An appearance on Top Gear is perhaps only rivalled by one Soccer AM, so kudos to James Lavelle because he featured on every episode of the former for an entire series. Well sort of. Much of his War Stories LP provided the soundtrack to Clarkson and co’s warblings last year. “They just do it," he confesses. “We’ve got a nice person at the BBC who has obviously got a bag.”
The music business has moved on a long way since Lavelle borrowed a grand off his then boss to set up his infinity successful Mo’Wax label – something he will always be revered for. For those that grew up under Tony Blair, being reminded at every turn that you’ll get nowhere without further education, Lavelle’s self-belief whilst barely old enough to drink is inspirational. And without a hint of pretentiousness he says: “Not really, it was more just trying to blag it.”
Not many electronic music artists last the distance without deviating their style. As it his many of his contemporaries have either deceased or become more radio-friendly. The alternative requires all the business acumen Lavelle showed as a teenager, or as he puts it, the need to “explore in order to survive.
“We’re not a radio-led band, we’re not an MTV band so we have to find other ways to create income,” he says.
Choosing to soundtrack films, television programmes and computer games means the UNKLE's sound will develop without the need to fit the chart mould.
Lavelle’s appearance on the BEEB is ironic perhaps considering his beginning. Lavelle established himself as a DJ, playing alongside Giles Peterson in the early 90s at That’s The Way It Is. Ironically Peterson played the classics while Lavelle provided the edgy tunes. Peterson went on to spawn a successful career with the BBC, and most memorably on Radio 1. Yet Lavelle never followed suit. “I did radio a bit but I didn’t have the patience. There’s not enough records that I like on a weekly basis to keep me wanting to play new music in that way.”
In the sleeve notes to his latest outing, 'End Titles…Stories For Film', Lavelle states that this is “not a new album in the usual sense”. All 22 tracks on this record have been written and recorded in the two years since the last LP 'War Stories', but derive from different sources. From computer games to film, television to documentaries, this soundtrack defines UNKLE’s last two years.
Originally titled 'Film Stories', the concept was to tie in the LP with the B-sides collection 'More Stories', that was released in January. However distributors reckoned this would inhibit the project and the name was changed. “I wanted to keep the artwork though [the alien-like figure painted by Massive Attack’s 3-D] there always has to be some kind of continuity, for me, when your working within a period of time so it’s basically the same kind of character."
The bulk of the work - 10 of the 22 tracks - was produced for a documentary on the infamous New York director, Abel Ferrara Loud – and the intense Ferrara is classic New York, or as Lavelle puts it, “like a character from Casino or something.”
The directive was outlined by a previously attempted score, mapped out in moods it gave UNKLE the ingredients for their, at times, very incidental 60 minutes. “You’re not setting up a fight scene or a love scene, it’s very much like in the background really, subtle [in order not to detract from the movie itself].”
Lavelle and his cohorts, currently Pablo Clements and his brother Aidan, recently upstaged Mulder and Skully’s debut on the silver screen. The long-awaited second X-Files film saw UNKLE on remix duties for the theme tune, although as they’re quick to point out it was more of a cover version than a remix. “The thing with X-Files is you know the theme tune but you only know 30 seconds of it, and we’d been told you need to make it four minutes.” The affect is a more string-led version that sees them elaborate on the current theme, it is more like UNKLE replayed the X-Files. Another feather in the burgeoning UNKLE cap.
So what does the future hold for the band that rivals Oasis with line-up changes? Lavelle confirms the rumours of a new studio album to be out next summer, with recording starting in a matter of weeks. A fusion of the previous three albums hip hop, electronic and rock rudiments could see UNKLE move out of the shadows they have so long resided in. “I have a certain picture in my head about what we want to achieve, moving forward it’s about combining all the elements and hopefully making a good record.”
With long-term collaborator Richard File now having moved on in January there was suspicion that UNKLE’s approach could move on too. Lavelle again laughs: “I think it’s always the same approach, lunatics running the asylum. I think for me it’s more of a production thing, I want the songs and the way that certain things work to sonically be a step-up.”
Still a major pull behind the decks, he recently guested with long-term friend Carl Cox at his Ace of Clubs night in Space, Ibiza, which is proceeded by his long-awaited return to Fabric on August 15. “It’s one of the best clubs in the world, it’s an amazing club. It’s going to be nice to play there, I haven’t played there for ages. The good thing with Fabric is I can kind of mess about a bit more.”
Following the completion of 'War Stories', Pablo Clements, Lavelle and brother Aidan set up their Surrender Sounds studio. Housed in west London, the base is also home to Surrender All, Lavelle’s label and answer to the now deceased Mo’Wax. “All good things must come to an end,” he confesses.
So what next for UNKLE? A tour of the US follows some dates in Eastern Europe before a likely return to the UK at the end of the year. Surviving isn’t about re-invention, that’s the easy option. It’s about acclimatising and UNKLE are proving they can survive just about anywhere.