James Lavelle: Close encounters of the third kind

“UNKLE will never go out like that again. It’ll either be live or something completely different. I don’t know if it was the best thing to have done.”

It’s been precisely two years since James Lavelle visited Australia, and if he had his time again, things might have been a lot different. On the back of their second album, the ethereal alt-dance epic, ‘Never Never Land’, Lavelle and new cohort Richard File toured as a ‘decks and effects’ show, UNKLE Sounds.

While the album’s finer moments and signature remixes (DJ Shadow, Ian Brown, Queens of the Stone Age) didn’t disappoint en masse, the two-man show fell short of UNKLE’s widescreen vision. After all, watching one of them mix and the other chain-smoke and drop the incessant ‘U…N… K… L… Eeee!’ sample wasn’t exactly mind-blowing. “I think it devalued UNKLE to be honest,” reflects Lavelle. “I don’t think it ever gave it the visual presence that something like that needed to have. Saying that, it did connect with a completely new young audience, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

So next time around, will we see Lavelle, guitar in hand, rocking out with UNKLE the band? “We’ll have to see. It would be great to be able to do it, but it depends if circumstances are right.” Of course, those “circumstances” have a lot to do with UNKLE’s forthcoming third album. Fans will rejoice in the news that ‘Never Never Land’s follow-up is expected in our spring and is very near completion – well, almost. “In many ways, it’s finished but in other ways it’s not,” explains Lavelle. “Only because you go through moments of being indecisive and questioning yourself, having heard things thousands and thousands of times. I’m just taking my time.”

The former Mo Wax label owner remains tight-lipped about the project, even under severe interrogation, although he does reveal a few teasers. Yes, he and File headed to LA to work with Chris Goss, Queens of the Stone Age’s favourite producer and a “genius” in Lavelle’s words. Yes, like its two predecessors, this one will feature a guest-list of collaborators but he’s not saying who. And yes, Lavelle believes this is “the best and most organic record I’ve ever made.”

Given his history with the media, it’s no surprise Lavelle’s keeping his cards close to his chest for the moment. Music journos have hardly been allies in the past; many unfairly tearing down UNKLE’s 1998 debut, ‘Psyence Fiction’ – an ambitious collaboration with DJ Shadow featuring cameos from Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft and Beastie Boy Mike D – as too pompous, too disjointed, too hyped.

‘Never, Never Land’ fared better, but somehow slipped under the radar all too soon. It’s a solid bet Lavelle won’t be rushing to read reviews of album number three. “You know what, mate, whatever I do there’s gonna be people who love it or hate it,” he muses. “I think if you put ‘Never Never Land’ against any other dance or electronic record of that era, it will stand up. I think it’s a great record. It has flaws as any record does, and the way it was received, yeah, in some way it was great. In other ways I think people don’t even know what they’re fuckin’ talking about! I really try not to get involved in the press side of it. It’s more important that the people around you that you care about are into what you’re doing.”

For now, Lavelle is looking forward to his imminent tour here DJing under his own name. It comes as a chance to bust out of his studio and get back to his records. Mind you, his tastes have changed since last time. ”I think musically it’s going to be a lot different to last time I played Australia. I’m very much into four to the floor at the moment. Psychedelic – I don’t know what people call it – quite unique house music, ranging from German stuff to people like James Holden. Plus I play a lot of the stuff I’ve done myself.”

Just don’t expect breaks to feature much on the menu – it’s just ain’t flicking his switch at the moment. ”I’m just not feeling breakbeat these days. Most of the records are fucken awful. It’s the most preset, aggressive, un-inventive sounds. I think there are records that come out that are really good. People like Evil Nine are amazing and make fuckin’ awesome records. But generally, it’s going backwards. I dunno, it seems a bit lost at the moment.”

James Lavelle tours Australia as part of Two Tribes and the Future Music Festival in February and March:

Fri Feb 24 – Two Tribes, Brisbane (
Sat Feb 25 – Two Tribes, Melbourne (
Fri Mar 3 – Academy, Canberra (
Sat Mar 4 – Future Music Festival, Sydney (
Sun Mar 5 – Two Tribes, Perth (