After two and a half years away, the world’s premier beatboxing competition returns with a bang.
Warsaw, Poland – It's taken 922 days for the Grand Beatbox Battle (GBB) to return, and this time, it was bigger than ever before. This weekend, Swissbeatbox welcomed nearly 5,000 fans, DJs, dancers, and, of course, beatboxers into ExpoXXII in Warsaw Poland, and crowned five new beatboxing champions:
- Colaps from France (Solo)
- Bizkit from the USA (Loopstation)
- Middle-School from Belgium (Tag-Team)
- M.O.M. from Austria (Crew)
- Sorry from Japan (Tag-Team Loopstation).
With a crunching snare and the cleanest drum kit of the competition, Colaps (Julien Callawert) powered his way through a gauntlet of opponents en route to the championship. Vocodah, the 2019 American Champion, Zekka, 2019 GBB 7-to-Smoke Champion, Inertia, the top seeded battler, and finally River, the 2019 French Champion, and Colaps’ Tag-Team partner in Rogue Wave. Speaking after the event, Colaps was happy to have shared the stage with his close friend. “We dreamed about it, but we never wanted to say that it’s gonna happen. And then it actually happened.”
“It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. I lost to my brother.” River
After over two years away from in-person battling, the contestants and fans spent much of the weekend sharing appreciation for the fact that they were able to be there at all. At least once each night, Scott Jackson, MC for the GBB, broke from the battles to ask for cheers and applause for the community. At one point, Bizkit (Alex Sanchez) remarked that he loves online battles as much as the next guy – Bizkit is the 2020 Online Beatbox Loopstation World Champion – “but this is real life!”
Not All Love and Hugs
With that said, it was not all love and hugs. Bizkit aggressively attacked his opponents with heavy drops and lyrical fronts. Rapping against Frosty from the UK (Charlie Pitt) in the last round of the finals, Bizkit asserted his place in the scene with his track “I’m That Looper.” “If you don’t already know, I’m that Looper 2.0!” As Bizkit finished his round and flexed at the crowd, the American beatboxers in the crowd celebrated. Pono, Bizkit’s Tag-Team partner in Dreamerz, muttered “he’s got it” to no one in particular. Walking to his post-battle interview with Swissbeatbox backstage, Bizkit made it clear he felt the same way. “I’m champ.”
Powerhouses in France and the United States
One thing that the Solo and Loopstation competitions reaffirmed is that France and the United States sit alone at the top of the beatboxing world. Though Bizkit is the first American looper to win at GBB, and Colaps is the first French solo beatboxer to win at the GBB, the two countries have long dominated the competition.
From 2015 – 2017, Americans won every solo GBB, and from 2017 – 2019, French loopers won every Loopstation GBB. The two countries swapped categories this year, but in terms of depth and talent, the USA and France are unmatched in the international beatboxing scene. 14 of the 24 loopers and solo beatboxers in the GBB battles were either French or American.
Outside of the main two categories, there were many more countries represented on the podium. Despite the prevalence of French and American beatboxers at the competition, every competition went to a different country. In Tag-Team, Tag-Team Loopstaion, and Crew, Japan made a loud statement.
The teenagers of Sarukani (Kohey, Rusy, SoSo, and Kaji) and the meme lords of Rofu (Fuga and Hiro) took home the Tag-Team Loopstation championship (Rusy and Soso), second place in Crew (Sarukani), third place in Tag-Team (Rofu), and top-8 in Tag-Team (Koehy and Rusy). The Japanese cohort could be seen goofing off throughout the event, and their wild energy translated well to the stage, engaging the crowd with their jokes and bright colored outfits.
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An Emotional Evening
Sorry (Rusy and SoSo) are the first Japanese beatboxers to win at the GBB, and the emotions poured out of them after they were announced champions. Rusy, who had cried on Instagram Live after missing out on an invitation to the GBB in the Solo Loopstation category, broke down in tears again, but this time they were tears of joy. Still holding his winner’s plaque, the 19-year-old said that he would celebrate, but first, “I’m going to call my mom.” His family was back in Japan watching Swissbeatbox’s livestream, but he had yet to speak to them.
Swissbeatbox’s main source of revenue and attention is its YouTube channel, and they were celebrating the success of the livestream in real-time during the event. At the beginning of the second night, Scott Jackson asked the crowd to cheer for the hundreds of thousands of viewers who joined Rusy’s family and tuned in to the event on the first night. In the coming days, the livestreams will be processed and broken up into battle and showcase videos that will provide content for Swissbeatbox for weeks to come, and downloads that will be the foundation for their channel for the rest of the year.
If the teenagers for Japan were the least experienced beatboxers at the event, then on the other end of the spectrum were M.O.M. (Mouth o Matic), the Austrian Crew Champions, and winners of the Crew category at the GBB. All three members of M.O.M. (Slizzer, Eon, and Geo Popoff) are national champions in Austria, and Slizzer has been performing internationally since 2009, when he showed up to the top-16 battles of the Beatbox Battle World Championship with a dragon shaved and dyed into his hair.
Tapping into their experience, M.O.M. put on a show that managed to combine irreverence, parody, serious beats, and a short sing-along into one coherent six-minute performance. To open their showcase, the trio prayed to the holy trinity of the kick, snare, and hi-hat. Later in the showcase, they threw condoms with M.O.M. stickers on them into the crowd, and at another they parodied their competition, as well as the prior crew champions of the world, before finishing with a technical flourish unrivaled by any of the other crews.
Making Up for Lost Time
For Swissbeatbox the Crew and Tag-Team Loopstatin categories were huge successes. There were some technical issues with the Tag-Team Loopstation showcases, but this was the first time the GBB had Crew and Tag-Team Loopstation categories, and a few hiccups are to be expected.
Swissbeatbox announced the new categories for the 2020 GBB, but when the event was moved online due to Covid-19, they paused Crew and Tag-Team Loopstation until they could host the event in person. The categories are still in their infancy at the GBB, with only showcases and no battles, and only a couple dozen auditions for entry compared with hundreds with the three established categories, Solo, Loopstation, and Tag-Team.
Where the other four categories were full of suspense, the Tag-Team battles were more of a coronation. Middle School (FootboxG and Supernova) placed 2nd in the 2019 GBB, losing in a close battle to Uniteam, Alem and Alexinho, a pair of solo beatbox world champions. Coming off that loss, the Belgians prepared aggressively for the 2020 GBB, only to experience setbacks when the event was canceled, and when Supernova moved to France, making practicing harder. Speaking after their showcase, the Middle School were calm. Being on stage created “some kind of release in our [bodies] because we have been working for like two years on this stuff. Now, we came confident, really prepared. We know we can make it.“ They showed their experience and calm in the showcase and battles, and rode Drum and Bass and Hip Hop beats to the championship.
After the event, Swissbeatbox CEO Pepouni was a picture of calm. After weeks of working until 3:00 am, an all-nighter was no big deal for him, and the CEO was proud and introspective. A quarter of Swissbeatbox’s team could not make it to the event due to visa issues, and still, they were able to put on the event with minor delays and a few sound issues.
Part of Pepouni’s vision for the competition on whole is to make it more accessible, and overcoming visa and Covid-related obstacles, Swissbeatbox was able to share the stage with beatboxers from twenty-seven different countries. In 2018, Peopouni (Andrea Fraefel) explained that they moved the GBB from Basel to Warsaw specifically to make the competition accessible.
(The next accessibility challenge for Swissbeatobox will be to increase gender diversity at the event. Just three women performed on the GBB stage compared with over three dozen men. Similarly, the crowd featured significantly more men than women.)
For now, Pepouni isn’t worried about the next GBB, or even uploading the videos from this event. Sitting in a hotel bar after a night without sleep, he said that “at seven-to-smoke [the king-of-the-hill style battle that highlights the GBB afterparty], I’m gonna drink a beer with my friends.” After waiting over two years for that beer, it’s safe to say he’s earned it.