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Experimental hip-hop outfit UNKLE were one of the original artists releasing material through noted U.K. label Mo' Wax, which helped launch the mid-'90s instrumental downtempo breakbeat revival eventually termed trip-hop. Though hardly the label's highest-profile group (at least until the long-delayed release of their debut LP in 1998), UNKLE's members included label head James Lavelle, who formed Mo' Wax while still in his teens as an antidote to the increasingly stale acid jazz/Northern soul scene. Stripping the music down to its barest of essentials -- bass, percussion, minimal samples, and heavy effects -- the Mo' Wax sound (best exemplified by the second Mo' Wax label comp, Headz, as well as its sequel, the two-part Headz II) quickly gained respectability and a large audience. Although not as prolific as other Mo' Wax artists such as DJs Shadow and Krush, UNKLE nonetheless played a crucial role in cementing Mo' Wax's early sound through their Time Has Come double EP, which featured remixes of the title track by Plaid, Portishead, and U2 producer Howie B.
The UNKLE trio was comprised of Lavelle, Tim Goldsworthy (a mate of Lavelle's since childhood), and producer Kudo, of seminal Japanese label Major Force (and a member of the on-again, off-again psychedelic beat crew Skylab). Prior to his entry into production, Lavelle, along with Goldsworthy, was deep into New York hip-hop and electro, the emerging late-'80s Sheffield bleep scene, the English acid jazz scene (which he covered as a columnist for Straight No Chaser magazine), and of course the acid house and techno explosions that were redefining English counterculture at the time. The pair hooked up with third member Kudo through the growing rep of the latter's Love T.K.O. project, whose outbound interpretations of breakbeat and acid jazz drew Lavelle's ear. While Goldsworthy and Kudo remained more heavily involved in nuts 'n' bolts production (especially given the success of Mo' Wax, with the penning of an expansive partial ownership deal with A&M Records in 1996), Lavelle was heavily involved in the conceptual and organizational end, crafting beats and laying out vague sketches his partners then expanded into full-blown tracks.
Despite the scarcity of released material, UNKLE grew to wider acclaim during 1996 through remix projects for Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Tortoise. After Goldsworthy and Kudo were effectively replaced by Mo' Wax bill-payer DJ Shadow, the all-star LP Psyence Fiction finally appeared in 1998. It was a disappointment considering the advance hype, and DJ Shadow distanced himself from the collective. Lavelle, amid much work as a DJ, recruited singer/songwriter Richard File for the second UNKLE full-length, 2003's Never, Never, Land. Four years later, Lavelle and File returned with War Stories, including collaborators from the past (Josh Homme) and new associates (Ian Astbury, Chris Goss) to contribute to the heaviest-sounding UNKLE release to date. File departed and was replaced with writer, producer, and longtime Mo' Wax associate Pablo Clements (of Psychonauts). A pair of odds 'n' ends collections, More Stories and End Titles...Stories for Film (both released in 2008), featured old and new material, including music from UNKLE's soundtrack to the documentary Odyssey in Rome. In 2009, the "Heavy Drug" single announced the coming of their organic, band-oriented 2010 album Where Did the Night Fall (Another Night Out). The duo's release schedule picked up once more with the 2013 release of an EP titled Trance Film. UNKLE returned in 2017 with their sixth studio effort, The Road, Vol. 1. The record once again featured a whole host of collaborators such as Mark Lanegan, ESKA, Keaton Henson, and Andrew Innes of Primal Scream. ~ Sean Cooper & John Bush
- London, England
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