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James Lavelle

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Internationally recognized DJ, electronic recording artist and producer James Lavelle is the man responsible for putting UK hip-hop on the map. The artist began throwing notorious block parties at the age of 15, founded alternative rap label Mo Wax Records by the time he was 18, and released one of electronic music’s most celebrated albums—Endtoducing by DJ Shadow—before he was 23. The precocious visionary has collaborated with some of the most talented film directors, and is legendary for incorporating visual elements into his work. Most recently Lavelle put out a new album, Where Did the Night Fall, wrangling the attention of modern electronic music producers across the globe.

The Creators Project: Over the course of your career you have obviously been really interested in the visual side of things—curating a consistent and highly popular work for Mo’ Wax album artwork, creating soundtracks to films, and generally making sure the visual aspect of your work is very strong. How does this inform the musical side of your work?

James Lavelle: I’ve always been very visually led, and film has always been one of the biggest inspirations for my music. It’s a different way of working because you have a direct emotion; you have a sort of a theme—a sonic idea of what you’re trying to do. Whether it’s thriller and you are trying to create music that has tension, or something more futuristic that needs a futuristic sort of sound. Using the visual as a guideline, it’s a lot easier to create certain kinds of tracks.

Some amazing directors have created videos to your music. Is it a collaborative effort, or do you just give them the track and let them get on with it? I like to get involved to a degree, but when you’re working with really amazing people, the whole idea is that you sort of have an idea or a context of what you’re trying to achieve and you want those people to go and do their thing. So generally, with videos like that, you are sort of working with them because of what they do as individuals. But it’s always good to have an idea and a direction. I tend to be somewhat involved in that process. 

UNKLE’s latest album, Where Did the Night Fall, came out earlier this year. Did you utilize new and exciting technology? We used Logic Pro Tools to record, and we used Ableton quite a lot to rearrange samples. But we also used analog to record a lot of stuff to get a certain kind of tone, so we are always moving between different things.

One of the things many people cite when they’re talking about UNKLE was your performance with the Heritage Orchestra in 2008. You’ll be performing with them again this year. Explain what this collaboration is all about. The orchestra reinterprets different artists’ records and has been working with contemporary bands as of late. UNKLE released this record called End Titles… in 2008, which kind of based on music that would work for film and TV. We then did a classical version of it with the Heritage Orchestra at Christmastime in 2008 at the Union Chapel. It was really an amazing, amazing night, and it was even better because we didn’t have to do anything. We just turned up and it was the best musicians you could ever imagine playing onstage. You know we had like the horns in the pulpits, Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones had created this amazing light sculpture, which hung from the ceiling. It was diamond-shaped and looked like a pipe organ. So people just thought it was just, you know, this organ in the background, but then when the orchestra came on the “organ” transformed into this beautiful LED light experience that with all of this beautiful color. It was really beautiful.

We heard you were really into sci-fi films as a kid. Is that right? Yeah.

How much have those movies influenced your work? I suppose that was one the biggest kind of influences. And I think in many ways that vision has come true—some of it’s good and some of it is really bad. When you travel a lot you see the influence of technology in much greater ways than you do when you are in your home base. You see how it mixes with culture, which is an amazing thing because it’s caused the world to become really diverse.

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At a glance

The man responsible for putting UK hip-hop on the map.

Alias: UNKLE
Location: London, United Kingdom
Profession: DJ, electronic recording artist, record label boss and curator
Label: Mo' Wax Records
Websites: UNKLE.com
Selected Discography: Where Did the Night Fall (2010); Global Underground, Bangkok (2009); War Stories (2007); Never, Never, Land (2003); Global Underground, Barcelona (2002); FabricLive.01 (2001); Psyence Fiction (1998)
Notables and Affiliations: Curated Daydreaming with... James Lavelle (2010); released DJ Shadow's seminal 1996 record Entroducing; brought attention to the graffiti artist Futura 2000 by using his artwork on many Mo' Wax releases in the early to mid 1990s; founder of trip-hop outfit, UNKLE