A breakthrough long in the making: DJ Bibi Seck and her High Energy

As a remainder of a former obsession with Betty Boop, several figurines of the animated cartoon character oversee the living room of Bibi Seck. All designed in different settings, one turns the 1930’s born personage into a DJ. Below them a series of vinyl records are exhibited, giving an insight into some of Bibi's musical heroes: Evelyn Champagne King, Vanity 6, Prince Charles & City Beat Band, … all from an era in music history pivotal for Bibi Seck. Say hello to the 1980’s and the rise of electronic instruments, smoothly bridging the disco, funk and soul music of the 1970’s and the house music of the - at the time still unknown - future. Situated somewhere on this exciting junction, Bibi Seck found her musical crush and many moons later started to build her own musical identity as a DJ. 

Another record cover looking at us is High Energy by Evelyn Thomas. This 1984 fast-paced disco track became the founding mother of a whole new sub genre dubbed Hi-NRG and is an ideal epithet for Bibi Seck. Her DJ style is a blend of uptempo dance music from various eras, meant to move your hips and put a smile on your face. After playing all major Belgian festivals in the first post-Covid year 2022, 2023 has been another step upwards for the Antwerp DJ. Backed up by Berlin based booking agency Temporary Secretary, she now graces the line-ups of clubs and festivals all over Europe with De School in Amsterdam, Koko in London, Berghain in Berlin or Dekmantel Selectors in Croatia as some of the most eye-catching. 

The time is right to catch up with Bibi Seck in her flat in Antwerp, somewhere in the middle of her busy touring schedule on a warm but rainy July afternoon, for a long chat, curious to get to know the winsome DJ a bit better.

Apart from the epithet high energy, how would you describe your own DJ style?

Powerful I would say. There was a time when I alternated between downtempo and uptempo, but today I like to stay up there and present a homogeneous uplifting experience to the audience. Warmth and soulfulness are also key for me, which probably separates me a bit from the darker trance and hard house sounds that are very much happening these days. I’m a sucker for soul, gospel and black music. My ideal rhythm lies between 124 and 131 BPM, matching the natural flow of a human heart.   

Do you remember when exactly your career lifted off?

My performance at Horst Festival in September 2021, just after the pandemic, has been a game changer for me. I was programmed in an indoor hall and it had just started to rain, so loads of motivated dancers arrived at the start of my set. The way I had envisioned the vibe and prepared my records coincided perfectly with the mood in the room. It really was one of those days when all stars aligned. I had the best of times, an experience that boosted my self-confidence. Yes, I can do this, yes, I can make such a huge crowd dance. 

Fast forward to two summers later, when you're playing the coolest clubs and festivals abroad, next to another round at all major Belgian festivals. You must also be living on high energy, I imagine?

Definitely, it’s quite insane. I’m very grateful for what’s happening and sometimes also a bit worried, questioning the speed of all this and the consequences on my mental state. I’m a sensitive human being, you know, I really like to be home, in quiet and peaceful settings. Standing in front of huge crowds is something I truly enjoy, but on the other hand forces me to reserve more time in order to fully digest all the accompanying emotions. During the week, this means locking myself up in my personal bubble, recharging my batteries for the next weekend. 

Do you enjoy touring?

To be honest, it’s quite challenging. Two weeks ago I missed my first flight ever due to the connecting train being delayed and the world stopped turning for a moment. I was very stressed out. I guess this is what comes along with the job, I’m only just getting used to this. Before my first gigs abroad I had great expectations, almost as if I was going on a vacation trip. But in the end I hardly see any of the cities I visit. I also travel all alone. Besides, at this point in my career, most clubbers abroad don’t really know yet who I am, so it feels like I have to prove myself every time again for a new crowd. I’m very thankful for being invited to play my records for all these people, but starting to tour internationally was quite a reality check. 

It’s refreshing to hear you speak so honestly about a life that many people may be admiring. What do you do to keep a healthy and balanced life?

For the first time ever, I started to do sports, quite a surprise for those who know me, haha. And I simply just rest a lot, trying to slow down things, focusing on everything but nightlife. I enjoy spending time with family and friends. During the week I also take much time to listen to new music, searching the best possible tracks for my DJ sets. Having new music ready for the weekend gives me a comforting feeling. Although I sometimes tend to postpone the actual uploading onto my USB device, which usually happens on Fridays. 

Any highlights of the past year?

Playing in London was definitely a highlight. If I ever have the means, I would love to move to London. The UK scene has always been a major inspiration for me. DJ EZ’s Boiler Room was the first I ever watched online years ago and really blew my mind, using the Pioneer CDJ players as instruments like no one else can. I’m a huge fan of UK garage and UK funky. I’m somehow convinced that I belong to London, all of my sets in the British capital were just perfect so far. My gig in Koko for instance was an incredible experience. I came to realize that the way the Londoners talk and behave very much coincides with who I am, making me feel immediately at home, at the right place. It’s a real melting pot of backgrounds and inspirations, mixed with the typical British politeness. Really my cup of tea!

But until your move to London, you’re a proud Antwerpenaar. Born and raised?

Yes, I grew up in Berchem and lived there very happily until I was 18 years old. My parents are divorced, so every two weeks I spent a weekend in Tervuren at my father’s, which I enjoyed a lot for its beautiful nature. Now I live in the Antwerp Noord neighborhood together with my boyfriend, just around the corner of Park Spoor Noord. This city is perfect for me, at just the right size, everything and everyone only a bike ride away. 

How did Antwerp educate you musically?

Mostly by going out and listening to DJs who were playing in town. I have always been a big fan of DTM Funk. The parties of crews such as Vice Cities have also inspired me a lot, just as the resident DJ set of Dutch DJ Vic Crezée at Contrair. And last but not least some local legends from the Antwerp underground scene such as DJ Raphael or many DJs at Radio Centraal. 

Do you remember your first musical crush? 

As a teenager I fell in love with R’nB singers such as Beyoncé or Alicia Keys, long before my first DJ set. This later evolved into underground hiphop such as Gangsta Boo and Juicy J, which also became the style of music I played at my first ever DJ performances. I was 16 years old. But when hiphop commercialized, I started to feel out of touch with the music. Intuitively I started to broaden my spectrum towards black music from the 1980’s. I became obsessed with early electro and boogie music and the early days of house music. Actually I got hooked with all the blueprints and early days of music genres, when the music was still pure and unpolished. Today, ten years since my first DJ set, house music is my guiding principle, while influences from disco and electro are never far away, for instance mixing house with a classic electro track by Newcleus or Spacer Woman by Charlie. Looking back at these formative years now, I definitely needed the time to find my sound and take one step at a time.

Your recent breakthrough may look to come out of nowhere, but for you is only the continuation of a long process with ups and downs I assume?

Yes, that’s exactly it. I had to learn the craft first of all, sometimes also playing the wrong tracks and emptying a dance floor to my great despair. It took a while to become a real DJ and I’m still learning new things every day. For a long time I have been rather uncertain about playing the music I’m playing today. It was as if this music didn’t belong to me, that I lacked the knowledge to be allowed to use it as a DJ. Most of the DJs playing this music were white and male, I didn’t feel comfortable taking a position next to them. 

House music was born in black communities in Chicago and Detroit, but still you didn’t feel like it belonged to you? 

Yes indeed, when this realization hit me, I was slowly able to get rid of the anxiety that had blocked me before. I decided to reappropriate this music made by “my people”. To just enjoy playing it. I’m not religious, but I feel very connected to gospel music, a genre with roots in the black catholic church. Seeing other black DJs at work such as DTM Funk also inspired me to make this essential move. 

What’s in the pipeline for you?

Many more DJ gigs! And I’m working on my own music, long in the making but now finally moving towards a more finalized form. You’ll hear me sing, which is something I have loved doing since forever. But once again I needed time to feel confident enough to share my voice with the world. 

Oh, that’s lovely, I’m very much looking forward to that. Thanks!

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