’s a multitude of them now, all over the world, because the scene is global now and it wasn’t back then. That was a great time, a fantastic time, but it’s been equalled by what’s come out of the last two-or-so years.”

DJmag puts it to him that drum & bass seems more divided now, and that you rarely see DJ line-ups designed to deliver the full junglist spectrum, from big and bassy to deep and dreamy.

“Well, I actually think you do!” he counters. “Here’s a perfect example: the other day, I played Russia, and I was DJing in between DJ Hazard and Pendulum. That says it all to me. Five years ago that wouldn’t have happened.

“A lot of it is to do with the way that the ‘musical’ drum & bass that I play has gone in the last few years: the beats have got a lot stronger and those tracks can now sit alongside the harder styles of drum & bass. DJs are now really mixing their styles up. Totally.”

Bukem reveals he’s revelling in his gigs in New Zealand and Australia, while Russia is also “really strong”.

“And Eastern Europe is definitely on the up: last weekend I was in Serbia with Conrad playing to 5000 people. I had a great little tour of Japan at the start of the year. America, that still needs some work doing to it, but it’s getting there: I’m gonna be playing a festival in LA in a couple of weeks to 30,000 people.

“And, of course, there’s London. Just look at Fabric — what they’re doing for drum & bass is just phenomenal. To have a club of that size supporting the music and getting that many people in, it’s just fantastic.”
Wherever Bukem plays, he insists on keeping it old skool by DJing with dubplates.

“Yeah, I still play dubs,” he laughs. “Old fart Danny! I’ve had debates about this with people for years. Say I’m going to Australia on a tour, and I’m playing drum & bass gigs but I’m also doing a couple of soul gigs. I can’t take four record boxes, y’know? So I will play the soul gigs with CDs or Serato. But my drum & bass, yeah, I do like to play that off dubplate — it just sounds better. I put a lot of my own money into cutting dubs and giving the music back to the people.”

Lost Classics
Finally, it’d be remiss of us not to bring up the sticky subject of Good Looking’s lost classics. Unreleased mid-’90s tracks like G-Force’s ‘Proximity’ and Bukem’s own ‘Consciousness’ have reached mythic status in drum & bass circles, with snatched fragments gleaned from mixtapes passed reverentially around online forums, usually accompanied by a flurry of pained pleas for Bukem to release them onto vinyl. So with Good Looking back at full strength, can we expect him to do the decent thing and have a clean-out of the vaults?

“Oh, definitely, man,” he chuckles, aware of the aching frustration he’s caused trainspotters over the years. “For Good Looking’s 75th 12” release, for example, I’ve actually put an old track of mine called ‘Atmospherical Jubilancy’ on the B-side. It never got released back in the day, and people were always asking me for it. Slowly but surely, I am going to unearth all of those tracks and get them out there. Definitely, 100 percent. That’s a promise!”