UNKLE was formed in the mid-nineties by two British school friends, Tim Goldsworthy and James Lavelle. They were joined by DJ Shadow, Money Mark (the Beastie Boys’ keyboardist), the Scratch Perverts and Japanese hip-hop crew Major Force. Goldsworthy left after a year because of artistic differences with Lavelle, and UNKLE has since seen many changes in personnel. 

 UNKLE Remix Competition Winners EP by UNKLE 

UNKLE’s 1998 debut album Psyence Fiction drew critical acclaim and featured the talents of musician like Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Mike D (Beastie Boys), Richard Ashcroft (The Verve), Badly Drawn Boy and Jason Newsted (Metallica). DJ Shadow was replaced by Richard File as the last century died and many tracks acquired an ambient style. Then came more prominent contributors like Ian Brown and Gary Mounfield (Stone Roses), Robert Del Naja  (Massive Attack), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Gavin Clark (Clayhill) and Ian Astbury (The Cult).

File left in 2008 and UNKLE took to the road… taking along Badly Drawn Boy, Liela Moss (The Duke Spirit), Gavin Clark and Joel Cadbury (South) for the ride. The rigours of touring were soon replaced by the demands of the studio as UNKLE material with the likes of Chris Goss, Black Mountain, James Griffith (Lake Trout), Sleepy Sun, The Black Angels, Katrina Ford and Elle J.

All these names and faces… but one constant remains: James Lavelle. Featured in Issue 23 – “Cult of Self” is an exclusive interview with James Lavelle, conducted by Ernst Lass.

Where does the name UNKLE come from?

It came from this idea of a production company that Tim and I set up, and it started as ‘The Man from U.N.K.L.E.’ productions and then later became UNKLE.

How would you describe the sound of UNKLE and of James Lavelle to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

It’s very hard to describe your own music. Takes you on a lot of different tangents. I think the direction is quite beat-driven, journey-like, melancholy and rooted in electronic music history. The music is actually quite rich and emotionally driven.

 Money And Run (feat. Nick Cave) by UNKLE 

Do you write songs with specific vocalists in mind or is it more of a collaborative process?

It really depends on the people we work with (like Gavin Clark). Our process seems to be more traditional in the sense that we write the songs together. Usually we start with a soundclip and give to the artists. Regular contributors work with us more interactively in a studio. Sometimes we record with singers and sometimes we record bands, so the songs depend on the amount of work that they puts in. Location also counts. Many of our newer records have been done over the internet, which is different from when we first started because that didn’t exist then. It just depends on the artist… how much they are going to contribute and how creatively involved they get.

How does the UNKLE’s live persona differ from James Lavelle’s?

I work entirely on my own when I DJ, but I’m also working with Tom Foster on a new show called ‘Unkle Sounds’ that is more beat-driven. It takes a more clubby direction. Working with a band has a very different dynamic… more organic, more ‘Rock’.

How involved are you in selection of cover art?

Completely. I work closely with the artist and am also heavily involved with videos and the like.

You have recently been involved in an art exhibit called Daydreaming?

I’ve worked with a wide variety of artists that have very different styles, so I wanted to put their work together and make music for a different environment. This lets us view their work in a different way. It’s not like a very static gallery.

How do you see the face of music changing in regards to music labels and the role they play now as the use of programs like SoundCloud and MySpace increase?

It’s a different environment now so you just try to adapt. It has changed drastically from when it all started, and each change has its pros and its cons. Music gives you the power to interact with your audience. The internet helps to get your music out there.

How do you see the music industry moving forward with piracy being so rife?

I do my own thing and so I’m not really that involved in the industry. The music industry is a bit stale in many ways. I think it’s a dramatic shake up that’s happening. It’s interesting times for artists now.


Directed by Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones and featuring super model Liberty Ross, the video is an extension of the artwork from “Where Did The Night Fall”.

You started your own record label Mo’Wax. How does that influence you?

I have a business to grow, and so I have to deal with things in a practical way. It’s not something I am particularly upset about. I have a really good group of people that I work with. It’s a business like any other, and so you have to respect that and build logistics. It’s not just my passion, it’s what I do. It’s more to create and to be able to have a platform to be able to do that. Therefore you need to have professional people who let you do what you do. I want a platform to keep doing what I do.

What prompted you to start your own label?

It was a combination of many things at the time. There were many records that weren’t being released. There were many artists who weren’t getting their music out, so I created my own label. I couldn’t get a job in the record industry either, so I went and did it myself.

Each of the UNKLE albums is very different. What inspires you to move forward with each album?

It’s a combination of everything: what you’re listening to, the emotion, the environment all come together when you make a record. What you want to do at that time and the music around you… that’s what it reflects.

What’s next?

We’ve recorded a lot of records down in a lot of studios, so we’re really going to try to take a bit of time to find ourselves and some new ideas. Just have some time to get back to basics and try to push what we’re doing. So we need some time to think about that, instead of trying to rush to the next record.

I’m busy doing UNKLE Sounds and then I’ll tour with it.  And, as always, there are a few projects that we’ll talk about and a few soundtracks. We may be working on a new computer game, so there are various projects that could potentially happen. I’m not sure when the next UNKLE record is going to be released. We’re not rushing into it, and want to rather try and really take some time before the next UNKLE launch. Find new ideas and get back to basics.

UNKLE Sounds

A new audio/visual experience featuring DJ set by UNKLE’s James Lavelle and a visual installation by acclaimed artist, Doug Foster.

Dir: www.scubaboy.co.uk
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