Skinned Special: JD Twitch's Independent Scotland

With little over a week until the independence referendum, the Optimo legend gives us a specially themed mix to get you in the zone for casting that all-important ballot

Feature by Ronan Martin | 08 Sep 2014

Of Scotland's many homegrown clubbing institutions to have sprung up over the years, it’s hard to find one which elicits such fanatical devotion in its followers as Optimo, the multi-faceted and continually evolving project of JD Twitch and JG Wilkes. Having introduced their Sunday night party to the Sub Club in 1997, the duo developed their anything goes concept into one of the best loved residencies in electronic music – typically mixing up everything from folk, rock, dub and disco, to more experimental sounds and the best in house, techno and electro. The night spawned a record label of the same name and the duo continues to tour the world as arguably one of Scotland’s finest musical exports.

Since the end of Optimo as a regular Sunday club in 2010, Keith McIvor AKA JD Twitch has continued his involvement in numerous projects, including Autonomous Africa, a series of records featuring contributions from the likes of Auntie Flo and Midland, appearing alongside tracks from McIvor himself. Far from just a run of great releases though, the proceeds from the records go to supporting a number of African charities and the project aims to spread awareness of some of the profound problems facing people in that continent.

Over the past year, Keith has become a passionate supporter of Scottish independence and recently made his views on the topic clear in a post for the National Collective website [which you can find here]. Knowing he has records for every occasion, and with the referendum looming large on the horizon, we couldn’t resist asking for his take on the topic via the medium of the mix. The resulting effort is typically eclectic, characteristically challenging at times and fully absorbing throughout. Mostly avoiding synchronised beats in favour of simple transitioning, save for the glorious emergence of Adonis halfway through, McIvor’s approach is to sculpt a journey determined by evocative track names and thematic links. Yet somehow everything comes together sonically too, confirming Twitch’s status as one of the best selectors around. He certainly gets our vote.    

We caught up with Keith over a coffee to discuss the mix and his views on Scotland's biggest political decider of the 21st century thus far...    

"Music sweeps aside differences. It's a universal language" – JD Twitch

When we approached you for the mix, we weren’t sure if you would opt for music made by independent Scottish artists over the years, or for something more directly related to the referendum in terms of topics and content. One glance at the tracklist clearly shows you’ve opted for the latter. How did you approach your selections?

It was a manic thing – trying to find relevant music. I was thinking, ‘how am I going to actually get this to fit together as something to listen to?’ I did think of [using home-grown acts] and the reason I didn’t do it is because I recently did a few other things were I was asked to do something that was all Scottish music. So I thought I would try and wrestle with my imagination and it was actually a lot more fun.

I just started thinking of music that I had, and thinking of titles that were in some way relevant. I came up with this really long list and some of them were totally ridiculous. Then there were one or two I struggled with. I was thinking ‘what can I have for oil?’ Then I started thinking about the film There Will Be Blood – a film about oil which I had the soundtrack for. Sure enough, one of the songs Jonny Greenwood done for it was specifically called ‘Oil’. It’s just an instrumental though and doesn’t really reference oil in any way [laughs].

You have your ‘Yes’ badge on today. We weren’t sure if you would adopt a neutral approach for the purposes of the mix or go more down the route of advocacy for independence. 

I wondered whether it should be unbiased or should reflect both viewpoints. So my original list had the Dawn Penn song No No No and that kind of thing, reflecting both sides. Then I thought, well, I’ve come from being a ‘No’ to being a ‘Yes’ so it was important for me to do something that reflected what I also thought.

I did also have a lot of Scottish artists at first. Then a lot of tracks that I didn’t particularly like but thought they fitted. Then I thought 'no, this has to be all music that I actually appreciate rather than just being a random selection of music that might be in some way relevant to the theme.'

Early on in the mix, you have the bagpipes, which obviously bring to mind a kind of stirring notion of Scottish identity for some people. Talk us through that selection.

I chose that particular track because I think it’s really beautiful. I think a lot of people who live in Scotland are quite prejudiced against bagpipes – that’s totally understandable – because you just tend to hear the same tunes being played. But really it can be an incredibly beautiful instrument.

I suppose for some people there’s a kind of overly twee connotation too...

Absolutely, but I thought this was someone who used the bagpipes in a more innovative and interesting way.

The specificity in some of the track titles is impressive – the likes of Devil’s Trident and Renewable Energy are particularly pertinent for our referendum obviously. Are these all tracks you’ve had in your collection for some time or are there new discoveries in there too?

Renewable Energy is one I’ve always had. I mean, I absolutely believe in renewable energy, but that’s not why I bought the track. But I remembered I had it when this came up. Devil’s Trident is a bit of a tenuous one [laughs]. Obviously the song is not about Trident nuclear weapons but it just seemed an apt title and, again, I happened to have that piece of music.

Some of your other choices are a little less overt at first glance, like Heartland by The The. But on closer inspection that song clearly reflects some of your views on the prospect of independence.

That was one of very first tracks I thought of, purely because of the lyrical content. That song was written in 1986 but I think the lyrics are as relevant now. He talks about the dismantling of the welfare state and American influence over Britain’s foreign policy. I’m a great believer that nuclear weapons shouldn’t exist full stop, but definitely that we should have them out of Scotland. One thing that’s going to make this difficult is American pressure; Britain kowtows to what America wants to do and what it says. I’d rather, in an independent Scotland, we weren’t beholden to any other country for our foreign policy, and weren’t getting involved in illegal wars.

Many of the artists featured throughout the mix are from elsewhere in the British Isles. Part of the discussion on independence has centred on the cultural union and whether or not independence will affect that. What’s your take on the shared culture we have in Britain, particularly as it relates to your field in music?

I think we’ll always have a shared culture. For me, this has never been about a separation from England in terms of culture. We have a huge shared history and shared culture that’s never going to go away. As time goes on, an independent Scotland would probably further develop its own culture but we are so entrenched with each other. Music is an international thing; I love music from every single part of the planet. I think music, though it’s a cliché to say, is something that brings people together and it sweeps aside differences. It’s a universal language.

In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, how do you see Scotland developing culturally?

I think in the last 10 or 20 years cultural confidence in Scotland has increased greatly. I think we punch above our weight in all the arts and I think independence will only give us even more self confidence to continue that.

Though you don’t regularly talk music and politics, you have mixed the two spheres before with the Autonomous Africa project. Can you tell us about that?

It’s always a tricky thing. In the past, a lot of musicians, when they have become political, have turned people off. People are thinking, ‘what does this person know?’ Especially in the field I’m in. For a lot of people, clubbing is an escape for them. When they go to a club they want to forget the daily grind or whatever. But at the same time, it’s always something that I’ve felt quite strongly about; why can’t I have this little side project that’s trying to do something positive?

One aspect of the Autonomous Africa project, and something I feel really strongly about, is [highlighting] that a lot of the problems in Africa are a result of western interference, or global interference through big business, or countries moving in there to buy up resources. I think African people should have more control over their own destiny. That’s a kind of woolly idea but I just wanted to put it out there.

To link that back in with the future of things here, do you think there would be scope in an independent Scotland for a meaningful change of attitude in regards to issues of big business influence and so on?

I really think so. I think something in Scotland’s future that’s going to be really interesting is that eventually we’re going to be post-oil. Oil is a finite resource and we are at the dawn of the post-oil age. Scotland has 25% of the possible renewable energy in Europe so I think we can become a global leader in that. As that happens, it’s going to change the whole nature of our economy. Hopefully renewable energy won’t be run by big business – it’s something that anyone can get involved with. It could be something where we invent the way the whole Scottish economy – and the way businesses are involved in the Scottish economy – is run. We won’t be so reliant on financial services. Our whole economy at the moment is based around catering to the financial services in London. I don’t like nationalism, but one of the reasons why independence would be a good thing is the possibility to have more local control over how your economy is run, in a way that best suits the people in this part of the world.

Sticking with the upcoming referendum, how do you feel people have engaged with the debate so far?

I think that it’s been incredible; so vibrant and so amazing. I always knew that it would be something that would capture people’s imagination, but it’s blown me away.

A couple of weeks ago I was in an Indian restaurant around the corner from here that I’ve been going to for years. The guy that owns it is in his mid 70s – he moved from India to Glasgow in 1974. There was a guy from America eating dinner on his own at the table next to us. He was asking the owner, ‘what’s this whole independence thing about?’ The restaurant owner sat down next to him and spent 45 minutes explaining it – going into minute detail about all sorts of issues. He then said he’d never voted the whole time he’d lived here, but this had become something that was so important that he had set out to find out as much information as he could on both sides. He was still weighing it up in his mind.

I think that kind of thing is repeated all across the country. Lots of people that are completely disillusioned with politics – who have never cared about politics – have become really engaged with this. On the fringes, there’s been a lot of bickering and the media has reported all of that. But I think that overall it’s been a campaign full of decorum, full of great debate, full of passion and I think that whatever the result, it has been a fantastic thing for Scotland. Its awakened people in a lot of ways; I don’t think it can ever been the same here, whatever the result. I think people are a lot more aware and even if they vote ‘No’, I think they realise that they still want some kind of change.

Finally, setting aside voting preferences and so on, what do you want people to take from the mix?

I mean it’s meant to all be a little tongue-in-cheek. I hope maybe it raises a smile with the tracklist. Or maybe someone will see it and say, ‘renewable energy? Oh, I hadn’t really thought about that.’ Maybe they’ll look into that or something. At the end of the day, it’s just a little bit of fun, I guess!


Benjamin Zephaniah – Independence
Test Dept. – Cha Till Sinn Tuille (We Shall Return No More)
Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding
Jonny Greenwood – Oil
Peter Westheimer – Renewable Energy
Oliver Wallace – Pound
Swarms – Sterling
Telepathe – Devil's Trident
Woody Guthrie – This Land Is Your Land
Slim Lightfoot – Welfare State Blues
Roy Harper – Referendum
The The – Heartland
Adonis – No Way Back
Yello – You Gotta Say Yes
Comrade Oleau – Tiny Revolutions
The Residents – You YesYesYes
Devo – Watch Us Work it
The Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Dub Syndicate – No Alternative
Donna Summer – State Of Independence
String Driven Thing – Heartfeeder