U.N.K.L.E. / UNKLE (both spellings seem to be used) is the title given to a long-term collabarative project led by Mo'Wax boss James Lavelle.
Soon after founding Mo'Wax in 1992, Lavelle teamed up with his programmer mate Tim Goldsworthy and later Japanese producer Masayuki Kudo, co-founder of label Major Force West, and started to work on the project. The sound was the downtempo breakbeat that was starting to be called trip hop. While far from prolific in their own releases, they became sought-after remixers, working on tracks for the likes of Massive Attack (Karmacoma) and Radiohead.
The first release in their own right was The Time Has Come EP, released in 1995. This went to number 1 in the UK independent charts, and included remixes of the title track by Portishead and Howie B.
The long awaited UNKLE album, Psyence Fiction, was finally released in 1998, to huge critical acclaim. By this time, Mo'Wax's most successful artist, DJ Shadow, had joined the project and assumed a lead role on the album. He is credited as writing the music on every track, and his distinctive sound is the common thread that runs through the eclectic collabaration.
The album was truly a labour of love, with Lavelle drawing on his enviable connections to pull in a very impressive list of artists to work on the album. These included:
Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough) was unsigned at this point, but the interest generated by his appearance on Psyence Fiction sparked a bidding war to sign him.
Ian Brown, formerly of The Stone Roses, also lent his vocals to the stunning version of Be There that was released as a single. Easily the best thing he's ever done, IMAO. The single also included the promo for Rabbit In Your Headlights featuring Thom Yorke. This disturbing, chilling, brilliant video was banned by MTV and follows a man dressed in a parka, muttering to himself, as he walks slowly down a busy road tunnel. Cars swerve top avoid him, but he is oblivious. Cars knock him down, but he picks himself up and continues walking.
Wil Malone is best known for his string arrangement on Massive Attack's masterwork Unfinished Sympathy.
DJ Shadow has said that he no longer works on the UNKLE project, handing the reins back to James Lavelle. One can only hope that the high standards are maintained.