There was a time during the early 90’s when LTJ Bukem had a reputation as a floor-clearer.
That certainly could not be said by the end of the decade when Bukem had arguably become the first international D&B superstar and torchbearer for the atmospheric Drum & Bass movement.
During the early days as Rave became Hardcore, which then became Jungle, which then became Drum & Bass, Bukem’s aim remained the same throughout; to fuse up-tempo breakbeats with the laid-back textures of Soul, Jazz, and Detroit Techno. For the burgeoning Drum & Bass scene the results were nothing short of revolutionary.
On paper, the first Good Looking Records release might look like a collection of samples just like any other 1992 Hardcore tune, but it really wasn’t. What made Demon’s Theme so remarkable was the way in which the samples were used – Rather than chucking them carelessly into a frenetic 4 minutes of madness, Demon’s Theme develops its elements gradually against a backdrop of spacey ambience and a thundering Amen drumbreak. Clocking in at nearly 9 minutes (which was nearly twice as long as other Hardcore tunes at the time) meant there was room for subtle changes, for layers to build, and for the mood to shift. It was and still is a true piece of music in every sense of the word that had ambitions beyond the Rave arena.
It’s easy to understand why such subtleties and nuances held little truck with ravers who had become accustomed to the in-yer-face ethic of the Hardcore and Jungle scenes of the day, but although they were initially unimpressed, the same could not be said of Bukem’s contemporaries. By the end of 1993 producers such as Photek, Peshay and The Invisible Man would all be turning their hand to a more atmospheric sound.
The celebrated home of atmospheric Drum & Bass would be Bukem and Fabio’s own club Speed, but the smoother more laid-back sounds were also suited to a number of situations outside of the club environment. Atmospheric D&B came with a cross-over appeal that made it accessible to an audience previously put-off by the uncompromising sounds of Hardcore or Jungle, whilst a previously hostile media began to brand it as the acceptable and “intelligent” face of underground breakbeat based music – the Drum & Bass it was ‘ok’ to like.
Of course that didn’t mean that all atmospheric Drum & Bass was good. In fact there were some truly dreadful efforts that ranged from the insipidly bland to the plain cringeworthy. It came to the point when a saxophone and some Fender Rhodes pads were as laughably clichéd as gunshots and shouts of ‘Hey-hey-hey-hey’ in a jungle tune. But those that did it well did it brilliantly. For me personally I found that the best music came from those producers who’d already earned their stripes from the Hardcore & Jungle scenes, or producers who were competent at producing other styles of Drum & Bass as well as the more laid-back stuff.
This personal preference is evident in the three mixes posted below. Many of the tracks included are by producers who are arguably more popular or renowned for producing a more aggressive and harder style of Drum & Bass. I won’t spoil the fun by pointing out exactly who’s who, but there are a few D&B heavyweights that here can be heard showing a smoother and mellower side to their production skills.