James Lavelle

Founder of the seminal Mo’Wax label, art curator and the man from UNKLE, James Lavelle shares a few of his favourite formative inspirations

Photo: Piers Allardyce


“The video store was one of the first experiences you had hanging out with your mates. I’d watch everything I possibly could. I was really obsessed with film. The art and design that I got heavily into from being a ‘Star Wars’ kid, through to discovering people like Ridley Scott with ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’, it all had a big impact on what I did with Mo’Wax.”


“As a teenager, science fiction was very influential. ‘2001’ it blew my mind. From there I discovered his repertoire of films. His working practice, his choice of subject matter, how he put movies together, it was a massive influence on me. When I did UNKLE’s ‘Lonely Soul’ with Richard Ashcroft, I found a way to get in touch with Kubrick. His assistant said, ‘Just send us something, Stanley’s always interested in seeing what’s going on, especially in contemporary culture’. I sent him the song with a letter, and called back, ‘Did he get it?’ The assistant said, ‘It’s quite interesting for him, but he’s wrapping up a film, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. Give us a shout back in a couple of months’ time’. And then he died.”


“Through hip hop I discovered graffiti, but I also discovered a culture. I saw a film on Channel 4 called ‘Bombin’’, which was the first British documentary about hip hop. It’s the first time you see The Wild Bunch, Goldie and 3-D. I grew from that world, eventually working with people like [graffiti artist who created Mo’Wax sleeves] Futura, into the art world where I discovered the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol…”


“I worked at a record shop called Bluebird Records in west London. People like Bomb the Bass’ Tim Simenon and Michael Kopelman, who started Stussy in the UK and was a DJ, would bring the guy I worked for records from Japan on a label called Major Force. I became obsessed with their aesthetic more than the music. They were graphically based, but everything, from the weight of the records, to the paper, they were just beautiful. It was also about discovering something that people didn’t know about. There was a real mystique to it.”


“From eight years old I’d studied martial arts. I started doing judo, karate and then got very into kung fu. My parents were Oxbridge educated and had a lot of connections with the universities. I discovered through a magazine that there was a guy teaching poetry at Oxford who was one of the world’s most highly regarded Japanese martial artists. I ended up being introduced to him through my mother.

“This was one of my first experiences of having a culturally influential figure in my life. He would teach me various forms of Japanese martial arts, but because he was a poet and a historian, there was a very beautiful language that went with it. There was a big synergy in the 70s and early 80s with martial arts and hip hop… hip hop, funk, Bruce Lee. When I was 18, I went to Japan and travelled all over the country. It changed my life. I built a lot of relationships there, including Tosh and Kudo who I started UNKLE with.”


“My father was a musician and my mother was an artist. My father was an amazing drummer and folk singer, and sang with The Dubliners. He’d studied Greek classics at Oxford, so mythology was a huge influence in my life. My mother found a load of stuff from when I was a child after moving house. There were these books that I’d made of Greek mythology, and it’s mad because you open the books up and there’ll be Medusa, but I’d made a mirror, and the pages all fold out. Creating these other worlds, maybe that’s the journey into what became film and science fiction.

“The art side of things came through my mother, from being taken to places like the Museum Of Modern Art, The Ashmolean Museum. My mother was very supportive of what I did; I don’t think my father really understood until later what I was trying to do. I was geared up as a child on the path to going to Oxford, but I left school at 16 to pursue a career in music.”

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