Where are you based?Glasgow.
Is this your home town?I grew up in Edinburgh.
Any reason for the switch of city?I moved to Glasgow in 1986 to go to university. Although the two cities are only an hour apart, culturally and character wise they are light years apart. It took me a while to get used to Glasgow and for the first year or so I would go back to Edinburgh for the weekends but then I clicked with the city, fell in love with it and remain so to this day.
What is your first musical memory?My parents listened to Radio 2 incessantly so probably some extremely MOR song such as Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl”. I just assumed all music was terrible as that’s all I ever heard until I was about 11 and got my own radio.
What was the first record you bought?Some kiddie atrocity I have long forgotten. First proper single was maybe “Denis” by Blondie. It’s hard to remember as it was 30+ years go and it’s not like remembering whom one lost their virginity to. I went from buying zero records to spending almost every penny that came my way on music very rapidly. It’s very easy to look back on one’s own youth and imagine it was a golden era for music but without being nostalgic about it, look at any top 40 chart from 1979, which was the year I truly fell in love with music, and it’s self evident that that was an amazing year for Pop music. Here’s one I randomly found online which for sure has some atrocities in it but also has a huge number of songs I still love and indeed play.
I live in a fairly secluded spot in Japan, so, for better or worse, am completely cut off from what`s happening in the UK charts. My only connection is listening to clips at on-line stores, and I do listen to a lot. I have to say that musically I do find some of what passes for Pop quite interesting, but lyrically I find it all pretty weak. I put this down to me being a miserable old git. If 1979 was a golden year for Pop, what do you make of 2012? Are there any nuggets to be found? I also think that being older you get a feel for how the industry works. Something original comes along, then for the next couple of years only similar things are being signed.It’s an interesting point about the lyrical content. Apart from a few cases, I rarely listen to or pay attention to lyrics unless they are annoyingly bad and thus stop listening. People in the UK tend to be resistant to music in other languages but that has never bothered me so from quite a young age I was happily listening to music with German lyrics and not really thinking about it at all. As for Pop music in 2012, I pay almost zero attention to it. That’s not out of snobbery but more because I just never really encounter it and have so much other music I want to hear that I just don’t ever seem to have the time to investigate it. I am sure there is some great pop music but the stuff I do get to hear, say if I am in a friend’s car and they have the radio on, doesn’t really do too much for me and all sounds a little homogenised. I’m probably missing out on some great music. Optimo, the club night, always had a great big streak of Pop music running through it as I always liked playing wild music nobody had ever heard before alongside the Pop music I love, though perhaps my definition of Pop was always a little askew from that of top 40 radio programmers.
What was the last record you bought?Joachim Kuhn & Ralf Kuhn`s “Bloody Rockers”. Late 60s Free Jazz, Psychedelic freak out.
How did you discover this? Where did you find it? Where, in general, do you buy your music / records?I must have read about the Kuhns somewhere or other at some point and then when I saw their album I recalled the name and something made me want to check it out. The sad fact is that I know I’ll probably never get to know that record inside out no matter how great it is as there’s always other music to be listened to. It’s the kid in the sweetshop syndrome in that I just can’t help gorging myself as there’s so much amazing music being made and reissued. I never distinguish between old and new music. If it’s new to my ears it’s new music.
I bought it online. I buy a lot of music online and there are a couple of great record shops in Glasgow, Monorail Music and Rub A Dub, that I use plus I get to visit a lot of record shops on my travels. I almost certainly spend more of my life now than ever before checking out music, but find online listening or wading through digital promos a lot less enjoyable than finding and listening to music in a record shop.
What inspired you to start DJing / making music / start the label?I was roped into starting DJing. I used to frequent a night in Edinburgh regularly and one week they had a notice up saying that they were looking for DJs to take over the warm up, as they were probably fed up playing that slot. My friend persuaded me that we should “audition” and somehow we got the job, even though I thought the pitch control was the volume control and had never DJed or even thought about DJing before that point. So, from day one I was part of a DJ duo. I did that from 1987 into 1988 by which point myself and the guys who ran the night were all mad for House music, they also started Scotland’s first ever house night, and we decided to turn it into an Acid House night. We didn’t tell the regular crowd about this and they came along, hated it and never came back. In two weeks it went from being one of the busiest nights in the city to ceasing to exist. My friend called it a day but I now had the DJing bug.
What kind of stuff were you playing prior to House? Can you remember the first House records you heard? Where could you buy House records in Edinburgh? Everyone goes on and on about London and Manchester, but what was the scene like as it emerged in Edinburgh and Glasgow? Do you still buy / play House music? New House music?Before we committed Acid House suicide the club was probably known in Edinburgh as a Goth club but none of the DJs were Goths and we refused to play any of the bands really associated with that scene. The clientele however were most definitely creatures of the night. We were playing a lot of what became known as EBM but at that point it didn’t really have a name and also stuff that would now be called Minimal Synth. As an aside, when the term EBM came around, I disliked it almost as much as I dislike the term EDM now. I still do. We’d also play some Hi NRG, some early Hip Hop, Schoolly D and Mantronix especially, and even some Funk and Reggae. I remember Shinehead being a big favourite. We were always looking for music with advanced and futuristic sounding production so individual records were more important than genre. Early tracks by Renegade Soundwave, Age Of Chance, Colourbox, Revolting Cocks, Robotico Rejekto, Cabaret Voltaire, Severed Heads dubs, lots of Adrian Sherwood mixes, even The Pet Shop Boys. We called it Electrobeat. We’d also play intensely energetic guitar bands like Big Black, World Domination Enterprises and Butthole Surfers and some verging on Goth bands like Virgin Prunes. Clubs were very musically mixed up back then. That was just the norm and has stayed with me ever since.
The first house record I remember hearing was either “I M N X T C” by Denise Motto or “House Nation” by House Master Boyz. There was a shop that sold imports in Edinburgh and a couple in Glasgow but at that time I was very poor so initially I was mainly buying compilations. Rob Olson’s Chicago Jackbeat series. To this day I have no idea who Rob Olson was. The Jack Trax series and the Jackmaster comps. I’d buy a lot of domestically released imports and also a lot of early British House as it was cheaper than buying imports. I also had a lot of New Beat records as I’d write to all these Belgian labels, who were intrigued that someone in Scotland was into this music and so would happily send large amounts of records to me on a regular basis. I even used to compile a New Beat chart for NME. As time went on and my finances remained incredibly limited I used to constantly write letters to labels all over the world blagging records and ended up on the mailing list of countless labels. I still have piles of Strictly Rhythm, Warp, Network, Shut Up and Dance, Moving Shadow, Relief Records, Cajual and R&S test pressings, amongst many others.
I spent an inordinate amount of time in record shops but then there were a lot of record shops to check out back then. I’d also get the odd record mail order from Eastern Bloc in Manchester. I’d call up and they’d play the latest imports down the phone to me. That seems crazy in hindsight but it was always one of the highlights of my week as the ultra enthusiastic Mancunian on the end of the phone would be shouting down the line “Have you heard this stormtrooper?” and some Belgian rave record would be blasted down the phone. There was a whole language used to describe records that has long since vanished. Stormtroopers, windowsmashers, etc. Pre-internet, getting information was hard but somehow information networks began to form. There were fanzines and most importantly for me, there was a monthly information sheet called Brand X that this DJ from New York called DJ Moneypenny used to compile and post out free to subscribers. It was by far the best source of information about the music I was into and she is a real forgotten hero of those times. She made a couple of great records on Strictly Rhythm under the name Chapter 1, which are completely forgotten about and no doubt go for peanuts on Discogs, and then vanished off the face of the planet. I’ve always wondered what happened to her but nobody seems to know.
There was a small but vibrant scene in Edinburgh from early ’87 onwards and likewise in Glasgow with the real explosion taking place in ’88. I wasn’t clubbing in Manchester or London so it’s hard to compare but I am sure there were great things going on right round the country that went unreported because those places weren’t in the media spotlight or the perpetrators weren’t very media savvy. Certainly by early ’88 there were raves up here with several thousand people attending and a palpable sense in the air that some sort of revolution was taking place before our eyes.
I still buy and play House though I have never regarded myself as a house DJ despite owning a huge number of House records. There are still amazing records being made though. That Crooked Man 12″ is one of the best records in any genre in the last few years. In general I have very little interest in records that are slavishly trying to recreate a previous era of House music. I’d much rather play a great record from 1992 than a record from today that is trying to sound like it was made in 1992, but thankfully there are still people pushing the envelope. I’ve never really been a fan of House music “all night long”, or after 26 odd years “all life long” but as long as I DJ, I’m sure it will remain a component of my sets.
Since I first started buying records I’d fantasised about having a label and in the early 90s when I realized that it was easy and cheap to DIY, I went and did it. I’ve run labels ever since, purely as a hobby. I’ve released around 60 records by other artists which averages out at a relatively unprolific 3 releases a year since 1992.
Can you remember what was the first release?The first record I ever put out was with my then DJ partner Brainstorm, in 1990 and was called the Rave Bunny EP. It was a bootleg DJ mix of various tracks put together on turntables. The main one was a genius mix of Sweet Exorcist’s “Testone” with Ralphie Rosario’s “You Used to Hold Me” and Plez’s “Can’t Stop”, all mixed live by Brainstorm. He did it in one take on three turntables and pre-dated what became known as mash ups by a good ten years. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing and neither did the engineer in the studio we did it in, so it’s sadly very lo-fi. My then girlfriend sold it by phoning up shops around the country and selling it sale or return. I think she managed to shift almost 1000 copies doing that. Shortly after that we started a label, T&B Vinyl with proper distribution and were releasing original recordings. The first release on T&B was by local acid house legend Ege Bam Yasi.
I was roped into trying to make music in the early 90s as it seemed the logical thing to do but initially I hated the process, hated the results, had zero confidence and did everything I could to avoid doing it again for several years. Then, in the late 90s I was talked into working with this older guy who had an incredible studio and had been working with electronics since the 70s. We had so much fun, working one day a week for several years and I learnt massive amounts from being with him. I had the bug, and I’ve enjoyed doing it ever since.
How long have you been DJing / making music / running the label?DJing, 25 years. Making music, properly, for 15 years. Running labels for 20 years.
It was a long time ago, but how did the institution that was Pure come into being? And what eventually prompted the switch to Optimo?Pure started in 1990 and came about because the club we had been doing previously had ended with a riot and the police wouldn’t let us continue. That night had been called UFO and ran throughout 1989 into 1990. The night was run by local promoters whose idea was to have bands play early in the evening and then it would morph into a club night. It was the Madchester era and most of the bands who played seemed to be of that ilk. Bar the very odd record, I loathed all these bands and felt as if I had made some sort of Faustian pact that forced me to be tortured with this music in exchange for getting to play the music I wanted to. Edinburgh was in the grip of football casual violence at this time and The Venue where we were doing UFO lay firmly in the territory of Hibernian Football Club. The Hibs casuals had made the night their own and there was never any trouble but on what turned out to be the last night, this Manchester band, The Paris Angels were playing and had attracted a lot of fans from the rival team, Hearts. The singer made some comment in support of Hearts during his set and then – BOOM! – it kicked off. It was like a scene from a massive bar brawl in a Western. Furniture and drums and bodies and guitars and anything that wasn’t nailed down was flying through the air. I was cowering under the mixing desk in fear of my life. After a while about 50 police arrived, cordoned off the club, arrested almost everyone there and drove them off in vans to the police station. Several people, including the band ended up in hospital. We were told by the chief of police that there was no way we could continue the club in its present form and that was that.
The words “in its present form” lingered in our heads and after a couple of weeks the two promoters we had been working with, myself and my co-DJ, Brainstorm, sat down to see if we could find a way forward. The Venue (the name of the actual venue) was restructured so that entry was through the basement which made it a lot easier to control who was getting into the club and we decided to make it a members only club, not for any elitist reasons but rather again so we could control exactly who was getting in and keep the football casuals out. The police gave us the go ahead and Pure was born in summer 1990. In hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened as it gave us the chance to start again from scratch and do a club 100% on our own terms. Out went anything to do with all the awful Madchester-related music and in came a completely different crowd. We were at the right place at exactly the right time and filled a massive need in Edinburgh so from day one it was a huge success and before long we were running buses every week through from Glasgow. Something that would never happen in a million years nowadays.
Pure was crazy. The atmosphere was more intense than any club I’ve ever seen since and although it was certainly chemically enhanced, I’ve also rarely seen so much love in one room since. The night would often end with people hanging from the roof, climbing up the PA, we had the most ridiculously loud and over-sized PA imaginable, while the dance floor had dissolved into 500 sweaty bodies immersed in one giant group hug. It went on like this for years and amassed a membership in the tens of thousands. The list of people who played over the years reads like a Who’s Who of House and Techno.
I was so immersed in it all that from 1990 to1996 I couldn’t tell you anything that was going on in music outside of House, Techno and all their offspring. “Grunge”? I didn’t have a clue, and still don’t. By 1996 the spell was starting to break. The creative peak in a lot of the music seemed to have passed and the audience were becoming less open minded. It was becoming all about how hard the music was and the fun and sex seemed to have left through the fire exit. I should probably have quit then as I was increasingly not enjoying traveling through to Edinburgh to play but I kept hoping it would change again.
In the meantime I’d started digging into all the other music I had and was buying records in all sorts of different areas of music. The opportunity arose late in 1997 to start a Sunday night at The Sub Club in Glasgow and I seized it, determined to do a night where I could play all the music I loved with little care if anyone else was interested. As it was a Sunday so as long as I got enough people through the door to cover their costs The Sub Club was happy. I roped in Jonnie and Optimo was born, and it was the most fun I’d had for a long time. A lot of our friends were similarly bored with the general club scene at that point and for the first year or so it was almost like a private party, although anyone and everyone with the right attitude was welcome. From time to time people who knew me from Pure would come along and come up to me full of rage telling me I was a traitor to Techno, a disgrace or had lost the plot, which only reinforced in my mind that I was doing exactly the right thing. The owner of the club was forever telling us that the night was going to become huge and I’d think he was delusional, as I just couldn’t imagine that happening and anyway was perfectly happy for it to continue as it was, with no plan for the future. He was right though. After about a year it quite simply exploded. It’s hard to fathom out why but literally from one week to the next Optimo went from having a crowd of around 100 people to being more or less sold out with 500+ people there every week for the next eleven years. It was almost as if a collective lightbulb had gone off in people’s heads and suddenly they got what it was all about.
What are your favourite places to play or hang out in?Glasgow is probably the best place to play in the entire world out of all the places I’ve ever played. Otherwise, we have good and bad gigs everywhere, but cities where we seem to have cultivated an audience who get what we do include New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Melbourne, London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. I also love playing in Japan and China, the later being somewhere I would love to get to know better.
Would you visit all these places in a year? Do you spend a lot of time travelling?This year I’ve visited all the places mentioned at least once except for Melbourne. We were due to play in Australia but it’s hard for Jonnie to do too many long haul trips with two kids at home and going all that way is definitely a trip I’d rather do with him so we decided to postpone it until next year. For the last ten years or so we have been traveling non-stop and probably have spent at least a third of each year living in hotels. It’s something I want to spend a lot less of my life doing starting from next year. I love DJing and I love going to different places many of which I have great, great friends in who I only see if I`m playing there, but eventually airports are going to drive me insane. Beyond that, I am getting married this year and while my partner is incredibly understanding about me being away so much I simply don’t want to be away from her as much. I also miss out on so many events in my local friend’s lives and sometimes feel disconnected from many of them as I almost never see them. I’d like to get my life back a little bit, reconnect with Glasgow a bit more and devote a bit more energy to other creative pursuits. I definitely can’t ever imagine stopping DJing but I would like it to go back to feeling like a hobby I love doing rather than the thing that defines who I am. If I end up being incredibly poor, well, I had a lot of practice being poor for many, many years so hopefully I’ll be able to deal with that. If you check my schedule this time next year and I am taking 100+ flights in 2013, please come and give me a big slap!
What is your favourite place outside of a bar / club / record shop?Bed. Studio. Beach. Good restaurant. Outdoor cafe. Park. Sleazy dive watching a band. Someone’s flat late at night talking rubbish with good friends. Out in the wilds of Scotland.
Seen any good bands lately?Glasgow has always had a ridiculous number of great bands on the go, which is one of the reasons I started Optimo Music. I’m always seeing bands here and thinking I’d love to release them but then have to have a reality check as I know with most of them I’d find it hard to sell more than 100 copies. There’s a band here who don’t even have a name yet who blew me away so much that I had to ask if I could release their record, and even if it only sells one copy I know I’ve made the right decision. It’s just so good. They are a fusion of two different Glasgow bands. A power Hardcore thrash trio and an all analogue hardware House duo. It’s hard to describe but is a little like a modern version of Dinosaur L.
How would you describe your / the label`s sound?The label doesn’t have one. It’s the sound of whatever tickles my ears at a particular point in time. I don’t know how I’d describe my own sound beyond “all over the place”. It would probably be better to ask someone who has heard me play many times.
Do you see yourself as part of any scene?Not particularly. I tend to avoid scenes and my contrarian nature often makes me run in the opposite direction of what is deemed au courant. There are however many people around the world I feel allied to in greater or lesser ways.
What would you describe as “au courant” right now?Right now, slo mo / druggy chugging 110bpm tracks, 90s fixated House music and lots of House, deep or otherwise in general seem to be what I hear everywhere, except in Glasgow where I’ll always hear all sorts of stuff I never hear anywhere else. Apart from the 90s fixated House, I like all that but I`m never going to play it all night long.
What production / remix / release are you most proud of?I’m proud of every record I’ve ever released, even the ones that sold about 50 copies. I love doing remixes but I tend to forget about each one quite soon after I’ve done it. The one that seemed to get the most love was one I did for Finnish freaks K-X-P which sadly has yet to see a release. Production wise, both the bands albums I have produced in the last couple of years, Sons & Daughters and Tussle, are records I’m immensely proud to have been involved with.
Was that “18 Hours Of Love”?Yes, that`s the one. Barely a week goes by that someone doesn’t email me about it. I love the process of remixing, particularly song based material and feel very fortunate that I get asked to work on a lot of great projects. This year I’ve done almost 20 remixes but each one has a lot of time and love devoted to it. I find it impossible to have a formula and just churn them out. I don’t think I’ll ever be the most technically gifted producer but I am very happy that I find it impossible to make identikit, generic sounding remixes and just do my own thing. I’d much rather something I did polarised opinion than most people thinking it was just OK. “Just OK” is terrible.
What production / remix / release would have most like to have done?My brain doesn’t really operate like that. There sometimes seem to be forces beyond my control that lead me to producing / remixing / releasing artists I’d only have dreamed of working with when I was younger.
Can you give me any examples?Remixing acts who to me are totally iconic and many of whom have meant so much to me for so long such as Indoor Life, Mark Stewart, Seun Kuti, Konono No. 1, Bush Tetras and Liquid Liquid. Also, getting to release records by acts I am an uber fan of such as Chris Carter, Chris & Cosey, Psyche, Peter Zummo and Factory Floor. If I had a time machine I’d love to be able to go back to New York in the 80s and hide away in a corner in Battery Sound studios and watch Arthur Russell at work.
Who does the artwork for the label?I try to encourage the artists to present their own vision. If they don’t want to, which is very rare, my girlfriend does it. She also puts all the sleeves and labels together, under duress.
Do you see the label as having a visual identity?No. Most of my favourite labels have a strong sense of identity but I was briefly signed to Matador Records in the early 2000s and their philosophy was that each record should be the complete vision of that record’s creator. That resonated with me quite strongly and is how I have operated with regard to my labels ever since.
Which artists / other labels are you currently working with?I have recently remixed Seun Kuti, Esser, Mark Stewart, The Twilight Sad, The Hundred In The Hands, Indoor Life and am currently working on a remix for Hot Chip. I just released the first record on my Autonomous Africa label and have a 12″ due on Japan’s Let’s Get Lost. A few other 12″s and a 7″ are in the pipeline on various labels. Optimo Music has some exciting reissues scheduled that I can’t mention for fear they are bootlegged plus new music by Soft Metals, Dan Avery, The Deadstock 33s and a Factory Floor side project featuring the legendary Peter Gordon from New York.
Who would you most like to work with?Anyone who is easy to get along with, open minded and interested in crazy ideas.
Does playing, making and releasing music pay the rent?Yes, it does. Playing provides most of the rent. Remixing provides a little bit of the rent alongside a bit of sound design. Making and releasing music definitely doesn’t help with the rent. Playing music is the only job I’ve ever had.
What sites, if any, do you regularly check on-line?ilxor, BBC News, Twitter, DJH, Discogs and a few political sites. I am vehemently anti-Nationalist, which I should point out doesn’t necessarily mean I am pro-Unionist, so am always keeping a close eye on what the Nats are up to.
What was the last book you read?I always have several books on the go and just finished two almost simultaneously. “Give The Anarchist A Cigarette” by Mick Farren and “The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936 – 39” by Anthony Beevor.
What is your favourite book?Can I have three? “1984” by George Orwell, “Factotum” by Charles Bukowski and everything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote.
What was the last film you saw?“Iron Sky”. 5/10.
What is yout favourite film?As I use its title for some online passwords, I had better not say.
It`s not “Bladerunner” is it?No, but it’s up there. I can guarantee you wouldn’t guess the answer.
What is your current favourite piece of music?The entire “Varech” album by Henri Texier.
Upcoming releases from JD Twitch:JD Twitch / Is It All Over The Place? / Let’s Get Lost 12″JD Twitch / Skeng Teng Sleng Teng / Bucky Skank 10″JD Twitch / Autonomous Africa Vol 2 / AA 12″Tussle / Tempest (Smalltown Supersound LP) / produced by JD TwitchDoubleheart (JD Twitch and Neil Landstrumm) / Roca EP / Shipwrec 12″Doubleheart / Roots EP / High Sheen