Glasgow club legend Keith McIvor talks about supervising the music for Beats and why he's taking a stand against the far right with his new recording venture
'I do believe music can change things, or at the very least inspire,' says Keith McIvor, aka JD Twitch, of Glasgow's defining club night, DJ duo, alternative electronic label and underground way of life of the last 20 years, Optimo. 'Music is a powerful force in the world, one that transcends language and comes from a place in the soul.' He explains this in the context of his new Optimo Music sublabel AF Trax (the 'AF' stands for 'Against Fascism'), but it applies also to the story behind the new film Beats, which he selected the music for.
'[Beats director] Brian Welsh came to see me play about a year and a half prior to work on the film commencing and we had a brief conversation. I think he had decided there and then that we would work together.' Welsh's film – an adaptation of Kieran Hurley's outstanding stage play – looks at the early 90s' illegal rave scene in Scotland. Twitch is music supervisor and was the DJ at the rave scene in the film, mixing up classics of the era like Human Resource, Inner City, Model 500 and Ultra-Sonic with Optimo favourites including Liquid Liquid, the Joubert Singers and Vapourspace.
'Initially I made several mixes and, from those, certain tracks stuck in Brian's mind,' he explains when asked about the soundtrack. 'One whole section of one of those mixes appears in the film almost as I jammed it. But overall, over the course of the production, I must have sent almost one thousand different pieces of music to Brian. So some of it was instinct but a lot of it was lateral thinking and rummaging.'
Despite being given free rein by Welsh to consider different styles for the soundtrack, there was a decision made early on that the mood was more important than historical accuracy with regard to the music, though the majority of music used is of the era. Beats is a story of rebellion and protest, with the film emphasising the feelings of young people grappling with bigger political questions, which is something Twitch's new label similarly tackles head on.
'Against Fascism Trax is a record label whose aim is to make a musical and cultural protest in opposition to rising far right politics and ideology,' he says, 'and it will also hopefully raise some funds for Hope Not Hate, which campaigns to counter racism and fascism. The moment I realised I wanted to do this was around the time Trump was elected, but it took a lot longer to pull it all together than I had anticipated. I'm fully aware a small record label is going to make little difference, but doing something has to be better than doing nothing. I wasn't prepared to bury my head in the sand and hope this all goes away.'
Three releases are lined up on AF Trax so far, the first from new Glasgow artist Logtoad, aka performance artist, sound designer and DJ Guy Veale. Veale used to play pre-Optimo sessions at McSorley's bar by the Sub Club, has DJed the club as Guy De Bored, and formerly played bass with Optimo favourites Big Ned as Eggo 'Bob' Fludd. His record – which takes in breaks, acid and inventively eclectic techno in the vein of early Aphex Twin – is called 'Rat Full of Coins Vol.1', a slogan which may be familiar to Optimo-goers.
It's a long story involving standing on someone's handbag at the club and imagining he had trampled on a 'rat full of coins', a weird sensation which he related to Twitch's DJ partner Jonnie Wilkes. 'Jonnie asked me if he could use the expression for one of his infamous slogan posters at the Optimo 20 festival at SWG3,' says Veale. 'Poor Twitch spent much of the festival having to tell confused punters that he had no idea what it meant.'
On being the first artist on a label dedicated to opposing the far right, Veale has a quote from George Orwell which he believes sums up the situation: 'Except for the relatively small number of fascist sympathisers, almost any English person would accept "bully" as a synonym for "fascist". That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.' Veale himself adds: 'The core of the message here is that being "against fascism" goes way beyond standard dichotomies, and ought to unite huge communities of politically diverse individuals and groups. It's easy to become frustrated by debates or arguments on social media between people who have way more in common with one another than they do with fascists.
'There's a lot of blame and recrimination circulating over positions articulated online, with groupthink crystallising around particular issues and people assessed on such black and white terms that they're increasingly less inclined to contribute. In my limited bubble of awareness, it seems quite common for principled, passionate commentators to berate those who don't subscribe to their line of thinking. This tendency won't win over any floating lurkers, and at worst actually fuels the rise of intolerance. Meanwhile, trolls and actual fascists are happy to just bask in the acrimony.' With further AF Trax releases due from Al Jerry and Hot Chip's Joe Goddard, Twitch says that some of the inspiration came from the Rock Against Racism gigs of his youth, and particularly the work of Crass. He points out the full manifesto for the label is printed on each sleeve, and picks this excerpt as summing it up: 'We live in an era where talking is endless, but where actions are harder to find. If AF Trax reaches just one person to make them change their mind over being a supporter of the far right, motivates somebody to work against fascist thinking, informs someone or raises funds – then I will view it as having been a success. Something solid will have been created, we will have done something.'
Beats, meanwhile, enjoys a crossover with the label to the extent that it also explores the intersection between music and politics. 'Even though my (musical) background is very different,' says Twitch, 'the rave scene very much resonated with my experiences in Scotland at the time. I was present when it was filmed, and it felt uncannily like I had been beamed back to the early 1990s. The rave epiphany scene that uses the Vapourspace track is particularly effective, I think it's my favourite moment in the film. It's the closest I've ever seen any film get to truly showing what those moments could be like.'
Beats is the closing gala of Glasgow Film Festival, GFT, Sun 3 Mar.
Cast: Martin Donaghy, Laura Fraser, Rachel Jackson |
UK release: 17 May 2019
Drama about two friends in a small Scottish town during the summer of 1994, who head out to an illegal rave together for one last night out before life takes them in different directions. Based on the play by Kieran Hurley.