Call me old fashioned. Call me old skool. Or just call me old. Radio has been part of my life since my early childhood years. From that sweet pain of tuning into a frequency with a micronic precision, just by using a hard moving knob, to the excitement of discovering new music, as curated by passionate DJs: radio has always been one of my best friends. Even now, as the dusty radio format is under seige from digital services like Spotify or Apple Music, where you have instant access to gazillions of songs, playlists and excellent curators, I am still in love with listening to that plain simple FM station while driving.
I guess we should all agree on this one: radio invented the DJ concept and the DJs came to be that human face radio has never had it. Even after so many decades, DJs have kept the radio concept alive, against all odds of fighting the streaming services and machine learning software cappable of suggesting what we would like to listen, when it comes to new music. DJs still remain that human touch for the musical experience, be it on the radio waves or the dance floors.
For Bogdan Moldovan aka DJ Optick, radio was the one that pushed him to be one of the most appreciated DJs in Romania and around the world. Many of us grew up with Next Level, the show he hosted at the now defunct Radio 21. Next Level lasted for so many years in the Romanian FM frequencies for the same reason we followed DJs religiously: it fed our hunger for discovering good music and it never failed doing it.
20 years behind the radio microphone, headliner for all the Liberty Parade editions, a radio show hosted at Ibiza Global Radio, entertaining crowds from behind the decks in practically every corner of our country and beyond its borders, all the way to North America and the Middle East. Not to mention his studio efforts, with tracks that made it to Pete Tong’s BBC Essential Selection radio show. It’s pretty hard to comprise Optick’s career in just a few words, but one thing is for sure: this guy knows how to fire up a party!
Now part of the Cyclic family, Optick teamed up with Adrian Eftimie and launched a new project: the Double Trouble record label, with Primavera EP as their first release.
This was the right moment to interview DJ Optick to find out more about his love for the radio, how DJing has changed from the days he started out, back more than 20 years ago and what does it take for a DJ to pump up energy in the veins of any dance floor.
What came first: the passion for radio or the love for electronic music?
Radio was deffinately the first, along the passion for music which creeped under my skin arround 5th grade. It was 1996 when I first spoke on the radio in my small city in centre on Romania where nobody new anything about electronic music. I later discovered it in the early 2000 when I moved to Bucharest and got a glimpse of what I was about to experience.
You are born in Miercurea Ciuc, a rather small city. How did you listen to electronic music in your hometown? Any parties back then?
Started playing disco grooves for my classmates in my 5th grade, then for the entire school and after a while started DJing in a local disco and some pubs.
You spent around 20 years behind a radio mike, as a classic radio DJ as well hosting Next Level, one of the longest running radio shows in Romania, focused on electronic music. With all this digital explosion, starring Soundcloud, Spotify and Mixcloud, where anybody can be a DJ or a music selector, is the old FM radio format still relevant?
After exactly 20 years of wonderful experiences on the same radio, Radio 21 Romania, in 2016 I decided to leave the industry for a while. This “for a while” got longer, perfect time to observe the industry from the “outside”. As a business, the radio it is still looks as viable one for some more time, as humans want a live real voice on their devices, want interraction and fresh news along with their favourite songs. But, in the music industry, it is not the main star anymore.
What do you miss most from the radio days?
The enthusiasm people had when they were listening to fresh music on the radio or when they had the chance to speak live along the DJ on the radio.
You started to DJ when there were no youtube tutorials about how to beatmatch, no easy to use DJ controlers and no Beatport to find music. How did you learn to DJ?
Back then, “stealing” tehnique from other DJs by watching and listening them while playing was the primary way of learning.
The first gig when you felt like a true DJ.
Playing music for my classmates and for the entire school was a thing, but then I wanted more, so I started my own night in a local pub, where me and a friend from school would play 2 times a month for the entrance fee. It was 1995, I remember that first night, a completely packed club, hiting the PLAY button for the next track: Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise – BOOM the club just skyrocketed… I still have the goosebumps thinkin’ about it
Do you remember some tracks you used to play frequently that time?
Along the track I’ve mentioned I was playing mainly disco top 100 music, Salt’n’Pepa – Shoop, Tag Team – Whoomp, Culture Beat or Snow with Informer to mention a few.
You were one of the few DJs who have appeared on Liberty Parade’s stage on every edition. In your opinion, when was the best edition?
Back then it was the biggest electronic music event in Romania. In my heart, all the editions had their wonderfulness and magic moments. I think that it truly paved the way for the huge events that are active now in Romania. I am so happy I was part of it!
Is it still room for an electronic music parade in Romania?
I think there’s room for everyone and every type of electronic music event and genre.
Where is your confort zone: playing in a small underground venue or on a big stage at a summer festival?
Each one has its own magic. I love the energy of summer festivals but I do also enjoy a lot the cosiness of small venues.
Let’s say I am a young guy, passionate about electronic music, and I want to start DJing. Give me 3 practical tips to make this start easier.
Know your music well, this will help you fight your anxiety when playing first few tracks, socialise and make new friends, they’ll join your events, travel as much as you can and listen to what others are playing, be active on social media.
Where are you, related to this infinite debate about DJs playing on vinyl versus DJs using digital technology?
As long as the music is good, it doesn’t matter what you are playing from or with. I’ve embraced digital in 2008 just to ease my life, finding the tracks more easily in my crate. The support itself, either a vinyl, usb stick or laptop is just a tool. Just play those goddam good tracks from whatever makes you feel better.
Do you often create and use your own edits and bootlegs for the tracks you play?
Yes, all the time. Not so much with preproducing bootlegs though, because playing on 4 decks allows me to change the tracks on the fly.
How important is for a DJ to have production skills?
It’s vital! The electronic music industry is a very dinamic organism, your own tracks are your visit card. Nowadays, it is the easiest way of making yourself known.
You are now part of the Cyclic family. How is this working for you, after a long time going as a solo artist, managing your bookings and tours by yourself?
I guess our roads met at the right time so we had the chance of growing up together, sharing our experience in this wonderful industry.
How do you think the electronic music scene (festivals, parties, music) will look like in the coming years, with all this Covid madness?
At this point I can surely say that I don’t know and I think that truly nobody knows. As long as there isn’t yet a cure for this mess, nothing is certain. What I can say is that we all have to be careful with us, our loved ones and ofcurse everyone arround us. In these hard times, the temptation to play a gig, a secret gig or an official one, with all the rules ofcourse, is very high. I think that attenting a gig right now, especially the ones that are not realy respecting all the rules needed for everyone to be safe, implies artist’s full responsability. Attenting unsafe gigs right now can affect the industry even harder as the consequences could affect it in the near or worse, distant future.
You mixed one episode of Trip In Romania, all alone in a breath taking scenery. Was there a special track selection for this one? How did you feel mixing up in the mountains?
Before any gig I try to anticipate somehow how it’s gonna be and prepare some tracks for that event, but for this one, the view, the hight of the mountain, the wind and also the rain, changed my mood entirely so I had to adapt on the go. What a fantastic day that was!
You recently launched a new project: the Double Trouble record label with Adrian Eftimie. What is the idea behind the label and what are your plans for the coming future?
The idea behind Double Trouble is to release the productions from colabs between artists that don t usualy colab. so we started localy, with talented Romanian artists and slowly expanding outside the borders too. Things start to go really well, as all the releases hit Top 100 on Beatport and Top 10 on Traxxsource. We also have some true autumn and winter bombs up on our sleeves to release soon, so stay tuned on Double Trouble.