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A Quietus Interview

Optimo Prime: JD Twitch Speaks About Fabric Mix
John Doran , May 6th, 2010 11:09

On the eve of the release of their much anticipated Fabric mix and an appearance at the London club, Keith McIvor (aka JD Twitch) chats to John Doran about the ongoing Optimo (Espacio) project now that their revered Glasgow night is no more...

As one door shuts another opens. Sunday April 25 was the last Optimo (Espacio) party at the Sub Club in Glasgow. JD Twitch and JG Wilkes have been organizing Scotland’s most (rightfully) celebrated club night for the last 13 years and have put the night out to pasture in order to concentrate on other DJing, remixing and music related projects.

Twitch (Keith McIvor), an Edinburgh born acid house fan, and Johnny Wilkes, a Belfast punk, met through the Pure night. Bored with the state of clubbing in the late 90s the pair formed Optimo as an excuse to play the kind of music that they never heard out. Whether that be EBM, techno, acid house, industrial, minimal, disco, funk, post punk… their only rules were to use the freedom of a Sunday night residency as freedom from the tyranny of the four to the floor house night hegemony.

The pair will still occasionally be found DJing at Optimo Presents nights at the Sub but it certainly feels like this and the Fabric mix are drawing a line under this chapter of their career.

When people start talking about which DJs they’d like to see on the Fabric series, Optimo is one of the first names that always comes up. Does it feel like this was a long time coming?

JD Twitch: Actually we were asked to do one before at very short notice after someone had pulled out. We were asked to do one then but it was too short notice, so perhaps it has been a long time coming because after that when it didn’t happen, it was always at the back of our mind that it didn’t happen. But when it finally did come up we were delighted.

The mix itself opens in fine style with a Quietus favourite Fad Gadget’s ‘Lady Shave’. Can you tell a lot about Optimo from the fact you’ve opened with this track?

JDT: Well possibly. That’s actually my cohort that chose that but I guess they’re a very significant act for us. And the fact that he chose it, shows how important they are to him in particular.

But does it say something about your aesthetic though, that you’re willing to open a house music mix CD with a piece of fairly obscure industrial music?

JDT: It’s an electronic dance track! It is! It still sounds contemporary. He [Frank Tovey] was ahead of his time. I think he’s one of the greatest artists to ever come out of the UK. He’s as important to us as someone like Kraftwerk. But the reason why we chose it is we still play it in our sets even to this day. And even though this b-side track is from 1981 it still sounds contemporary to our ears.

It certainly does. What other slices of industrial or EBM from the late 70s to the early 80s still pass this rigorous test of contemporariness?

JDT: A great wealth I think... Musically, sometimes production techniques from that era have changed so much that sometimes tracks can sound a little bit weak in the bass but lots of things from that era sound modern... Throbbing Gristle, Severed Heads, Chris and Cosey... It’s funny actually that once you get past a certain point in the 80s, then that stuff sounds more dated than the older stuff because the equipment changed. But the stuff up until about 1983/4, the records still sound great but the records, especially in the field of EBM the records that came later actually sound a little bit clunky and dated. But stuff from before then still sounds great.

Well, it’s not just the choice of Fad Gadget but also if you look at your DJ playlists or at the track listing on your How To Kill The DJ compilation, which features such bands as Revolting Cocks, Marc Riley and the Creepers and Laibach, it becomes clear why you have a reputation for recontextualising certain songs for the dancefloor. What is the biggest surprise you’ve ever had with using and unlikely track to rock a club?

JDT: Well, I guess the best example is probably the last song we played on Sunday which is a total, total anthem. A lot of people thought it was going to be the last song we played on the last ever Optimo, but we played it as the last song this Sunday. It’s Arthur Lee’s ‘Everybody’s Got To Live’. There isn’t a beat to it... it’s the least likely dance record there is. But that is the great thing about having a residency. I played it one week and it cleared the dancefloor. I played it the next week and it still cleared the dancefloor but I just kept on playing it and playing it until it seeped into people’s heads. And by the end, even though it’s not really available on record, everybody knew all the words and would sing along to it. It became a huge, huge song but only at the club because I didn’t have the balls to play it anywhere else. But it is the least likely song you can imagine to hear in a club because there’s no rhythm to it. I guess I was just bloody minded and thought, ‘I’m going to make people fall in love with this song.’

Vice versa, what really sticks out in your mind as the experiment that didn’t work?

JDT: There have been so many! Again this is the thing about the residency, you’re in a position where you can play something and the whole dancefloor will look at you in complete horror. And you’re like ‘Sorry guys! You’ll probably like the next song better!’ I wouldn’t do that if I were playing Fabric or a club abroad. I can’t think of one off the top of my head but there have been plenty but it was always worth taking the risk.

There’s a lot of acid on the current mix and I was just wondering what your first exposure to this sound was back in the day and what was the scene like in Edinburgh then?

JDT: Well it was a very, very small scene and in fact it was some friends of mine who were probably the first to pick up on it. They were into stuff like that Marc Riley song [‘Baby’s On Fire’], left field and electronic and stuff like that... and they’d got really bored with that and fallen in love with the first wave of house music and they used to do a Thursday night set in a gay club in Edinburgh and hardly anyone went, maybe thirty or forty people but we were having the time of our lives. It wasn’t really a drug thing, it was more of a music thing. That was my first exposure to acid and I just went mad for it.

Prins Thomas is the shit. Discuss.

JDT: Prins Thomas is the shit? Well, he is, ha ha! What else can I say?

Are you into all your cosmic disco stuff at the moment?

JDT: Well, yeah but not head over heels. I think we’re ever so slutty with what we like but we’ve never wholeheartedly got on board with one... well, bandwagon isn’t the right word... For example too much cosmic disco will annoy me just as much as too much of anything will annoy me. But I think Prins Thomas is also much more than just cosmic beardy disco, having heard him DJ several times. So I think it’s unfair to pitch him in with all that.

And at the other end of the scale, in some senses, you’ve got Crazy Cousinz and the track ‘Inflation’, which I guess went to show last year that only an idiot would underestimate UK funky.

JDT: Well, last year they had this single out with Kyla ‘Do You Mind’ which was some big hit... I don’t hold with the whole guilty pleasure thing because I don’t feel guilty about liking anything but I used to hear it a lot and that persuaded me to check out everything else they were doing. This was the B-side of an EP they did and it absolutely blew my head off. It’s an incredible piece of music. And people say ‘It’s a weird choice.’ To which I’d say, ‘Yeah, but have you actually heard it?’

One of our compilations of the year in 2008 was Sleepwalk, I was just wondering what your philosophy behind that spectacularly strange mix was?

JDT: We were fortunate that Laurence [Bell] at Domino was very keen on doing a project with us. We were very fortunate that we were given free rein to do whatever we liked. We were especially lucky given that the era of the mix CD I suppose, is drawing to a close. I wanted to do something that would reflect our taste and make a mix that we would like to listen to very, very late at night. And the idea was that all the music would have this somnambulant feeling to it. We always used to joke about those Back To Mine CDs, that if we did one, it would be the sort of music that would drive everyone away.

Optimo DJ at Fabric on Saturday night. For more details check the Fabric London website