How James Lavelle went from geeky lad to influential DJ
Friday, 31st August 2018 — By The Xtra Diary
Gigging at Bar Rumba: James Lavelle, right, with Giles Peterson
He came to London like a teenage whirlwind, a slightly geeky Oxford lad, wearing glasses and over-sized T-shirts with hip hop logos on them and with a burning need to soak up as much fresh music as London had to offer.
James Lavelle, the man behind the influential 1990s trip-hop label Mo Wax, soon quit a college course doing business studies to spend his days trawling the Berwick Street record shops and getting gigs DJing.
But as a new film, The Man From Mo Wax, explains, while he has had a 30-year career in which he has sold records globally, life has also been pretty hard for Lavelle – a story of immense highs and pretty hard lows.
Before he left home, he was already practising the skills that would earn him kudos in his bedroom.
“He asked me if he could have all of his pocket money for a year,” his mum says.
“Don’t ask me why I said OK. So he went and bought these turntables, and then started getting gigs in pubs… in pubs? How did he get to work in pubs at that age? He was 14!”
Then it was trips down the M40 to Soho to find new music.
“I’d skive off school to go to London to get records,” James recalls. “All my life was about was buying tunes.”
He went pretty stratospheric in the West End club scene and became a best- selling record producer.
The film features some brilliant footage of famous Shaftesbury Avenue club, Bar Rumba, which was seminal in the London Acid house/hip-hop/trip-hop music scene of the 1980s and 1990s.
Lavelle had been given a column called Mo Wax in the music magazine called Straight No Chaser aged 17 – and that led to gigs at Bar Rumba with Giles Peterson.
“We started playing at a night called That’s How It Is, at Bar Rumba,” Lavelle recalls.
“It was all about finding links between different music. It was a mad mix of people.”
And for a generation of music-mad Londoners, Bar Rumba was the stuff of legends.