Unkle (also splled UNKLE and U.N.K.L.E.) are This Mortal Coil for the trip-hop genre: a collective of musicians gathered together to record albums by one man who have produced some pretty damn cool work. Said man being James Lavelle, a DJ, producer and the head of the experimental label Mo' Wax.
Unkle was initially formed by Lavelle and fellow DJ/producer Tim Goldsworthy in 1994, and its first incarnation included such collaborators as the Japanese hip hop crew Major Force, the Beastie Boys keyboardist Mark "Money Mark" Ramos-Nishita and the turntablist collective Scratch Perverts. The collective's first release was the EP The Time Has Come. However, this incarnation quickly collapsed over creative disputes between Goldsworthy, who wanted to pursue an instrumental house music style, and Lavelle, who wanted more conceptual albums with vocals and contributions from hip hop and rock musicians. Goldsworthy left in 1995, leaving Lavelle the sole member of the group.
Lavelle discarded all the previously recorded material and started over from scratch. He managed to bring in DJ Shadow to produce the album, and secured cameos from Jason Newsted, Mark Hollis, Kool G Rap, Richard Ashcroft, Damon "Badly Drawn Boy" Gough, Mike D, Alice Temple, Atlantique Khan and Thom Yorke. He also gave the collective a conceptual, Science Fiction-obsessed identity. The resulting album, Psyence Fiction, presented a cinematic, dramatic Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly, putting together samples from sci-fi movies, heavy beats, rock guitars and extended instrumental sections largely similar to DJ Shadow's own Endtroducing album. Thanks to Shadow's awesome production skills, Fiction garnered a very good critical reception and even spawned a successful single, the moody ballad "Rabbit in Your Headlights", with vocals by Thom Yorke. It's still regarded as their best album.
Having gotten Unkle off to a good start, Shadow left Unkle after touring in support of Fiction. He was replaced by Lavelle's new partner in crime, producer/singer Richard File. For their followup, File and Lavelle abandoned the trip-hop trappings of Fiction and instead pursued a more electronic, ambient style while still keeping their cinematic sound and samples from sci-fi films. Boasting contributions from Josh Homme, Brian Eno, 3D, Jarvis Cocker, Ian Brown and Mani, Never, Never, Land had a more lukewarm reception, with many fans and critics feeling that it didn't really measure up to Fiction. Lavelle and File busied themselves further by creating mix albums under the moniker "Unklesounds" and releasing a compilation of remixes and leftovers from the Land sessions, Self Defense.
A new Unkle album, War Stories, appeared four years later. Produced by Unkle alongside Chris Goss, Stories showed the group leaning more towards alternative rock than electronic music and featured contributions from both new (the band Autolux, Gavin Clark, Ian Astbury, The Duke Spirit) and old collaborators (Homme, 3D). Another compilation of B-sides and remixes, More Stories, followed.
File announced his departure from Unkle in early 2008 in favour of his new band We Fell to Earth. Pablo Clements was recruited as Lavelle's foil to replace File. A new studio album appeared in the same year, End Titles... Stories for Film, which combined leftovers from the Stories sessions, soundtrack work and new songs written for the album. The material featured contributions mostly from Stories holdovers (Goss, Homme, Clark), with some new faces present as well (Joel Cadbury, James Petralli, Dave Bateman, the band Black Mountain). Reception was once again mixed but slightly more negative.
- 1994 - The Time Has Come EP
- 1998 - Psyence Fiction
- 2001 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Beats? (mix album)
- 2003 - Never, Never, Land
- 2003 - Big Brother Is Watching (mix album)
- 2004 - WWIII - Unklesounds vs. U.N.K.L.E. (mix album)
- 2005 - Edit Music for a Film: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Reconstruction (mix album)
- 2006 - Self Defence: Never, Never, Land Reconstructed and Bonus Beats (box set of remixes, B-sides and instrumentals)
- 2007 - War Stories
- 2008 - More Stories (B-sides compilation)
- 2008 - End Titles... Stories for Film
- 2008 - End Titles... Redux (remix album)
- 2010 - Where Did The Night Fall
- Dream Team
- Hidden Track: Japanese editions of Psyence Fiction (and some UK promo copies) have "Intro (Optional)" as a pre-gap track before the first song. The track was probably buried in this way so they could get away with all the samples: As an homage to an audio montage from Contact, it squeezes more than 50 samples, presented in reverse chronological order, into a two minute track.
- New Sound Album: War Stories has more guitars than all of their other albums combined.
- Notable Music Videos: "Rabbit in Your Headlights".
- Sampling: More frequent when they had DJ Shadow onboard. Notably, he managed to dig out an okay sample from the shitburger that was The Star Wars Holiday Special.
- Punny Name: Psyence Fiction, Do Androids Dream of Electric Beats, Edit Music for a Film
- Spoken Word in Music: All the movie samples they throw around.