Grand Royal VS Mo’ Wax — The Collaborations of Mike D & James Lavelle

Grand Royal — Guaranteed Every Time

In 1992 Luscious Jackson had recorded demos for their debut album and were looking for someone to release it. They asked their friends the Beastie Boys for help finding them a record label but the Beastie Boys enjoyed the demos so much they decided to release it themselves and started their own record label Grand Royal.

1993 saw the first Grand Royal release, Luscious Jackson’s debut In Search Of Manny, and was followed by releases by Sean Lennon, Bufallo Daughter, Ben Lee, and Bis. The label also released Beastie Boy related acts such as DFL, DJ Hurricane, BS2000 and nearly every Beastie Boys release during this period. While Grand Royal was seen as the Beastie Boys record label it is Micheal Diamond (Mike D) who is acknowledged as the one who was running the label for the most part.

Meanwhile during the early 1990’s the Beastie Boys were making their first return to the UK since releasing their own debut Licensed To Ill. In May 1987 Adrock had been arrested in Londond during the bands UK tour and while he was later found not guilty the Beastie Boys didn’t return England until 1992, then as part of a short mini-tour promoting their then upcoming album Check Your Head.

Mo’ Wax — More Funk Than A Shaolin Monk

In 1992 James Lavelle started Mo’ Wax Records, named after his club night in Oxford, Mo’ Wax Please, itself named after Freddie Roach’s 1964 album Mo’s Green Please.

Initially the label released Acid Jazz style music like Repercussions and The Federation, similar to what Gilles Peterson was releasing on his Talkin Loud record label. The Acid Jazz scene was evolving in 1994 in to something more Hip Hop influenced, and Lavelle capitalised on this with Headz, a large compilation which pointed the way forward for Mo’ Wax and the sound which would become known as Trip Hop.

James Lavelle had been a huge Beastie Boys fan since their first album was released in 1986, and naturally he wanted to meet them. In 1994 Lavelle’s dreams came true when he supported the Beastie Boys on part of their UK tour, opening as DJ. A larger tour was scheduled for late 1994 but then cancelled when the Beastie Boys’ percussionist injured himself leading to rescheduled dates in 1995. They would all tour together again across 1995/1996 as the Beastie Boys toured Australia as part of the Summersault Tour and Lavelle took several Mo’ Wax artists along as part of an Australian Headz Tour which followed the Summersault Tour city to city with both tours featuring Mo’ Wax artists DJ Shadow and Money Mark.

Mike D would tell James Lavelle at the time that the main reason the Beastie Boys had returned to the UK was because of Mo’ Wax and the records they were putting out. Lavelle and Mike D developed a close relationship as the pair bonded over mutual musical tastes, with both releasing Liquid Liquid and Money Mark on their respective labels.

Grand Royal VS Mo’ Wax

While they had toured together and become friends, 1995 also saw the first mention of a collaboration between Mike D and James Lavelle’s respective record labels. Titled Grand Royal VS Mo’ Wax, the album was publicicly mentioned in Melody Maker’s 4 March 1995 issue with Mike D explaining the album will release “If James [Lavelle] and I ever get our shit together.”

In a fax from Mike D the album was described in 1995 as a “battle of the beats” with Mike D explaining the idea as follows:

“We want to do a ‘track for track’ showdown in the style of the old Jamaican sound system producers…Each label will contribute new and/or unreleased tracks from their roster of artists”

His suggestions for the albums artists include contributions from UNKLE, DJ Shadow, DJ Krush and Blackalicious representing Mo’ Wax and Mike D, Adrock and Mario C contributing tracks from Grand Royal.

The fax was displayed during the Urban Archaeology exhibition in 2014 and at the time James Lavelle commented on it and his relationship with Mike D:

That was the mad thing about Mo’Wax, at certain points you met people who had really inspired you like 3-D and Mike D. That (fax) was the never-ending Mo’Wax vs Grand Royal compilation, which unfortunately never happened and has become a bit of an in-joke now. I originally met Mike at ‘Rock Steady Jam in the Park’, which was Crazylegs’ annual B-Boy thing in New York. All the Hip Hop artists like KRS-One, Rock Steady Crew and the Beastie Boys would be hanging out, listening to classics in a basketball court in Manhattan. Yeah it was pretty mad to be hanging out with people like Mike and the people who are the reason for what you’re doing. With Grand Royal and Mo’Wax there was a real symmetry to what we were doing — they were like the American counterparts to what we were trying to do in the UK.

In 1996 Mo’ Wax placed an advertisement in Grand Royal Magazine #3 (page 8) announcing that Mo’ Wax VS Grand Royal was coming soon, describing it as “a clash of the vinyl titans in the true old school style”, and then again mentioned it in passing in 1997 as part of an eight page promotional booklet sent out to members of their mailing list announcing several new releases. No release date was forthcoming.

In May 1998 fans noticed the album listed as “coming soon” on Grand Royal’s website. Listed as releasing in August 1998 the album was eventually removed from the coming soon section, and never came out at all.

UNKLE

While Grand Royal VS Mo’ Wax never saw release, Mike D and James Lavelle did eventually collaborate together on the debut UNKLE album Psyence Fiction.

Released in late 1998, the collaboration was originally meant to occur in 1995 when James Lavelle flew to California to record the UNKLE album with the Beastie Boys producer Mario C. In 1995 the album was to be produced by Lavelle’s collaborators at the time Tim Goldsworthy and Masayuki Kudo, with additional production by DJ Shadow, and was to feature guest appearences by Money Mark and Mike D.

While the Money Mark track Berry Meditation was released the rest of the album recordings were scrapped and Lavelle decided to start fresh, which eventually became the DJ Shadow produced Psyence Fiction. Mike D never recorded his contribution in 1995 but in 1998 he sent Lavelle and Shadow his vocal contribution for what would become The Knock (Drums Of Death Pt.2). The song even got a remix by Oasis’ Noel Gallagher as The Knock On Effect.

RIP Independent Record Labels

On August 31st 2001 Grand Royal announced it was shutting down. In a press release the decision was explained due to “Mounting debts, decreasing assets and exceedingly harsh industry conditions.” The labels assets were eventually purchased by a group of fans who relaunched the label as GR2 making several albums available for purchase and stream digitally.

In 2002 Mo’ Wax also shut down. During 1998 Mo’ Wax had left their major label partner A&M and signed with XL Records. While this new deal meant Mo’ Wax could continue in to the 21st Century it unfortunately signalled the death of Mo’ Wax as A&M owned all of the artists who had signed with Mo’ Wax during their partnership, meaning the labels most financially successful artists such as DJ Shadow and Money Mark were no longer signed to Mo’ Wax. While James Lavelle signed new artists and released a second UNKLE album to try and save the label by 2001 it was clear the musical landscape had changed and the label soon folded.

Naturally some planned albums were left unreleased when both Grand Royal and Mo’ Wax folded, and with no official tracklisting ever released for Grand Royal VS Mo’ Wax fans can only presume what it would have been like. Perhaps something like Mo’ Wax’s James VS Nigo which featured exclusive UNKLE songs, or Grand Royal’s Man’s Best Friend compilation which features an UNKLE remix of Buffalo Daughter.

We’ll likley never know.

An Australian writer with a passion for research. In 2020 he published Making Psyence Fiction, a book on the creation of UNKLE’s debut album. www.jamesgaunt.com

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