The gap between dance and rock has never been a bridge too far for James Lavelle, the Unkle main-man and founder of the hipster dance label Mo'Wax. Having fused symphonic dub-scapes with epic rock vocals – most memorably, from Thom Yorke and Richard Ashcroft – on Unkle's first two albums, Lavelle and his cohort Richard File's new Unkle album, War Stories, ropes in Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and The Cult's Ian Astbury for a hard, hot, ante-upping hybrid: part desert-rock and part goth-dance.
The full-on sensory assault implicit in Lavelle's dance-rock mission is realised by Unkle's debut UK tour as a live band (a decks-based Unkle headlined NME's package tour in 1999, with the Scratch Perverts remixing their debut album, Psyence Fiction, live). Lavelle has said that War Stories' title refers less to troubled times than to the surely murky memories of clubbers edging into their thirties, but he doesn't mean it's some subtle study in comedown-fuelled existential anomie: it's a sonic blitzkrieg built to stir and exhilarate, especially in the live arena.
The guest vocalists from Unkle's albums aren't present, but their recorded voices help to dissolve the distance between a decks-driven club night and a live rock workout. Homme's croon rides smoothly over the dirty desert-funk of "Restless" and Astbury's chesty bellow powers the pummelling "Burn My Shadow". Thom Yorke's mellifluous insinuations add chills to "Rabbit in Your Headlights", while The Duke Spirit's Liela Moss appears for the Goldfrapp thump of "Mayday". Elsewhere, Clayhill's Gavin Clark and Lavelle sing alongside Richard Ashcroft's vocals on "Lonely Soul", enriching the song's Verve-like hymnal qualities.
There isn't much movement onstage, but any shortfall of charisma is compensated for by the visuals. As lights charge around the venue, the stage is dominated by three huge screens playing images of lava and falling stars, creating a senses-buffeting environment.
This immersive intensity of sound and vision nails Unkle's transition from clubber-friendly studio project to live force to reckon with. It's a perfect marriage: Lavelle expertly marshals the set's peaks and lows, while the vascular power of a mob-handed band drags them kicking and roaring into rock's frontline.
As Homme's cry of "follow the light to the love" cuts through storm clouds of sound, the assembled clubbers and rockers concur with his directions, all hands raised as one. It looks like surrender: Lavelle has won this war.Reuse content