JG Wilkes knows what it’s like to say goodbye to a beloved nightlife institution. As Optimo, he and creative partner JD Twitch spent more than a decade tending their weekly party Optimo Espacio at the Sub Club in Glasgow, Scotland. For 12-and-a-half years, the DJ duo curated Sunday nights where anything seemed possible: Far removed from traditional DJ mixes with steady tempos and reliable barnstormers, Wilkes and Twitch spun sets in which David Bowie’s coked-out ramblings sat comfortably alongside Arthur Russel’s disco freak-outs and even Madonna’s trademark strain of popful bliss.
Optimo reliably drove crowds crazy and expanded many a clubgoer’s conception of what a DJ set could be. And in April 2010, it all came to a close.
“Our touring life was always becoming more intense... and we just felt that we'd taken it as far as we could,” Wilkes recounts, calling the weekly party “a phenomenal amount of work” for just two people. “We'd be away Friday and Saturday abroad and back on a Sunday... and so Monday was kind of written off.
“We were like, ‘We can't keep giving this much to this every week, and it's time to... terminate the mission.'"
Although their weekly event is over, Wilkes and Twitch have continued to export Optimo's anything-goes selection mentality through DJ gigs around the world. Fortunately for Miami, this has meant frequent stops at Wynwood’s Electric Pickle over the years. This Saturday, March 23, the DJs will swing by El Bolero Room one last time for a marathon open-to-close set bidding farewell to the soon-to-be-shuttered venue.
“When I think about Miami, I think about the Pickle,” Wilkes says. Before he and Twitch played at the club in 2013, Wilkes had never set foot in the Magic City. He says he knew the place only through “stories of wild parties at Winter Music Conference” shared by his DJ friends.
“I had a presupposed idea of what Miami clubs would be like, and it didn't really appeal to me. The Pickle wasn't like that, and I'm grateful,” Wilkes laughs. “When I first came to play there, I couldn't believe how welcoming the space felt.”
The affection Electric Pickle evokes in Wilkes and club regulars is not that dissimilar to the devotion shown by the Optimo faithful. And much like Optimo Espacio’s end, the club’s impending June closure has prompted a moment of reflection in Miami nightlife: Once the Pickle goes, how many truly intimate dance floors will be left in the city?
Sadly, the answer is few.
“I feel relaxed when I go there — it doesn't feel like there's a hierarchy between the DJ and the floor,” Wilkes says of the Pickle’s tiny dance floor. Noting how much time DJs such as Optimo spend playing music festivals and outdoor stages, “there's a real relief for us to get back into clubs... especially smaller, more intimate spaces,” he says.
He adds, “We like to watch the crowd very closely and to be able to make a close connection with people on the dance floor. That aspect of it is sort of the core of our DJ'ing, so a room like [Electric Pickle] really, really works for us.”
Remarking on the club’s lack of glitz, Wilkes remembers his initial reaction upon seeing the control panel for the Pickle’s colorful light fixture.
“The first time I went in, I looked to the right, and they had this sort of homemade lighting controller,” he says. “It looked like a bomb. And I was like, ‘What is that? Are we going to get electrocuted?’”
Apparently not. Wilkes attributes Electric Pickle’s success and Optimo’s repeated visits in part to the goodwill and “DIY ethos” shown by the venue's creative team, including co-owner Will Renuart and cofounder of the event production collective SAFE, Diego Martinelli.
“In the middle of this intensity which is our tour and life, you meet certain individuals like Diego and... you need people like that,” Wilkes says. “It was really moving when he came to Glasgow for our 20th-anniversary festival. And he didn't make a fuss: He told me he might come, and the next thing I knew he was there.
“Our friendship was already cemented, but it was really quite... overwhelming that he came all that way.”
As Wilkes and Twitch prepare for their last seven-hour Pickle outing, Wilkes says the parallels between the club’s conclusion and Optimo Espacio’s finale are not lost on him.
“It's emotional, there's no doubt about it,” he says. “When we closed our party after 12-and-a-half years, there was a kind of outpouring of grief in the city.
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"A lot of people were left thinking, What am I going to do now? Where am I going to go? Where is my community going to disperse to? Where's my social club going to be? Where am I going to talk and meet people? What's going to happen? And I get the feeling the Pickle has had that kind of effect on the dance community in Miami.”
He acknowledges many fans will feel the void of Electric Pickle’s absence, but Wilkes has faith in the ten years’ worth of irreplaceable memories and influence the club is leaving behind.
“The young people attending the Pickle will absolutely be inspired by the place and will go on and create something else for Miami,” he says. “I think that's the way it goes around.”