Stef Macbeth witnesses the last Optimo [Espacio], the terrifically important and fun clubnight held every Sunday in Glasgow.
A kid with the most incredible mop of carrot coloured hair is passing around a bottle of cheap rosé. We’ve been waiting in line for well over an hour, at least 500 of us, snaking up towards the Clyde and round as far as the railway arches. Even by Optimo standards it’s a big queue, thick (around eight people deep in places) as well as long. And it’s not even 9pm on this drizzly Sunday evening in Glasgow. A roar erupts as the Sub Club’s doors open and the first wave of people descend to its murky depths. And so it begins.
OPTIMO (ESPACIO) was already a local treasure when I arrived in Glasgow in 2000. Back then they were in a temporary home following a fire at the Sub Club, Scotland’s spiritual birthplace for musical subcultures and illicit dances since the fifties. Keith McIver (JD Twitch) and Jonnie Wilkes had been doing the weekly Sunday night slot there since 1997. Such a disruption might have scuppered lesser nights, but even by this point, I’m quite sure they could have done it on the moon and Optimo’s hedonistic rabble of artists and students and misfits and mavens would have found a way to be there.
This wasn’t always so. By all accounts, for the first year only a handful of people would turn up. Keith always says that it ‘just happened’ one night, about a year after he and Jonnie had launched the club – partly as a reaction to an inward-looking techno scene that had a grip on Glasgow nightlife at that time – people suddenly got it; something clicked into place and the passion between DJ and dance floor, promoter and party goer, geekery and hedonism that so defines Optimo, took root.
Tonight, over a decade on, we’re here to say goodbye to what Rory Phillips called ‘the last of the UK’s great weekly parties’. It’s hard to overestimate the party’s importance. People who’ve never set foot in a club know Optimo, even if just by the lack of activity from their staff, colleagues and students on a Monday. And yet, Optimo isn’t, wasn’t, just about getting off your face. At its heart was a lust for life: a generosity of spirit that brought out the best in people, with a fierce intelligence and sense of timing that allowed them to continually challenge both the format and the audience without disappearing into self-indulgence.
Keith and Jonnie could never be accused of lacking artistic discipline or the ability to deliver a single minded vision. The artists they booked were difficult and unfamiliar – people like Jimi Tenor, James Chance, Whitehouse, The Bug and, famously, Liquid Liquid, pioneers of New York’s no wave movement in the eighties, reunited and reassembled thanks to the efforts of these DJs who’d named their club after their seminal track, Optimo. Likewise, as DJs, you never quite know what kind of a set you’ll get. Twitch, in particular, has that rare ability to hop from genre to genre without making it sound like a 15 year old on Youtube who’s incapable of concentrating on anything for more than 30 seconds. An early adopter of Ableton, he combines an infatuation with the odder parts of the musical spectrum with an encyclopaedic knowledge of over half a century of pop. But it’s their ability to pace a night, to whip the crowd into a frenzy and then change direction without losing anyone that is the genius of Optimo. This kind of obsessive inventiveness is one of the reasons that they evaded label after label that the music and fashion industries would occasionally try to attach to this club.
For the final night they’ve made a funeral wreath which adorns the dance floor. They’re streaming the set live on Awdio, for all the fans around the world who can’t be there. #optimo is trending heavily on Twitter. At some point they play The Stooges ‘I wanna be your dog’. The atmosphere is charged, no one cares about the sweat that drips from the ceiling. And everyone’s dancing with such intensity; cheering, hugging, singing along, as all the nights and all the moments roll into one. Atomic. Beat the clock. Release the beast. Le Rock. By the time we get to the inevitable Liquid Liquid finale, the emotion in the room is reaching feverish levels. And then we’re all singing along to Stand On The Word and then Nina Simone, and for that moment, nothing else is. The preacher’s right: we are together, we are unified; and yes, we do raise our fists together.
Of course it had to end. Everyone who understands Optimo, who, as Keith would say ‘gets it’ knew it couldn’t, and shouldn’t, go on forever. It was a moment in time. A joyous, crazy, rich, life-defining moment that went on for over a decade, and will, in the hazy memories of those of us who experienced it, live forever. They loved our ears.