Monday, 9 June 2014

Meltdown Festival - Interview with James Lavelle

TWENTY one years ago when he was just 18, James Lavelle set up his iconic music label Mo' Wax. That same year, Southbank Centre hosted what was to be its first Meltdown Festival.Now the two have come together with James curating the annual festival which takes over the 21-acre site between June 13 and 22.
We speak as he is putting the finishing touches to the event which he says is a "huge honour" to curate.
"It's pretty mind blowing to be honest!" he laughs. "I'd been talking to the Southbank Centre for a few years. They were always curious about what I was doing and we kept in touch over the years.
"Then they asked if I wanted to do an event and I said I'd like to do a mini Meltdown. They said it was a good idea but a week later I was invited to meet Jude [Kelly, artistic director] and she asked if I'd like to do the whole thing. So here I am!" he laughs.
James is perhaps an obvious choice to curate the festival which each year invites a different cultural figure to act as director of the event, take over the site and pick the performers of their choosing to create a once in a lifetime experience.
Influenced by US hip hop, acid and the street culture of the 90s, James set up Mo' Wax which has proved him to be a unique musical and artistic innovator, experimenting, shaping, rethinking and changing the cultural landscape.
This ethos chimes well with the aims and aspirations not only of the festival but also of the Southbank Centre itself.
At the heart of James' Meltdown is the desire to work with young people and mobilise the next generation to become makers, not consumers, of culture.
"There's a pressure to do a good job," he admits. "Not just for myself and my own expectations, but because I have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of young artists in the same way that I was inspired as a teenager and I'm following a lot of amazing people who have done it before me."
These include some of music's biggest names - David Bowie, Patti Smith, Jarvis Cocker, Massive Attack and last year, Yoko Ono.
Kicking off proceedings on June 13 will be UNKLE featuring Philip Sheppard and Urban Archaeology: 21 Years of Mo' Wax.
The following 10 days will see a line up which in true Meltdown style is vibrant, eclectic and varied and made up of a collaboration from the worlds of music, film, art and everything in between to include DJ Harvey, Neneh Cherry, Chrissie Hynde and Under The Skin, a screening and soundtrack with Mica Levi.
"There is a lot going on," laughs James. "I had a wish list which was my starting point for the stuff I wanted to include but it's evolved and changed since I was offered the chance to do it.
"My aim is to bring together my influences from the past, the present and my work as an artist and transform the space in a way that's never been done before, both artistically and musically.
"It's a great line up - it's all a highlight really and it's all the things I'm passionate about. I'm particularly excited about seeing Goldie and Under The Skin and getting my own show together. But I'm also excited about the young artists who will be part of the festival."
And he says there will be more added to the list between now and next week including a few surprises.
"It's a real mix so I hope it will appeal to a wide range of people."
To put on such a mammoth event has taken him by surprise though and he admits it's been more work than he anticipated.
Nonetheless it's an experience he says he would love to repeat.
"It's an immense amount of work, some of it quite complicated, so it's been manic and hyper.
"There isn't a lot of money, there is no sponsor and it's been quite difficult pulling everything together as a result.
"Also there are a lot of things I would have loved to do not just music related but art and installations and so on that I just haven't been able to. So it's been a learning curve.
"I think I'm the first person for a while who the Southbank has had based in London so they've been talking to me the whole way through. I've been on site practically all the time!" he says cheerfully.
"It's been full on but it's been incredible, very emotional and a great experience but I'm knackered and now I want to be able to sit back and enjoy it," he laughs.
"I'm not complaining though. I'm standing at the Southbank centre every day for God knows how long and being able to be part of one of the most important places in the country and the world. It's amazing.
"It's also a wonderful part of the summer and has an amazing energy. For people to come and spend time and enjoy such a cultural experience that will appeal to lots of different people - it's fantastic. It's something eclectic and joyous and there are amazing people involved - including the Southbank people who are just lovely. I hope what they and I can bring will inspire people."
And for a man who is always on the go, but who has done more in his lifetime than most, I ask what his plans are after the event and into the future.
He laughs and then pauses before saying: "I never slow down and am always juggling about 50 million things at a time but there are still millions of things I've not done that I want to do," he says.
"I've a 16-year-old daughter and I'm bewildered about that and learning to deal with that side of life, I want to headline festivals and make more music. The list is endless.... I'm still searching for the Holy Grail!"

James Lavelle's Meltdown is on at the Southbank Centre between June 13 and 22. Visit for full listings.

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