Related Articles: Music, All

Understated Superstar

LTJ Bukem hides behind the music with help from MC Conrad

LTJ Bukem's Thursday, October 26 show at 1015 was beautiful and intimate. The former was no surprise: Bukem's form of Drum & Bass is far more melodic, gentle, and generally accessible than most of that genre, and his albums routinely include moments, and often even long stretches of music, that many find immediately enthralling. An intimate show, however, was not to be expected: 1015 is, of course, one of the city's largest clubs, and those who only know it of a weekend would probably call it its most frenetic. But weeknights can be a different scene: shrunk to the front room and main floor alone, the space becomes manageable, security relaxes somewhat, and the crowd begins to connect.

Bukem himself is slight, almost bookish, an effect that is enhanced by the delicate way he handles his LPs: no dancing DJ this. He seems somewhat out of contact with the audience, shy perhaps but, like all great DJs, he is reading the room, and his timing is impeccable: one could clearly sense him gathering energy, building a larger musical structure from which the various patches of sound could be hung, their ordering tending toward an ultimate goal.

Bukem's music was exactly what his albums promise: D&B with little of its industrial edge, more ambient, lushly synthesized, its patterns immediately graspable, and gratifying. We know from his recordings that he is able to use bass rhythmically and percussion as a melodic element-the fundamentals of D&B - but not all DJs can create live with the same complexity that they use in the studio. Bukem can: he mixes without flaw, and as his later tracks demonstrated, is able to use the full range of possibility offered by the interaction of two turntables. Even more, he is able to express the full range of possibility offered by the rather peculiar confines of D&B: his music was, by turns, funky, driving, spacey, elegant.

And he knows how to make the people-heck, even the security-dance! The audience felt joy, and I did too. It was in people's faces, and it was definitely in their feet.

Yet the most striking part of the entire evening was not Bukem's spinning, but its accompaniment, a non-stop vocal overlay by MC Conrad, a la their Progression Sessions album. In contrast to the DJ, the MC was a more imposing figure, and where Bukem's eyes rarely left his turntables, Conrad's stayed focused on the crowd. Indeed, one might well have thought he was the lead performer, Bukem the accompanist. For a good three hours he chanted and called, sung brief stretches, his apparently tireless voice arching out and through the instrumentals. This mix, the addition of a human voice to techno, is more often poorly done than not: the vocals are commonly ill-paired with the music, the lyrics almost invariably second-rate and essentially unrelated to the message generated by the beats and melodies they overlay. But with these two the result was a happy one: Conrad's song added energy and direction to Bukem's interleaved tracks; it made a lovely thing that much more beautiful.