Two things stand out straight away with James Lavelle. First, his love of music and art are so utterly entwined that it’s hard to see where one stops and the other one starts. And second, looking back, Lavelle started work so damn early that it’s a wonder he wasn’t signing up artists in the school yard. “I started Djing when I was 14,” he says. “I also worked at Blue Bird, Honest Jons and Straight No Chaser and ID. And that was coming out of the whole Soul II Soul/Massive Attack soundsystem era between Bristol and London.” James also ran a club in Oxford called Mo’ Wax Please covering every genre, from funk and rare groove right through to acid house.
In amidst of that, Lavelle hooked up with Tim Goldsworthy. “I started the label at 18 and left Honest Jons soon after that.”
Defining moments for Mo’ Wax include the Headz project, releasing DJ Shadow’s ‘Influx / Hindsight’ and getting Le Funk Mob remixed by Nightmares On Wax, Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin. Even two decades on, any label worth its salt would still kill for a mix package like that. “Everything came together and all the barriers came down. To be so universal was quite unusual.” (Heads should investigate Le Funk Mob – ‘Motorbass Get Phunked Up (Richie Hawtin Remix)’ for further thrills.)
Fans and followers will know that after Mo’ Wax ended, James has been touring the world over DJing all the hot spots. As a DJ, James says he gets a huge kick ”putting things together in a unique way. I’m someone seen for musical taste but always trying to push new music and new things forward. Being a DJ is very producer-lead now. I’ve always felt like a lone ranger!” James has also been steering the good ship UNKLE for the past fourteen years. “We toured the world!” he laughs. “We headlined Sydney Opera House, Brixton Academy, Creamfields in South America, played Tel Aviv with Nine Inch Nails, we worked with everyone from Queens Of The Stone Age through to Massive Attack and Radiohead.
After ‘Psyence Fiction’, everyone wrote it off but it was never meant to be a one-off project. It’s production-lead like Massive Attack but I put all my energy into the band, from Tim Goldsworthy and Kudo and DJ Shadow through to Pablo Clements and Richard File. “The band had the Mo’ Wax aesthetic but I focused it into something else.” Asked which tracks he’s most proud of, he mentions Rabbit In Your Headlights (with Thom Yorke) and Burn My Shadow (with Ian Astbury), deftly melding hip hop and dark guitar influences and adding world-class rock vocalists to the mix. “I’m really proud of the influence those songs have had, especially when coupled with great videos.”
Of course, we can’t talk about Lavelle without talking about (actual) art – and it’s something that’s been there since the start. James was a Stussy fan from the get-go and Mo’ Wax reflected that unique British take on street culture, from 12” sleeves to toys, photography and videos. “The label HAD to have that collectability and attention to detail. I started to work with 3D and Futura and the label became a conduit for artists from the skate and graffiti world. There were Mo’ Wax art projects with [skateboarders] Mike Millsas and Gonzales as well as with labels like Bathing Ape. “I came from the Stussy generation, into graffiti and hip hop and wanted to explore that.” For James, music, art and design always went hand in hand and his own blossoming Daydreaming project sprung from this creative melting pot. Inspired by the desire to marry music and visual art, “Daydreaming with…” is a unique and visceral exhibition experience which aims to bring together some of the most acclaimed, high profile creatives working in music, art, film, fashion and design. With James as curator, artists and collaborators who have been featured in previous exhibitions include Nathan Coley, Ridley Scott Associates, Doug Foster, Futura, Jonas Akerlund, Shynola, 3D, Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton and the exhibitions themselves have taken place from London to Hong Kong.
Fast-forward to 2012 and that unique sensibility remains intact. “I still have everything we ever made and I still make stuff with Japan now. I was always a big fan of George Lucas and the idea that you could create your own universe, from music and film to video.” Lavelle has been doing a lot of film and TV score work, from X-Files to Twilight (movie) to BMW and Armani adverts through to independent short films and getting inspired by “loads of great new bands. For me, it’s about being creatively free. There aren’t many musical boundaries.”
His inspiration now comes from going to cool warehouse parties and small, off the cuff events in London. “I toured with UNKLE Live for five years and now I’m excited to be DJing clubs.” Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same.