Words by Billy Goat G. Pictures by Jeff Metal.
On an overcast weekend afternoon, beatboxing landed with a thud (possibly accompanied by a subtle hi-hat) in Imperial College, London UK. The World's first Human Beatbox Convention was about to begin, after plenty of hype from discerning institutions like Radio 1 (and 1xtra), XFM, Radio Leeds and other media. Could this herald a beatboxing renaissance, following its demise in the late eighties? Perhaps. Either way, this event had much to live up to.
Upon entry, my preconception of teenagers in a dingy club spitting ear-wilting bassy hip hop-inspired beats with their mouths was dispelled. Instead, I heard the latest in beatbox creation and exploration - everything from angry bees to snarling bass drums, Scooby Doo's cartoon laugh to fast-paced trance-inducing hi-hats. This was a music lesson, designed to further the art of beatboxing and surpass the popularity it reached in the mid-eighties with performers like Doug E. Fresh, Ready Rock C., and Biz Markie. The day featured showcases from nineteen of the world's best beatboxers, with talks on where the beatbox scene is going, performing with other musicians, microphone technique, and even medical advice from Dr Ruth Epstein on preserving your vocal chords. I'd never before seen an event where every delegate arrived within an hour of the start, and the performers (numbering at least 30 if you count the open mic session) got such massive crowd support. A So Solid-styled concert it wasn't, the closest I came to physical harm was a near miss with a hefty BBC 1xtra camera.
Several artists you just had to watch, conspicuous through their mastery of both the sound and the stage. Anointed S and Otha Major, both from America, have mastered such a combination, but with very contrasting styles. Anointed S moved with every beat, as if the thunderous basslines he created were shaking him off the stage. Otha Major sat down on his chair and sipped a Bud before closing his eyes and delivering his set, ranging from American Indian chants to off-the scale drum 'n' bass beats. Shlomo and MowGLi gave the home side something to cheer about too, with fantastic 'tranceboxing' skills and complete bass beat mastery in evidence respectively. If I could, I would mention all the performers, there wasn't a weak link among them.
An event to deliver this music to the public cannot be far away, judging by the crowd at the Breakin' Bread after party, and our Underground train driver's willingness to delay his train to hear more beatboxing. Even Justin Timberlake has caught the bug. As Rodney P, open mic host and Radio 1xtra DJ, said, "it's about time we had something like this, get out there, get to the people and let the people hear ya."