Over the last decade, there have been numerous attempts to illuminate the murky recesses of post-punk, often from leading figures in electronic music (DJ Hell's New Deutsch, the Soul Jazz New York Noise series, Trevor Jackson's Metal Dancecompilations). That could have something to do with why this sound has remained so influential. DIY! is Optimo's UK-focused contribution to the archive. "I've always loved music that is anti-canonical, that takes risks and is full of imagination," wrote JD Twitch in the press release, and these 16 tracks—brittle, explosive, wilfully out-there—are certainly that.
Perhaps the most striking thing about DIY! isn't the amateurish, corroded sound quality, which is now commonplace in electronic music, but how prescient it is lyrically. These tracks are 30 years old, but their concerns—street violence, society's atomisation, the baleful influence of technology and the media, global conflict—are always with us. That said, Sara Goes Pop's supremely silly "Sexy Terrorist" makes you wonder what controversy a track like that might engender today.
The music is obviously dated, but there's something enduringly loveable about the daft, snotty three-chord punk of The Prats' "Disco Pope" or The Fakes' adrenalin-soaked "Look Out." "Fed Up Skank" is, even at this distance, both ridiculous and thrilling, as The Murphy Federation co-opt dub reggae to convey their very white, British (as the lyrics have it) "self-pity." These were quick, cheap, off-the-cuff statements, and that unmediated honesty is a big part of their charm. But it does mean that the quality of these youthful follies can dip alarmingly. The mannered vocal and didactic tone of Fatal Microbes' "Violence Grows," or the excruciating teenage lyrics of The Spunky Onions' "How I Lost My Virginity," might have been better left to obscurity.
At its best, DIY! displays a still-potent mix of energy, attitude and daring eclecticism. Tesco Bomber's "Break The Ice At Parties" is a brilliantly strange mix of hip-swinging, finger-snapping funk, squawking sax and acute social dysfunction. In an era when I've heard Joy O drop Crash Course In Science's "Jump Over Barrels" at a sun-soaked festival, it's not difficult to imagine braver DJs deploying Dorothy's "Softness" (a scrappy stab at sophisticated Manhattan disco) or Thomas Leer's "Private Plane" (pulsing synth-pop that's all frayed wires) in a club set. After all, such tracks are in many ways a precursor to some of the best new electronic music.
Tracklist01. Tesco Bombers - Break The Ice At Parties
02. Sara Goes Pop - Sexy Terrorist
03. People In Control - When It's War
04. Nancy Sesay & The Melodaires - C'est Fab
05. The Distributors - TV Me
06. Dorothy - Softness
07. Thomas Leer - Private Plane
08. Visitors - Electric Heat
09. The Murphy Federation - Fed Up Skank
10. The Distributors - Never Never
11. The Cro-tones - Tea Machine Dub
12. Fatal Microbes - Violence Grows
13. The Spunky Onions - How I Lost My Virginity
14. The Fakes - Look Out
15. The 012 - Meltdown Situation
16. The Prats - Disco Pope