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Optimo / JD Twitch
Sleepwalk & JD Twitch Mixes Lee Arizuno , December 8th, 2008 14:29

It’s amazing where a good ear can lead you. For over a decade now, DJ duo JD Twitch and JG Wilkes have run one of the best club nights in the world thanks to a strict lack of discipline. Optimo’s “if it sounds good, play it” policy has allowed them to follow their music-lovers’ instincts to some fascinating places.

In the beginning, this meant building danceable sets from the post-punk records they were among the first to dust off (as their name, taken from the Liquid Liquid song, attests) along with the techno that always had a strong following in their native Glasgow, and safer bets in the forms of funk, hip hop and reggae classics. But they’ve also drawn in sui generis music from the outer reaches and made it work in a club context, so that one-offs such as Arthur Russell, Coil or Neu! become the natural companions of Blondie, Villalobos or The Temptations.

Eclecticism for its own sake would be aggravating as hell, of course, but Twitch and Wilkes have keen enough instincts – and a strong enough work ethic – to create sets that often feel like masterpieces. Compare their mix CDs How To Kill The DJ [Part Two] (a pair of killer Optimo sets in all their splendour) or Psyche Out (a technicolour trip from Hawkwind to The Chamber Brothers via Mr Fingers and Herbie Hancock) to the enervating cosmic/Italo/Balearic mixes currently clogging up the blogosphere, and you’ll see why people testify about Optimo.

Conceived of as their answer to the Back To Mine series of compilations (Optimo’s working title: Why Nobody Comes Back To Mine), Sleepwalk is an esoteric early-hours selection ruled by a twilit dream logic. And it’s every bit as imaginative and ambitious as you’d hope. With most comparable compilations, you might expect the occasional run of your favourite tracks, and one or two unheard gems. But as Sleepwalk’s opening sea sounds wash into the gorgeous, sustained moment that is Nurse With Wound’s ‘Funeral Music For Perez Prado’, it sets the uncanny tone for all that follows. Sublime selections from Coil (whose Peter Christopherson provides an exclusive remix) and Tuxedomoon neatly belie their forbidding reputations, before Cluster and Eno/Moebius/Rodelius remind you that they pretty much perfected electronica back when they invented it.

In its second half, Sleepwalk retains this spooked edge even as it favours songs over soundscapes. There's always been a "welcome to your new favourite records" vibe to Optimo mixes, and this one's no exception: I'd only heard six of these 20 tracks before, and I'm pretty attuned to this stuff. It's unthinkable that someone who'd yet to delve into the wonderful worlds of Arthur Russell or Karen Dalton could hold out for long having heard the selections here; for me, gems from old-time greats (Duke Ellington) charming present-day unheard-ofs (Future Pilot A.K.A., the project of former Soup Dragon and current driving instructor Sushi K. Dade) and great cover versions (Lee Hazlewood's 'tracheotomy man' take on 'Whole Lotta Shakin'' and Wall Of Voodoo's electro rewiring of 'Ring Of Fire') also hit the spot. And I'll be off to investigate woods-dwelling proto-hippie Eden Ahbez and psych-rock troubadour Damon before the day's out.

By contrast, JD Twitch takes a harsh, monomaniacal route on 60 Minutes / 10 Inches Of Fear, the mix CD and accompanying 10” of his edits put out by the excellent RVNG label (known by many for Justine D’s superb MX5 mix, which shares Optimo’s approach to eclecticism). Or at least, that’s the idea: pitched as a charge through the underappreciated Crass era/area of UK punk, Twitch actually rips up his remit and puts playability before pedagogy. The results are revelatory and essential: 60 Minutes Of Fear is a bracing reminder that there were amazing records being made outside of hip hop during the era book-ended by post punk and acid house.

Demento-punk from Butthole Surfers. Californian hardcore from Black Flag and their cryptic counterparts, Minutemen. surprisingly great neglected UK punk from the Crass stable, as promised. From Swans’ arse-quaking sampler terror to never-signed L.A. punk legends The Screamers, via the fascinating Sun City Girls, 60 Minutes... is an unexpected end-to-end burner of a mix that you’ll be richer for getting hold of.

Impressively, the special edits of four Crass-affiliated tracks that compose 10 Inches Of Fear strip and stretch the source material out until it takes on a cavernous tension recognisable from records by Neu! or The Pop Group. Thus unclogged, Flux of Pink Indians’ assault packs more of a punch and The Mob’s route-one paranoia becomes far more persuasive. Honey Bane’s Slits-y dub disco is a welcome dose of hedonism, but Zounds’ tub-thumping ‘War’ is the highlight: given breathing space, each element gets under your skin, taking control more effectively than any amount of straight-ahead hectoring could.