Music

James Lavelle: "Musically, I think we’re in incredibly exciting times"

Meltdown curator James Lavelle on this year's festival, UNKLE back on stage, and 'filling some big shoes'

James Lavelle

Mo’Wax founder, DJ and all-round artistic innovator James Lavelle is curating this year’s Meltdown at the Southbank Centre, the month-long festival of music, art, performance and film. Lavelle is also playing a special show with his musical project UNKLE, and doing some DJ sets. On a busy day of press and preparations, he spoke to Theo Hooper about putting on the festival…

Hi James. You’ve lined up a rich variety of talent for this year’s programme. You must be quite proud.
Yeah, I am really proud – of all the people involved, the great acts we’ve got, the diversity. It’s hard to take it all in at the moment because it’s been such an undertaking. We’re at the spinning plates stage right now.

Has it been difficult to get together?
It’s not easy, but that’s because you’re dealing with so many elements you can’t control – agents, schedules, economics. Stuff that’s not really to do with curating, but about the way the industry works. I’ve never done anything on this scale before. Working with an institution like the Southbank is quite different to how I usually do things. But it’s been a really interesting learning experience.

Grandmaster Flash was one of the reasons I got into all of this in the first place

You’ve got some big names on the bill, including Grandmaster Flash (pictured below). Was it difficult getting him on board? No, it wasn’t. He was in town, we met up, and I asked him if he wanted to do it. He didn’t know about Meltdown, but said yes. Which is great, considering he was one of the reasons I got into all of this in the first place.

Grandmaster Flash

Is there anyone you’re particularly looking forward to seeing?
I want to see as much of it as possible. I can’t wait to see Josh [Homme] do his acoustic thing, it’s going to be amazing to see something like Under The Skin [the Glasgow-set film noir starring Scarlett Johansson will be accompanied by a live score]. What’s great is that there are a lot of unique shows, like Goldie’s event [the drum’n’bass pioneer is performing the album Timeless with the Heritage Orchestra]. I’m also excited to see some things I haven’t experienced before, some of the young artists, like Glass Animals and Rosie Lowe.

Also on the bill is legendary New York urban funk band, ESG
Yeah, I’m so pleased that ESG are doing it. They are heroes of mine. Fortunately they were also doing Glastonbury, so it worked out.

Meltdown has an illustrious roll call of former curators, including David Bowie, Patti Smith, Jarvis Cocker, Yoko Ono. Those are some big shoes to fill!
Yeah, don’t remind me! Hopefully I can pull it off, but I don’t really think of it in that way. A lot of those who’ve done it in the past are people I’ve grown up admiring, so it is kind of strange to be in that place, but I’m very honoured that the Southbank considered I was appropriate to do it.

This year there are the Meltdown Sessions, workshops where young people can develop their creative skills and potentially contribute to Southbank events. Was it important to you to have that in the festival?
I think it was for all of us. It’s important to keep Meltdown and the Southbank contemporary, so it’s essential to engage with youth culture. I have a 16-year-old daughter, so for me the workshops are a central element to the festival.

It will be the first time I’ve been on the same bill as DJ Shadow since ’98

Are you looking forward to getting back on stage with UNKLE?
Yeah, it’s going to be fantastic, we’ve got some amazing people involved, like Mark Lanegan, Keaton Henson, Liela Moss from The Duke Spirit. There’s some great visuals, too, plus DJ Shadow of course, who I’m also playing with on another night. That will be the first time I’ve been on the same bill as Shadow since ’98.

A lot of the projects you’ve been involved in have had a significant impact upon British youth culture. Are you excited by what today’s youth are producing?
Absolutely. I think there’s some amazing things out there at the moment. That’s why I’m working with the likes of Glass Animals.

What about the people who complain there’s nothing really new, that it’s all been done before…
I totally disagree. Musically, I think we’re in incredibly exciting times. The scene is eclectic, the technology is there… and time moves on. House culture is a different thing, music product is different in the way it’s released. Perhaps a certain attention to detail is lacking, we may have lost some things, but equally we have gained as well. There’s a whole DIY movement of things going on, with vinyl and record labels. We’ve gone through a huge shift, from a generation that didn’t grow up purely on computers to now the world being that way. Times are different, but when I experience music via my daughter it’s always really exciting.

Good luck with the festival, James…
Thanks. I’m stressed today, but hopefully it will be alright on the night, and just a really wonderful experience.

Meltdown festival, Southbank Centre, London SE1, June 13-22

James Lavelle photo: Will Bankhead

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