James Lavelle thrust himself into the musical spotlight in the early ‘90s with his game-changing style that brought together a whole slew of musical genres and tropes. Aged just eighteen, Lavelle founded the Mo’Wax record label that provided a ridiculous amount of must-listen-to content, not to mention he’d found UNKLE with DJ Shadow. As ever, though, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Lavelle, UNKLE, or Mo’Wax, and this is what Matthew Jones’ The Man from Mo’Wax looks to document: the good times and the bad times of Lavelle’s roller coaster ride to date.
Many have often compared James Lavelle to artist Damien Hirst – a young game-changer who had a sense of cool, a sense of cocksureness, and who had so many others clamouring to work with them – and Lavelle’s story is one that hits many beats of your usual music industry tale. There’s huge success, there’s crushing lows, there’s big bucks, there’s penny-pinching, and there’s drugs and egos running wild.
The Man from Mo’Wax actually began life as some self-documented videos by Lavelle and his then-wife, only in more recent years being put together as a proper project by Jones. As a watch, it’s compelling stuff as you see Lavelle and his supporting players go through the gamut of emotions. This was a man who had the world at his fingertips but nearly pissed it all away thanks to some questionable decisions and fractured relationships. For Lavelle though, redemption was around the corner when he was asked to curate 2014’s Meltdown exhibition.
But while this makes for a satisfying story in a movie sense, the editing of The Man from Mo’Wax does at times feel like it’s on a very definitive path to serve as a three-act feature film. While the second act positions Lavelle as down and out, that’s not particularly the whole story; the documentary citing low physical sales of Lavelle’s albums at that point, despite the fact that the purchase of physical music had nosedived in general by then. But that’s the story that Matthew Jones has chosen to tell, and it does dovetail nicely towards the aforementioned Meltdown exhibit in which Lavelle vanquishes demons both personally and professionally.
The Man from Mo’Wax is certainly a fascinating watch and never anything but engaging – all accompanied by some stunning musical beats – but you’re left feeling that this is far from the full story of James Lavelle, and instead it’s maybe more put together to tell a cinematic narrative rather than be truly all-encompassing. Let’s face it, though, that’s not always a bad thing, and The Man from Mo’Wax is utterly compelling for the most part.
If the film itself is a brilliant viewing experience, the overall package of this limited-to-3000 box set – featuring Blu-ray and DVD versions of the documentary, a bonus disc of extra content, and all housed in a stunning book-cum-box – is a marvel to behold. Just from look and feel alone, this is a very special release and one that is a thing of beauty.
Special Features: Two audio commentaries / Four featurettes / Trailers / Collector’s booklet
THE MAN FROM MO’WAX / DIRECTOR: MATTHEW JONES / CERT: 15 / STARRING: JAMES LAVELLE, DJ SHADOW, JOSH HOMME, IAN BROWN, GRANDMASTER FLASH, THOM YORKE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW