Features | Awards

The “Proper Music” Award For Conservatism Done Well

By Jack Moss | 17 December 2009

Various (Mixed By LTJ Bukem) :: FabricLive 46
(Fabric; 2009)

While I’m sure I utterly ignored plenty of trad rock releases in 2009 that probably warrant a mention, LTJ Bukem deserves this award for the unlikely feat of making a drum ‘n bass DJ mix epitomise musical conservatism. This is all the more impressive when you consider that Bukem was once a relentless futurist. His masterpiece mix compilation was Logical Progression (1996), so named because it was both digital computer music and a new paradigm of jungle beats. Sometime around the millennium, however, Bukem fell in with the line of thinking that it was now a decade since acid house and dance music should probably start showing how grown up it was. So he turned to jazzy drum ‘n bass and has gone absolutely nowhere since.

There’s really nothing on this compilation that couldn’t have been released ten or even fifteen years ago. And when we’re talking about jazz ‘n bass in this context, we’re not talking 4 Hero-style future-jazz experimentalism; this is jazz shackled in 4/4 and devoid of improvisation or freeform sensibility. Just to put the icing on the cake, it’s all mixed on vinyl—none of that new-fangled digital business for Bukem—and culled entirely from his own Good Looking imprint. The man daren’t even look outside his own label!

And yet, despite clipping the wings of both jazz and drum ‘n bass in such clinical fashion, this is a really fucking good compilation. Bukem’s mixing is beautifully smooth and deft. A generation of laptop DJs can’t blend records half so seamlessly as this. The set is perfectly weighted and structured, shimmering across an emotional and musical landscape so it finishes somewhere quite different to where it started without you ever noticing the intermediate steps. And the music is just sublime: wallpaper beats and coffee table jazz at its undeniable best.

Electronic music has spent half a century carefully removing the need for human dexterity or skill in music production, allowing anyone to become a sonic artist capable of any sound. Bukem pisses all over that philosophy in 75 minutes of music full of live instruments DJ’d to perfection on vinyl with pure manual ability. The funny thing is that if this had been released five years ago it would get slated for its lack of adventure, but because Bukem hasn’t released anything in half a decade we’ve had time to grow nostalgic and misty eyed about good old fashioned drum ‘n bass made with your bare hands and proper melodies. Anyone who can make you think like your Dad while listening to dance music deserves an award, if you ask me.