In Conversation: JD Twitch & Isa Gordon talk spheres of influence
Dissecting the narrative behind two upcoming releases.
Sometimes an influence can be hard to qualify or quantify. It’s often subtle and not necessarily forthright in the sense that we consciously select or choose to draw upon it. Sometimes it’s only after the fact that we realise quite how important a particular sound, painting, picture, moment, place or anything really is in our own creative process and the resulting end product.
JD Twitch and Isa Gordon are both releasing records this summer – one is a compilation of eclectic Japanese music which JD Twitch has fallen in love with whilst Isa’s is a self produced album drawing upon the roots of club nights and the backstreets of Glasgow.
The pair share a lot in common through similar experiences in the city, music and beyond. Isa’s album will be released on Optimo Music, no small feat considering the careful curation and process which JD Twitch has built upon over the years in establishing the label. JD Twitch’s compilation is titled “Polyphonic Innovations” and will be released on Cease & Desist.
Together this interview offered them the chance to reflect upon what connects them to not only each other but the two respective projects as they dissect the beginnings of their interest in sound and space.
JD Twitch asks Isa Gordon…
I am genuinely blown away by your music, madly in love with this album and honoured to be able release it on Optimo Music. Sometimes I can tell if music is from Glasgow but would have no clue where your music came from if I didn’t know. Do you feel living in Glasgow has influenced your music at all, and do you feel part of any particular scene in the city?
That’s really nice to hear and a huge compliment! I’m glad the music has resonated with you. I think the access to great club nights and the inclusive music scene definitely gave me confidence to make and share my music with open minded people who gave me pointers and platforms – this is definitely fostered in Glasgow in quite a profound way.
It seems to me that your music is coming from somewhere very musical, on a deep level. Do you have a long history playing music?
I’ve been playing music in one form or another since I was a wean, tried out playing the pipes but eventually narrowed it down to mainly guitar when I was a young teenager and sang in a lot of choirs and singing groups at school. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties when I was studying that I started making beats and when I got the hang of working on the DAW I got a bit obsessed with it and have been making music that way ever since, integrating increasingly more live instruments and singing along the way.
Your use of technology and your programming is completely next level to my ears yet somehow you make it sound effortless rather than laboured. Did this side of things come quite easily to you?
It did come quite naturally, I was studying engineering at the time I started making beats – some of it involving acoustics. It definitely helped and something clicked when I started producing electronic music.
Your music also feels very unique to me. It is hard to put into an easy genre which is one of the things that I am always attracted to in music. Are there any artists who have been a particularly big influence?
There’s lots of music that inspires me, and again hard to pin that on a particular genre. In terms of electronic artists I love Hudson Mohawke, Sam Gendel, Beatrice Dillon, Mica Levi… and so on. My Dad has shown me lots of great music over the years CAN, John Cale, Scott Walker. I also love pop music; Dirty Projectors, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Beatles. In my younger years I listened to a lot of rock, punk and hardcore music. And I must say I’ve found so much music from listening to your mixes and sets over the years too 🙂
The front cover of the album is very, very striking. Can you tell us a bit more about it and about its creator?
It’s made by my pal Andy King, a ridiculously talented media artist based in Berlin. She sent me a load of ideas for the album cover and I thought this one suited it best. She then developed the concept and worked on the graphic design. I’m really happy with how it turned out.
In her words:
“This face was generated (she doesn’t exist), modified and distorted. AI faces are always created to look more beautiful than is possible in reality. I wanted to subvert this by creating deformed faces containing obvious mistakes while still remaining eerie & fascinating to look at.”
You are playing your live debut at our next Optimo party in Glasgow, and again later in the summer at our Watching Trees festival How are you feeling about those?
I’m really excited to play them. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, I have always had a bit of stage fright – that said over the past wee while I’ve been working with my band and doing some singing gigs, and it’s definitely helped being in a group to conquer some of the jitters. It’s been really fun to work out how to interpret these tunes for a live show, being as they are quite production and computer heavy. I’ve been enjoying going back over the tracks, remixing and reinterpreting them for a live club set, it’s been over a year since I made them and having that distance always helps to see them in a fresh light.
You were previously half of the duo Resili which also came out on Optimo Music. Will you ever revisit that project?
Hopefully! The timing of our Resili EP was quite unfortunate, February 2020… So Frazer and I were unable to meet up pretty soon after its release and never had the chance to play it live. But, in recent months we’ve been seeing each other and cooking up some plans to revisit our collaboration, we’ve both been working quite a lot on other projects so I’m excited to see what we produce after so long and after following different threads for two years. We’re thinking we’ll approach it as a live thing this time round.
You have yet another musical project too. Can you tell us some more about it?
Aye, I’ve been working on some band music – lots of writing and live instruments. Last year during the summer lock down I moved to the Tipperary countryside for 6 months with some pals, 2 of which are my bandmates – we started singing all the time, writing, making beats. We’ve since turned it into an album which we hope to self release later in the summer. It was a totally different experience to making music on my own, trying to get 3 people to agree on the best way to express an idea was a challenge but we had so much fun and I’m excited to play some more gigs with them and keep on song writing, it was a necessary salve for the summer lockdown. We’re called Fantasy Land… “Soundtracking your chores, commutes, dinner parties, afters, scags and funerals. You’ll never have to listen to another band again.”
Isa Gordon asks JD Twitch…
Firstly, thanks for letting me hear the compilation, I’m a big fan of Japanese music from that era so it was a real pleasure to hear a selection complied by yourself. There’s some really incredible tracks on there! How did this project come about and what was the process for deciding on the track list?
You are very welcome and I am happy to hear you were already a big fan of Japanese music from that era. I first had the idea to do this compilation about ten years ago, as on my trips to Japan I had discovered all this incredible music and I wanted other people to hear how great it was. This was a little before there was an explosion in interest in Japanese music. I started actively trying to put it together in 2014 but it ended up being an extremely difficult project. Even though I had a friend in Japan who was very experienced with licensing helping me to negotiate, dealing with Japanese major labels was complex and slow. There were a few times when I thought the compilation was dead in the water and I had more or less given up completing it, but I had invested so much time and money in it that I was determined to see it out. It’s kind of crazy but it can’t possibly break even so is in effect the definition of a labour of love. When I started work on it almost everything on the compilation was fairly unknown in the West but time has caught up with it a bit and a few tracks on it are more easily available now. However, I think it is still a great introduction to Japanese music from this era.
Can you remember the first artist (or artists) that drew you to Japanese music?
Yes, it was without a doubt Yellow Magic Orchestra. Their “Computer Game” single was a hit single here when I was about 12 and I’d hear it on the radio lots. I didn’t buy any of their records until many years later and then became a YMO / Sakamoto fan. Those records were fairly easy to find. But, until I went to Japan I didn’t know very much Japanese music at all. There are a couple of things on the compilation I already had but the rest was all music I found on my visits there. Record shopping there is incredible and such a joy.
Am I right in thinking that you’ve played in Japan? How was that experience and what differences did you notice in the clubbing scene?
Yes, I have been very blessed to go there a lot, maybe around 15 times since I first visited in the early 2000s. I am definitely a Japanophile. I love it there so much and am still only scratching the surface of what Japanese culture has to offer. It is hard to express how different the clubbing scene is there. People dance and have a great time but it feels very different to what we are used to. People are much more respectful of other people’s space and often dance in line with each other which takes a bit of getting used to. In Tokyo, crowds are perhaps a bit more reserved but can get much wilder in other cities. I’d say that the hedonism is generally a notch or three lower than here, but Japanese crowds are very, very appreciative.
Japanese music maintains an instantly recognisable quality while being really referential to outside, global styles (i.e surfer rock, jazz, electronica, western classical), can you tell us more about what styles and genres you are representing in this compilation?
It covers a wide range of sounds. Perhaps it could be argued too wide but I just don’t think I am able to do anything music related that is not a bit all over the place. There is weirdo louche Jazz (Yasuaki Shimizu’s “Crow’) that pre-empts what Lynch and Badalamenti did musically in Twin Peak’s famous “Pink Room” scene by over a decade. There are some Techno-Pop gems, a Minimal Synth track, some Post-Punk diamonds, subliminal percussive Pop that could have come out on ZTT, a next level Fairlight sampler workout from Sakamoto, that while 35 years old sounds like it is from the future. There is ritual, hypno music, psychedelic Shoegaze with an early 4AD undertone….and a couple of tracks I just wouldn’t know what genre they might even be close to.
Do you have any thoughts on what qualities are present in this music (which is so obviously referential), that makes them sound still so uniquely Japanese?
I am not a musician so could be wrong but I think often non Western scales are used. A lot of it is also a chicken and egg scenario. It may sound familiar as the technology used became ubiquitous worldwide, but several tracks here were probably the first to use some of the then cutting edge technology. Often Japanese artists had access to new equipment from Japanese companies a significant amount of time before the technology reached the West. As an aside, I sometimes wonder what modern music would be like if the Roland Corporation had never existed? What would Techno have been like if there was no 909, 808, 303, 101 etc. Of course it would have still been born but the sound palette would have been very different. I think another quality present here is high production values. There are a couple of lo-fi DIY tracks but most of this is incredibly well produced. The records they are from are supremely well packaged and the design is always exquisite. It is a generalisation but in my experience also a truism that the Japanese just don’t do things that are not of very high quality. That is across the board. Excellence is the norm.
How does this selection succeed Japanese music from the first half of the 20th century? Perhaps pre-globalisation? Are there any element of older Japanese folk and classical music you enjoy / can recommend?
That is a very good question to which I do not have an answer! I have barely investigated Japanese music from the first half of the 20th Century. An ex of mine liked a lot of Japanese folk but the most I have heard it is in a bar in Tokyo’s notorious Golden Gai quarter in Shinjuku. They go deep there and I like what I have heard but that is as far as it has got. The other place I have heard it a lot is in Japanese book shops and stationery shops. Some of those shops in Japan are as close as humans have got to creating a perfect place! They are are a joy to spend time in and the soundtrack is often Folk and Classical. Geinoh Yamashirogumi who appear on the compilation and are one of my favourite things in the world are a good example of a later 20th Century act absorbing Japanese Folk forms from the first half, especially on their earlier albums. See also early albums from Osamu Kitajima where he absorbs folk into his immensely psychedelic sound world.
When I first contacted you with my music I was struck by your open-mindedness in hearing new music and dedicating your time to exploring unheard, unknown music (and giving it a platform) – I am curious about your listening practice, how you discover new music, how much time do you dedicate to discovering and how and where you listen to it?
Oh! That is lovely to hear. I dedicate a lot of time to it. It varies wildly and I’ll have periods where I do it less and periods where it is all consuming. I used to worry that my passion for hearing new music might diminish with age but that happily hasn’t happened.
I get sent vast amounts of music. Insane amounts; more than there are hours in the week. Promos account for most of this and demos a fair bit. I used to try to listen to every demo but it became impossible and it is very rare I will release anything from an unsolicited demo. Only a very few promos make it into my DJ sets and even fewer into what I choose to listen to at home, but some do for sure. I listen to music at home a lot, and while walking. I speed walk for 2 hours pretty much every day and listen to a lot of music while doing that, both new and old. I travel a lot but very rarely listen to music while on the road as i like to give my ears a rest if I am gigging.
The vast majority of music I discover is via record shopping; both online and in person. I used to read voraciously about new music but now there are only a couple of music publications / websites I still read regularly. There is an online music forum I post in from time to time that I have been posting to forever. Finding music now is way easier than it used to be but it can be an issue that it is too accessible in that it is easy to hear almost everything now but spending the time really getting to know it is harder. Time is the precious commodity now.
Catch both JD witch and Isa Gordon at Watching Trees.
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