Spin October 1998
Volume 14, Issue 10, October 1998
|Publisher||SPIN Media LLC|
DJ Shadow and James Lavelle discuss UNKLE's Psyence Fiction album.
THE MEN FROM UNKLE
An all-star collective brings art rock to beatheads
Back when trip-hop was in its infancy and London's Mo' Wax was the underground label leading the way, Mo' CEO James Lavelle had a humble idea— form a collective with the best dance, rock, and hip-hop artists of the day, and release a record of G-force impact "We wanted to do an album that wasn't just about our time but had the past, the present, and the future to it," Lavelle says, "one that would reflect a certain lifestyle." Five years later, the resultant Psyence Fiction does just that, and the world it captures is of some suburban tomorrowland— a place where skate kids on hard drugs read Dostoyevsky while waiting for the latest software "cracks" to download.
A seamless mix of hip-hop, ethereal beatscapes, and blurry drug-rock. Psyence Fiction offers a run of celebrity cameos including Beastie Boy Mike D. Metallica's Jason Newsted, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Experimental hip-hop luminary DJ Shadow sculpted the music, so what, exactly, did non-musician Lavelle contribute? Though he's credited alongside Shadow as "producer," he didn't even touch a mixing board. "It's like the relationship of a director to a movie," Lavelle says. "I chose the cast. And chose the best'
"James has always been an ideas man," says Shadow, who recorded 1996's Endtroducing... for Mo' Wax. "He felt I could translate his thoughts into sound. It's an extension of the relationship I've had vi/ith James since I first talked to him over five years ago. He was spouting an endless stream of obscure references and I was one of the few people who knew what he was talking about."
Shadow's music, with its movie-derived samples about furies, souls, heavens, and devils, has a Gothic flavor; with Psyence Fiction, this solemnity has blossomed into full-blown prog rock. "Mad" Richard Ashcroft of the Verve howls about his 'Lonely Soul" over moody strings, while Thom Yorke ends the album with 'Rabbit in Your Headlights," a bruised ana from the edge of a fading consciousness. "1 was surprised at how emotionally involved people were willing to get," Shadow says. "Thom did the whole thing in one take. It was so raw 1 felt like my hair was blown back."
Psyence Fiction is certainly one of the most ambitious records of the year, but can its cred-power help Lavelle rid himself of his image as a too-hip Cool Britannia media darting? He certainly hopes so. "1 don't want to be perceived as some fucking toy," he snaps. "I just want to achieve something without people perceiving it as hype or luck." tony marcus