ARTS : Twenty something

ROCK : At 21, James Lavelle is running one of Britain's most exciting record labels. Ben Thompson meets the youthful godfather of trip-hop

WHEN THE 1995 Brit-pop boom becomes history, there is at least one thing that will make people pause and scratch their heads. The dictionary has a word for that one thing, and the word is albescence: n. The process of shading into or becoming white. Where the Beatles, the Who and the Small Faces immersed themselves in black American R'n'B and derived their distinctive sounds from earnest attempts to mimic it, the current Brit-pop bands who revere them have cut themselves off from that well- spring, and play music that is drained of all blackness. A new generation is not obliged to acknowledge what influenced its predecessors, but given the cosmopolitan nature of pop music in this country, the Britishness of mid-Nineties Brit-pop is peculiarly insular. What makes this doubly strange is that in the years before the Blur/Oasis explosion the most vital new home-grown pop came from the heady cross- cultural fertilisations of Soul II Soul, the Happy Mondays and Massive Attack. In comparison, the renewed predominance of "classic" guitar-based pop groups feels almost like a step back from the future.

Fortunately, other musical forces are still at work. The hyped-up fervour of jungle and the languid trans-migrations of the music widely - if to almost universal dissatisfaction - known as trip-hop, both point ways forward rather than back. In the year or so since it was coined, trip- hop has become one of those unfortunate phrases (like "grunge fashion") that marks anyone who employs it as a geek. But it is a tribute to the richness and complexity of the music it describes that the attempt at a catch-all term should be so generally deemed inadequate.

Basically, the music we are talking about is the downbeat to jungle's up. British in base but international in outlook, it grew out of the hip- hop innovations of the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest and Massive Attack, and is now spiralling off, at its own pace, in innumerable different directions. Its two most celebrated practitioners - Portishead and Tricky - have already made the switch into the mainstream, but the music still exists as an undercurrent. An undercurrent whose flow can be discerned at its most inviting in the activities of a north-London-based record company called Mo'Wax.

Mo'Wax's founder and life force is 21-year-old James Lavelle. Sitting in his Caledonian Road office, surrounded by Star Wars memorabilia and the originals of the graffiti art which would make his label's sleeve design a landmark, Lavelle nibbles gingerly at a piece of toast. He snuffles piteously, paying the price for his jet-set lifestyle - just back from New York, just off to Paris - with a vicious head-cold. Lavelle already has a big name as a fan who makes things happen, but his name would be even bigger if he'd had the money to back up the judgement that led him to court both Portishead and Tricky long before anyone else. "I'd rather not get into that," he says, more cheerfully than might be expected, "it doesn't really have any relevance anymore." Thanks to a deal with A&M, Lavelle now has "that little bit of clout you occasionally need", and can henceforth put his money where his ears are. Recent Mo'Wax releases have included fine albums by Japanese DJ Krush and Beastie Boys keyboard player Money Mark. A new single called "Rocking Chair", to be released in January by orchestrally enhanced dance diva Andrea Parker, threatens to be one of the records of next year. One of Mo'Wax's achievements has been to break out of the parochialism which dogged earlier dance labels such as Talkin' Loud and Acid Jazz. Another has been to carry a torch for vinyl - Mo'Wax Please, meaning more vinyl please, was the name of a club Lavelle ran in his hometown of Oxford - at a time when the music industry was trying to kill it off. Lavelle started DJ-ing when he was 14, and came down to London on Saturdays to work in record shops. He still seems caught up in the magic of the record spinning on the turntable.

Isn't there something a bit sad about how much emotional investment middle- class British people are prepared to make in US hip-hop culture? "No," says Lavelle firmly. "I think if you try and act it out - if you try and represent what Method Man [scary American rapper] represents - you're a bit sad. But even though it's difficult for people to remember this now, hip-hop was very universal when it started - racially and in all ways it was very mixed. If you think about the Beastie Boys, they're not just middle-class, they're upper-upper-upper-class - Mike D's mum is the third or fourth biggest art dealer in America!"

Fears that Lavelle himself might turn out to be some Branson-esque mini- mogul prove entirely unfounded on meeting him. "I was always kind of a loner at school," he remembers. "I didn't really get on with that many people, and Mo'Wax was the one thing that was mine and nobody could take it away from me. Now because it's all going well, I've got so many more friends and people around me that I've kind of slacked off." Does his extreme youth cause him any problems in a field where respect is all? "Everyone snaps at you because you haven't got as much history as they have," he admits. "But I don't complain, because I know it's true." !

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project