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“I think music is always in an interesting place” - an interview with James Lavelle
Image Credit: © Derek Bremner

“I think music is always in an interesting place” - an interview with James Lavelle

8 September 2017 Will Rathbone

James Lavelle has had a long and distinguished career in the music industry – as a DJ, a producer and through running a successful record label, Mo’Wax, for ten years. Through Mo’Wax, Lavelle released some of the most influential electronic music records of the nineties, and his DJ sets encompass Mo’Wax classics, jazz, hip hop, funk and soul: a crate-digger’s heaven. This September, Lavelle is programming a week of events at the Jazz Café in Camden, and London Calling spoke to him about the residency.

London Calling: Good afternoon James – thank you very much for speaking to us today. Please could you start by telling us about your week-long residency at the Jazz Café in Camden in September?

James Lavelle: I was one of the first DJs to play at the Jazz Café and a friend of mine - I played with him at fabric for five years, and he took over the Jazz Café last year - asked me if I’d like to curate a week there. I thought it was a nice opportunity to go back to Mo’Wax, and to look what I was doing with my relationship to that music – soul, funk, hip hop etc – pre-Mox’Wax. I’ve done lots of similar stuff over the years. I worked with Somerset House last year for Stanley Kubrick.

LC: You also curated Meltdown at the Southbank Centre in 2014, so this must be something you have a lot of experience with?

JL: I suppose {laughs} though I wouldn’t want to overplay it!

LC: So you know the Jazz Café guys well then – are they good to work with?

JL: They’re cool man! I’ve worked with lots of the people there over the last twenty years. I like the layout a lot more since it changed – it’s a lot more contemporary – and the programming is fantastic. It engages well with the past and it really fits with what people want to hear and see right now.


James Lavelle © Derek Bremner

LC: How did you set about choosing the artists for your Jazz Café residency?

JL: You start with a wish list and, a bit like the football transfer window, you work through it: some things work and some things don’t. Lots of the artists are people who inspire me. Rodney P inspired me as a teenager with hip-hop; Jazzanova I played with a lot, back in the day when I was DJing jazz records.

We’re also putting together a ten-piece group playing classic David Axelrod songs from his 60s/70s catalogue and tunes from his last ever record, which he put out with Mo’Wax in the noughties. His work is heavily sampled in DJ Shadow’s work; Midnight in a Perfect World is a David Axelrod song.

LC: For anyone unfamiliar with your career, please could you give us a brief background?

JL: I started out DJing when I was 14 with a soundsystem, then I began playing with people like Norman Jay and Gilles Peterson when I worked in record shops. I ended up in Honest Jons, where I was exposed to a massive amount of soul, funk and jazz. I got into sampling records, and that’s how I started my career: out of all that came Mo’Wax, which ran for ten years from 1992-2002.

LC: Vinyl sales are starting to really pick up again – are you optimistic about the state of independent music scene?

JL: I think it’s brilliant. It seems like a much healthier place on all fronts. I think music is always in an interesting place – particularly the last seven years - especially when you look at how people interact with it. With streaming, monetising is always going to be an issue but the fact that people are engaging with vinyl and buying records means that artists can make great products and have a career doing what they’re doing, which is very important. Hopefully people can change more.


James Lavelle © Derek Bremner

LC: What’s on your cultural radar right now?

JL: I’m really looking forward to the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican, and I’m going to see the Pink Floyd exhibition at the V&A soon. I’m more into TV at the moment because I’ve been doing a lot of touring and press, so I’ve been enjoying Ozark on Netflix, the new series of Game of Thrones and Ray Donovan.

LC: How about music?

JL: Man, it’s really across the board. In the last week I’ve been listening to everything from the new Queens of the Stone Age record to the new Mr John record. A lot of what I listen to is for DJing – so I’ve been listening to a lot of Patrice Bäumel; Sasha’s come back with some great new stuff. The list is endless really!

James Lavelle’s residency at the Jazz Cafe, Camden, runs from 15-21 September.

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