Seminal producer James Lavelle is the founder of Mo’ Wax record label and the main man of trip-hop/abstract beat outfit UNKLE. He talks to Natasha Stokes.

HK Magazine: You started Mo’ Wax when you were 19. How did you pull the cash together?
James Lavelle: I borrowed a thousand pounds from a friend and just got things started. I mean, I’d had some money from working as a music writer for I-D magazine. I’d always been in the music scene in London, since I was a kid. I started doing club nights when I was 15 because we were always involved… it was just what I did. There was so much music around, a fusion of acid jazz and hip-hop and house and well, what’s now become trip-hop.

HK: Are you against the trip-hop label too?
JL: A long time ago, when I was in a different place, yeah. Not now. When you’re young, it’s important to have an elitist attitude. It’s important to be definite in what you do and don’t believe in. It’s your whole identity. But these things change when you get older. The great part about getting older is that you realize the world’s a big place and there’s so much out there. When you’re a kid, it’s just you and your crew.

HK: Ever have an artist call and complain that you remixed them badly?
JL: Yeah, loads! This past year, I’ve had a few turn the remix down, fucking dickheads. It depends what you’re trying to achieve but a good remix takes the original context of the song to a new place. It’s easy to loop a vocal, repeat one word and make some weird track, but retaining the original tone and vibe is the hardest thing.

HK: Did you ever think “Man, what the hell am I doing? I’ll never make it!”
JL: I think it every day. Have done since I started. Even now. If you don’t do that, you lose. I’ve done some interesting things, but there are a lot more things I want to do.

HK: At 30, what more do you want to achieve?
JL: A lot of it is personal stuff. Being a better human being. My life has been very materialistic for a long time. That’s changed quite dramatically in the last few years.

HK: You were both head of Mo’ Wax and an artist on the label for some time. How did you deal with having to be both creatively and commercially driven?
JL: Pretty badly. Judging on the fact that it didn’t survive. It was chaos. Chaos drove it. You can run off chaos for about 10 years if you’re strong. Then it doesn’t work anymore, which is what happened to us. It was great chaos though. It was lunatics running the asylum. We were all mad kids fucking around, doing whatever the hell we wanted. A friend said last week, you know, Oasis’ first two records were great. They should make stuff like that again. But that’s impossible because what you believe is possible when you’re 18 and what you believe ten years later is different.

HK: What are you most proud of?
JL: Surviving. That is the ultimate. Things come and go. I’ve seen all the high points of the last 10 years. I’m proud to have gotten to this point and still be in the game.

Originally published in HK Magazine

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