Interview: Optimo

Wilkes and Twitch of Optimo can be considered some of the industries’ most influential figures. Through their weekly event at Glasgow’s iconic Sub Club – Optimo Espacio – the pair developed a unique sonic signature, and ultimately provided a platform that celebrates alternatively genres of music. Playing anything from acid to techno, rock and experimental, Optimo has since then become an iconic duo in their own regard, as well as starting their own imprint record label Optimo Trax. Before they gear up to tour Australia which will see them play during Boiler Rooms stream at Pitch Music & Arts, one half of Optimo, Jonnie Wilkes, had the chance to chat to us about the Optimo empire and what the future has in store…

How has Glasgow’s music scene changed since the two of you began your career in the 90s?
“Scene”? There are many different aspects to what we have musically in Glasgow. Refreshingly these often interconnect via the whole music-making, music playing, art, performance vibrancy we have. We are a small city remember so everything is touching everything else. I think this is not new and probably always was the case although like everyone, I took some time to meet others like me and build up the confidence to break out ideas. If you are referring specifically to dance music or “electronic” scene then I think this has become more interesting, more diverse and more fun in recent years.

The Optimo (Espacio) event at Glasgow’s Sub Club was really a niche safe haven for a lot of alternative communities and groups. How did it become the hugely recognized global platform that it is today? 
I didn’t know it was a “hugely recognized global platform”! We simply took the opportunity to play a real breadth of music in a club context – a club that was pretty much known only for house music prior to that. It was something we really craved at the time and that I personally had not been brave enough to do very often before that so it was an exciting time. There was no manifesto or strategy in particular but I would say, our openness to all sorts of music coupled with a kind of DIY approach to organising the parties – a quite anarchic spirit for want of a better term, seemed to appeal to this wonderful open-minded community who gathered every Sunday night for the parties. It was precarious at times and it felt that anything might happen. I love that I would definitely align this excitement with a sense of freedom. Maybe that is the appeal of Optimo to a lot of people – I hope so anyhow.

Do you find many obstacles when working collaboratively as Optimo, or do you find it’s quite a smooth creative process? 
Not so many obstacles no. It’s been a pretty smooth and happy journey all in all yeah. Since the start, I think we’ve shared an understanding of what Dj-ing, clubbing, playing music or organising parties can be, or certainly what we’d like it to be so we’ve continued to strive to make our work interesting and fun. When something is fun it’s easy to keep your enthusiasm. It’s not interesting or challenging for us as artists to do exactly the same as everybody else is doing – we’re more likely to do the opposite in fact. I guess there must be shared energy we possess for making what we do evolve and stay interesting.

One key thing you’ve learnt in your 20 years in the music industry?
Don’t set sail using someone else’s star…

Any up and coming artists that you can recommend we listen to?
Here’s some 🙂
Carista (NLD)
Vanessa Worm (AUS)
Optimo Espacio (SCO)

Can you give us any breaking news regarding your label Optimo Trax? Any upcoming releases we should look out for?
Optimo Trax triumphantly reached 33 Releases as intended and has ceased for the time being. Lots of releases planned on the various other labels though! Here’s what’s upcoming in the first half of 2019 – 

Optimo Music
V/A – Weaponise Your Sound (album)
Danielle Dax – Jesus Egg That Wept (mini album)
Danielle Dax – Pop Eyes (album)
Bergsonist – TBA (album)
Tornado Wallace – TBA
V/A – OMDD best of Vol 1 EP

AF Trax 
003 Joe Goddard EP
004 Fantastic Twins EP
005 Auntie Flo EP
006 MR TC EP

Optimo Music Digital Danceforce 
005 – Tamburi Neri – Works #1 EP
006 – Brain Dancing – EP
007 – Vanessa Worm – EP
008 – Internal N.Y Rhythms – EP
009 – Theus Mago – EP

You’re about to return to Australia to play Pitch Music and Arts Festival, does playing in Australia feel much different from the places you usually play in Europe for example? 
We’ve been coming for 10 years now and I remember being so inspired by our first visit to Golden Plaines Festival – thinking this is how a festival should be! To be outdoors in this kind of natural amphitheatre with the sun rising, the heat of the new day coming, thousands of music lovers really lost in the sound – it was wild and I went away with my mind a bit blown. It was pretty moving to realise that we could do our thing so far away from home and it would touch people.

Tour Dates
Friday 1st March: Sugar, Adelaide
Saturday 2nd March: Animals Dancing, Melbourne
Friday 8th March: Pitch Music and Arts, Victoria
Saturday 9th March: Paradise Club, Sydney
Saturday 9th March: Catacombs, Auckland NZ