The most anonymous curator in the Meltdown festival’s 21-year history was barely at his own gig. James Lavelle, picked to fill the giant shoes of past directors including David Bowie, Morrissey and Yoko Ono, was of cult interest in the Nineties, turning his Mo’Wax record label into something of a lifestyle brand and discovering the sampling skills of DJ Shadow. But his most recent album under the UNKLE name missed the top 40 in 2010. Little has been heard since.
Known as an ideas man rather than a musician, he stayed off stage here apart from the first and last songs, when his nondescript singing was drowned out by Liela Moss of The Duke Spirit and a choir. Non-musical touches included a gripping selection of big-screen visuals and apparently scent diffusers, though I didn’t smell anything.
People cheered loudest for tracks from Psyence Fiction, the first UNKLE album in 1998 and quite the blockbuster in its time, with DJ Shadow heavily involved and guest vocals from Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft and Beastie Boy Mike D.
A new generation replaced them here, ESKA giving a soulful new take on Lonely Soul and a hunched and haunting Keaton Henson taking on Rabbit in Your Headlights with great success.
The overblown feel, aided by many strings and the hall organ, offered plenty to watch, though restrained covers from Henson and musical director Mara Carlyle were the startling highlights. The rest of Meltdown looks tempting — no one ever questioned Lavelle’s impeccable taste.