Raised on the “blandest music taste imaginable”, Optimo co-pilot Keith McIvor has thrived in adversity to become one of the UK’s most formidable. Eclectic doesn’t really go far enough to describe the far-reaching limits of the JD Twitch palette. A self-proclaimed “amass-er of records”, whose “endlessly curious ear” prevents him from throwing much away, on the intangible promise that one day it will be primed for the dance floor again. It speaks volumes about Keith’s shunning of the digger tag that his favourite place to go rummaging for new records is in his own disorderly garage, so congested Keith warned us away from sending a photographer in.
Those expecting middle of the road dance floor fodder for this mix should max other plans for the next hour. Keith has thrashed his was through a selection of post-punk aligning early 1980s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM). “It may appear as if I am being wilfully obnoxious”, Keith says, “but actually, I love this music, though I appreciate it may appeal to few!” A DJ with a relentless touring schedule and countless press requests, it’s heartening to hear this was “possibly the most enjoyable mix to make that I’ve done all year,” challenging himself to mix metal as if playing a DJ set, with the usual sprinkling of personal edits. A STW first. keep your ears open, this is a rock lesson from one of the best.
JD Twitch presents Kreaturen Der Nacht, a compilation on Strut bringing together classics, rarities and oddities from Germany’s post-punk scene from 1979 to 1985. Buy from Bandcamp.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their familyʼs record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
My family had the most middle of the road, blandest music taste imaginable. As a result of this, until I was around 10 years old I just thought most music was bad and it was only after being given my own radio that I had a revelation and discovered that it wasn’t. I found out that I loved music. The only record my parents had that was worthy of me nicking it from them when I left home was Peggy Lee’s Greatest Hits, and even then I think someone must have given them it as a present as I can’t remember ever hearing it growing up.
My dad thought Glenn Miller was pretty cutting edge so I can but wonder all these years later how he coped with the teenage me playing Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel and Throbbing Gristle albums relentlessly, at full volume.
People buy records for multiple reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Well first off, I’d like to state that I have never thought of myself as a digger, or as a collector. I could probably best be described as an amass-er of records. I have over the years amassed a huge number; an unmanageable number which is often more an affliction than a pleasure, until I then manage to offload a few big piles and then it all becomes briefly manageable and enjoyable. However, I have never managed to get the outgoing number to be equal or even close to the incoming number so it is usually all teetering on the edge of chaos and calamity.
The motivation is simply an endlessly curious ear. I always want to hear more and to hear sounds previously unheard. I have long thought that age would diminish this curiosity, but it seems the passing of the years isn’t having any impact on my desire to listen. With so many digital possibilities to hear music I’m not sure why I still like to have my music mostly in a vinyl format, particularly as I’m not at all materialistic otherwise, except perhaps for books.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
All over my house. I don’t drive so my garage is totally shelved all around. Once it was all fairly meticulously organised but in the decade since I have lived at my current address it has become a bit chaotic. The floor has now become filled with records too, to a point where it would be impossible to have more than one person in there at a time. This is why there are no photos of this room to accompany this article.
There are also records all over my studio and in my living room. The ones in my living room are generally the ones I listen to regularly, ie. not club records, and if I didn’t DJ, these would probably form the majority of the records I would have. About 50% of my records are filed, either by geographical origin or by some loose genre definition. The other 50% are not.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
In my garage. That may sound ridiculous but this is where I generally do lots of digging and it is definitely the best place for digging when it comes to finding records for my DJ sets. There are so many records there and at least 50% are not in any kind of order so I can easily find a forgotten seam I haven’t looked at for a long time. Sometimes it will be a deeply rich seam full of records I have completely forgotten about or records that sound current again, or records that sounded a bit wrong when they came out but now sound so very right. These later ones are one reason I find it hard to get rid of old records, as all too often something I think I am done with will become gold again many years later. An example of this is a time of madness in the mid ‘90s when I got rid of a load of New Beat 12”s I thought I’d never play again only to live to regret it – I have now bought about half of them back again.
The one issue with my garage is that it gets very, very cold in there in winter, so for around 3 months of the year it is more or less impossible to be in there for more than a few minutes. So, during this period my record box perhaps doesn’t change as much as it does at other periods of the year, although I do take this as an opportunity to revisit and explore piles of records in other parts of my house or to catch up with the “to listen to” pile.
I am blessed that what I do for a living has taken me all around the world and I have managed to visit many of the world’s finest music emporiums. My favourite cities for finding music over the years have been Tokyo, Fukuoka, Sao Paulo, New York, Portland, Amsterdam and London.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
It is now so, so much easier than it once was. From the mid 1980s until the late 1990s, the Liaisons Dangereuses album was my most elusive record. I got online for the first time in 1999, immediately started using Ebay and then had a copy within a week. It was a little disconcerting how easy it was.
But yes, there are a number of records that have continued to elude me for a long, long time; one in particular by Prince Far I for more than half my life.
Do you have a digging process when going to a record shop, that helps you hone in on what youʼre after?
Not particularly, although I do generally have sections that will always be my first point of investigation.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
It can have a big role. There are some records I have bought purely for the artwork, notably a lot of records on the Command label from the late ‘50s / early ‘60s. A lot of these are actually sample goldmines, but the sleeve designs are so beautiful that that is the main reason I’d pick them up.
I’ve also bought a few Neville Brody and Barney Bubbles designed records purely because I am a big fan of their design. Beyond that, looking through a pile of recently acquired records there are definitely a few I wouldn’t have explored further had it not been for the artwork catching my eye.
Overall, artwork is important to me. Sometimes people offer me white labels of upcoming releases and while I will gratefully accept them I’d always prefer a finished copy with artwork.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix youʼve done for us?
It is a mix of early 1980s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM). It may appear as if I am being wilfully obnoxious, but actually, I love this music, though I appreciate it may appeal to few!
I grew up in a village in suburban Edinburgh and around 1979/80 it seemed as if it was compulsory to take sides and either be a Mod or a Rocker. It was the era of Two Tone and The Jam etc. which I also liked, but I was forced to pick a side. So I nominally became a rocker complete with denim jacket with Motorhead patches and AC/DC embroidered (by my sister) on the back. Even at this young age I found myself fighting against dogma and I didn’t like a lot of the big bands my friends listened to. I also decidedly didn’t like OTT guitar solos.
NWOBHM provided the answer. It was quite punky (I’d love to start an argument that it is actually part of the post-punk canon), the songs were short and it had a great energy which at that young age was definitely something I was looking for. I think I was also looking for something that I could claim as “mine” and, as there was an explosion of 7” NWOBHM releases on small DIY labels, I found a load of records nobody I knew knew. So, even though being into this lasted a relatively short time as my tastes were changing very quickly, it still resonates for me as the dawn of looking a little deeper for music that was harder to find. Also, I still love all the records on the mix, particularly after a few beers! The music comes from acts who are pretty much completely forgotten, to a few well known ones, to one who now fills stadiums. It was actually quite a challenge to try and do the mix as if I was playing a DJ set of this music but it was possibly the most enjoyable mix to make that I’ve done all year. Saying that, I don’t think I’ll be doing any more NWOBHM mixes in the future.
Any standouts in the mix youʼd like to mention?
Three of the tracks that are produced by Vic Maile (the Atomic Rooster and both Girlschool tracks). Forgotten by most he is, for me, one of the greatest producers ever to come out of the UK and is responsible for producing a ton of my favourite records. Of all the bands he produced I think the records he did with Girlschool and Dr. Feelgood are examples of the perfect synergy between artist and producer. Both did some of their best writing with him and the sound he gets for them is simply incredible. A Vic Maile production will always kick an enormous amount of ass and is often instantly recognisable. Sadly he died way too young and even more sadly has been forgotten by most, but then all too often some of the greatest music is a zillion light years away from what is feted or deemed cool.
Given the breadth of your musical interests, why did you choose German post-punk from 1979 to 1985 as the subject for your new comp on Strut?
I have had a long time fascination with listening to records from Germany of that era going to back to my teenage years. When I first had the idea to work on a compilation of the era it was going to be part 2 of the DIY compilation I had put out on my own label, Optimo Music. However, Quinton at Strut and myself had long discussed working on a project together and it made sense to do this one with them, not least because Strut’s parent label K7 is based in Germany. I had started to do the licensing but it was in danger of defeating me so having the resources they had made that a lot more tenable and then Quinton also provided far greater research resources than I could have. I think the post-punk era in general fascinates me for all sorts of reasons. Musically it was a wildly inventive and free time for making music. The outpouring of creativity was unparalleled and this went on right round the world. There were incredibly vibrant post-punk scenes from Germany to Japan, Scotland to Brazil… It was also an era when women and minorities felt empowered to make music perhaps more so than at any time prior to this and the politics of the era are something else I find deeply fascinating. I was just too young for the peak years of post-punk but I did grow up in that era and the cold war and the parallels with today continues to fascinate me.
What interests you to about the music of this period so much?
The creativity. The amount of incredible music from this era, across the planet never ceases to amaze me. Punk may have been year zero but it was short lived and got dull very quickly but the time after that where the punks’ idea that you didn’t need to be a musician or have many resources to make music led to something incredible. So many people had been listening to interesting and great music and were now primed to try to channel that into their own music where imagination was more important than perfection. The DIY attitude of the era has been deeply influential on how I operate as has the idea that music does not have to be of a specific sound or definable genre. It just keeps giving too, as even though I have ventured quite deeply into these territories it always seems that I am just scratching the surface.
Judas Priest – Living After Midnight (Twitch bonus Beats)
Atomic Rooster – Play It Again (Twitch Edit)
Dark Star – Lady Of Mars
Trespass – One Of These Days
Holocaust – Heavy Metal Mania
Girl – Hollywood Tease (Twitch Edit)
Witchfynde – Give ‘Em Hell
Sledgehammer – Sledgehammer
Motorhead – Damage Case (Twitch Edit)
Iron Maiden – Running Free
Girlschool – Race With The Devil
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Blitzkrieg – Blitzkrieg
Girlschool – Yeah Right