The beat continues for Optimo

What JD Twitch and JG Wilkes started in a basement club in Glasgow has continued for 25 years, creating a musical mythology that has descended on dancefloors in Lithuania, Brazil, Japan, Germany and everywhere else. The DJ partnership began as Optimo in Sub Club, bringing creative energy that defined a scene.

Born in Belfast, Jonnie Wilkes had just graduated from the Glasgow School of Art when it all started. “There was no game plan,” he says. Keith McIvor was DJing on a more techno night as JD Twitch when a roster change presented the possibility of taking over on Sunday nights at a time when the Sub Club was providing a platform for electronic music from Glasgow to establish its references.
“We had a shared belief that dance music didn’t have to be strictly 4/4 and that house and techno rolled around a corner. The crowd was getting a little toxic, it wasn’t really fun being in a club. We wanted to open it right away, play different parts of our record collections and focus on the dancefloor. We wanted to see what happened when we introduced other modes of performance into the club,” he says.

Jonnie highlights how emotionally invested the pair were in making the Optimo Espacio club night work, and the fact that it was by no means an instant success. “We put energy into it, we really believed in it. Although we didn’t have much ambition for it to become anything more than a fun gathering on a Sunday night. It was a real hodgepodge of people from the art world and the live music scene in a room with people who were pretty puristic about their electronic music.
Sub Club owner Mike Grieve decided to stick with it and grow it. “I don’t know what happened, but after about a year and a half things just took off,” says Jonnie. “We did every aspect of it, making the nights weird and exciting, and then suddenly the club was full for the next 12 years.”

This late 90s club scene in Glasgow spawned a wave of bands and artists, many of whom bonded around the dance floor. Looking back, Jonnie says, “It was definitely a place where different bands and scenes were together. People who played in guitar bands met people who could program drum machines or work on effects. There was a move in that direction with the music at the time and we could see it happening before our very eyes at the club.
“We were hosting groups and things grew out of that. People felt very comfortable and without intimidation, they dressed in a really interesting way. We all met at the club, but it was also about what happened later and how we all grew as one big community in Glasgow.

The collaboration survived its Sunday home to continue as a team of DJs, producers and record label owners. The spirit of this formative era will be found at Queen’s Park on Saturday 30 April for the Melting Pot x Heverlee festival, marking Optimo’s 25th anniversary and bringing together local talent such as Nightwave, Free Love and Bemz.
Optimo broadcasts for Movement Radio in Athens and continues its social activism, raising funds for local food banks and anti-racist organizations. Their music is finding a new generation and Jonnie thinks we are seeing a resurgence in nightlife across Scotland.

They resumed their touring schedule, built around the shortcomings of a fortnightly residency at Berkeley Suite in Glasgow. There is also a new Optimo 25 mix compilation version.
“The resident DJ is an endangered breed, so it’s important for us to get to know a space well and have a crowd that trusts you,” he says. “Then you can open a few doors for music. The last few times my nephew is there with his buddies and he’s 18, and then there’s a few people there who were 70. This is a feeling in the room where none of it matters. That’s nice to look at.

About John Villalpando

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