Bibio + 5088: An Interview

After the installation of his 5088, we had a chance to interview experimental UK artist Bibio about his gear, his creative process, and his console.

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself & your background?

I’m a self taught multi-instrumentalist musician, singer, songwriter and producer from England, I go by the name Bibio, I’m currently signed to Warp records. My main instrument is guitar but I also play bass, keys, a bit of alto sax and I started playing drums when I bought a kit in late February 2015. I don’t have an industry background in producing, I suppose my background as a producer is as a bedroom producer. I started out with the most basic of setups – a cheap lofi sampler, a cassette recorder and a cheap plastic microphone, that was back in 1998, although I was experimenting with recording as far back as the 80s on a boombox and my mom’s karaoke machine. It’s a natural interest of mine, I’m not from a family of musicians or producers, I’m not really sure where I get this obsession from.

Over the years I’ve added bits to my gear list and got deeper and deeper into it. It was really after stepping my production up a notch and signing to Warp records that I really started to expand my music production knowledge and gear list, as it was signing to Warp that enabled me to invest more in my studio set up. Although I studied ‘Sonic Arts’ at university, I consider myself a self-taught music producer. The way I work is probably fairly unique to me, I don’t keep up with industry standards and I kind of guessed my way through it all. My teachers, as a producer and musician, are really the records I listen to. A lot of listening, analysing and guessing has gone on over the years. My brain seems to be wired to understand studio gear, I guess it’s like a language that makes sense to me. The more you learn, the more it makes sense and the more you can articulate.

I have a passion for sound as well as music, I like making location recordings, I even used to record rain when I was a small child on a boombox by dangling a microphone out of my bedroom window. Sound recordings, such as nature/weather recordings, often make their way into my music. I also love audio fidelity of all types, I’m fairly well known for lofi and saturated recordings, especially with guitar tracks. I use cassette, reel to reel, old samplers and vintage FX pedals to get certain sounds, but I also have a bunch of high end outboard gear and a decent collection of instruments and microphones. I like this spectrum of audio fidelity, I’m not on a quest for clarity or transparency. In the last 6 years I’ve been combining the best of both ends of the spectrum – fuzzy and wobbly with big and punchy. I have to respect my lofi roots, after all, the music I released which ended up paying for my 5088 was mixed on a £150 desk in a tiny bedroom.

As it seems you’re not working in your bedroom anymore, when did you open your studio?

Well my studio is just my private home studio, so it’s not ‘open’ as such. I produce myself but I do plan on working more with other artists in the future, although like with the collaborations on my most recent album ‘A Mineral Love’, collaborations so far have mostly been ‘by wire’, sharing stems via dropbox. My current studio was built in late February 2015. I had an existing building soundproofed and then moved my gear in, I immediately got a nice Gretsch Brooklyn Jazz drum kit and then of course the 5088 came later.

Could you tell us a bit about your workflow?

It has expanded over the years as I’ve acquired more gear and more knowledge and experience, I work in many different ways, some include methods that exist outside of my studio, like working on a tape recorder or a sampler in the garden, or working in the house with an old upright piano and a looper pedal. As for traditional studio multi-tracking, I now use outboard preamps, mostly lunchbox preamps but also some rack pres, going directly into my UA Apollo 16 or via outboard EQ/compressors, such as an 1176. I’m working on my own so it’s all overdubbing. I also use an AKAI MPC or Emu SP1200 for electronic beats/drum machines, although since last year I have started to record the Gretsch kit too. I also recently got a TR-808 and a Maestro MRK mk2, I have a thing for those old drum machines.

I always mix out of the box, with some summing going on in Logic or inside the MPC, depending on how many tracks I have going on in the project. I also have a bunch of outboard stuff like EQs, compressors, some new and vintage FX. I used to use software convolution reverb mostly but last year I got a Bricasti M7 and tend to have that on an aux send/return on the console, it just sounds more open and less stuffy than the plugins I previously used. It takes strain off the CPU and it’s nice to have the reverb control in the console. I went from having separate reverbs on nearly every channel to having one on the FX return and so far it’s worked for me, it’s a pretty old school way of adding reverb.

I rarely use software instruments as I prefer using analogue synths, electric pianos (Rhodes 73 Mk1, Wurlitzer) and a D6 clavinet. I’m a sucker for the real thing, VSTs don’t growl properly, analogue synths have a purity and sharpness which is more like a real acoustic instrument than software. Plugins have their place but I use analogue gear as much as possible, I think it all adds up to make something that is more organic sounding with more nuances and positive flaws. The downside is that it takes up lots of space and it’s expensive, but real instruments and analogue synths just have that thing I crave, the same goes with tape – I don’t use tape emulation plugins, if I want a cassette sound I use cassette, if I want a high end reel to reel sound, I use my Nagra IV-S. I do use RND 542 and 5042 tape emulators, but I see them as being saturation devices – tape machines without the tape. Not only that, they are 100% analogue and they sound it.

There’s a lot of good music made entirely in the box, but it does have a different sound to my ears, it’s hard to describe. I also like to keep mouse clicking to a minimum, computers are a necessary evil to me. Nothing drives me more crazy than computers and software, so I like to do as much as possible with real boxes and real cables.

We can certainly understand that. So how did the 5088 come about?

I’ve become more and more curious about high end gear and especially consoles, despite never previously mixing on one. I listen to a lot of 70s and 80s records that sound big and warm and deluxe. I’ve craved a big console sound for a while now. Although it’s appealing, I didn’t want to buy a vintage desk because I didn’t want the headache that comes with having to maintain it, plus buying a new console meant I could configure it exactly how I wanted it. Not only that, I’m constantly moving between different styles of music, both modern and vintage styles/sounds, so the 5088 seemed like a good foundation for this – it could be clean when I wanted it to be clean and it can drive when I want it to drive.

The fact that Rupert Neve Designs are making a new style of Class A, transformer based console, in 16 channel format in the 21st century…well, temptation got the better of me. When I found out about the Shelford modules, I was even more tempted. I already owned 2 x RND 511 preamps and 2 x 542 tape emulators, and I was impressed by the sound and build quality. I liked the fact that RND seem to be making new gear that takes inspiration from classic gear but is also forward thinking, rather than just making vintage clones. The 5088 seems like a new generation of consoles. It’s big and warm, but it’s also clean and crisp. It has a purity to it which I’ve been enjoying so far.

Most of ‘A Mineral Love’ and the whole of ‘The Serious EP’ was mixed on the 5088. When the console arrived all the way from Texas, I was obviously excited to give it a whirl. Most of ‘A Mineral Love’ was already mixed down and finished at the time, but as I was so eager to test the 5088 out, I thought I might as well mix a bunch of tracks that I knew inside out, so I could really hear the difference, so I re-mixed the album tracks. The album version of Town & Country was one track that was actually an older mix, before I had the 5088. I did have a go at mixing this on the 5088 but I had a bunch of outboard processors on parts of the mix that I didn’t successfully recreate when I came to re-mix it on the 5088. Stuff like a custom made valve amplifier (for distortion) on the drums, Chandler Zener limiter and probably some other things. For some reason the older mix just had more attitude, so I just went with that, I believe in being honest and going with what I genuinely prefer, rather than trying to fool myself that version B is better because I used X piece of gear on it or version B took longer to make than version A etc. But the preference for the older mix wasn’t a fault of the 5088, that was just down to the fact that mixing (for me at least) is like an improvisation that can’t be recalled fully, sometimes the first is the best. That would frustrate some people, and I suppose that’s why a lot of people like the ‘total recall’ functionality of software and digital mixing, but I’ve worked this way for years and I kind of like the randomness and chance, it’s like a moment happened and you can’t recreate it.

As for the other tracks, the 5088 just outright improved them. They sounded more like how I wanted them to sound – more open, louder, wider, more detail but without sounding dry or sterile. The fact that every channel is a lush class-A amplifier, and also the EQ and compression on every channel, really does the music justice. Even the lofi sounding tracks sounded better, like their lofiness and grain was somehow preserved.

Was it easy to integrate into your setup?

It was fairly easy, my previous console was also 16 channel with 8 groups, so there weren’t many changes. I added a bantam patchbay and bought higher quality cables, but the rest was fairly straightforward.

I generally record straight to Logic from preamps and outboard front end chains, then post DAW to the line inputs of the 5088 via the Shelford 5051s. I’ve started to leave the majority of EQing and compression till a later stage during mixing, whereas before I used to do a lot of it pre-recording. One of the reasons to do it pre-recording was to save time and start off with a sound I like, building on that as I go along, but also because my outboard EQ was better than my previous desk’s EQ, and my previous desk had no compressors, so it was just easier to stick the compressors and EQs on the front end. Now I have 16 channels of Shelford EQ/compressors, there’s less reason to process the source before recording, as this desk really lets me sculpt a mix like never before.

I like the layout, I like the lights, the solo modes and the silky long throw faders. I pretty much just used it without consulting the manual, it felt familiar but also new and exciting. When I come to mix something now, it feels like a special occasion. There’s something about sitting in front of that thing and sculpting a mix that feels magical. And of course, the sound is magical. I love how it’s more spaced out than my previous 16 channel console.

Workflow aside – how does it sound?

It sounds amazing. In fact when I first powered it up, I just played a mixed stereo track from iTunes and it sounded better. I don’t know how or why, but it did.

I’m often a fan of hitting gear hard, I like drive and saturation, rounding off peaks and finding sweet spots. I can’t believe how much this desk can take, level-wise. I can have all the VUs pinned and it sounds effortless, it holds together and still sounds open and clear. It’s solid as a rock. My mixes are now bigger and louder than before but also more open sounding, more ‘alive’, the summing is just better. My mixes so far on the 5088 are already sounding more like mastered tracks without the mastering, and still leaving me headroom for further processing of the mix.

Even though this desk has the same amount of channels and groups as my previous desk, I just feel that mixing on this thing is so much more of a ceremony. I feel like I can really craft a mix better, I feel less limited by it because it lets me do what I want without it struggling. In the past I found I often had to bring down EQ levels and faders as the desk started to struggle to hold together. The 5088 lets me add stuff and it just holds it together, elegantly.

Any favorite things in particular about it?

Cranking the input gains, driving the output, hitting the red, making things loud. But also the Shelford 5051s are great. The EQ is powerful and cuts through a mix without getting muddy or harsh on the ears. I can also add lots of EQ gain without the modules or channels audibly clipping, this is a luxury I didn’t have before. The compressors are quick and snappy but also capable of being subtle and transparent, or totally crush things. They’re serious compressors, not just bells and whistles. I use them on all types of sources, often just small amounts to help lift the body of sounds. The fact they have feed forward and feedback modes is great, it makes them very versatile. I thought maybe 16 channels of compression might be overkill, but so far I’ve had them engaged on pretty much all channels without the mix sounding boxy or crushed.

Another thing, and it’s a simple thing…but I also love the fact this console has a mix insert button! Being able to instantly A-B compare an outboard chain on the mix bus is a delight, especially without having to get out of my chair.

Looking forward, do you have plans for future studio upgrades?

Well I recently added four 5033s, as sometimes you need to get surgical – the Shelfords are more for broad strokes, and I find them musical and colourful. I still do ultra-surgical EQing with plugins, mostly for cutting peak resonances, but having 5 band parametric has so far been useful for certain situations, even sticking two on the mix bus. I still have some Penthouse slots left, so I may add something else in the future, perhaps some dedicated mix bus processors.

Most of Bibio’s latest album was mixed on his 5088.
Learn more here.