Keith McIvor and Jonnie Wilkes had a legendary residency – Optimo Espacio – for 12 years at the Sub Club of Glasgow. Now that they’ve put an end to it, the duo keeps touring the world and releasing new material from different artists on their label Optimo Music. Invited in Dijon for the main electronic event of the brand new MV Festival, they spent two hours doing what they do best – mixing one style with another, sliding with ease from a musical era to the next one… They even finished their dj set with an edit from Slayer. It’s 4 am when the interview starts, over cigarettes and Bourbon Sprite.
How did it go tonight ?
Keith : Yeah it was good. We’ve just finished so we’re a little bit sweaty and hyper, when you finish playing you have a lot of adrenalin. It was a nice crowd of people, good athmosphere. I enjoyed it. You never know what to expect when you go somewhere you’ve never been before, you wonder if there’s gonna be anyone there, and if they’re gonna like it.
It’s been almost 4 years that you’ve decided to put an end to the Optimo residency in Glasgow, are you still having mixed feelings about it ?
Jonnie : Yeah well I think it took personally a little longer to adjust than Keith. We were on tour in Australia when we announced it and there was a kind of outpouring of grief online and I guess some people adjust to change better than others. And I really felt like a part was missing in my life and after maybe two weeks I was really happy we actually did it, it was absolutely the right decision to end it when the club had become so popular. It was such a way to finish up a project which took 12 years, there were such great times !
K : But the last night – we announced it 6 weeks before the actual end so there was a build up to an ending – and it go more and more friends, more emotional and there were a lot of people in tears, I think we were in tears a little bit too, it was just so overwhelming.
How did the sunday night residency started, wasn’t it weird to organize something on a sunday ?
J : When Keith called me one day – we knew each other and had done a few things before together – we were both playing friday nights and saturday nights techno residencies in Scotland and he told me he had an idea for something. Sunday night is one of those more marginal nights of the week where, your average saturday night clubber is probably not gonna come around, you might attract a slightly different crowd. He said he had an idea to do something small, so we would also play different records from what we normally play and it was something that seemed to work on a sunday.
K : The sunday would also give us more freedom to play what we liked but we never thought it would become popular, we used to get at first from 80 to 200 people and that was fine, that’s all we expected. But somehow it caught people’s imagination and became popular.
J : Sunday nights can be more forgiving if you want to play something a little bit…
A little bit like….Slayer ?
J : Well, you’re less likely to get killed on a sunday night. Laughs
But haven’t you lost a bit of that freedom now by going into different clubs on regular clubbing nights ?
K : A little bit because the other thing you do when you go to the same club every week ,you can take a lot of risks because you know your audience. It’s the same people who come back weeks after weeks so if you play a strange record and think that somehow you can make it work, so maybe you play it and at first it doesn’t work, but if you keep playing it, people get to know it. So a little bit of that freedom is gone yes, but we do get more adventures now and discover new places. But I miss a bit those nights where you can do anything you want.
J : And you have to remember that it was just very few people at the beginning, but when you have 500 a week, we used to party to a very intense athmosphere for 12 years and it’s quite a platform for experimenting.
K : So we could also book anyone we wanted and put the craziest bands that no one had heard of and the club would be full but now when we play in Glasgow we have to think that if we bring this out, will anyone come along. So that’s changed a little bit too.
So which artists that actually came to the club are you closed friends with ?
K : Well the club was named after a song from a band from NY called Liquid Liquid, they split in the early 80’s and by 2002 they decided to play together again so we went over to see them and forced them to come to Glasgow. And it was a very emotional night, the athmosphere was so great. We ended up having a great relationship and we’re still really good friends with them.
J : I’m not sure how that, you know the connection with the Optimo name. But somehow it disseminated into the crowd and this was something very important for us and for the people who came every week, it was like a community. You could feel it when Liquid Liquid were playing, made it very special.
Do you have more time now to do other things, like producing other bands ?
K : Well it was really something so it took up a huge amount of time. So we played on sundays and then monday you wouldn’t do anything because you were recovering. Quite often we would be touring on fridays and saturdays. So even on tuesdays, I would still be exhausted. It did open up a lot of time to do other projects, that weren’t possible before.
J : I won’t lie, we did party quite hard… Laughs... Pretty much the whole time.
K : The club used to shut down at 3 am so there would always be a party afterwards. And like I said, when you finish djing it’s really hard to just go home and go to bed so the temptation was always big.
J : Most of our friends are artists or musicians, working in the creative community of Glasgow, some of them did have shitty jobs that they have to hold on to as well. We had couple of friends working at Marks and Spencer, and they would always come and tell us « Oh yeah, they’ve put another notice, in the staff room « Employees must not attend Optimo Espacio on sunday nights ».
K : There were so many people whose life depended and evolved around the club, then suddenly they were forced to get their life together and some of them actually moved out right after. We probably missed like 10 nights during that whole time but there was a couple of people who actually went more than we did ! Laughs
So what now in Glasgow ? Did that create some kind of dynamic ?
K : When we stopped, there were some new parties organized on sundays but it all just collapsed. People thought they could keep this thing going but it just ended. And we didn’t want to keep on doing something regularly there but then some of our friends started to tell us how sad it was that they had to go to London to see us playing. So after a year and a half of not doing anything there, we decided to play there every two months on a friday night, in the Subclub and we still do that. We’ do occasional events too like when Todd Terje was playing live.
Funny you’d talk about Terje, I feel there’s a lot he has in common with you, just by his way of feeling free to mix anything he wants together. I know you’re a big fan of Henri Texier as well… ?
K : Yes absolutely ! So I actually got in touch with Texier’s management so that we could reissue the record and they said that we could but that we would have to sell it only in Scotland… And you know there are maybe 50 people in Scotland that would buy it because it’s old school music business. Laughs
I’ve read some really incredible things about you, like this time after 9/11 when you played a track that actually got one of the guy in the audience really mad and he started threatening one of you…
K : So 9/11 was on a tuesday so when we played the next sunday I thought I was going to do something to mark this, I wasn’t really trying to say anything. It was a sound collage with Jimmy Hendrix at Woodstock playing the Star Spangled Banner, there’s a song by Laurie Anderson called Superman and there’s a line that goes « here comes the plane » and I looped that. I wasn’t really making a statement but it had created that really strange atmosphere in the club and some guy got incredibly angry and he thought I was making fun of what had happened, which I wasn’t. He jumped into the dj booth and started punching me. He was a scottish guy too but he was weird, you could tell he was just too drunk and everyone was really tensed, emotional.
You also have real political statements music wise, like with that African records you’ve put out…
K : Yes, I have a lot of little labels that I do, we put out a record each year and the profits go to a charity for an orphanage in Africa. But along with the record there is a sheet that comes with it about what I think about western interference in Africa and how, along the problems they have caused, they’re forcing them to certain policies. And I think that a lot of African countries would move forward if we just left them alone to run their own affairs.
What’s going to be next ? Other mixes ?
K : I don’t know if there’s going to be another mix cd, I thinks it’s coming to a close. We did one in January for a japanese label but I think now it’s about the mixes online.
J : We took some time to produce the last mix cd, the project « Dark was the night » and we had a particular idea in mind, trying to expose a part of what we do, with a selection of dark electronic music but then we had to compromise with the label for certain aspects of it and it didn’t really get much label support either and it was kind of disappointing. Wasn’t it Keith ?
K : Yes, of course, you get frustrated when you put so much work into it but we also have another monthly radio show in London on rinse.fm and that gives us a lot of freedom to do whatever we want. We’re going to do something with Boiler Room. They want to take it in a slighty different direction and we’re going to do a radio show but it will be streamed so we will be playing records and talking about records. People can watch this but there won’t be an audience and it won’t really be about getting people to dance. It’s their brand new project, they haven’t started it yet. So the idea is that each time we do it maybe once every two months, we’ll find a different location in Glasgow and we’ll do it from different place.
Apart from that with the record labels, we do lots of remixes, travel a lot to play so, we’re always busy.
So you never take time off ?
K : Laughs...No, not very often.
J : Laughs… I don’t know, we work very hard at what we do and we’re very lucky to have a job like this. Maybe it is important to take a holiday sometimes but we’re very happy doing our job. We get to travel.
K : So of course now traveling feels like working and it’s very tiring most of the time but I mean it’s our passion, I think I could do it for free, releasing music, playing music… If you love it, you want to do it all the time !
J : We play in festivals in Croatia a lot, Unknown, SMS, Electric Elephants, so we go there, and we get to spend a few days on the beach…
K : Yes, you build your holiday according to your job.
J : We played on Copacabana beach recently in Brasil.
K : We’re very privileged but there’s also a lot of pleasure within the work.
J : We don’t take it for granted either you know, we’re really thankful.
So which one of you had the idea to finish up tonight with Eurythmics and Slayer.
J : He did
K : I don’t know where the Eurythmics thing just came from but quite often, if we’ve never been somewhere before, I’ll end with that Slayer thing. I’ve edited the song so it’s actually one minute long but no one seems to notice how short it is. I have this thing that if people come and see you play they might have a great time but then they go home and a week later, a month later they probably remember nothing about it, but if you end with something like that…
J : It’s funny because you stopped doing it for a couple of years… Laughs.
K : And it’s really funny to see the reactions : of course some people know it… and I don’t particularly like Slayer but there’s such an energy to that song.
J : There’s a dynamic in it which is missing in hard rock these days. The changes in the structure between the drums and the guitars, that’s something that people respond to.
K : It is a dance music trick. Some very fashionable people tonight you know…dancing to Slayer…Laughs
What is the last artist you’ve discovered recently ?
J : Well Keith bought me a present for my birthday, a record of William Onyebor that came out on Luaka Bop. I had the compilatios but he got me the 12 inch which is lovely.
K : I’ll talk about Saschienne that was playing earlier, Julienne has a solo project (The Twins), I did sign her single but now she has a whole album coming out. I think she’s really talented. We’ve know her for years, she’s an old friend. We knew her before she had any interest in making music and I’ve seen her develop now and she has a very unique style going on.
– Sophie Brignoli
pic : David Moffat