LTJ Bukem is one of the most recognised names in drum and bass. People describe and compare styles of drum and bass simply by using the name “Bukem”. His vision of music and sound has led the drum and bass scene from its small beginnings in the UK into a massive international tour-de-force of respected dance music. Speaking to Bukem, or Danny Williamson, as his friends know him, you can’t help but notice the passion and eagerness he displays for this music. It’s why he’s been doing it for close to twenty years when many other DJs, Producers and Label bosses have given it up.
“I just love it!” he exclaims when I ask the question of why he’s still around. “I can’t think of many things, if any at all, I like better than listening to and playing and making music. Twenty years,” Williamson muses “it’s quite frightening that I have been doing it that long, but it seems like two years – I’ve done so much, but I can’t do enough, you know? It’s a mad feeling! I’m just very passionate about what I do, and it’s kinda frightening that I’m getting MORE into it,” he laughs. “For the last 10 years I’ve spent with my head buried in the record label, as well as trying to be an artist and DJ. I feel kind of refreshed now as I’m spending more time in the studio and doing those things I did these things for originally.”
Being around the music scene for so long, Williamson has seen a lot of changes in his time. “I’ve been travelling for years now, and I can tell you I used to sit on planes for hours and just twiddle my thumbs, watch the movie three times in a row, listen to all the CDs that were in my bag, and now days I sit and do so much on my laptop,” he begins “I think of start ideas for tunes, or do work for the label, catch up on emails, or get ahead in work, and that has changed everybody’s lives. And Instant Messaging has changed things greatly. Now I wake up and there’s 20 or 30 tracks sitting in my inbox that someone hasn’t had to buy a stamp and post, don’t have to buy a CD, they can encode it to wav, send it, and two hours later we can be talking about it. That’s absolutely crazy! And the whole virtual studio has changed things especially. You don’t have to have a double garage sized space to get all the things and sound in your tunes. It now all fits on one table! That has opened so many doors!”
Williamson’s passion from music comes from learning classical piano form an early age, and a family relocation that found Williamson in the tutelage of a very open-minded music teacher, Nigel Crouch. “If he wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have the musical ears I have now.” One thing Crouch did teach a young Williamson was “not to be frightened of listening to anything! People label music so much, which is something I don’t understand. People say ‘if it’s not that I can’t get into that, because it’s labelled in that way’ – that’s just ridiculous.”
Williamson also has an open mind in how to run a label, giving his artists a great degree of flexibility and support. “I would have the phone ring and promoters would ask for LTJ Bukem, and I’d say “yep, but I’m gonna bring Moloko, I’m gonna bring Blame, and you’ve got no choice in the matter”. Sometimes they couldn’t mix. Who would pay ME to DJ if I couldn’t mix, but that’s the type of thing I did for my artists. It was good thing to get them out there, get them known, but I’m not sure I’d do it the same way again. Obviously my record label won’t promote itself, and playing that music is a big part of that. I’ve always put a big emphasis on getting my artists out there to play, and if you don’t do that how are people going to hear you?”
“It’s got to start at that grass roots level, and you’ve got to do the small clubs of about 200 people in Adelaide and Hawaii,” he continues. “And you absolutely have to do that – I don’t see any other way of doing it. You can’t wait around 2 or 3 years until someone brings you out for a big do where someone wants a drum and bass tent or whatever. I think you need growth, it needs to be an organically grown thing, and that’s what Good Looking is all about.”
Bukem is also all about his DJing. “I still get a thrill DJing”, he says “There are two kinds of thrills for me. I love the mixing – I love the art form of it, so every time I play it’s like a challenge for me – will I be able to pull off this mix as well as I would like to? And when you achieve that there’s nothing better. The second thing is the people and their reaction. I’ve spent years playing new music, often stuff for the very first time to their ears, and them getting into it is awesome,” he says excitedly “And I still get nervious before I play – I need my 5 or 10 minutes where I have no one near me where I get it all together and I’m like “right, let’s play this set!” he adds.