UNKLE were originally founded by James Lavelle and Tim Goldsworthy in 1992. Along with other innovators of the period such as Massive Attack, Orbital, Aphex Twin and Portishead, they were part of a new wave electronic artists who gave a credible identity to British electronic music, managing to stand with one foot in commercial success with the other still planted in the underground. James Lavelle also founded the Mo' Wax label that with its roster of intelligent UK hip-hop became a subculture in its own right.
One of the key factors in allowing UNKLE to inhabit these multiple worlds simultaneously was their ability to work with others. Guest vocalists and musicians punctuate the sub-sections of the UNKLE back catalogue, marrying electronic counterculture with leading independent voices of the moment.
Speaking about the collaborative nature of his latest album James Lavelle explains, "I hadn’t made a record in a long time, and the incarnation of UNKLE had changed in that now, it was me on my own. For that reason, I wanted to make a record that I hadn’t been able to before, going back to the roots of where I came from, with a foot in modern London”.
We look at a few notable UNKLE collaborations from the past 20 years below.
'Lonely Soul' with Richard Ashcroft
As recently covered in our post about his lyricism, Ashcroft was very much man of the moment in 1998 following the success of 'Urban Hymns' and its singles. 'Lonely Soul' brought together UNKLE's signature strings and beats and the superb bleakness of Ashcroft's tone to create a sort of futuristic reimagining of a Scott Walker song.
'Rabbit In Your Headlights' with Thom Yorke
Taken from the same album as 'Lonely Soul' ('Psyence Fiction') and featuring another vocalist riding high on the success of a big album the previous year. 'Rabbit In Your Headlights' is perhaps the best known UNKLE collaboration to date and became one of the soundtrack songs of 1998 with its dark waltzing piano, frenetic drums and a vocal that could have been lifted straight from 'OK Computer'.
'Be There' with Ian Brown
A hint at the more electronic direction that Ian Brown would take after his 'Unfinished Monkey Business' was done with. Like the other collaborations on 'Psyence Fiction', 'Be Here' draws out the personality of the guest vocal. Brown's quiet approach is matched and augmented by minimal atmospheric electronics.
'Restless' with Josh Homme
Fast forwarding nine years to 2007, UNKLE's 'War Stories' brought together another group of guest vocalists among its track list. Picking up on the alternative rock resurgence of the time, Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age is one of the singers included, and later became a regular contributor to UNKLE, reportedly striking up a rapport with James Lavelle.
'Twilight' with 3D
Robert Del Naja (aka 3D) of Massive Attack contributes to the extremely nocturnal mood of 'Twilight', a track noteworthy for its collaboration of two of the 1990s' electronic beat trailblazers.
'Keys To The Kindom' with Gavin Clark
Demonstrating the diversity that a wide bank of collaborators can bring with it, this track with the late Gavin Clark is a better rock song than most rock bands were making at the time. As well as being an UNKLE regular, Gavin Clark is known for his work with Shane Meadows, contributing songs to most of his films including This Is England.
'Looking For The Rain' with Mark Lanegan and ESKA
Taken from UNKLE's 2017 album 'The Road Pt. 1', 'Looking For The Rain' is, as with many UNKLE compositions, a typically cinematic track, and utilises the powerful melancholy of Mark Lanegan's voice perfectly. Lanegan also appears on 2010's 'Where Did The Night Fall' on the song 'Another Night Out'.
UNKLE's latest album 'The Road Pt. 1' is out now featuring contributions from Ysée, ESKA, Elliott Power, Keaton Henson, Liela Moss, Mink, Callum Finn, Dhani Harrison, Steven Young and Mark Lanegan, Philip Sheppard, Chris Goss, Twiggy Ramirez and Troy Van Leeuwen.