10.05.2016 | Words by: Jack Dolan
“What kind of music are you into?” Seemingly innocuous, this is possibly one of the most confounding and difficult questions to answer, usually arriving at an awkward break in conversation and very rarely helping move things along. There are two ways to answer it; one is too short and the other is far too long. The short answer goes something like, “Oh, a bit of everything really”, which might be an honest response, but is also completely non-committal and a dead end to discussions. The other option is to launch into a full history of your personal journey of musical discovery; what kind of fragile emotional state you were in when you first heard Jorge Ben, how you didn’t really get minimalism until you saw Max Richter live at the Barbican, why you think DMX is the most underrated rapper of all time and so on and so forth. You could go on for hours, but chances are the person asking the question won’t actually be listening anymore.
If you happen to DJ, the question probably plagues you. You could just say “Come and see me play”, but in any specific moment your selection will occupy a certain area of your personal spectrum, based on when and where the booking is and a whole host of expectations that precede your arrival. One act that continually evade these expectations are Optimo. They held a weekly residency at Glasgow’s Sub Club every Sunday night for thirteen years, playing everything and anything that felt right at each given moment, and they continue to tour with a similar ethos. They remain fresh and vital to this day, because nobody knows quite what to expect. So how to describe their approach?
The word eclectic springs to mind, meaning broad-ranging, extensive and comprehensive. But when described as eclectic, JD Twitch (one half of Optimo) remarked that the word “ strikes the fear of god into me”. It’s just as diminishing as saying “Oh, a bit of everything really” and can be easily mistaken for incoherence or lack of focus. In fact Optimo’s approach is the very opposite. Not only does it require a deep understanding of music as a whole, but also a delicate feel for how each genre is connected to the other.
Developing a through-line whilst traversing genres becomes an art, one that Twitch and Wilkes have been honing for decades. It’s no coincidence they’re playing De School on a Sunday night; holding their Sub Club residency in the afterglow of the weekend, allowed them to approach things in a way which may not have worked on a Friday or a Saturday. This way they have always created their own space, in isolation from the formulaic club nights. Wilkes once described it as a kind of social club, particularly the first hour, in which the music was played at a lower volume and could entail anything from industrial noise to Sean Paul.
So how to sum up a musical pallet such as Optimo’s? It’s much more complicated than just “Oh, a bit of everything really” but it doesn’t warrant you knowing their entire life stories either. Perhaps it’s just a shit question, solicited by people who need to simplify and pigeon hole rather than confront the complexities, and if you ask a shit question you more than likely will get a shit answer. Wilkes and Twitch would likely shirk it completely and who could blame them. It’s certainly a question you should think twice about before dropping it into one of those awkward silences and if you really must ask it, just know that you’re opening a large can of worms.