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With a new FabricLive mix out this month, and a new generation of producers – from dubsteppers like Caspa to neo-junglists like D:Bridge – citing him as an influence, FACT called up veteran DJ/producer LTJ Bukem to reflect on his career in music and the past and future of drum ‘n bass.

What is for you the essence of drum & bass? Is it the BPM, the crowd or maybe the legacy of the acid scene?

“It’s essential that people bring their own meaning to drum & bass but for me it’s just a love for the freedom of expression within the music: it can go off in so many different tangents and yet you can still get so much from it. In fact for me it’s the one form of music that people are just not frightened to do anything within, even when someone’s producing a record they’ll just say ‘that sounds good, I want to put that in there’ and…it works. No one is under the same pressure as in hip-hop where they have to sell a certain amount of albums and so the rhythm has to sound a certain way…”

People react very differently to the music…

“Yeah, definitely. Last weekend I was playing at a film festival in Serbia with about 5000 people in the crowd, so I’m standing there doing my set and I’m seeing different quarters of the crowd doing completely different things: towards the back you’ve got a few hundred people just sitting there with their eyes closed, then right in front of me you’ve got a bunch of kids going absolutely mad, up and down the festival there was the same thing going on so people do their own thing and get from it what they get from it. There’s no standard way you should act or feel and that’s right for me.”

Geographically where do you think the heart of drum & bass is?

“Despite everything I think London still is in my heart the place for drum & bass. It’s where it was created, and still every month a place like Fabric will put a night on and a thousand people will come out and go mad, you can even go to a drum & bass night midweek, everyday you can hear it on the radio, so London is up there in a big way…”

This latest album is all about representing the artists on your label. What motivated you to set up Good Looking records in the first place?

“On first starting out in 1990 I released on Vinyl Mania Records – and I’ve got a lot of respect for what Steve at the label did for me at the time – but personally I just kind of felt on the periphery of it all, a bit of an outsider in the sense of, ‘OK, here’s my record, you take it, I don’t know who you sold it to, I don’t know how you made that track…or how you mastered it…or how it actually becomes a piece of vinyl and where you go and sell it’. Everything there was to know I wanted to know! So in a sense that was the inspiration behind setting up Good Looking Records and releaseing ‘Demon’s Dream’ independently. Being totally in control of your own music certainly seemed like something different at the time but when you look at it now, where every single DJ has their own label, well, its easy to understand why I did what I did.”

What influences you outside of music?

“Love and relationships… you know, I think that life is all about love and relationships, especially the people you can count on throughout life and the people you can develop a lifelong relationship with – and I think that’s a big inspiration for me within music, a good life at home breathes a good life outside of home, you know, the people around me really do inspire me and the good people I’ve been with for a long time. So it comes from allot of things but essentially for me it’s about people the people I’ve related to.”

Do you think drum & bass has had a major impact on culture outside of music?

“I believe music in general is something that brings people together: there’s no written language, it’s the universal language of music. Without a doubt the reason I’ve been involved in music so long is that it brings so many people from so many different places together. I think that in itself is a major cultural effect.”

Is there anything you regret doing in your career as a producer or DJ?

“No, no way, as a DJ and a Producer you tend to put yourself out there to be criticised, you’re never going to please everyone so whatever you’re doing you can’t keep thinking about regrets or something you should have played or a track you should have made – if you do you’ll become a sad person, really. Instead learn to enjoy every moment of it…”

What made you consider teaming up with MC Conrad?

“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? The FabricLive mix you hear today was born out of a 100% natural process.”

In a recent interview Caspa said his favourite record was your ‘Atlantis’. Do you see parallels in the way in which the atmospheric sides of drum & bass and dubstep have come about?

“There are parallels with all music. Personally I’m a big soul head and people often look at me weirdly when I tell them this, but what I see is that there’s a parallel from soul to jazz to reggae to eighties soul to hip-hop, early house to hip-house to the early acid to techno to drum & bass. In that way they’re all connected, in a massive way…”

Wouldn’t you agree that drum & bass started with a faster, more fierce sound and over time evolved into something more subtle, as is now the case with dubstep?

“Well I think the opposite, I think Dubstep has always been there as an element. For example, if you take drum & bass when it first started it looked like you had one track but then you’d find within that track another four tracks, and so you might have a ragga element which then began going into a dark element only to slow down into some beautiful strings and then come back out with some kind of techno-y style and then eventually breaks or whatever, so what you heard were people cramming one vinyl with as much as they could. As we’ve progressed through the years I think that people have been taking those individual elements and forming their own styles around those elements. That’s not saying they haven’t still been maintaining a drum & bass feel but that’s just my take on where we’ve been and where we’ve gone… [laughs]”

Your latest compilation for Fabric has been billed as the future sound of drum & bass – what do you think are the elements that make this the case?

“Really? [Laughs] Well, yeah okay, I’ve always been on the cusp of future music with whatever I’ve been involved in so the mix is no exception to that but I just believe that what I’ve always done in terms of  music is like jazz, rather than what people call drum & bass. It’s just always been changing and moving forward. That’s exactly the position I want to be in with my music and no matter what I’m listening to the music cannot be a cheap gimmicky thing, for me it’s life, it’s something that brings in wherever I’ve been involved in with stuff. When it’s to do with music I like to say, in twenty years time I can still hear that and say that it means something to me, so in that sense I agree, defiantly.”

Would you then say there have been breakthroughs with the recent artists that you’ve worked with on Good Looking Records?

“To be honest I think the artists themselves are the breakthrough in terms of what they’ve worked at and what they’ve made. I’m just the producer putting it all together… but with music now, especially drum & bass, were in a prolific period, there’s just so many people making this music, so you have to find the people who are going to be taking things forward, I’m lucky enough to have a really good collection of people involved in music who are constantly doing what they believe in and pushing the boundaries.”

Maks Fus Mickiewicz

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