PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

James Lavelle: GU #026: Romania

Andy Hermann

James Lavelle

GU #026: Romania

Label: Global Underground
US Release Date: 2004-03-09
UK Release Date: 2004-03-01
Amazon
iTunes

If you're a struggling young DJ and you're looking for someone to be jealous of, you may as well start with James Lavelle. All this guy did was found one of the most influential underground hip-hop labels of all time, Mo' Wax; help launch the careers of guys like DJ Shadow and Money Mark; record a seminal album under the name U.N.K.L.E. with the likes of Shadow, Thom Yorke, and Badly Drawn Boy; then suddenly turn up in clubs and on the highly popular Global Underground series playing a nasty mix of techno, progressive house and nu skool breaks. And he's barely 30. The bastard.

Lavelle the globetrotting DJ hasn't completely eclipsed Lavelle the trip-hop-tronic mastermind, though you're forgiven for failing to notice that U.N.K.L.E. released a sophomore album, Never Never Land, late last year. Minus the presence of DJ Shadow, that album arrived with little fanfare and made few lasting impressions. Lavelle's second contribution to Global Underground, however, is a monster. GU #026: Romania picks up where the high-energy hodgepodge of his GU #023: Barcelona set left off, but this time the beats are harder, the vibe trippier, the mixing smoother and more assured. Lavelle the globetrotting DJ has clearly arrived, and he's at the forefront of a growing and long overdue movement among club jocks to construct sets that bid the genre purists a hearty "fuck you".

Lavelle establishes right from the get-go that his is no ordinary Night at the Roxbury, dispensing with dance music's conventional electronics and four-on-the-floor beats in favor of a big, noisy, balls-out remix of Queens of the Stone Age's "No One Knows", produced by Lavelle himself and new U.N.K.L.E. cohort Richard File. All thrashing rock guitars, thundering bass, and tightly coiled breakbeats, it's the latest sign, on the heels of the Crystal Method's "Born Too Slow" and innumerable white label remixes of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army", that clubland is ready for a healthy dose of rock 'n' roll again. Boy, are we ever. How refreshing to hear guitars on the dance floor.

The other crossover tracks Lavelle trots out here are mostly from his U.N.K.L.E. catalog, and tend to expose why Never Never Land was such a dud. "In a State" and "Reign", beneath their buzzy electro synths and lurching breakbeats, are really just overcooked pop-rock ditties with big, melodramatic hooks and not much to back them up. The U.N.K.L.E. tracks work better in this context when they've been dirtied up in club-friendly remixes; Silencer's electro-breaks punch-up of "Eye for an Eye", with its spooky, filtered vocal breakdown, is especially good, and the dreamy, menacing "Invasion" also fares well at the hands of Medway and Eva. But not even Sasha, one of the greats at this game, can save "In a State"; his uninspired remix makes for a tepid finale to disc two.

But never mind all that -- in between all the U.N.K.L.E. originals and rerubs, Lavelle drops some killer breaks, spooky techno, and roof-raising progressive anthems, many cleverly remixed and Pro Tooled to gleefully glitchy extremes by Lavelle himself. The biggest star of this electronic circus is not really U.N.K.L.E., but Mark Pember, a.k.a. Meat Katie, who finds his way into Lavelle's mix on five original tracks and collaborations, all excellent. Other highlights come courtesy of False Prophet's floor-packing remix of PFN's "Flow", Medway's funky rework of Fred Numf vs. Five Point 0's "Hong Kong Junkie", and especially Ewan Pearson's ultra-trippy "Rave Hell Dub" of the Chemical Brothers/Flaming Lips collaboration "Golden Path" -- a remix that manages to find the life in what should have been a great track to begin with, but sorely needed this kind of creative tweaking to realize its full potential.

All of the above-mentioned tunes are exhilarating club tracks, full of creative production and hooky grooves, but the most telling moments in Lavelle's set come when he really takes his listeners off the deep end and then manages to pull them back again. Opening disc two with the creepy, minimal techno and paranoid-schizophrenic ruminations of Richie Hawtin's "Ask Yourself" is a masterstroke, especially when Lavelle uses it to set the table for perhaps the most irresistible dance track in his entire set, Scumdolly's progressive yet super-funky "Making Ends Meet". Then there's the sequence where he leads us down a dark techno rabbit hole, luring us in with the fat progressive beats of Meat Katie & Elite Force's "Slagg" before getting really evil and techy on Ultima's "Don't Funk" and then really minimal and weird on Pepe Braddock's "4", which has a breakdown that dares you to stay on the dance floor. Even when his experiments aren't as successful, like the crazy stutter-cuts on Meat Katie's "K Hole" and the way he slows the tempo down to a crawl midway through Sasha's re-edit of Alex Dolby's "Psiko Garden", they're still thrilling, just because it's been so long since anyone juggled experimental electronica and club-friendly beats this brazenly.

So far 2004 is off to a rip-roaring start for dance music; after a couple of years dominated by dreary, druggy, tribal and progressive doom 'n' gloom, the genre-bending acts like Layo & Bushwacka!, Plump DJs, Chicken Lips, Phil K, Tiga and, yes, Basement Jaxx (I'll include them here even though I cling to my minority opinion that they're vastly overrated) seem to be asserting themselves, to such a degree that even big-name acts like Sasha and Timo Maas are starting to take notice and mix things up in their sets a bit more. Credit James Lavelle with being one of the forces to jump-start what now appears to be -- hopefully, maybe, lord willing -- a dance music Renaissance that will see newer, weirder, and more exciting combinations of sounds dropping soon at a club near you.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.