James Lavelle set up the ultra-hip Mo Wax record label when he was 18. Six years on the label is threatening the mainstream, with artists like DJ Shadow, Money Mark and the hotly-anticipated Unkle Project, due for release later this summer.

I WAS probably around eight when I first got into electro music. At my middle school in Oxford, I was a bit of a loner and I had never really felt part of anything, so hip-hop attracted me because it was a whole culture. There was an art form with graffiti, a language, and a dress code. The music was coming into the charts through the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC and, later on, the Beastie Boys - who really brought the scene together for me.

But because the school I went to was mainly white and middle class, I did not naturally associate with the people that were into that music. And, of course, the scene in Oxford was not the same as in London.

When I was 13, I met this 17-year-old guy who was into going to clubs. He took me to my first club and the experience of seeing DJs playing live just blew me away. My dad was a lawyer and nearly everyone in my family had been to university at either Oxford or Cambridge, so there were often arguments about what I was going to do with my life.

When I was 14, we had work experience at school and while everyone was going to banks and solicitors, I went to a specialist music store in London called Bluebird. I worked there for a week and they offered me a Saturday job. I worked there for a couple of years and, near the end of that time, the acid jazz scene was kicking off and I started a club night in Oxford called Mo Wax Please and started DJ'ing. Then Bluebird closed and I thought "it's all over, I'm finished".

But, when I was around 17, I was doing a business studies course at a college in Oxford, and I had another spell of work experience. So, I went to another London record store, Honest Jon's, got a job there, and eventually moved down from Oxford. Honest Jon's was where I made my name. I used all of my contacts to start getting contemporary music and white labels into the store so I could create a shop which represented this new scene.

I met this American journalist called Cynthia Rose who hooked me up with Straight No Chaser magazine. I started writing a column for them and would get loads of promos and white labels sent to me from people all over the world. My whole buzz was getting stuff first.

When I was 18, I set up the label to do something that was very one-off. I borrowed pounds 1,000 from the store manager Mark Ainley and went to New York to sign a record by a band called Repercussions. I completely winged it. The first profit Mo Wax made was on Federation's album Flower to the Sun. Before then, we kept afloat by international distribution deals to places like Japan.

I hate commercialism and when I first started I was really hardcore about not wanting anything mainstream. But I was losing artists I wanted because they were signing bigger deals. I had been looking around at joining various record companies but then I met Steve Finan, who had been manager of Madness. Steve is now my business partner and he showed me some other options. I met Osman Erlap, the MD of A&M Records, and decided to do a deal with them. He gave me this creative freedom and made me feel anything was possible.

I want to break artists outside of a niche market without in-your-face commercialism and retain every ounce of integrity. I think that's what we did with DJ Shadow - he's sold half-a-million records but most people don't know what he looks like.