James Lavelle talks trip-hop, record labels and solo albums

Pioneer of trip-hop, James Lavelle first tasted fame in the ’90s as one half of electronic group UNKLE. The man behind Mo’ Wax, the cult UK record label, has worked with the likes of DJ Shadow, Badly Drawn Boy, Thom Yorke and Massive Attack for UNKLE’s albums, Psyence Fiction and Never Never Land as well as collaborating with the artists for their own releases.

James played a duo of sundown sets in April at Potato Head Beach Club – the first time we have hosted him in Bali. Here James shares his thoughts on the evolution of music-making and how a Potato Head Beach Club set differs from the norm…

Who were your early musical influences?

My grandmother was the first woman to be in the London Philharmonic Orchestra and my father was a jazz drummer and folk singer who played with the Dubliners, so I was exposed to music from day zero. My earliest memories were playing the cello with my grandmother and hearing my dad’s records, from John Coltrane to Deep Purple, Marvin Gaye and Queen.

What was your introduction to electronic music like?

My first love was hip-hop. I started buying Grandmaster Flash tapes when I was 12. Then came the emerging rave, acid house and acid jazz scenes in the UK. I developed a love of buying records and got a job at a record shop at 14. Then soundsystem culture happened, and groups like Massive Attack and Soul II Soul began to break through. Suddenly the British scene started changing and I was there as it developed its own unique identity.

How has the music industry evolved since you started out with UNKLE?

Technology is probably the biggest influence; the internet has changed everything. I grew up with vinyl, now everything is digital. The record industry went from “the lunatics running the asylum” to the lawyers and accountants running the business because it had to survive.


When record companies started, they were started by “record company people”; it was very eccentric and there was a lot of money. By the early 2000s, there were no record sales because people were downloading. The industry nearly collapsed, so it became very business-orientated, and not about extravagance. But it’s interesting that now the music industry has started turning around and vinyl’s back on the rise.

Globalisation must have been an influence too…

When I was doing Mo’ Wax, it was near impossible to get a record into places such as Iceland, Alaska or Bali. But now the world is so accessible and DJ culture is everywhere. You can make a record on a laptop these days. Rock ’n’ roll used to be the international language of the world, but now it’s electronic music.

How was your set at Potato Head Beach Club?

I usually play in big clubs to people going mental dancing, so it’s nice to able to come and play records that you wouldn’t normally play. Because it’s a chilled sunset thing, it’s a refreshing change for me. It’s really relaxed and there’s quite a diverse group of people there, of all different ages and ethnicities. And, of course, it’s in a very beautiful place in the world…

Isn’t there a documentary out—The Man From Mo’ Wax?

It think it’s on general release from October – it’s only been at film festivals so far. While I’ve supported the documentary, it’s not my vision; my ex-wife was a director and came up with the idea. It covers the ups and downs of my 25 years of dealing with life in this industry. A lot of the films that artists make these days are about how amazing they are, but this is very honest and real and vulnerable. In a way, it’s cathartic because it puts the past away.

What’s next?

I’ve just finished my new album, The Road, Part 1, out in July. I’ve collaborated with lots of people, but this is a solo vision. The first record in seven years, it’ll be part of a trilogy. I did a lot of recording in the UK working with young artists like Elliott Power, Keaton Henson, Mark Lanegan and Twiggy from Marilyn Manson.


Thanks James, we look forward to hearing it.

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