The Jellies - "Jive Baby on a Saturday Night" (Mmm, Betty!)
A major advantage to being armed with a large record collection is that it allows you to delve into undiscovered territory to find secret gems amongst what was once considered sonic detritus. For over 10 years, lucky patrons of Glasgow’s Sub Club have been able to hear a wide array of left-field music spun by club founder JD Twitch and JG Wilkes during their weekly Optimo residency. Tracks played may range from straight up disco to proto-industrial, Tropicalia, or even punk rock begetting the duo’s unabashed love of tracks that blend definitions (as evidenced by their adoption of the name Optimo, which stems from a song by the band Liquid Liquid). And while others have successfully mined compilations in this territory (Disco Not Disco, No New York, Morgan Geists’s unclassics), JD and Optimo excel at catering their mixes to DJ’s and have managed to bring otherwise unavailable music to a newly appreciative audience, giving obscure songs a brand new life and versatility.
Under the guise of his alter ego, Betty Botox, JD recently produced a series of three, limited edition 12” re-edit albums, which cover Nu-disco to Kraut/industrial/electronic to soothing dub. Many of the tracks presented are hard-to-find “classics” that have shown up in tastemaker sets by James Murphy and Carl Craig. For those not quick enough or inclined to grab the UK import-only vinyl versions, the tracks have all been mercifully compiled on a CD entitled Mmm, Betty!
Folks who downloaded Optimo’s “BBC Essential Mix” back in 2006 may recognize Mmm, Betty!’s leadoff track by the Jellies, “Jive Baby on a Saturday Night,” which features a watery bassline atop disco handclaps and swirling mellotrons. It’s a perfectly bubbly and off kilter way to start a mix, and probably the only way a mere mortal will ever own what is an impossibly rare 7”. Following hot on the heels of The Jellies is James Murphy fave “Beginning of the Heartbreak” by the Love of Life Orchestra. Building from an undercurrent of pulsating drums, it crescendos into a melodic guitar line punctuated by processed saxophones, straight out of a Neu! record.
Rather than pick tracks from an entirely obscure cadre of bands, JD throws in a few tracks by well knowns like the Residents, Severed Heads and Hawkwind. On “Diskomo,” JD takes the Residents’ damaged children’s song from 1980 and turns it into a hard hitting disco dance number with the band’s signature flare for the ridiculous still intact, pairing helium-tinged vocals atop simplistic Asian-twang keyboards. (Prophetic if facetious, original copies of the Residents’ Diskomo featured stickers proclaiming “Disco Will Never Die.”)
The most surprising track on the album is Hawkwind’s “Valium Ten,” which JD mutates into a swirling psychedelic space-jam, complete with exceptionally crunchy guitar and bubbly synth work. The track is a left-field DJ’s dream come true, fitting into both off-kilter dance or trashy punk rock sets.
The latter part of the disc (the tracks that compose the vinyl Vol. 3) delve into atmospheric dub tracks with lots of spaced-out headphone electronics. With a bit of help from Naum Gabo (a.k.a. Jonnie “JG” Wilkes of Optimo), JD edits “Fremen” by the group Zed into an evil nu-disco chase. Think Logan’s Run for the dance floor.
JD is no slouch when it comes to track selections and Mmm, Betty! is a most adventurous endeavor. For those not able to trek it out to Scotland, it’s lucky that these mixes exist, as it may be the only way you’ll get to hear these songs short of rummaging through Optimo’s crates yourself. In an age where most club DJs are recycling the same tracks, it’s refreshing to know that there are still vinyl archaeologists out there sifting through stacks of wax to bring new cult classics to light.