Clubbing at Optimo

First published in Muzik Magazine. Once again, Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap, I'm really, really sorry...

Bear in mind it’s a Sunday night, a ‘school night’ to all intents and purposes.  A night for polishing shoes, wrapping packed lunches in pieces of cling-film and watching The Muppet Show before bed.

It’s not traditionally a night for standing in a hot room and throwing yourself around to an unholy mix of House, Techno, John Lee Hooker, Negativland, and the ‘Duelling Banjos’ theme from hillbilly stalk ’n’ slash movie Deliverance.  Whoever thought that would work must be some kind of psycho themselves, no?

“Sunday nights in Glasgow used to be a pretty duff night to run an underground music night,” says aforementioned psycho, Jonnie Wilkes, one half of the promoter and DJ team for Optimo (Espacio). “Now we get four or five hundred people every week.”

Jonnie, softly-spoken and Northern Irish, runs Optimo with Keith McIvor, softly-spoken and Scottish.  As Twitch and Wilkes, they’re also its resident DJs.  Together they’ve taken the idea of Sunday clubbing in Scotland by the throat.

“Quite a lot of people have been barred by their bosses at work from coming to Optimo,” says Jonnie, with not a little pride. “You can’t access the website or the chatroom from the University computers anymore, either.”

The same glint appears in Keith’s eye: “A friend of mine works in a restaurant and in the staffroom there’s a sign saying all employees must NOT go to Optimo on a Sunday night. Excellent!”

Optimo (Espacio) isn’t the first club to set it off on a Sunday night.  Indeed, Sunday night clubs are traditionally more Bacchanalian than the rest of the week put together – something about the sheer obtuseness of it.  Nor is Optimo the first club ever to boast a truly diverse musical slate.  However, it could very well be one of the best clubs to combine those two elements.  For anyone with a big record collection, or who pre-dates dance music, or who’s ever had that same “wish there was a club that played MY music” midnight conversation, it’d be near-impossible to walk in and not have a ‘Momma, I’m home’-style epiphany.  Basically, hedonists with record collections love and will love Optimo, that in a nutshell is its charm.

And its reputation is clearly spreading.  The next day, as Muzik is nursing battered synapses and preparing for the journey home, a taxi driver asks us where we’ve been.

“I know it,” he says when we tell him. “I’ve just driven a load of lads to the airport going back to London.  They say they go there all the time…”  See?

For further proof, visit the club’s excellent website at, which provides the foundation for what’s clearly a growing musical community.  Here you’ll get a lesson in why The Slits’ version of Heard It Through The Grapevine knocks Marvin’s into a cocked hat; or get a look-see at the setlists and wonder quite how Twitch managed to mix Joy Division’s Transmission into I Sit On Acid by the Lords Of Acid followed by Nina Simone’s Feeling Good.

What goes on at an Optimo night is this: Jonnie and Keith (as Twitch and Wilkes)  get things going in the main room where they’ll beguile and befuddle for a couple of hours before letting a band have a go.  Tonight’s unusual – there are no bands – but normally you might expect to see, oh, ARE Weapons, Opel Bastards, DMX Krew, Daker & Grimser, Mad Professor, or maybe Peaches: bands of that stripe – which is to say, no stripe at all really.

Meanwhile, there’s a very special guest DJ in the second room, who, tonight, is Elizabeth Esselink from Solex.  The second room is no less eclectic but ever so slightly more laid-back than the main room.  Nevertheless, and despite the Optimo website’s instruction to “kill all DJs”, it has played host to the likes of Marshall Jefferson and Ashley Beedle before now.  And finally, spread around the musical talent are several hundred happy punters, a mixed crowd who all have one thing in common: they’re either not working tomorrow or they don’t give a toss.

Even so, while Optimo may be the Big Rock Candy Mountains of clubbing, where they hung the Turk who invented work, and in the gibbet next to him is the bloke who insisted that music had boundaries, it involves a lot of hard work.  Deceptively so.  At the eye of the storm in the main DJ booth, Twitch and Wilkes pay nearly as much attention to their sampler and iBook as they do to the decks.  If they give the impression of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, well, that’s cool, but in fact they pay mucho attention to the dynamics of each set.

“The first hour we play anything from really sleazy blues to wiggy electro, to Waltz music, to Suicide,” says Jonnie.  “And that’s where the work at Optimo comes in: it’s managing to tie together this really diverse stuff, but make it hang together as a set.  That’s why we use the sampler and laptop so much with our effects so we can string together a night that somehow holds together.”

The fact that it does hold together, and has become the four-year overnight phenomenon it is, clearly bemuses the pair, who began the night when they individually became bored with spinning straight-up Techno.  Keith, who’d previously hosted the legendary Pure nights, asked Jonnie to join him, and, as Twitch and Wilkes, they started Optimo, a Sunday night bash only because there were no other nights in the week available.

“It was all about trying to find new music,” adds Keith “And that’s what Optimo’s all about, even though quite often we’re cutting up the old stuff, we’re making new music out of that.”

There’s now an Optimo label, where they hope to release some of the legendary Optimo bootlegs someday, and this month they’ve enticed ESG, Richie Hawtin, Pole and Matthew Herbert to their part of the Tryptich shindig at the Glasgow Barrowlands.

“There are other Sunday clubs in Glasgow, but this is the only one with a cult following,” says Keith.  “Without being arrogant, there’s no-one down here that does what we do.”

“We’re using it as an avenue for playing whatever we want on a Sunday and it’s become what we think nightclubbing’s about,” adds Jonnie.  “It’s dark and it’s hot and it’s sleazy.”

//BOXHEAD// Just the facts, man

//Standfirst// Bluff your way around Optimo (Espacio)

The Optimo motto is, “We Love Your Ears.”

Optimo (Espacio) has so far had a bohemian-like, transient history, the poor loves. They began at the Sub Club in 1997, but after the Sub Club suffered a fire, so Optimo decamped to the 13th Note.  From there they went to Planet Peach and then to current home, Mas, although a return to the newly revamped Sub Club is on the cards.

Optimo is named after a seminal track by seminal electro pioneers Liquid Liquid, a band largely credited with providing the template for almost every electronic-based style of music we currently listen to.  The (Espacio) is a reference to their admiration the Fast Show’s Channel 9 sketch, but happily the two together mean ‘Optimum Space’

According to Jonnie Wilkes, “Madonna’s always on the guest list, but has never turned up.” Shame on her.  However, Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat is a regular and has been known to suffer stalking by refreshed Muzik correspondents.

When Lee Scratch Perry visited the club he refused to shake the hand of anyone who couldn’t prove they were a vegetarian. “It was almost like the Second Coming when he went on stage,” says Jonnie.


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