For awhile, things got uncomfortably quiet for Michael Bibi, a man better-acquainted with noise.
With clubs closed due to covid, Bib passed the eery days of the deep pandemic in his London studio, over time finding his typically intuitive production process stunted entirely.
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“I think my lowest moment was when I spent two days in the studio, and I made literally nothing. I made no music at all,” Bibi says. “I mean, I had absolutely no inspiration whatsoever. It was horrible.”
This sense of dread was squared by the fact that, until this moment, Bibi had been one of the hottest artists going in the U.K. and markets well beyond. His list of accomplishments then included but were not limited to: selling out various U.K. clubs, moving 10,000-plus tickets for shows in South America, clocking a global hit with “Hanging Tree” (which sampled the song of the same name from the original Hunger Games soundtrack) and appearing on the March 2020 cover of Mixmag under a headline calling his rise “unstoppable.”
As it turned out, there was one thing that could stop it; the pandemic collapsed a 2020 schedule that would’ve included debut sets at Coachella and Glastonbury. “It was like, ‘This is like my dream year. This is the year I’m finally going to make it after 10 years of grasping, and living on sofas and living sh–ty,'” he tells Billboard backstage at recent gig. “Then the pandemic comes and wipes all that way, and I was like, ‘F–k.'”
Now, after a dually challenging/enlightening two years, Bibi is back on the path of ascendancy, garnering huge buzz during Miami Music Week 2022 (where he played his first U.S. show at the city’s mega-club Space) then a month later packing Coachella’s Yuma Tent, where roughly 3,000 people stood in line outside to see him. This summer finds Bibi largely in Ibiza, where he launched his residency Solid Grooves at the island’s revered club DC-10 last month.
“With Bibi being set up and rising right before the pandemic, the interest only grew as he popped up and committed to crazy extended sets and after hours,” says Stephanie LaFera, Bibi’s agent at WME. “He embodies the spirit of the music and scene, and is not in it because he’s looking for cash grabs. He actively is out at other people’s shows, enjoys interacting with his audience in a real way, and I think his accessibility and authenticity draw the old school and new to want to be on the floor when he’s playing and follow along online with his adventures.”
Now 32, Bibi grew up in London, the son of a dance teacher and blues guitarist Robin Bibi, who played with greats like Robert Plant and BB King. He passed out mixtapes in high school, and after a gap year traveling Southeast Asia and Australia, returned in 2011 home feeling “like, right, it’s time to do something with my life.” But the sense of freedom and peak experiences he’d had while traveling shifted his plan of entering the nine-to-five workforce. Instead, he decided to become a DJ.
Unfortunately he had no idea how to start. “I didn’t understand how the industry worked,” he says. “I knew I had like, a s–t ton of friends that liked to party, and we all went partying every weekend. But we never went backstage, you know? We never went behind the DJ booth. We were always on a dance floor. We always paid for tickets.”
But he was learning through osmosis, hitting London’s hallowed club Fabric every weekend and observing what worked on the dancefloor, and how a resident DJ could could either gently warm up a room or set the place on fire at peak time. He knew he could do the same, and his goal became a residency of his own. With this plan in place, he put his USB in his pocket and began knocking on doors of clubs around town.
“I was like, ‘Hi, I’m a DJ, and I’m ready,'” he recalls. “They were like, ‘Uh, okay.’ The janitor would answer the door like, ‘What are you talking about?'”
While commendable, his moxie did not yield a booking. So, Bibi gathered £1,000 and rented a venue himself, illegally plastering London subway tunnels with posters advertising the event he’d christened Solid Grooves. He needed 100 people to show up in order to turn a profit. They came. “It worked beautifully,” he says.
Things then started moving quickly, with Bibi getting booked around town while teaching himself how to produce music. When labels passed on his stuff, he launched his own imprint, Solid Grooves Records, and “started getting a a little hype,” which helped him secure a residency at club in London’s Vauxhall neighborhood. Here, every week for the next three and a half years, he played an afterparty that began at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, like Catholic mass for ravers. He learned a lot during that dawn to noon shift.
“The Saturday night dictated how the afterparty went,” Bibi says. “If Saturday was a progressive house night, most of the people who went to the afterparty would be into progressive house, so I had to learn about progressive house. Next Saturday might be techno, then breakbeat, then drum & bass. I would study the genre and ask myself, ‘What can I take from this? What do I enjoy about this genre, and how can I translate that into my sound?'”
Bibi was soon fluent across the vast electronic genre taxonomy, with this dexterity giving him an advantage: “I think that’s one thing that’s gotten me to where I’m at now, I’m extremely good at being able to read people and crowds.” When his tough, spare “Hanging Tree” edit became a global club hit in 2018, he was suddenly selling out gigs across Europe and into South American markets like Brazil and Argentina, where — on a mission to give the people what they wanted — he folded Latin rhythms into arena shows for crowds that swelled beyond 15,000.
It was all a dream-come-true mega-high. Then the pandemic hit, and overnight, it was over. “It messed with my head massively,” Bibi says, his big eyes getting wider with the memory, “because I thought I was peaking in my career, and then it was like, I could be a flash in the pan.”
But the annoying platitude that everything happens for a reason for Bibi proved accurate. Always innately social, he says his party-centric nature was cranked to overdrive when he got famous, leading to behavior not necessarily atypical for a young, talented, handsome artist suddenly getting paid loads of money to travel the world and play music for thousands of people screaming his name.
“I was doing things before the pandemic that were just like… not positive,” he says, looking at his hands and choosing his words carefully. “It was like, self-damaging, going on benders and stuff, just partying constantly… during the pandemic, I realized the whole reason I was doing that is because I was just trying to block out all of my internal noise with external noise.”
So, with really not much else to do, he worked on himself, a process that involved “a lot of crying, a lot of realizations, connecting with old family members” and generally facing the demons he’d previously kept quiet by drowning them out on the dancefloor. He learned how to set boundaries around his people-pleasing tendencies, and figured out how to tend to his own needs rather than always focusing on others.
Here, under the fluorescent lights of his trailer, Bibi is certainly the epitome of white-hot cool, with agents, promoters, fans, beautiful women and big-name DJs buzzing around him — but in conjunction with his It Guy swagger, he’s also got a sort of endearing bashfulness, and his self actualization seems totally sincere.
“I’m really glad it happened,” he says. “If it didn’t, I would have just gone straight into touring, and I would have just toured for five years, taken every drug under the sun and burnt out — then probably had some sort of mental breakdown. Now I feel like I’m so clear headed.”
He then locks eyes and with total gravity adds: “But listen, I like to party. But now I just do it purely when I want to do it, for enjoyment reasons. It’s not like I must do it all the time to like, block out pain. I have complete control.”
And in more ways than one. The Solid Grooves residency at DC10 is generating buzz as one of the best events of the 2022 season, with Bibi leading crowds through realms of house and techno alongside stars like Dennis Cruz, Jackmaster, Seth Troxler, Loco Dice, Pawsa and The Martinez Brothers. He says the energy on the island — where he first learned about rave culture in his 20s — is high this summer, and that he’s been surprised and delighted by how international his crowds have been during shows that extend until after sunrise, a time frame he’s well-acquainted with. When not leading the masses in communal bliss on the island, he’s been playing festivals including Glastonbury (where he remixed Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” at dawn), Creamfields, Kappa Futurfestival in Italy and Secret Project in Portugal.
But while Bibi was a sensation in the States this past Spring, he’s still only played a handful of shows here. While his energy is currently going to the Solid Grooves residency, he promises to return to the U.S, “very soon.”
“Honestly, he could come back again next week and still sell it all out,” says Kobi Danan, the owner of Los Angeles club Sound, where Bibi played a set between Coachella weeks this past April. “Michael’s sound represents the next phase in America’s dance evolution, the young generation loves it, which is great, because it’s still cool and underground. He might be one of the few stars who can sell hard tickets in the U.S., but also keep his credibility “
And do so by just leaning on his ability to give people what he knows they want — in the way he wants to give it to them. “I’ve met a lot of artists that are like, ‘I do me, and I don’t care if they like it or they don’t like it,'” Bibi says. “That’s one way of doing things, and I always do me — but I will adapt to the crowd I’m playing to.”
He laughs when it’s pointed out that this tendency is ultimately a high level form of people pleasing. The trick though, is that it’s one that clearly makes him happy, too.