LTJ Bukem: The soul of drum n’ bass

LTJ Bukem is one of the innovators of drum n’ bass; an artist who saw a softer side to the genre. Melding jazz and soul influences, and providing a more accessible alternative to the traditional speedy, aggressive nature of the DnB style, Bukem is one of the pioneers of what is often referred to as ‘intellilgent drum n’ bass.’ After taking what he calls an “atmospherical” journey of DJing through the 90s, Bukem’s is ready to start the new decade with a brand new take on DnB, with some long-awaited time in the studio. Bukem and ITM chatted about his long list of musical influences, the new form his music has taken on, and – the question every DJ gets asked nowadays – whether or not he’s decided to ditch vinyl…

What are some artists that give a good representation of where you’ve drawn your influences from over the years?

Oh goodness me… well, for me, I’m kind of a big jazz and soul head, and a lot of artists such as Al Hudson, Natalie Cole, Stylistics, Colours, the See Saw Tops, Tommy Stewart, James Brown (of course) Roy Ayers, Barry White, Gene Knight – there were so many artists back in the day – the list just goes on and on. There’s just a whole host of artists that I’ve taken influence from and that I still listen to now. I just went to America and came back with like 200 albums that I found in a soul warehouse where this guy was selling them really cheap. It’s never ending, the list of artists that have inspired me, really.

Any new artists to look out for on the current LTJ Bukem playlists?

There are so many, man! I’ve been working a bit with guys like Furney, Dynamic, Dramatic, DB Audio… it’s hard to name them all, but that’s what I love about it at the moment, the fact that there is so much good music being made by so many people around the world. Artists seem to be appearing from nowhere and writing some fantastic music; guys like Eveson, even the old guys like DJ Die and Calibre are continuing to do stuff that I’m into. It’s a good time for music man, a very good time.

The Progression Sessions series of CDs have been a huge success over the years, any plans for number 11?

[Laughter] Yeah, we’ve basically got a DVD of me playing at Exit Festival in Serbia, which is probably one of the biggest festivals in Europe every year. The DVD has been a nightmare to be edited and we’re still kind of in the middle of doing it. This was the one we played after Snoop Dogg and Lauren Hill to about 30,000 people, so we filmed it. It’s something I’d like to keep doing; I wanted to do this and see if there’s a market out there for a drum n’ bass live DVD.

Your way of doing a set has slowly shifted away from the atmospheric sound…is there much of that sound around anymore?

Yeah there is, but I don’t actually see it as a new direction… when I started DJing it was a very ‘dancefloor’ kind of attitude, what I played, and we kind of went into the mid-90’s when what I did was a very atmospherical journey…tunes were like 7 to 10 minutes long, some of them, like One and Only and Western and Horizons, those kind of things.

Now it’s gone full circle for me, it’s come back around to the more dance floor orientated attitude, which is actually how I prefer it; you still have some of the sounds and atmospherical vibes about the tunes, but with more dance floorimpact, which to me is was a party needs. You cant just go into atmospherics and not move the floor, and I think over these last 3 to 4 years it’s actually gotten back to where I love it.

Are there any plans for more LTJ Bukem productions to be released again in the future?

Definitely; next year I really want to get more time in the studio again, because it’s something that I need to do, as I’ve been DJing so heavily over the years. I guess it’s the one part of my life that’s kind of suffered, so next year I seriously want to get back into my production.

Are you still playing vinyl or have you given in to the digital movement?

Nah, still playing dub plates. I think Serato, Traktor and all these things are great… some people out there these days, such as Carl Cox, are just using controllers, which I think is a very interesting way of DJing as well. To me it doesn’t matter how you play it out, as long as you’re happy as a DJ playing it and the people hearing it are enjoying it, then it doesn’t matter! I’m sure as the record box gets too heavy for me, there’s no doubt I’ll switch to some sort of digital format.

Do you think it’s imperative that a DJ such as yourself continues touring to make a living these days, because of the digital movement and today’s vinyl sale issues?

It’s funny a lot of people talk to you about that; are we in a bad time for record labels or a good time? I actually think it’s a good time if you can work out a way in which to set it up. Back in the day, there were a lot of physical sales and stuff, but it was also hard to reach the world. Now, with the internet and everything, I think it’s easy to reach the world and promote and market yourself. It’s just how you go about doing that, which can be most beneficial to you as a label. It isn’t such a bad time as people think; you have to move with it, I think.

What percentage of your time do you spend on the road, and what do you like best about it?

Probably 50 percent of the year or even more. The thing I love most about touring is that I love sharing my music with people, so touring is obviously the perfect way to go do that, but it’s a tiring thing as well. But you know, it’s a blessed existence man; I love doing what I’m doing. I have great joy in being able to do that to represent the music that I love. If I could take away anything from touring it’d definitely be all the flying, but that’s fine man, that’s the way it is, I guess. I have kind of a general plan, I guess; in January I used to always be in Australia for the first couple of weeks after the New Year. The rest of January I usually spend in Europe; February and March I tend to always spend in Asia, and April, (I’m) back in Europe or sometimes the US. (During) May, June and July is often the festive season back home, so I’m around the UK again.

Any places around the world that you rate as ‘the place to be’ for drum n bass at present?

I think Eastern Europe is a fantastic place for dnb at the moment; we’ve been doing some good places in Russia, Serbia and various other parts of Eastern Europe. It’s definitely a hot spot right now, and we’ve loved it.

What are you most looking forward to about your visit to Australia?

Ah you know, we love coming to Australia; seriously love coming to Australia, especially at this time of year because it’s warm and just freezing cold here in Europe. Great people, great weather, great parties and just love the atmosphere in Australia!

Catch LTJ Bukem at the Days Like This! festival in January, as well as the following dates across the country:

Thur Dec 31st – Origin, Bassendean Oval, Perth

Fri Jan 1st – Base Jump, Melbourne

Sun Jan 10th – Days Like This!, Sydney

Thur Feb 18th – Playground Weekender, NSW