A long time ago, before George Lucas killed Boba Fett’s cool by revealing that he was going to be a bloke from Shortland Street, there was Mo’Wax.
As a teenager I used to hoard all the mentions from magazines because the label fired my imagination and created its own money hemorrhaging universe based on a collision of everything I liked. James Lavelle created something very special, but the scattering of releases and eventual demise due to label politics — I bore witness to the speculation over its future on the Mo’Wax bulletin board where Futura would sometimes appear like a genie when summoned — and finances meant that there was no moment to really study the scale of what Mo’Wax created, let alone join the dots to quantify the direct influence that the label had on contemporary culture, whether it’s the popular acceptance of limited edition urgency, genre-hopping without allegations of selling out or contemporary art and photography’s role as it relates to music. Best of all, it was British.
With Mo’Wax you could grab the action figure and related BAPE tee (and it was Lavelle’s choice of attire that introduced me to A Bathing Ape and gave me a fast education in unattainable Japanese street wear back in the mid 1990s). From promo tapes to vinyl, I’ve stacked up a lot of Mo’Wax music I’ll probably never listen to again, but I owe the label a lot, because it cemented the foundations of a world that gave me a career. This blog definitely wouldn’t exist without it.
But beyond the sketches of an industry where lines intertwined, Mo’Wax fired my imagination by introducing me to elements of design that I hadn’t been exposed to. I probably won’t break out any Palm Skin Productions on iTunes any time soon, but the attention that Ben Drury and Will Bankhead lavished on the packaging, design and photography for Mo’Wax is timeless. That makes Urban Archaology: Twenty-One Years of Mo’Wax a great art book and snapshot of a decade of interesting work from a seminal imprint. Those articles I hoarded from Jockey Slut and Phat are included in the 256-pages, but there’s a few unseen interviews (including a fairly lucid 1995 chat with Rammellzee during a trip to Burger King) and new features too, as well as a collection of Q&As at the book’s close that ask Sk8thing, James Jebbia, Jonathan Glazer (lest we forget that Mo’Wax played a role in his career), Howie B and several more affiliates what the label meant to them.
Moving chronologically, there’s sketches, prototypes and proofs along the way, though a few dates seem a little off — I’m sure MWA projects like the excellent Dysfunctional book and the Gonz Priests dropped later than 1997, but it’s understandable that some details might be clouded. After all, Mo.Wax did a lot during it’s lifetime (and the MWRIZ001 code on this publication indicates that it’s not over). The attention-to-detail on the sleeves and promo creations detailed on each page are done justice by Drury’s art direction throughout Urban Archaeology. It even had me digging out my copy of the David Axelrod album and Liquid Liquid compilations — both passion pieces — as well as the Now Thing CD (which gathered dancehall instrumentals that bordered on grime sonically — a sound that Mo’Wax wouldn’t embrace) for that Reas artwork. For those who fiend for the things we can’t have — a compulsion in which Lavelle played enabler — a 1996 pair of sample camo Mo’Wax Clarks Desert Treks, some Mo’Wax Arts Vans from 2001 and a pitch for Mo’Wax lego, plus what looks like the near-mythical (among nerds) Prunes Headz Headz Headz 7″ that was meant to be a club flyer with Futura art back in 1995.
Cloth on a cover, embossing and fold-out pages are all easy ways to win me over, but the deeper stuff is intact here too. From interviews with former Mo’Wax artists I’d been privy to just over a decade ago, things were a lot less jubilant and participation on something like this would be unlikely. You can read between the lines on some of the aforementioned Q&As, but it’s mostly a celebratory affair and it bodes well for the Southbank exhibition that opens next week. I wanted to see clusters of Drury’s logos that were concealed on the backs of sleeves, the sticker packs and, just to prove that I didn’t dream it up (edit: I didn’t), the t-shirt collection from around 1998 that included the headphone cord print, but Urban Architecture isn’t intended to be exhaustive. If you’re reading this, then you probably need this on your shelf or in your obligatory stack of cool guy non-fiction and you can buy it at spots like Goodhood right now.