Optimo – 'There's always an aesthetic to what we play which is hard to put your finger on'

Why Optimo are legends of the underground

Optimo mainmen Twitch and Wilkes prepare to celebrate two decades of creative collaboration

Even after 20 years, it's hard to define Optimo. In fact, its refusal to fit into a neat pigeon hole is one of its defining features. At its heart are Twitch and Wilkes (aka Keith McIvor and Jonnie Wilkes), resident DJs at legendary Glasgow club night Optimo which ran from 1997 until 2010. Their passion, knowledge and extensive record collection created a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of minds, music and audience.

What started almost by accident, when McIvor recruited Wilkes to help fill an empty slot at the Sub Club after the previous resident moved to Barcelona, became a Scottish clubbing institution. In the early years numbers were low – they were lucky to get 100 people through the door – but there was something that captured the imagination. Twitch and Wilkes were as likely to drop The Stooges as Drexciya, while guests included LCD Soundsystem (James Murphy later stated: 'Optimo's the best club in the world'), Peaches, Grace Jones, TV on the Radio and Throbbing Gristle. Optimo was wild and unpredictable: the antidote to staid genre-specific clubbing. Its reputation grew and grew until it was packed out every Sunday. The weekly nights ceased after 12 and a half heady years, but Twitch and Wilkes now DJ across the world.

To celebrate their 20th anniversary, Optimo are coming back to where it all started in August for a one-day festival in Glasgow featuring Adult, Errorsmith, Happy Meals, Miss Red & The Bug and, of course, a set from Optimo themselves.

How would you define Optimo in 2017?

Twitch: Optimo is Jonnie and myself, we're a touring unit. It's also a record label and in Glasgow we're also events promoters.

Wilkes: It's been my sole passion from the beginning. It's how I approach playing, it's a need that I have to try to work with music and play tracks that maybe, technically, might not be considered for the dancefloor.

And what is your approach to Optimo's music policy?

Twitch: There isn't a music policy, but that implies we'll randomly play anything, which isn't true either. I think whatever we play there is some connection, whether that's a psychedelic track from 1969 or an electronic track from right now. There's always an aesthetic to what we play that is hard to put your finger on.

Do you miss the weekly Sub Club nights?

Wilkes: Maybe more so than Keith. My grieving process for the residency was longer. I found the DIY aspect of that was very important to me, building the party, having this staple every week.

Twitch: I think Jonnie found it a lot harder than I did. It was so amazing and such a great night, but I don't think we could have gone out on more of a high than we did. It just felt like it was the right time. I miss the freedom of knowing a crowd so well you could do anything, but I don't miss being there every single week. It became exhausting.

Wilkes: I couldn't do it again. It was a hell of a lot of work, we did everything ourselves. I remember it very fondly, it changed my life, it made me a better DJ, but it's not coming back.

How are you celebrating the 20th anniversary?

Twitch: We thought long and hard then decided we wanted to do a really big party in Glasgow. People have always found it hard to nail what Optimo is about and we thought we'd get a lineup that showed the many sides of Optimo.

Anyone in particular you are looking forward to on the lineup?

Wilkes: Nurse With Wound. I'm so excited about that, they've been a constant for us, an inspiration. It's just so perfect they are on the lineup. I'm really looking forward to seeing an old friend, K-X-P from Helsinki, who's playing two sets, a drone set and a more beaty set; there's a woman called Aurora Halal who's just awesome; hearing Ben UFO and Black Madonna DJing will be so much fun; Equiknoxx will be mental. Honestly, we didn't book anything we don't like; we just booked acts we love.

Twitch: I have to say Equiknoxx from Jamaica. I saw about 10 minutes of them at a festival in Poland and it was great, but I'm really excited to see their whole set. Another one is Nurse With Wound. Definitely a marginal interest to most people, but a long-time favourite of mine. If you can't be a little bit indulgent on your own lineup, when can you be?

What's next for Optimo?

Twitch: We never really had a plan. We'll continue doing it until we stop loving it. But we're still having such fun. The label will definitely continue, I've got about 24 releases in the pipeline.

Wilkes: Our diaries are busier than ever. We have a couple of Glasgow-orientated projects which I can't reveal at this stage. I'm happier than ever as a DJ, I definitely feel very strongly that neither of us have lost our love for music or playing music. There's plenty of work to be done.

Optimo 20, SWG3, Glasgow, Sun 6 Aug.

Optimo 20

The legendary Glasgow club night celebrates its 20th birthday. To celebrate, JD Twitch and JG Wilkes are putting on a massive all-dayer with a lineup, including, but not limited to, Apeiron Crew, The Black Madonna, Ben UFO, Errorsmith, Happy Meals, King Aysioba, Optimo (Espacio) and Sofay. A portion of the profits are…

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