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

Belfast-born Jonnie Wilkes had recently graduated from the Glasgow School of Art when it all began. “There was no game plan” he says. Keith McIvor was DJing at a more techno orientated night as JD Twitch when a change of roster presented the chance to take over the Sunday night at a time when Sub Club was providing a platform for Glasgow electronic music to establish its credentials.

“We had a mutual belief that dance music didn’t have to be strictly 4/4 and that house and techno was driving into a corner. The audience was becoming a bit toxic, it was not really much fun to be at a club. We wanted to open it right up, play different parts of our record collections and focus on the dancefloor. We wanted to see what happened when we brought other modes of performance into the club” he says.

HeraldScotland: The first Optimo Espacio club night at Sub ClubThe first Optimo Espacio club night at Sub Club

Jonnie emphasises 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 the energy in, we really believed in it. Although we didn’t have tonnes of ambition for it to grow into anything more than a fun gathering on a Sunday night. It was a real mishmash of people from the art world and the live music scene in a room with the people who were quite purist about their electronic music.”

Sub Club owner Mike Grieve decided to stick with it and that it would grow. “I don’t know what happened, but after about a year and a half, things just took off” Jonnie says. “We did every aspect of it, making the nights weird and exciting, then suddenly the club was full for the next 12 years.”

That late nineties Glasgow club scene spawned a wave of bands and artists, many of them making connections around the dancefloor. Looking back, Jonnie says: “It really was a place where different bands and scenes were together. You had people who played in guitar bands meeting people who could programme drum machines or work effects. There was a movement that way with music at the time and we could see it happening before our eyes at the club.”

“We would host bands and things grew out of that. People felt very comfortable and unintimidated, they would dress 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 a big community in Glasgow.”

The collaboration outlived its Sunday home to continue as a DJ team, producers and record label owners. The spirit of that formative era will be recaptured at Queen’s Park on Saturday 30 April for the Melting Pot x Heverlee festival, marking the Optimo 25 year anniversary and bringing together local talent including Nightwave, Free Love and Bemz.  

Optimo broadcast for Movement Radio in Athens and continue their social activism, raising money for local food banks and anti-racist organisations.

Their music is finding a new generation of listeners and Jonnie thinks we are seeing a resurgence of nightlife across Scottland. They’ve resumed their touring schedule, built around gaps for a bi-monthly residency at Berkeley Suite in Glasgow. There is also a new Optimo 25 mix compilation release. 

“The resident DJ is a dying breed so that’s important for us, getting to know a space well and having a crowd that has faith in you” he says. “Then you can kick open a few doors in for the music. The last few times, my nephew was there with his pals and he’s 18 years old, then there are a couple of folk there that were 70. It’s about a feeling in the room where none of that matters. It’s beautiful to see.”

This feature was published in the May edition of Best of Scotland magazine.