Behind the making of 'Mind Bokeh'

The first thought that pops into your head.

The sentences which tumble out, seemingly unattached to anything which is on your mind. The things you see in the corner of your eye. The conversations you overhear when rushing past in the street.

An un-focussed mind can sometimes help break down barriers. Returning to the studio after the success of 'Ambivalence Avenue' Bibio began to explore other ways of working, other ways of thinking.

Produced over the course of two years, new album 'Mind Bokeh' is a deeply impressive, vastly eclectic release. Moving from rock riffery to Brazilian percussion in just a few minutes, it matches the weight of dubstep to a sunshine pop sensibility.

Never keen to sit in one place, Bibio (real name Stephen Wilkinson) has just popped into the country for a one off London show. Tying him down for a thirty minute chat, ClashMusic learned just how 'Mind Bokeh' came about...

- - -

When did sessions for ‘Mind Bokah’ begin?
I think it’s a continuous process, there aren’t really any breaks. To be honest some of the tracks go back as far as ‘Ambivalence Avenue’. Some tracks crossover between albums, when you’re making an album it tends to get fuller and fuller until you can’t fit everything on there. Some get left behind, and maybe released later. It’s a continuous process. Over a year and a half to two years, really, that’s when the writing happens.

Do you tend to focus on an album concept?
Sometimes I have an idea where I want to go – when I finish an album sometimes I have a clear idea where I want to go next. But I try not to get too fixed on ideas as you can restrict yourself that way. A lot of the off the cuff things that just happen naturally could be really important. It’s that kind of approach which has led to me doing two quite diverse albums. Part of that is the product of not being too focussed on an idea. I think that when I finished ‘Ambivalence Avenue’ one thing I wanted to focus on was the use of synthesisers and drum machines more, so it’s going to lend itself to an electric sounding album rather than an acoustic album. It’s not very electronic in many ways – I’m still using live instruments and live percussion, but it’s just that the overall effect in ‘Mind Bokeh’ is neon and artificial sounding. That was the intention anyway.

Where does the term ‘Mind Bokeh’ come from?
I discovered the word ‘bokeh’ through studying photography. A friend of mine told me about it and I’ve always been interested in technology which is designed to do a particular job –which has an intention – but ends up doing other things. It’s the things that aren’t always intentional that makes technology interesting. The fact that the camera perceives the world in a different way to the eye is what makes photography interesting really. It’s not just about capturing reality as it is, it’s about expressing a totally different point of view. It’s those blurred aspects which make photography interesting. The idea of attaching it to the mind is a reference to different ways of thinking, of being conscience. Rather than being intellectual, or thinking logically thinking in another way, which you maybe can’t put into words. I refer to it as the peripheral mind. We can often get from A to B in the car without really thinking about it as it stays in our peripheral mind. I do the same in the studio, there’s a lot of automatic kind of things which are not acutely focussed basically as I am well focussed on it now. It’s like a reference to the effects of the de-focussed mind or like a state of meditation if you like. It’s potentially got a lot of meanings. When you’ve got a title like that it gets people thinking. Or it might do!

J Dilla is obviously a big influence, when were you introduced to him?
I don’t know really, I suppose it goes back quite a few years now. I’m really bad at remembering dates, everything just becomes a blur for me. I’ve always been a fan of the sampler for a long time. When I was young a sampler was a lot of money and I couldn’t afford that. But now you can do those same things on a computer, and most people have got a computer. It’s lost its mystery now because it’s so accessible. When I was 17 and listening to DJ Shadow just the idea of having a box where a button could make any sound you wanted to make was like the ultimate instrument. Now everyone is using them. The influences come from a lot of sampled music. From Dilla, the way he used soul records, cut them up. Obviously the swing, the groove – I found that quite exciting. You hear it in a lot of music which is not hip hop, that loose feel to it. That’s a good thing as electronic music has been around for a long time now and it has a mechanical, grid like time to it. Electronic music doesn’t have to be so grid like, it can be elasticated, more human.

Are you applying ‘Mind Bokeh’ concepts to music here?
It’s not so much to do with bits of the music as a state of mind. With some of the lyric writing on a couple of the tracks – like ‘Excuses’ – the lyrics were very off the cuff. I really enjoyed that process. Say I’m working on a track and I want to put a vocal track on it I’ll try and sing a vocal melody that I like but obviously don’t want to sing the same thing. So I sing the first sentence that comes into my mind – and sometimes I use that. What fascinates me is that it’s not quite automatic writing but it does verge on the unconscious. I’ll sit back and listen to the lyrics and realise that they have all come from me, my history and my experiences so it all seems relevant in some way. It might not be very acute or explicit but it still comes from within. It’s a release of expression from something else which you are obsessing about.

Some tracks are quite guitar heavy, but you use this in very distinct ways.
When I discovered electronic music the guitar felt redundant in some ways because I had this rock / metal background, which is essentially a blues background. Then I went to art college and a lecturer gave me a tape which had some Steve Reich on it and that completely... that was a revolution for me. The minute I heard Steve Reich it made me think differently about the guitar. I think I just looked at it as a note making device rather than a guitar. When I began making loops I found that you can get all these effects through counterpoint and delays and that really started me, I think. Within a year of playing around with that approach I had come up with the name Bibio and began to record things.

There is a lot of baggage with the guitar.
It’s interesting. It’s one of the most popular instruments in the world but to me I try to look at things as what sounds I can get rather than what songs I can play. It’s like the saxophone – the saxophone has a bad reputation, mainly due to the 80s, but then everyone kind of left off it for a long time. Now, to me, that kind of cheesy 80s sound is strange and nice in some ways. It’s an instrument, and the instrument itself is completely innocent. It’s what you do with it that counts.

Is ‘Take Off Your Shirt’ a homage of sorts to your teenage rock self?
Kind of. That track is as much influenced by Daft Punk. I could have just as easily replaced the guitar with synths but then it wouldn’t have had that rock influence. I think it started off on the guitar. I had those chords and then jammed out, came up with a vocal melody which seemed to suggest a rock influence. So I pushed it in the direction of being a rock song , it even sounds like typical 70s rock lyrics - Thin Lizzy or whatever. I wanted to disguise it a bit. It’s basically a rock track which I have tinkered with. I earned those chops from playing a lot back then, and I guess that came back.

Where does the percussion on ‘K Is For Kelson’ come from?
I have always been one of those people who tap tables and stuff. I am always practising in a way. A lot of musicians I know – not necessarily drummers – do a lot of tapping. Virtually anything can be percussion as you don’t really have use an expensive drum kit to get percussion, you can use a glass or a bottle. I love that DIY approach to percussion and I suppose I have been influenced a lot by Brazilian music and African music – music from poor countries where they are really inventive with objects around them to make instruments out of really simple things. I took to Brazilian percussion, and they use objects such as shells which they find all around them. But also there is a really high level of mastery on those instruments, even though those instruments are primitive the musicians command a high level of sophistication. The playing is full of nuances.

It’s got a Brazilian influence, an African influence but there’s also a children’s TV theme feel to it. Like Sesame Street, all those things I grew up on in the 80s. I wanted it to sound playful and kind of infantile. Something educational. Obviously on those programs you would explain to kids that you can make instruments out of anything. I like that kind of DIY approach. It’s very liberating, when you realise that not doing something because you can’t afford it is just a cop out. Obviously I had all the technology as well, but sometimes you just want a primitive sound.

- - -

'Mind Bokeh' is out now.

Follow Clash: