By Cindy Filipenko
Who: LTJ Bukem and MC Conrad
When: Wednesday, Jan. 24
Britain’s LTJ Bukem is delighted to be returning to Whistler. The pioneering DJ behind the jazzy, ambient drum and bass sound loves the Westin, the mountains and, most of all, Whistler audiences.
“The people are so amazing. They’re so into the music — the vibe. You can more or less go into yourself as a DJ and more or less play what you want to play… people are so responsive.
“I’ll probably be playing a lot of future music, a lot of stuff that’s not out there, that hasn’t been heard yet as well as stuff from the label, other stuff from myself and of course, MC Conrad. It will be like a drum and bass funk bonanza.”
With 18 albums and a handful of re-mixes to his credit, the groundbreaking, performer-producer has enough material to definitely fulfill that promise.
For close to 20 years, audiences around the world have been wildly responsive to the primal undercurrent of Bukem’s sound. Regardless of country or culture, there seems to be something intrinsic to the human DNA that makes everybody respond to drum and bass music.
“Sometimes we’ll play three or four hours of music that people haven’t heard before and we’ll see people just getting into the vibe of the music and being totally free with themselves and each other. It’s quite refreshing to see that unfold,” says Bukem, reached at his home in London.
Bukem says that over the years he’s heard some pretty amazing stories about the impact being in a room saturated with bass can have on people. Even at first listen, it’s apparent that his superb acid-house tinged, drum and bass compositions have a strong spiritual component.
“There’s a guy who’s seen me in Chicago about 10 times. This guy is in a wheelchair, in a room of five or six hundred people, with the music just filling him. He’s having an amazing feeling, an experience with music. I go see him after every gig, sit and chat, have a drink for 20 minutes, half an hour… He’s got so much to say about what the music does for him, how it inspires him.”
Bukem, known to his friends as Danny Williamson, has been a force in British club music since the late ’80s, when he gave up working with a funk band to fuse his love of jazz with drum and bass, what was then an emerging trend. Trained as a classical pianist, Bukem, who also plays drum and trumpet, initially discovered jazz as a kid.
“When I was studying piano — I was 10 or 11 — my piano teacher took me to see Chick Corea, that was it for me,” he says. “It was a tune called “Lenore” that really did it for me. I heard it and said, ‘I want to be able to play that.’”
The sounds of Corea and his contemporaries, the jazzmen of ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, whom he refers to as the “masters of music’s magical age,” continue to influence and infiltrate Bukem’s sound. In 2001, he produced Essence , a re-mix of Herbie Hancock. The improv qualities of jazz have proven extremely complementary to drum and bass’s lack of musical conventions.
“Drum and bass is one of the free-est forms of music there is. There’s no pressure to use certain elements,” says Bukem. “People don’t feel frightened to put whatever elements they want into drum and bass. No one is selling a million records, so there’s no pressure to put in commercial elements.”
For the past 17 years, Bukem has played every live date with MC Conrad. Conrad is Richards to Bukem’s Jagger, rapping while Bukem spins. The extent to which they are plugged into each other’s brains is evident every time the self-described “compulsive” reviews show tapes. (He tapes every show and analyzes it to see what he can do better.)
“After a while you get to know what the other guy is going to do. There’s a bond. He’s so in tune with what I do with the turntables. He’ll have an idea of what kind of thing I may or may not do, what kind of atmosphere I want to build. It’s quite deep really.”
Bukem, who also runs Good Looking Records, has enjoyed a career that’s a mix of production and performance. After two decades of intense integration, he can’t see ever separating the two aspects of his work.
“In this day and age you can’t just be a DJ, you have to be a press person, a DJ person, a label person, an A&R person, you’ve got to be a well-rounder to have the best chance of moving forward with what you love doing. You can’t just do one thing and expect things to happen. You have to make things happen.”