The man from UNKLE
18 August, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab
James Lavelle is set to present a number of exciting live events in Camden
MO’ Wax record label co-founder and the man behind Unkle, James Lavelle, will be making his presence felt in Camden in a huge way next month.
The long-term Camden resident and superstar DJ/producer is curating a series of nights at Jazz Cafe (Sept 15-21), reflecting the depth of his career, before he presents Unkle live at Koko (Sept 26) and a series of screenings, workshops and art pop-ups at the Roundhouse – all coinciding with 25 years of Mo’ Wax and the release of Unkle’s fifth studio album The Road: Part I, out tomorrow (Friday).
As well as the hand-picked selection of artists who will play Jazz Cafe, Lavelle will DJ a set tailored to each night.
He said: “I was one of the first DJs to play there. It was part of the culture I grew up in, back in the early 90s, playing with Gilles Peterson and Norman Jay, when black music was a very heavy influence on me and old soul – pre-Unkle as people knew it.
“I was given an opportunity to look back at that time, which I thought would be nice – going back to the roots.”
Lavelle explained his thinking behind each night’s line-up:
Mo’ Wax 25th anniversary live showcase ft Attica Blues, Elliott Power, Mink, Thinkpiece, James Lavell (classic Mo’ Wax set) + Dusted ft DJ Milo + Trevor Jackson + Charlie Dark.
“It opens with a Mo’ Wax day and night; it’s 25 years of Mo’ Wax. I’m doing a live thing with Elliot Power, who released a Mo’ Wax collaboration last year. I really liked Elliot. He features a lot on my new record, along with his crew Nubrain.
“Attica Blues, one of the first artists I signed to Mo’ Wax will be there. They will be followed by Dusted, a night I did with Blacktronica founder Charlie Dark, which ran at The Blue Note during the time of Metalheadz, and DJ Milo from Wild Bunch. That’s a real bringing back together of people. It’s a guilty pleasure of celebrating and playing with people.”
Dorian Concept (Ninja Tunes) + Luke Abbott (live) + Jazzanova (club)
“It’s a contemporary electronic night. It’s important to have electronic music at Jazz Cafe. They both create beautiful and unique electronic music. I’m DJing with my oldest friend Matthew Puffet from Future Beat Alliance. I played my first DJ gig with him when I was 14.”
Smith & Mighty + Fresh 4.
“That was the core of my upbringing, in the sense that sound systems got me into DJing in the first place. Wishing On A Star, produced by Smith & Mighty for Fresh 4, Anyone Who Had A Heart and Walk On By, covered by Smith & Mighty, were a staple diet of DJing.
“Smith & Mighty produced Massive Attack’s first record, along with Milo and Nellee Hooper – the Bristol sound.”
String Ensemble Tribute to David Axelrod.
“I put out David Axelrod’s last record. He was a very big inspiration in my musical career. He made some of the most sampled records in hip hop history – Dre, Eminem, DJ Shadow. His drums are classic hip hop samples. He passed this year, so it seemed fitting to do this. I’m going to play a jazz set.”
Loose Ends + Joe Fox.
“Growing up, Hanging On A String, among other records, was hugely influential, a real guilty pleasure for me. I’m really pleased that Loose Ends are doing it. They were big in the US for a while – the first big wave of new soul in the UK that did well in America. The biggest of all was Sadé. When we were kids, my schooldays were very soul. I met Joe Fox through A$AP Rocky – he’s a new singer songwriter I thought would be interesting to have.”
Task Force + Rodney P + DJ Skitz + Skinnyman.
“I grew up on British hip hop – it had a heavy influence on me. I put on British hip hop when I was a kid – Caveman and Outlaw Posse. Rodney P’s London Posse was a huge influence as a teen.”
Lee Scratch Perry.
“He’s one of those incredibly important eccentric enigmas within music. I met him years ago when I was doing a gig with the Beastie Boys. He was running around the hotel in a Spiderman outfit.”
Lavelle will present an Unkle live show at Koko, before he embarks on a series of events at the Roundhouse with screenings of classic Unkle videos, educational workshops and pop-up art exhibitions.
Would he ever consider fully reviving Mo’ Wax, the label he founded in 1992 with Tim Goldsworthy that broke hundreds of groundbreaking artists, including DJ Shadow with his influential album Endtroducing?
“I don’t know now,” he says. “There’s a side of me that feels I should let sleeping dogs lie. It’s a bit like Factory Records – they were a big part of the culture at the time. In many ways, I’ve moved on with what I’m doing and I’m not sure it’s on my agenda, but it’s good to celebrate the label in a social way, as it’s part of my life and other people’s lives.
“It’s a way of bringing people back together who wouldn’t have hung out. Mo’ Wax was a very social thing – it wasn’t a particularly well-run business.”
Unkle’s fifth studio album, The Road: Part I, is out on August 18, and Lavelle is feeling good.
He said: “It’s nice to be putting a record out after so long. I didn’t realise how long it had been. It seems to be going down well… For me, it’s a bit of a new beginning. I’m not in a partnership in Unkle, so I’m leading the charge – it was a really interesting experience, joyous. The other records were always complicated, so this feels like fresh start.”
The album features a number of collaborations with diverse artists, from Mark Lanegan to Elliott Power.
Lavelle said: “I wanted to mix it up multiculturally. I wanted to go back to the roots of what I was doing in a vocal way, rather than a sampling way. I feel pretty good about moving forward. This record is the beginning of a new chapter in Unkle.”
He has already begun work on the sequel The Road 2. He says: “I hope there are continuities between Unkle records. It’ll be the next step. I’ve done a lot of recording already. This record hasn’t come out yet, so it will be interesting to see how people react.”
If things had turned out differently, Lavelle could well have been involved in soundtracking Star Wars Episode 1. It’s just as well things didn’t work out that way, as Lavelle, once the holder of one of the largest Star Wars collections in Europe, has since discovered his distaste for the newer movies.
“There was a funny scenario with the first prequel, where we were in talks about DJ Shadow remixing the Star Wars theme,” he said. “We were in talks with Lucasfilm for Episode 1, but it didn’t happen. I loved Star Wars in certain elements, but culture has moved on. For me, it’s now a massive merchandise enterprise. I’m nostalgic about the first three films, but I hated the next three.
“One of the biggest disappointments was when I was invited to the premiere of Episode 1: walking the red carpet, DJing the party the night before and then seeing the film and being horrified.”
He added: “I had a huge Star Wars collection, but most of it has gone now. I kept some stuff… I’m a bit of a mad trainspotter, so I kept some choice bits. But the days of sitting in a room full of Star Wars stuff is over for me.”
Lavelle has lived in Camden for the past 20 years and has watched it change. “Unfortunately, Camden market has become rather dull in the past ten years, which is sad. I don’t know how many more sneaker stores or bong shops Camden needs. It was one of the first places I went to in London.
Soul II Soul, record shops, Reckless Records… the market was full of individual stalls and people selling great vintage stuff. You could find great toys, clothes, records – those were the things that were appealing to me, as well as furniture. But, bit by bit, most of that has gone.”
Lavelle praised the area’s night culture. He said: “Music venue-wise, it’s brilliant. Bars such as the little Brazilian Spiritual Bar, Roundhouse, Jazz Cafe, Koko, and so on. What’s great about the live music scene is that it’s across the board – there’s a goth presence and hardcore bands in The Underworld. You still get tribes in Camden, which you don’t necessarily see much elsewhere.
“The Roundhouse is amazing, with huge programming and education. It’s more day-time Camden that needs reviving.”
Lavelle sounds supportive of proposed changes to the market, which he believes will restore an emphasis on music to the area. He revealed he has been asked to become involved in some music projects in Camden, although he doesn’t have much detail at the moment.
He said: “I’ve been asked to be involved, potentially, with what they’re doing. I don’t know what this involves yet, but I do know that the market is heading towards music. There would be more consultation on stuff. It would be more like, would one be interested in doing stuff in future? Yes.”