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James Lavelle interview: The Man from Unkle

Author: Jeremy King
Thursday, March 2, 2006
As the man behid Mo' Wax and the famed Unkle Project, James Lavelle carries some serious credentials. He's also got a rather large chip on his shoulder.

I have to admit I was quite looking forward to my interview with James Lavelle and there are a couple of very good reasons for this. Those UNKLE albums he helped steer are some of the best hip hop, trip hop, house and rock mash-ups ever produced. Additionally, as a DJ he has produced some stellar mix CDs, including the very first 'Fabric Live' CD which my family considered good enough to actually play at my brother's wedding. As such, my hopes were raised quite high and I have to admit that there were some slightly girlish giggles before the interview.

Little did I know that two minutes into the interview I would feel as if I was trying to climb the side of a large multi-story carpark decked in my worst pair of plaid boxer shorts. Simply put, James Lavelle is a cagey bastard and someone who simply does not take shit from anybody. I suddenly fear that every question I ask could be thrown back at me with venomous force. To be fair, as the interview wears on, he does warm up a little bit but at the outset when I start asking him about the new Unkle album that he's currently working on, his response is closed off to say the least, "I'm not going to go into it, people will just have to wait." He tells me. "We're just recording at the moment".

When the conversation turns towards his DJ skills and his preparation for different types of gigs I kind of expect him to maybe soften slightly. Alas, when it comes to discussing his sets and whether he varies them for big dance festivals, he still refuses to pull any punches. "Years ago I would have," he states. "I would have programmed my set more towards that type of environment. Now, to be honest with you, as selfish as it may sound I play what I play and if people like it then they like it and if the don't then they don't. I'm really past having to tailor my sets to environments, having to pander to the crowd. I just play what I play and I hope that people will be into it."

"I mean obviously there are certain things that you are going to throw in there for fun, because you know that in an environment where there is a large amount of people, then certain records go down really well, rather than records designed for very small environments. And in that way, yeah, there might be a few things I throw in. But ultimately my set is my set and I play what I play."

Of course this sort of 'if they don't like it, then fuck them' attitude is always going to be a bit of a problem at some events. So the next obvious question I ask is whether or not he worries about hostile crowd reactions to his set. Something I experienced first hand at one of his gigs at the Prince Of Wales back in 2002 when he decided to play pure house to a clearly hip hop crowd. His response is of course equally blunt, although he does change tack and starts to pour a little bit of charm on his assault on dance music crowds.

"I don't really care to be honest," he tells me before changing tack fairly quickly. "I mean I of course I do but I don't go into it with that frame of mind. I'm going to go into it with the approach that I am going to kill it and I am going to have an amazing night. I'm going to make those people, with my magic powers, get into it. If they don't, then my magic powers aren't working that day. But you know, you spend your life worrying about what people think in this game and I just think you've got to get on with it and move forward. For me I think I've played long enough and done enough things to be able to work in that environment and do what I want to do and for everybody to still have a really good time."

"Ultimately it is about people having a good time, so I'm not going in with the attitude of 'fuck the crowd'. I mean the crowd is the reason that I'm there, they're the people who have paid for it and they're the fans.