UNKLE was founded in the early ‘90s by Mo’ Wax label chief James Lavelle and engineer/producer Tim Goldsworthy (who would later go on to form the in-fluential DFA production team and label). Like the late-era Beastie Boys who took in disparate sounds and styles to form one unique, utterly hip front, UNKLE’s sound and vision was an amalgamation of British rave culture, American hip-hop, skateboarding, graffiti, and science fiction: the B-boy-centric version of the trip-hop subgenre that included Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky.
The group, its core members of Lavelle and Goldsworthy with a shifting cast of collaborators, rose to prominence with the Mo’ Wax label in the mid-‘90s, executing a number of remixes for then “it” bands such as Tortoise and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Lavelle was always an idea man, a Warholian figure who was good at finding himself in the right place at the right time, with the right people. When it came time to make UNKLE’s first proper album, he aligned himself with Mo’ Wax’s flagship artist, DJ Shadow. Psyence Fiction seemed to take an eternity to make, finally arriving in 1998 under a mountain of hype, with its rumored label-breaking budget and all-star cameos. Because it wasn’t Shadow’s Endtroducing or the electronica answer to Radiohead’s OK Computer as some had hoped, and because of that, it was seen as a critical and commercial disappointment. But time has been kind to the debut. On “Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Pt.1),” New York rhyme legend Kool G Rap rages over Shadow’s rampaging drum programming, while elsewhere Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft guest on two stellar, longing ballads (“Rabbit in Your Headlights” and “Lonely Soul,” respectively). If Psyence Fiction was awaited with baited breath, the followup, Never Never Land, barely raised an eyebrow. With Shadow long gone to work on his own projects, Lavelle enlisted the help of singer/songwriter Richard File and released an album of scatterbrained, unfinished-sounding ideas. With Mo’ Wax folded, and UNKLE no longer a group of note, Lavelle has since taken to DJing, releasing several solid mix CDs. (CHRIS RYAN)
From 2004’s The New Rolling Stone Album Guide