Optimover: The end of Optimo - A legendary club night
Somehow, phrases like ‘the end of an era’ seem too melodramatic for Optimo (Espacio), a club which just cut the crap and got on with defining Glasgow’s Sunday night. For the past thirteen years, its residents JD Twitch and JG Wilkes (aka Keith McIvor and Jonnie Wilkes) have set benchmarks in dance music, both locally and internationally, through their Sub Club residency. Optimo is, make no mistake, one of the most important musical contributions Scotland has made to this century.
And very soon it’ll all be over as the pair are giving up their weekly night to pursue other personal and Optimo projects. Twitch kindly gives up two hours of a coffee-soaked afternoon in Charing Cross’ Black Sparrow to talk us through ten seminal nights which made Optimo and explain to us why the night is finishing (although the DJ brand and label will continue, with the pair unleashing prestigious mix compilation Fabric 52 next month). ‘It still blows my mind that Optimo became so popular,’ he says. ‘We definitely, never for a minute, would have expected it to last almost thirteen years, but it’s always drawn the kind of people who are just looking for a little bit more, and that’s what made it. Whatever Jonnie and I did, it’s the people who came that made Optimo so great.’
The first Optimo
Sun 30 Nov 1997
I’d been running Pure [seminal Edinburgh techno club housed at The Venue] for seven years, and I was getting bored. At that point house, techno, or whatever, had become very masculine, so when I was offered Sundays at the Sub Club I decided to start my perfect night, where I had complete musical freedom. I asked Jonnie to get involved because I knew we had similar interests outside of clubs.
The first night had maybe seventy people in, but when the club’s owner Mike Grieve got on the mic at the end, he was telling everyone ‘this is going to be a revolution.’ We just laughed. The Sub Club always had more faith in Optimo than we did.
The first bands
Dec 1997/Jan 1998
My friend Natasha [Noramly, also of Ganger and Fuck-Off Machete] had a band called Fukyama with my then-flatmate Craig B [of Aereogramme and The Unwinding Hours], and they played this chaotic, haphazard set in the DJ booth. After that we realised this club should be about live music. We weren’t excited by what was happening in DJ culture at the time – the disgusting ‘superstar DJ’ thing. Shortly after that we had Op:l Bastards from Finland play live, and there’s a nice symmetry that they’ll also be our last guests, under the name KXP [on Sun 18 Apr].
The night the lightbulb went on
For a year and a half we had no more than a hundred people in. Then one week there were about four hundred people. Then the next week it was the same, and the next. It was like a lightbulb had switched on in people’s heads – suddenly they got it. It might have been something to do with our advertising. We put up all these photocopied posters around the city which started with the slogan ‘Optimo says’, kind of like ‘Frankie says’. That helped. That captured people’s imagination. Jonnie has designed all our posters and flyers ever since.
The Sub Club burns down
We got there on Sunday to set up, and there were fire engines all over the place. The head fire guy said there was a minor fire in the block next door, but ‘not to worry, you’ll be in by midnight.’ So we went for a drink, came back, and the whole building had gone up. For the next three years we used Planet Peach at the bottom of Queen Street and then Mas on Royal Exchange Square.
The first Optimo Hogmanay Party
Fri 31 Dec 1999
It was our friend Paul Fagan, who founded the Triptych festival, that suggested it. He thought the word ‘millennium’ sounded like ‘linoleum’, so he had this bizarre idea to have a Happy New Linoleum party at the Art School. Why not, we thought? It moved to the Old Fruitmarket in 2007 and it’s something we want to continue.
Sun 24 Nov 2002/Sun 20 Apr 2004
One of my favourite bands to have played. I was expecting loads of abuse afterwards, but people were coming up to me to say it was amazing. It’s nice to rub people up the wrong way, but not to the point where you’re just being self-indulgent.
I think our biggest achievement has been opening people’s minds to things they wouldn’t have listened to otherwise, and by putting on bands like The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, Liquid Liquid, whose song we named the club after, Sons & Daughters and Gareth Sager from The Pop Group.
Back at the Subbie
Sun 1 Dec 2002
It felt good to go back to a purpose-built club – the old Sub Club was very gaudy, and it had the same carpet for about twenty-five years. It opened in the late 60s as a jazz dance club and it still had that ad hoc feeling, but now it was very stripped-back and minimally designed. We weren’t sure about it at first, but then we heard the sound system and we knew it was the place.
Every Hallowe’en since 2003
I think the first one might have been the year after we went back to the Sub Club. It wasn’t official, it’s just that about two thirds of the crowd were dressed up. A few days later someone on our message board coined the term ‘Optimo (Espookio)’ and the tradition’s stuck ever since. People go to so much effort – this year one of our regulars and her boyfriend came as John and Yoko, carrying a double bed about on their backs.
Sun 7 Oct 2007
We have a very talented friend who does production design, so we let him do what he wanted, and he turned the club into Apocalypse Now! There was smoke billowing out the door, a GI slumped at the bar, live actors covered in camouflage paint in cages. He’d gone to the parks department for all this chopped-down vegetation and we’d stop the music for pyrotechnic effects every so often. People said, ‘but why are you doing this?’ Because it’s fun!
Optimogeddon: The End of Optimo
Sun 25 Apr 2010
It’s a huge amount of work to run the club weekly, and there are other things we want to do: production for ourselves and other artists, DJ gigs around the world, be with our family in Jonnie’s case. So we decided it was time to end Optimo before it felt like we were just going through the motions. In its place will be a night so new it doesn’t even have a name yet. We’ll still be involved, there will still be a live element, and we might even play there every so often, but it will mainly be for the amazing new DJs of Glasgow to make their own.
Weekly Sundays at the Sub Club, Glasgow, until Sun 25 Apr. www.optimo.co.uk