Birthdays are like buses. You wait 25 years for one silver anniversary and then there’s another, swinging into view, just like that. As with Manchester’s Aficionado, the duo that is Optimo (Jonnie Wilkes and JD Twitch), have made a name for themselves with a completely fearless approach to DJing and musical selection.
These duos seem to exist in parallel dimensions, similar in so many ways, and yet very very different. The press for this release is a case in point. Listed under genres are the following: Ambient. Bleep, Dub, Electronica, Gwo Ka, Hi-NRG, House, Post-Punk, Psychedelic Rock, Reggae and UK Garage. On some planets this could seem like an attempt to cover all the bases. But in reality it’s just an approach that works. Selections based purely on feel, paying no heed to category or style. Incredibly, over the course of 550 Sub Club Sundays between 1997 and 2010, Optimo did just that and honed their sound to perfection.
Put out by the folks at Above Board Projects, see also last year’s ‘Happy Land Comp’ and more recently ‘The Beat’ by DJ Spun, this comp is split over two parts. It’s a best of, of sorts. Broadly speaking it’s music for dancing. What that dance can look like is down to the individual. Often dark, sometimes obtuse, invariably funky and never boring, these fourteen tracks give a snapshot of the natural eclecticism and pure visceral joy of an Optimo set.
Side A is the early evening selection, there’s organ-led psychedelia from Brainticket, beatless ethereality from TJ Lawrence and early 80’s synth pop courtesy of Robert Rental (‘Double Heart’). Dub is a major presence in all things Optimo, a grounding principle maybe? So, African Head Charge’s ‘No, Don’t Follow Fashion’ makes perfect sense in terms of sound and title. Followed with some Keith Hudson and Smokin’ Cheeba to ensure the room is kinda cloudy.
Taking a left turn and shifting the pitch housewards, Idjut Boys and Laj’s ‘Foolin’ (Beatin’ On Dave)’ ripples and floats while Part 1 closing in the only way it can via Liquid Liquid and the tune from which they take their name. Sounding as fresh and relevant as it first did 40 years ago, ‘Optimo’ the tune still has the percussive power it always has.
Sides C and D throw in Chris and Cosey’s avant-weirdness and the more accessible Isolators with ‘Concentrate on Us’. Along with dub, acid is another ever present, and Mike Dunn’s 1988 ‘Life Goes On’ shows the damage that can be done with a simple drum machine and vocal hook. Likewise KC Flight’s twisted take on The Police spins out into tribal hypnosis. Into the closing stages, and XS-5’s ‘I Need More’ is just one of those tunes, it’s relentless and sits in harmony with more contemporary cuts like ‘Ekotypic’ by Hannah Holland.
Sometimes a compilation is all you need to get the measure of an artist or night. Others just scratch the surface and give a taste for more - guess which this is?
Optimo 25 is out now via Bandcamp and in all good record shops.