First Loves: Bibio
For most of us we can remember specific moments in our adolescence which helped carve our path to becoming, well, the people we are today. For me a penchant for Limp Bizkit in my former years lead me towards the 36 Chambers and Quasimoto’s of this world, even if the immediate effects of being a fan of Limp Bizkit lead me towards schoolyard ridicule and an unfortunate period in my life which I call the ‘backwards baseball cap era’.
Originating from a small town in the midlands hidden away from any speck of cultural significance or creative individuality that period was something that, while undoubtedly laughable in hindsight, was a small act of individuality albeit enforced by a middle-aged man telling me to keep it rollin’.
As long-standing member of the Warp Records family Bibio, set to release his eighth album this week with 'A Mineral Love', shares a similar experience of his first musical exploration.
“Heavy Metal. I was initially drawn to the naughtiness of it, it seemed exotic and mysterious to me at the time because I didn't know anyone else who was into it.”
Bibio strikes me as a man who is most comfortable either channeling a Boards Of Canada/J Dilla hybrid behind an MPC or taking part in some illegal scrumping. Drawing inspirations from Hip-Hop, Soul, all corners of Electronic music and the serene and natural soundscapes of English Stephen Wilkinson creates glistening guitar-lead sample driven experimental pop, something that heavy metal doesn’t exactly seem like a logical starting point to.
“My dad listened to rock music in the car a lot, like Queen and Pink Floyd so I was accustomed to that general sound, but it was a family holiday in Bordeaux in 1989 where my own path of discovery started.” he says. “We met two older boys, they were 17 and on holiday without their parents, and one of them put on a cassette of 'Appetite for Destruction' by Guns n' Roses and started pointing out the explicit lyrics. I was properly excited by this, I think 9 or 10 is that age when you start becoming curious about adult things like horror books and films, explicit language and top shelf videos in the rental shop.”
While we all had moments in our youth that revolved around staying up late to watch The Exorcist or stumbling upon a discarded porno mag Stephen's birthplace perhaps fuelled these curiosities more than others, “a pretty boring 70s red-brick West Midlands housing estate” to Stephen but known to most as the birthplace of Metal. Black Sabbath, Napalm Death, Judas Priest and many other bat biting, world record breaking bands came from the industrial surroundings of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton bringing with them an image of rebellion and, more importantly, a culture that was the antithesis of the mainstream.
“I'd see groups of older teens hanging around with Iron Maiden t-shirts, army boots, girls with too much eyeliner on and backcombed hair. I think I quite quickly wanted to be like them, it seemed far more interesting than mainstream fashion and culture.”
“My next venture was Iron Maiden” he continues. “I bought a cassette of their first album released in 1980, it soon became by favourite album and Maiden my favourite band for the following 5 years. In fact my first ever concert was Iron Maiden's 'Fear of the Dark' Tour in 1992 at Birmingham NEC. It was amazing, I don't think anything will live up to that.”
“I liked the fact that my parents weren't into it … it felt like I was becoming an adult because I was getting to choose who I wanted to be.”
“It was one of the alternative things to be in to” he tells us of his teen years, “nobody I knew was aware of music like this, just me and a couple of close friends, it felt like a secret of sorts.” As someone who grew up in a small working class town with a penchant for ‘outsider’ music I share his sentiments. Every single discovery felt exclusively for you and that was cool, even if those discoveries were made through the NME or those artists would go on to become cheesemakers and start a food festival with Jamie Oliver. “It felt like a kind of brotherhood in a way. It's funny because I always found, and still do, that kids iwho are nto heavy music are often the quiet, shy, gentle, vegetarian kids. I was one of those.”
When trying to find parallels between how the air guitar inducing stadium rock of Iron Maiden inspired Bibio’s musical lineage it’s safe to say that they’re relatively difficult to pinpoint. “Where I grew up was generally built-up, still some remnants of old industry, generally very working class and suburban. I suppose it was being from a boring place that lacked a good variety of culture which made my little musical discoveries feel all the more precious.”
“The aspect of nature and rural life that inspired my early works was a desire to get out into the countryside which I always preferred. The peace, the smells, the rain, the lushness just resonates with my soul but where I grew up was not like that – it was roads, houses, factories, pubs, people and cars. I do think these places can be a good breeding ground for art and fantasy, I can understand why bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath came out of places like this.”
It’s easy to see Stephen’s point. Whether it’s Black Sabbath soundtracking the exploits of Jack The Stripper or Bibio’s roughly translated ‘See You Soon’ farewell in 'À tout à l’heure' the escapism you don’t experience in your immediate surroundings urges you to fabricate your own elsewhere.
I mean, in this case we are comparing two artists who are on very different ends of the ‘satanic undertones’ spectrum. However as was the same with punk, acid house and pretty much every other musical movement it’s that rebellious nature that draws you in as a youth while you’re a) discovering your true purpose as a human being on this big rock we call Earth and b) simultaneously using every fibre inside your body to piss your parents off, with Stephen being no different.
“I liked the fact that my parents weren't into it, I liked the fact my sister hated it, I liked the fact it was kind of mysterious and some people viewed it as satanic [and] evil. Maybe it felt a little bit like I was becoming an adult because I was getting to choose who I wanted to be.”
While Bibio’s sound has rarely been comparable to 80s power metal, aside from a recent self-proclaimed revert back to “long hair, black jeans and leather jackets”, the grandiose and flamboyant misery displayed by Sabbath and Maiden would be the influential catalyst for Stephen in the beginning.
“I was addicted to the magic of a chord sounding sad. A lot of Iron Maiden's riffs were in E minor and had this sad medieval thing going on. I found it captivating.”
While the sadness in some of Bibio’s music is very evident, ‘You Won’t Remember’ and ‘Abrasion’ are both primed and ready to soundtrack your next break-up, ‘You’ and his stellar remix of Letherette’s ‘After Dawn’ shimmer with the sounds of 80s E-Funk, R&B and classic Soul. So how did that happen?
“Around 1992 I got into Hendrix and that opened doors to blues and more psychedelic stuff. It may have been the thing that eventually prepared me to listen to Jazz, that discovery came about through visiting my friend's Uncle who was a bassist. Then in 1994/1995 I got into skateboarding and that was another whole new avenue into music. I met new people and discovered new music, one of those people [being] DJ Alexander Nut of Rinse FM.”
“He got me into electronic music and introduced me to Rich & Andy, who many years later formed Letherette. Not much comes out of Wolverhampton but our little group of people stuck together. In 2001 I met Lee Gamble, he was also studying the same course at uni and I think as we were all Midlanders with a similar sense of humour we started hanging out. I lived with Lee for a year, he had an insane knowledge and collection of obscure sonic art stuff. Those were great times of discovery.”
"Deep down I'm still a rocker I suppose…"
The release of his new album ‘A Mineral Love’ sees Bibio at his most eclectic and simultaneously his most introverted with tracks like ‘Why So Serious?’, the Wax Stag featuring ‘Gasoline & Mirrors’ and the Soichi Terada reminiscent ‘With The Thought Of Us’ paired alongside the likes of ‘Petals’, a poetically penned (and justifiable) hate letter to big city living. So can we expect the Les Paul’s to be exchanged for the flying V’s on his next album?
“As a young teenager I thought I would be a rocker for life. I've gone back to some classic metal albums like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy but there's not much of that coming through in my music. I think I have it in me but there was a fairly long period where I fell out of love with Metal and got really into electronic music. Deep down I'm still a rocker I suppose…”
“Donnington Monsters of Rock 1994 was epic” he tells us, remembering a time before he traded Anthrax for Ambivalence Avenue. “Apart from being completely covered in beer, piss and filth by the end of it I had a great time. I've changed though, the thought of being crushed in a huge crowd with your feet barely touching the floor, hot sweaty bodies and long greasy hair in your face fills me with dread.”
“One of the amazing things about being at Donnington was that for one day you were no longer a minority’, a sentence that echoes the thought processes of every single teenager with shit hair who can remember their first gig, festival, dodgy pub or whatever it may be. “Thousands of kids wearing Pantera and Sepultura t-shirts, everyone was into the same thing and our enemies were nowhere in sight.”
“A lot of people grow up on Metal and get into other things later on, they might turn out to be quite shy people making delicate emotional music. I remember finding out Nick Talbot from Gravenhurst was an Iron Maiden fan shortly after he passed away. Sadly I never got to geek out over Maiden with Nick, that would have been interesting.”
“I think in the 90s where I lived it was the alternative to following what was going on in the charts, some of which I liked but had a hard time admitting.”
An early-life surrounded by metal heads in the Midlands? Understandably so.
Bibio's 'A Mineral Love' is available through Bleep, iTunes, most good record shops and probably some rubbish ones too NOW. It's beautiful.
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