LISTEN: JD Twitch Synth / Industrial Mix

One half of Optimo collects some of the tracks featured on forthcoming compilation for a mix; listen to it below and check out an interview about the compilation

Late last year saw the release of an excellent compilation put together by Optimo’s JD Twitch in the form of [Cease & Desist]. Issued via the Optimo Music label, the compilation collected a number of cult post-punk classics and now Keith McIvor is ready to issue another compilation made up of various 80s synth, industrial and Cold Wave sounds.

You can check a little preview into what the compilation will have to offer via the mix above which takes in music from Front 242, Chris & Cosey, The Klinik and more. You can find a full tracklisting for the mix at the foot of this piece.

“So Low is an occasional night at The Poetry Club in Glasgow where I play some of the music I played when I first started DJing back in 1987,” McIvor says of the night that gives the compilation its name. “At that time the audience I played to mostly loathed what I was playing and rarely danced, but then shortly after, when house music arrived, I found a different audience who actually liked to dance.”

McIvor now runs the night on occasion giving him a chance to play records by a number of the acts featured on the compilation in a club space. So Low will be issued by The Vinyl Factory and will be followed up with remixes from Powell and Helena Hauff who have put their touch on their favourite tracks on the compilation.

The compilation itself features music form John Bender, Throbbing Gristle, Gerry & The Holograms and more and it’s out on February 19 on vinyl, CD and digital formats. You can check out an in-depth interview with JD Twitch about So Low below and find a tracklisting for his mix below that.

What was your introduction to ‘this sort of music’?

JD Twitch: As the 80s dawned I was a 12 year old Blondie / Motorhead / Hawkwind freak and I’d get Sounds delivered every week. At that age you are like a sponge and absorb so much information. I’d literally be waiting by the letter box for it to be pushed through and then would read it from cover to cover, every word, even the classified ads. Everyone rhapsodises about NME but back then I think Sounds was where it was at. Great writing, highly irreverent and they would write about so much music that wouldn’t get written about anywhere else. A little later they ware also fairly daring with regard to the artists they would have on the front cover: Coil, Test Dept, PTV, Einstürzende Neubauten, Foetus, etc.

Unlikely as it may sound, Smash Hits was also really great at that time too. They had an independent page and a disco page (I would read about all these disco imports that I wouldn’t hear until about two decades later). I actually discovered Nurse With Wound in Smash Hits. Most of my friends at that time were into bands like Rainbow and I used to think it was just horrible and that there had to be something more interesting going on and reading Sounds my interest got piqued in all sorts of artists who sounded interesting. The only problem was I had no way to hear them and had no money.

Around this time I became great friends with a girl who lived nearby whose older sister worked in the (then ultra amazing) Virgin Records in Edinburgh who had a phenomenal record collection and I heard a lot of stuff that way. Then some relative I never knew left me £500 which was an awful lot of money back then. It was put into a building society account that I was supposedly not meant to be able to access but I found some way to withdraw the money and blew the whole lot on records.

I also spent a summer in Paris round that time and the record shops there had listening booths (unknown in Edinburgh at that time) and that was how i heard a lot of Euro stuff. Often though I would buy records just based on a Sounds journalist’s ability to make it sound interesting or because the artwork was great and I was almost never disappointed. There was one journalist in particular called Dave Henderson who had a column in Sounds called Wild Planet that really delved into the underbelly of what was going on right around the world. He’d write about lots of tape-only releases and there would be addresses you could write to. Stupidly I threw all my tapes out years ago when I was having a lack of space clear out.

Beyond that, while John Peel was great he didn’t really play this kind of stuff although he did turn me on to lots of other great music, but music TV was much better back then and as a lot of these artists were at the cutting edge of working with video their videos would get shown. I remember the French band Hypothetical Prophets’ video for ‘Person To Person’ being shown on some tea time BBC music show and the next day everyone at school was singing it.

A big mention must go to The Tube on Channel 4 too which had some incredible acts play. SPK were on one week and I think they had sold about 20 tickets for their upcoming gig in Edinburgh and then after that performance on TV it sold out almost immediately. As with all music, one thing would lead to another and you’d make all these connections and discover new leads.

What do you take Cold Wave to mean? Is it any different to what some people think of as industrial in an electronic, late 70s/early 80s sense?

JD: I know the press release refers to this as a Cold Wave compilation but it’s not. I’m such a genre pedant (even though I think genres are faintly ridiculous) and I always take Cold Wave to refer to a particular sound, explicitly bands from Belguim, Holland and France that were inspired by Joy Division / Martin Hannett’s production style, so on the So Low comp to my ears there are two Cold Wave acts – Siglo XX and Clair Obscur, although I really wanted Trisomie 21 on it too but they have been ignoring my emails for years now. Talking of Martin Hannett, there is a great, mainly forgotten Belgian producer called Roland Beleen who tried to mimic what Hannett was doing, didn’t quite get it right but came up with a fantastic production sound of his own.

Anyway, I totally appreciate that Cold Wave has come to be a broader term than that. In Europe they often use the catch-all term Wave to lump all of this together (Italo could be Wave too). I loathed the term EBM when it was first invented and still find it hard to use that; it’s more abused now than it has ever been. "Industrial" is so abused too. Monte Cazazza should sue. Minimal Synth which is a fairly new term is great though. There is something sleek and sexy about it. But there are definitely huge musical differences amongst a lot of this music and on the So Low posters we have a bit of fun lampooning the genre classifications. Ultimately we say it is "Strictly music for creatures of the night" and I think that probably says it all.

Did you buy that amazing issue of Sounds – the one with Ralf and Florian stood in front of a single span suspension bridge?

JD: I did indeed! I still have it somewhere. I kept every copy of Sounds from 1979 to around 1988 and had them in my parent’s attic. Eventually they flipped out about how much of my crap was up there and told me they were chucking them out. A good friend of mine, Frenchbloke, volunteered to go through every issue and cut out anything of interest. He has amazing taste and for many years was the only other person on the planet who I knew who was into this stuff. He’s also possibly the only person on the planet who would volunteer for such a crazy task but he did an incredible job and got them down to about 10% of their original volume.

The cuttings are all in my basement somewhere. I dug out a bag of them recently as I wanted to use a few bits on the sleeve to my DIY comp and discovered a great interview with Liquid Liquid which I must have read at the time (although I had no recollection of it) as I had made a note on the page to check them out. It was about 15 years later before I finally heard them.

Cold Wave seemed to go through some kind of brief micro-revival about five or six years ago. When you’ve always been into a particular scene, how do these brief revival fashions affect what you do as a DJ/compiler, etc, if at all?

JD: These brief micro-revivals fascinate me. A particularly interesting revival was the No Wave one, another era I’m particularly into, which had quite a big revival in the early 2000s and then seemed to fizzle out again completely. It occasionally gets lip service paid to it but in general I almost never hear anyone talking about No Wave anymore. I often wonder if people really got into it, felt like they had immersed themselves in it enough, moved on to the next thing and then stopped listening to it completely. If I’m into something I’ll be into it forever.

Obviously the amount I listen to it will wax and wane but it will always remain part of my personal musical (anti) canon. It’s why I always find it very hard to part with records even though my life would be a lot easier if I got rid of a ton of them and lived with a little less clutter around me all the time. If I was a bit smarter I imagine it could be a little like playing the stock market – sell the records when there is maximum interest, make some money and then buy back cheap when the interest has diminished.

I think the interest in the kind of stuff I play at a So Low night is a little different. Interest in this music has been gaining momentum for a few years and I think it has become really important to a lot of people who weren’t born when it was made and will remain so. It’s such a wide range of music too that there is a lot more mileage in it that can take it way beyond a brief micro-revival. It’s also feeding into a lot of new music that is being made and while I have almost zero interest in hearing new music that sounds like it was made in 1982, I am interested in music that takes inspiration from that era but that sounds modern.

Also, people have really, really dug deep and tons of incredible music from that era that I was blissfully unaware of has been excavated and made available again – some truly amazing records that have blown my mind. Eventually there will be very little left to excavate but it still feels like there is a lot more to unearth. I always regard old music that is new to my ears as new music, so it goes beyond retro-mania; for me it’s about wanting to hear everything interesting that was ever made, which of course is an impossible task.

And of course it does affect me as a DJ/compiler. On the DJing side of things it keeps things interesting for me. I wouldn’t like to do tons of So Low-type gigs but doing the odd one here and there is a real blast and incredibly entertaining for me as I enjoy and relish the challenge of playing sets of completely different music. I have no problem being a dilettante and find it hard to imagine that if I had only played, say tech house DJ sets for the last couple of decades that I could still find that enjoyable or still be feverishly passionate about that music.

All the other kind of sets I play can’t help but feed into what I play at my regular gigs which I would say is a positive but I’m sure some people probably find my sets a tad too all over the place for their taste. (I think they are nowhere near as all over the place as they could/should be!) From the compiling point of view, I have a couple of other compilations I’m working on based around music that there seems to be very little interest in at the moment so it will be interesting to see how they do if and when they come out. There didn’t seem to be much interest in late 70s / early 80s DIY but the compilation I did of that has done surprisingly well so perhaps it’s actually possible to kickstart micro-micro revivals via a well put together compilation?

John Bender is almost like the ultimate record collector’s electronic musician in a way isn’t he? Tons of material, really hard to find (before that VOD box anyway), a lot of it hard to identify, very mysterious and opaque biography… but ultimately really killer tunes. What was your exposure to him?

JD: John Bender is the man! I was really lucky that I heard about him before his records started going for astronomical amounts of money. I’d heard him mentioned in hushed tones in various nerdy and secret corners of the internet and then around 2001 Matthew Curry (Safety Scissors) sent me a bunch of his music on mp3 and and BOOM!, I was off and managed to find his records including a still plastered together ‘Plaster Falling’ which of course I immediately de-plastered. Back then myself and Acute Records’ Dan Selzer were on a mission to track him down and Dan got as far as finding someone who claimed he was his son but it fizzled out. Frank at VOD is patently a far better detective as he finally tracked him down and the rest is box set history.

I guess both TG and Chris & Cosey had to be on here. Why did you choose the tracks you did?

JD: The compilation is meant to be about the hits at the So Low night in Glasgow but actually, I had only done the night once when I convinced Vinyl Factory it was a good idea to do it. On that first night, I was playing all night and half way through was in dire need of a cigarette so as it’s a very long track I put on TG’s ‘Discipline’ and went outside (I’m such a consummate professional!). I figured it would probably clear the dancefloor and give everyone time to go get a drink but when I came back in the whole place was going nuts to it and singing along. So, that had to go on there. It’s such a ridiculous track, ridiculously good!

C&C have featured on so many mix CDs I’ve done and their music has been such a huge part of my life for so long that I couldn’t imagine not having them on here. I chose ‘Passion’ as it is one of their lesser known songs but has one of my favourite Cosey vocals. It makes me so happy seeing how much love there is for C&C nowadays. From the mid 80s to the late 90s they couldn’t get arrested in the UK and it was our more enlightened European and North American cousins who kept the flame burning.

In fact, despite so many great artists coming from the UK it was fairly lonely being into this stuff here although it made it easy to get the records as nobody really wanted them. If I had had the resources to do so, I might have moved to Europe back then as I was so envious of how much they appreciated this stuff. As an example, Nitzer Ebb played Glasgow on the ‘That Total Age’ tour and I literally knew everybody there. At the same time they would be playing to 1000+ all round Europe. It blows my mind how popular all this music has become in recent times. It feels like Chris & Cosey are now a household name. Well, almost.

You’ve included a Conrad Schnitzler track (also featuring Wolfgang Meissner) – was Cold Wave a direct descendent of Krautrock?

JD: I think it has its genesis in all sorts of things. Krautrock is definitely an inspiration but perhaps the more important factor was probably technology and the arrival of cheap synths, drum machines and studio equipment. Lots of these records were recorded on 4 tracks at home or in small studios that could now afford to buy the new wave of cheap studio effects. Like with post-punk there was an awful lot of wild studio experimentation going on and there was something in the air that had probably been kickstarted by the rise of synth pop. But, I think a lot of artists were listening to all sorts of crazy stuff and had fairly sophisticated tastes and a deep knowledge of all sorts of "out" music.

The infamous Nurse With Would list offers some good clues as to what sort of wild records were rocking people’s worlds back then. The Conrad Schnitzler track on the album is quite interesting as on the back of the Neue Deutsche Welle hype that was happening in Germany he convinced RCA to let him make a "pop" record. It is anything but and is very hard to find as RCA patently didn’t know what to do with it and made sure it was released with as little fanfare as they could muster up.

Is there anything else you want to say about the compilation?

JD: I’d just like to add that So Low is not all about me, nor is it some excuse to wallow in the nostalgia of my youth. I had to be coerced into doing it though now when I do it, I Iove it. (People often tell me I look so serious when I DJ but there are few things in life that make me feel happier). Anyhow, my wife is a bit younger than me and two of our dearest friends, Katie (who designed and printed the sleeve) and Becky are younger still. They are all crazily into this music. Everyone loves music but it’s actually quite rare to meet people where their passion and thirst for finding out more is almost overwhelming. Well, these three have that. They weren’t around when this music first came out and would endlessly hassle me to do a night playing it. I do play some of it in my DJ sets anyway but had never really played whole sets of it since the late 80s. I kept fobbing them off but eventually agreed to do it on one condition which was that after a couple of times doing it, they would all start to play too (those nights are So Low So Femme) and eventually I will hand the night over to them to do on their own.

It has been great doing these nights as the crowd is incredibly diverse, the atmosphere is really joyous and everyone really, really dances and sings along to the songs they know (who knew Warm Leatherette had the potential to be a karaoke smash?). Back in the day the clubs that played this music were fairly joyless, certainly not a lot of fun and most of the people who went probably would have preferred to hear records by godawful bands like The Mission or were more concerned that their hairspray would last all night. John Bender would have had them running out the door. I’ll take 2016 over 1984 any day of the week!

So Low Mix Tracklist

Front 242 – Kampfbereit

John Bender – Victim Of Victimless Crimes

Chris & Cosey – Passion

The Klinik – Moving Hands

Hard Corps – Porte Bonheur

P/1E – 49 Second Romance

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