Mojo Feb 1996
February 1996 #27
In Mojo magazine's February 1996 issue they feature an article on James Lavelle and Mo' Wax.
Mojo Rising: James Lavelle, by Jim Irvin.
Being head of exploding hip-prog record label Mo'Wax is nothing to sneeze at.
PARP! JAMES Lavelle inserts his face into a large hanky and lets rip. Flu is coursing through his tubes. But he's too busy to take to his bed. There are deals to strike, albums to mix, test-pressings and artwork to approve and, judging by the decor in his office, Star Wars paraphernalia to buy.
James plonks himself near a Death Star and (non)poses for the pictures. Star Wars is this young man's prehistoric nostalgia. His musical heritage is house music. He is 21-years-old and he founded and runs Mo'Wax, purveyors of fine instrumental hip-hop since 1992 — currently the hottest imprint on the block.
FWURPP! he announces into a fresh tissue when I ask how the company actually runs. "I cause confusion. (Sniff) I sign bands and fuck around. Admin is a nightmare. (Snort) Creativity is lost because of it. If I'd had to worry about all the admin I'd have smashed the place up by now."
One gets the impression (SNZZZKFF!) that Mo'Wax is a casual, fluid organization based around Lavelle's whims. But it would be foolish to underestimate this flu-ridden fellow (FVVVVV!). He's a stern, focussed chap around his staff and they seem to respect him in return; presumably because he has good ears and eves. (Albeit all bunged up just now.) Ears tuned to the frontiers of sound — hi-tech practitioners of eccentric instrumental collage such as DJ Shadow, Money Mark, DJ Krush and La Funk Mob. Eyes primed for the best street art.
James is keen to give his artists their head. Mo'Wax doesn't believe in faceless dance music, it favours records that are full of personality and gives each one a stylish housing, creating elaborate packages reminiscent of the height of Prog; gatefolds, fold-outs, cut-outs and fancy textures.
Indeed, although raised on house, Lavelle, having discovered '70s head-rock, dreamed of a label that combined the two. With his partner/manager Tim, James set up Mo'Wax with a mission to explore. "To me, the idea of instrumental hip-hop was the ultimate thing. But I love progressive music like the Vertigo label and Can, and I thought if you could take that with a really hard hip-hop beat it would be great. I've always been a weed-head."
Having had the notion, Lavelle began to look around for like-minds, using his frequent trips abroad to work as a DJ for informal A&R raids. "I found there was a little movement of similar people. I found Shadow, and RPM and La Funk Mob, DJ Krush. That's where I wanted it to go. These days dance music makes up half of the music sold. You'll never be able to outsell The Rolling Stones as a dance act but it's what's happening. There was a thing recently where they asked schoolkids whether they'd rather go to a club or a gig, and 69 per cent said they'd rather go to a club. That's the culture for kids now."
Being associated with the birth of trip-hop (before he won major label funding James had to reluctantly turn down the first records by both Portishead and Tricky), and having pricked up ears with Mo'Wax's distinctive dubbed-out style, spacious, cinematic melodies and depth-charged drum and bass (heard most notably on the excellent Headz two-CD compilation), Lavelle decided he didn't want the label to be known for only one sound.
"I could have built a scene up where there were lots of similar-sounding records but I couldn't be bothered. I want each record to define its own space. I'd love to have an album on my label as important as Massive Attack's Blue Lines, one that had a song as great as 'Unfinished Sympathy' or 'Glory Box'. There's that constant striving to take it to the next level."
Then he's up, the flu temporarily forgotten, there's more test-pressings and artwork to approve. And soon he's going to fly to the States to prepare his own debut album as U.N.K.L.E. which will include Mo'Wax star Money Mark, but first he's keen to play me some cool new record at sinus-clearing volume.