Justin Robertson Interviews Optimo’s Jg Wilkes


I caught up with the excellent Jonnie Wilkes and had a chat about art, age and his new solo project. As a thoughtful exponent of challenging, fascinating music, Jonnie is honest and refreshingly candid, we dig him and his works heavily.

The new record is a brilliant distillation of the essence of raw electronic music, it has elements of familiarity but is still quite alien and new. Do you feel that your years as an avid collector and player of esoteric sounds have contributed to this release? 

Well, I certainly admire producers you know who have a sound and you can instantly recognise their work and I think it is true to say that I am envious to a degree of producers who have a characteristic sound and are able to develop this slowly and confidently over an entire career. But the truth is I have so many strong feelings and I don’t think about music when I’m making it. I have synthesisers, drum machines, effects, my voice and use different rooms to work in, and I suppose because I’ve been immersed in ‘the electronic scene’ for so long that I feel a need to contribute and be part of that community, I want to put something there, so to my shame perhaps, I very often work within these structures. However the sounds I want to make, and it’s only the sound and how it makes me feel which really interests me are not shaped by these familiar things.

Does experience count in the production of electronic music in a way it perhaps doesn’t in rock and roll?

I think experience can make it good but in a lot of cases make it bad, I think it’s true for any music. Personally I wish I knew nothing and then my music would be better.

And from that what are the touchstones and influences that inspired you ?

A lot of it is biographical, life experience I suppose. I accepted melancholy at quite an early age I would say listening to music during my informative years was how I realised people everywhere think and feel deep things. That’s maybe why a lot of my music sounds like a bummer.

You are a man with an impressive fine art background, and reference the Russian constructivists with Naum Gabo, does that background have any bearing on how you approach making music?

I’d like to say none whatsoever but maybe the idea of taking two things which shouldn’t sit comfortably together and forcing them to sit alongside one another in order to say something is a technique I have borrowed from art processes.  When I gave up art in the mid nineties, my sister sent me a postcard with a picture of Naum Gabo in his studio as a very old man and I took comfort in the idea that one can keep on producing, be fulfilled and contribute throughout one’s whole life. We took his name for Naum Gabo, my partnership with James Savage, for this reason rather than any great interest in his work. 

Your Dj sets and the whole Optimo ethos seems to be a celebration of variety and quality whatever its source , is that idea of surprise and variety important to you?

Apart from the boredom threshold, I only want to dj if I can affect people and I suppose it’s easier to do that if you play it less cool. The last thing I want to do is accept the status quo, I’m not trying to politicise it here but I think if I don’t make changes along the way, I might as well just be an entertainer.

And would you say that variety is apparent in your productions?

I’m not trying to be difficult but I am honest and I don’t care if I missed a way of making it sound cooler or more popular. 

Are you trying to do something different with your solo productions than say with your Naum Gabo material?

Naum Gabo is a collaboration and a collaboration is always going to produce something different from work someone makes alone.

How important is Glasgow to you in terms of what you are doing in music? It seems like a very nurturing and exciting place , with a rich history, is that your experience?

We’re fucked, you have all the money down there, just putting that out there Justin. Yes I’ve lived here for 28 years and we have a Waitrose now quite near my house.

It seems that we are in a purple patch creatively just now, so much great music is being made and unearthed, and it seems that a new generation is keeping the flame alive, whilst us old folk can still make a vital contribution, how do you see the  next few years ?

I’m getting out, haha. And if you have any sense you’ll do the same. I know kids with nothing but fruity loops and a crap PC who make way better stuff than these boring old farts, me included, who collect analogue synths and copy Detroit records. 

What motivates you and keeps you enthused?

I am very much unfulfilled creatively and without sounding like a self absorbed twat I just want to keep going until I am fulfilled. I love life and I get excited about music. 

The new JG Wilkes record is available at Phonica HERE. Jonnie will join Twitch, Harri & Domenic on Boxing day at Sub Club: Details HERE