This mix CD, the first by the Optimo twosome of JD Twitch and JG Wilkes for the now-venerable Fabric series, drops one week after Optimo the club night retires for, apparently, ever. Active in Glasgow since 1997, the unusual tactic of operating on a Sunday night helped to forge their identity, to the point where it resulted in hundreds of Weegies calling in sick every Monday. Yet a greater factor in the near-unconditional love these cats enjoy (seriously, I can’t remember anyone having much bad to say about Optimo) is the records they play. Their tastes are vast and rangy, inclusive and, as regards the act of playing them in front of a crowd, intuitive. Such is Fabric 52, purportedly the kind of mix they’d offer up if they were booked to play a Fabric night, as they often are. It’s house, disco, techno, electro, acid, synthpop and a whole lot more. Like one of those multi-function food processors advertised on shopping channels, but a more sound investment.
There might be a message conveyed in the opening and closing tracks being two of the oldest of the 22 which comprise the mix. (A couple of others date from the early Eighties; most of Fabric 52 is from the last five years or so.) Fad Gadget’s ‘Lady Shave’, a 1981 B-side which channels the ice-king dismissiveness of Kraftwerk and the distressingly clammy urgency of Throbbing Gristle, is a harbinger of things to come, on disc as in the canon of synthesised dance music. And, some seventy minutes later, Xex – a truly obscure minimal wave combo from the USA circa 1980 – see us home with ‘Heartbeat’, which dates from a year before the Fad Gadget joint but, all oil-on-glass keyboards and new-wave-to-no-wave vocals, is pretty much the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Italians Do It Better aesthetic. If either of these songs came out right now they would find themselves in plentiful company. And that’s a big part of what Optimo is (was?) all about – grabbing onto styles that are genuinely fresh and exciting, while concurrently keeping a crate-digging hand in the teleporter to reach back and remind their audience that there’s very little new under the sun.
As for the 20 tracks in the middle, there literally isn’t a transition in there which doesn’t effect a genre shift. Some of them appear really quite audacious on paper: Discodromo’s ‘Cosmorama’, rerubbed by Prins Thomas, is glowing space disco with eight-cylinder Italo synths; to feed this into the cavernous pulse of Basic Channel’s early-Nineties sound-definer ‘Q1.1’ is some serious lateral thinking, but it’s a gearshift that could have Jeremy Clarkson penning slash fiction. Likewise ‘Don’t Call’ by Desire – on the aforementioned Italians Do it Better, although it sounds like something that might have made its way onto a handbag house comp in 1995 – into ‘Inflation’, a typically percussion-led rinser from doyens of UK funky, Crazy Cousinz. This scene, which all told is about as quote-unquote NEW! as it gets, is represented additionally by a quick, transitional showing for Roska’s ‘Feeline’.
While Optimo’s previous mixes have not always been explicitly dancefloor-driven – 2008’s wonky but wonderful Sleepwalk mix on Domino epitomises this approach – in respecting the fact that they’re doing this for Fabric, who pay them handsomely to play records they love in their nightclub, Twitch and Wilkes are mindful to keep the beat running throughout. Flickers of proto-acid rear up on Locussolus’ ‘Gunship’, ‘Jack Your Body House Your Mind’ by the mysterious The Minister and Levon Vincent’s ‘Love Technique’, marvellously forthright DMX Krew-ish electrosquish that sounds nothing like what you’d expect from the Ovum label. House music’s quasi-trend towards South American (-styled) splashes of melody is hailed with Capablanca’s ‘La Konk Fiesta’ and ‘Shacalao’, a Fela Kuti cover by Columbian ensemble Cumbia Moderna De Soledad which absolutely rules and makes me feel like listening to nothing but cumbia bands for, like, a month.
Aside from a ignorably small number of slightly below par selections (that Desire one; Spencer Parker’s colourless tech-houser ‘Yogoto’), there really is almost nothing to find fault with on Fabric 52. If you feel like educating yourself about the last 30 years of dance music, this can serve as a pretty good impetus. If you reckon you’re pretty clued up already, or just want to bug out, then it functions on that level too, with flying colours. It could never be as booming a send-off for Optimo the club as Optimo the club gave itself, but as a timely adjunct to that blowout, this is a joy. If a better mix CD comes out this year, 2010 will have been a stellar year for this threatened art.
8Noel Gardner's Score