“It doesn’t matter where music comes from; if it hits you, that’s it…”
When the lists of Great Drum and Bass Pioneers is drawn up – and can that day be far off? – the name of Danny Williamson will be on it, only he won’t be called Danny Williamson, he’ll be called LTJ Bukem, for LTJ Bukem is as legendary, as forward-looking and as groundbreaking as they come. In concentrated bursts over the last 22 years, Bukem has been recording, releasing, and DJing a uniquely melodic and textured stream of breakbeat fuelled drum and bass. Now, as he prepares his Good Looking label for a relaunch, Bukem is bringing his entire back catalogue to Spotify.
“We’re embracing the digital world,” he laughs. “We know there are thousands of fans who, over the years, have been asking, ‘what’s Bukem doing?’ It’s been three or four years since I last released something new, so now it’s time to reach out. It’s time to really do this…”
There is something curiously timeless about your music.
LTJ Bukem: That’s been my ethos since the beginning. If I pick up a piece of music to play in a club or to release I want it for life. I want to be able to pick up that piece of music in 20 years’ time, and still enjoy it for what it is.
Tell me a bit about the first music you ever really loved.
Blimey, well, this sounds really weird, but one of the first records I actually bought and got into, was by Bert Weedon! I’ve still got the record somewhere; he was doing Shadows cover versions. I also really liked Scott Joplin and a lot of that ragtime stuff. Then I began listening to The Police and The Jam – Paul Weller heavily influenced me. I think he’s an amazing guy, if you listen to those 70s Jam albums now they’re still amazing.
What was the first gig you went to see?
I would have been 9 or 10 and my piano teacher took me to see Chick Corea, that got me into the whole jazz scene, which became a massive influence and opened up the door to a lot of reggae too. When I started collecting music there was no genres, not for me, I just wanted to hear things that were great, so I got into all sorts of different styles of music. Still now, it doesn’t matter what it is or where it comes from: if it hits you, that’s it.
As a teenager you ran your own Sunshine Sound System – what would we have heard you playing?
Frankie Paul’s Pass The Tu Sheng Peng, Sylvia Striplin’s You Can’t Turn Me Away, Archie Bell and the Drells, Don’t Let Love Get You Down…
Just thinking about those songs is making you smile!
Yeah! Then there’s Loose Ends’ Gonna Make You Mine. We played a lot of that mid-80s funk and soul, but a lot of James Brown too. In fact, I’d play any James Brown I could get my hands on. I played a lot of early hip-hop like Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane too. I used to love those times – that’s why I’m smiling – because in those days you literally could just go to a dance and play for seven hours straight from any style of music that you loved.
People like Kindness, Rhye and Jessie Ware are revisiting that time, that pre-acid house era.
I think there’s a lot of people revisiting that music because there were some ground breaking sounds in there, musicians will always be going to go back to those elements.
Where should people begin with your own music?
You have to start at the beginning, with Demon’s Theme. I’ve always said that was three or four tunes in one, because at that time in drum and bass that’s how it was. You’d have the reggae start, the techno / house middle section, the soul breakdown and off into a mad rave kind of finish! My stuff was more about strings and bells, long intros and drums and promoters would say to me, ‘you’re not going to last five minutes, son! It’s not rave-y enough, it’s not mad enough!’ I was disheartened until I took it to (drum and bass legend) Fabio and Grooverider at Rage one night. They put it straight on and loved it. I played it on dub plate exclusive for a whole year and then thought, ‘Right, I’m going to start a label.’ And that’s the beginning of Good Looking Records. It was what I wanted to hear, records with some melody.
Your label compilation, Logical Progression, was a very big deal at the time.
There was nothing else like it. Nothing! There were compilations, but not an album where someone had put it together as whole piece that was the real start of the label. That got me in touch with London Records and Pete Tong and suddenly we were happening worldwide. I began to bring artists like PFM and Peshay on board. It began to feel real. At the same time I was getting together with Tony who did everything apart from select the tracks for release and gave the label a direction. He still does that now.
You had Photek recording as Aquarius then too?
Ha! Photek, that’s a funny story. I remember when no one had even heard of Rupert. He was still living in Ipswich and I had to drive down to his house to pick up all the DATs off him so I could go and cut the dub plates. Those were amazing times, the birth of it all really.
What record from history do you think, ‘I wish I’d made that’?
I think it would have to be a soul record. If I was allowed a few I’d say, Lonnie Liston Smith’s Voodoo Woman, Chick Corea’s Lenore, Dave Angel’s 1st Symphony, a track called Yeah (Dope Mix) – by Swing Kids and an old tune on XL called Dub War by Dance Conspiracy. Too many to mention
OK, a simple final question: what’s your favourite noise?
Oh man, my favourite noise is peace and quiet.
Do you get much of it?
I’m being serious! And the answer to your question is: no, I don’t, but when I do, it’s like the most wonderful thing ever, because hearing no music for a while really makes me want to hear music again. Sometimes it’s really nice to just sit and contemplate things, to close your eyes and have some meditation time.
That’s what comes of being a grown-up, Danny.