Peddling a distinct sound that blends techno, prog and leftfield electronica, this is one young producer who's really going places
Tibi Dabo – real name Max Guardans – has come a long way in a short space of time.
Still just 23 years old, he only released his first EP in 2017, yet he's already become a regular on Damian Lazarus's much-loved Crosstown Rebels label, with three EPs lined up for this year and an album to follow. Then again, that first EP came out on Sasha's Last Night On Earth label, no less, so his career got off to a higher-profile start than most!
He's come a long way geographically, too, moving from his native Barcelona to London, where he took a course in music production, before relocating once more to his current home of Berlin. The city, he says, "triggers something within me on a creative level that I cherish".
With the first of those three EPs, Disbelieve, out in a couple of weeks, now seemed like a good time to find out a little more about him…
As we haven't spoken before, can you start by telling us a little bit about your musical background and how you got into electronic/dance music in the first place?
"Intrigue and fascination was what sucked me in. My background consisted of trying to absorb everything I could. I took drum lessons for a few years and taught myself how to be a part of music. Modern software was a blessing for me early on, the fact that I could record myself playing different instruments and add layers of sounds that aren’t possible to achieve in the tangible world was mind-blowing. Since I was always playing around with composing pieces based on adding layers, I’ve technically been into electronic music since I got access to experiment with it. Which must have been around the age of 12."
I've read that the name Tibi Dabo comes from a mountain near Barcelona... does the mountain hold any particular significance for you?
"Tibi Dabo is my safe haven, it’s an entity that I can talk too through my inner thoughts. I think naming myselt after a mountain from my home town is a metaphor of it being me."
Which came first for you, DJing or production – and which is more important to you today? If you could only do one or the other, on pain of death, which would you choose?
"I would stick to making music. There’s no doubt about it. I think I can communicate more of myself through making it than playing it out. DJing came second, and my love for it hasn’t stopped growing.
"But I think it’s the combination of it all that makes me feel there’s not a world comparable to this. There’s an indescribable phenomenon that occurs when you’ve been sharing music on a physical and emotional level with a crowd for an extended period of time, something in me clicks there and it can’t be recreated anywhere else."
The sound you make, to me, sits somewhere between techno, progressive/melodic house and leftfield electronica... but how do you describe it?
"I just imagine a furry, sometimes noisy world of frequencies and sound pressure that makes you swim, or sometimes fly around towards welcoming surprises. It just happens to be displayed through a player or a needle."
The sounds you make also make me think that a fair amount of sound design and synth- tinkering, possibly using analogue/modular gear, goes into making your tracks... is that the case?
"Yes! That and a fair amount of sampling. I haven’t fully opened the door towards modular gear (yet) but it’s something I love experimenting with. You can get very similar results on a DAW, but there’s something about messing around with knobs and not starting from a preset that gives the sound you come up with a sense of singularity. Even if it’s very basic, it will still have some particularity that only happened because you tweaked it your way."
You're known for your association with the Crosstown Rebels stable, so tell us a little a bit about how you came to hook up with them?
"It was after finishing my track La Dorada. For some strange reason Damian Lazarus came to my mind, I thought he would be someone that would like it. I sent him the track and since then we’ve been very close, music-wise. He’s given me an amazing platform to get my music to the world, and understands it very well. Got nothing but respect for this human."
Many iDJ readers will be familiar, too, with your remix of Dubfire's Lotus. So how did that come about… and will Dubfire be returning the favour any time soon?
"That happened through the label, Dubfire was releasing the single on Crosstown and Damian suggested I should remix it. Dubfire seemed to be very happy with the result, it was a challenging one."
You're from Barcelona, lived/studied in London for a while and are now based in Berlin. How do the three cities compare - from a musician's and clubber's standpoint, and just generally?
"That’s probably too subjective to answer. I’ve always wondered how it would be to see Barcelona through the eyes of a visitor!
"The three cities have their own thing, they’re extremely different from each other. The one I feel most connected with at the present moment is Berlin, it’s where I’ve made the music I’m most happy with, and that to me means a lot. It means there’s something there that resonates with me in a way that the other cities don’t. It doesn’t mean it’s exclusively positive, but it means it triggers something within me on a creative level that I cherish."
What have been the highlights of your career so far, personally speaking?
"Premium Economy, baby."
You're scheduled to be playing at OFFSonar in June... do you reckon that's still going to go ahead? How badly is coronavirus likely to affect you work-wise/financially this year, do you think?
"Let’s hope so! It’s interesting to be answering this question during a national quarantine. It’s difficult to read about any progress being made in regards to the virus amongst all the sad news that keeps popping up. But things are also progressing in a good direction. Obviously an income that relies on social gatherings is bound to suffer, but I try to stay positive. The future is now open to radical change."
Your next EP Disbelieve is out next month, so talk us through the three tracks on there...
“Disbelieve and Hire The Birds are two tracks made with a very different approach. Disbelieve is all about simplicity and using whole recorded takes without editing too much. I like the energy it’s got, I can feel that spontaneity and rush in the track. Hire The Birds is a more thought-out and complex work. There’s more texture and detail going on. With these tracks I tried to reflect the absurdity of it all. How so many things can be set in stone if enough humans agree to it, but are still dependent on human consciousness.
"I suggested DJ Balduin to remix a track and I’m super happy with what he’s made. I’ve been following his work for a while and I couldn’t wait to collaborate with him."
Finally, is there anything else going on in Tibi Dabo's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"There’s an album in the works..."
Words: Russell Deeks
The Disbelieve EP is out on Crosstown Rebels on 10 April