Q&A: Chatting With Drum 'n' Bass Pioneer LTJ Bukem - May 10, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Q&A: Chatting With Drum ‘n’ Bass Pioneer LTJ Bukem

British DJ LTJ Bukem is considered one of the innovators of drum ‘n’ bass music, along with the likes of Goldie, Grooverider, and Roni Size. Initially dipping his toe into music in the 1980s by joining a jazz-funk band, Bukem turned to DJing during the latter part of the decade and, by the early ‘90s, was a renowned DJ in the British rave scene.

It was also in the early ’90s that drum ‘n’ bass began to evolve, emerging from the same U.K. rave and jungle subculture that Bukem got his start in. He became one of the earliest drum ‘n’ bass creators, releasing tracks like 1991’s “Logical Progression” and ’92’s “Demon’s Theme,” that incorporate live vocals and keyboards into electronic beats.  

Since then, Bukem has continued pushing his drum ‘n’ bass sound, touring the world, and making a stop at Public Works this Friday, May 12. We caught up with him to learn more about the birth of drum ‘n’ bass and 

LTJ Bukem plays at 9:30 p.m., Friday, May 12, at Public Works.

SF Weekly: You’ve been active since the late 1980s / early 1990s. How do you think your sound has evolved in that time?
LTJ Bukem: Well, talking drum ‘n’ bass, the first obvious development that shaped things for me over these three decades is the speed/BPM of the music. If we go way back to tracks like Franky Bones’s 1988 “Funky Acid Makossa,” which was one of the tracks that directed me in more of a beat direction that ultimately went on to become drum ‘n’ bass. The BPM of that went anywhere from 115-130. Nowadays, BPM’s are way up in the 170s, touching 180 and beyond at times. The BPM change over the years also determined how I’ve mixed music. Initially, drum ‘n’ bass was predominantly all about sampled breakbeats from the jazz, soul, and funk eras. I put emphasis on manipulation of the beats when DJing, often chopping between the two when mixing, creating a mix-style for myself. Nowadays, with the speed where it is, less usage of complete breakbeats occurs within tracks, so my style of mixing has slightly changed, while still maintaining how I have always loved to hear two tracks blended. Over this time, musically in general, whether it’s music for the mind or out-and-out dance floor beats, I still always love something funk, soul, ragga, or jazz-influenced.

SFW: The early English rave scene started with illegal warehouses parties and a very DIY, underground mentality. That’s definitely changed now, and sometimes it seems like that was the last time something brand spanking new happened. Do you agree?
LB: Party-wise in the U.K., U.S.A., and later on in different parts of the world, you’re correct. The birth of this movement is something that will never be repeated — the buzz of how it began, the manner in which it happened. It brought people of very different cultures and ways of thinking together. This was special. The way drum ‘n’ bass forged its own path amidst it all was special, as well. It was new, fresh, energizing, and although many varying styles of music have branched off from the same tree so to speak, nothing since has sounded so different, or so new.

SFW: There was a period in the mid ‘90s in England when it seemed like you, Grooverider, Goldie, and Roni Size (among others) were unstoppable. Was that a golden time for drum ‘n’ bass?
LB: It was a good time, certainly. It was also a very exciting time, where major record labels took chances on so many of us with new musical forms. That helped it not just exist, but excel. There were independent labels creating musical pieces of art that have withstood the test of time. It was a time when drum ‘n’ bass was featured in TV and film, which again helped spread the word. I remember performing at places like Montreux Jazz Festival and having that satisfying feeling that finally, our music was being taken seriously. And I had residencies in super-clubs like Ministry of Sound and Cream. I was laying down foundations.

SFW: What do you think of the state of electronic music in 2017, specifically bass music and dub.
LB: Since drum ‘n’ bass is my thang, it’s healthy. More artists than ever before are creating this music. There are more styles of this music than before, more parties worldwide than ever before. The major labels are getting involved with independents. It’s incredible to see how it continually grows.

SFW: What are you working on right now, studio-wise?
LB: A couple of years back, I remixed a Dusky track, and I seriously want to spend more time in the studio. It’s something I miss. So I’m trying to rectify that as soon as possible.

SFW: Do you still enjoy touring? And did your tour routine change when you hit your 40s?
LB: I love touring, playing, mixing, and meeting people, so “yes” is the answer. I think touring and traveling takes a certain mindset — not everyone can do it. You can never get used to missing the ones you love, but I feel very blessed being able to do something I love to my core, year-in-year-out for so long. For me, it’s more than music: It’s spiritual. As for a routine, I’m not sure I ever had one. I stay as healthy as possible and I don’t miss planes. Oh, and in those moments of zero sleep, I’m checking five times a day where my passport is.

SFW: Do you enjoy performing in San Francisco? Any memories of the city from the past?
LB: I’ve always loved San Fran. I’ve been coming yearly for over two decades. I love the S.F. vibe, love the food, great people, great nights. Now you got me thinking, and remembering late 1990’s amazing sessions at Justice League at 1015 Folsom.

SFW: What can we expect from this set?
LB: Me, the drum ‘n’ bass that I love, creating a sound-story with my feelings, and vocal vibes from Mr. T.R.A.C.

SFW: When this run of shows is over, what do you have planned for the rest of 2017?
LB: A lot of events, that you can checkout in the the events tab of my Facebook. I’m going to attempt to take a piece of July off and carry on working with some music I started some time ago.