The early days of Humanbeatbox.com--back when it was known as beatboxing.co.uk--was an infant compared to the grandeur of the organization today. Back in 2002, uploading and sharing music, teaching one another various sounds, and simply networking on the internet was a relatively new phenomenon for beatboxers; no longer were they limited to strictly meeting each other in the streets and passing along homemade tapes or CDs. Through this networking, beatboxers were able to collaborate and battle with others across the globe. In essence, a supportive and collective community was emerging at an incredibly rapid pace.
In a little over a year, this growing community led to the 2003 Human Beatbox Convention in London, which was an important moment for beatboxing. Undoubtedly, Humanbeatbox.com has greatly contributed to the creation of other beatboxing organizations around the world, and it has helped so many beatboxers, including myself, achieve opportunities that we would have otherwise only dreamed about.
And here we are five years later. Still going and growing even stronger. This past April, HBB put on the 2008 International Human Beatbox Convention at the Southbank Centre, and was it an unforgettable weekend (I'm trying to avoid clichés here, but it really was unforgettable). This amazing event spanned from Friday evening to Sunday evening, and it was such an honour to be part of it.
And I'd like to say this real quick in advance--if I fail to mention your name, I sincerely apologize and hope you don't take it personaly. I was asked to write this review after I had already returned home, so I'm depending a lot on my memory! Had I brought my notepad and pen, I would've been able to write everyone's name down. So instead of trying to remember every single performer and potentially mixing up names and days, I'll be focusing on the highlights of the weekend while trying to be as inclusive as possible.
Friday, April 18
When over twenty energetic beatboxers are in the same room together and are eagerly waiting to hop on the microphone, one can certainly feel the energy buzzing throughout. This was the atmosphere of the room on Friday night, the first night of the convention. Instead of being open to the public, this evening was all about the beatboxers; it was an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and just have fun on stage without having to worry about time limits or structure.
Before the beatboxing madness began, the room was filled with beatboxers from around the globe who greeted one another; some spoke different languages as they shared traveling experiences and beatboxing stories. But everyone spoke the same language when it came time to exchanging sounds. Every so often, I would take a glance around the room and see the excitement on beatboxers' faces as they wondered who would be the first to go on the mic. Hell, I won't lie, I was just as curious! Although, after not really sleeping the night before and experiencing jetlag, I was more than happy to not go on first. 🙂
After about 45 minutes of hanging out and drinking, the night was kicked off with HBB owner Jim Wilde aka Archangel, who thanked everyone for coming and encouraged all of the beatboxers to perform. And they did. The diversity of faces and range of talent was truly amazing. Some brought comedy and theatrical elements to their performance, like Nino G and the Beat Warriors; others were masters of a particular style, such as Xaigon, YasSon, and Marv-ill, who were strong with the drum and bass. There were so many other amazing beatboxers who rocked the mic on Friday night. Most of the beatboxers were only on stage for a few minutes, as the open mic was supposed to be a bit loose and took the form of an open jam. Two beatboxers at a time, with people jumping in when the need took them. After the open mic, many of the beatboxers went to the Generator Hostel and continued on with the beat mayhem (and drinking, of course).
Saturday, April 19
Day two of the convention took place during the day in the 'Front Room'. The massive open space was used for the 2007 convention, and it was impressive to see the room being utilized as a performance area. There were two large red partitions that curved to form the stage and seating area; this construction certainly induced curiosity among young and elderly passersby alike, who made up a large portion of the audience.
The focus of Saturday was to provide a structured open mic, a few showcases, and a beginner's workshop by Hobbit. Many of the beatboxers who performed the previous night were present on Saturday (and even Sunday) as well. The show was kicked off by Archangel and Hobbit, who thanked the audience for being there and talked a bit about the convention. Hobbit was the host of the day, and his charisma greatly complemented the massive energy that was released on stage by the many beatboxers.
Up first was Corroborree, a set of three young chaps who were fierce with the beatboxing. The first act of any show is comparable to the crucial first bite of a meal that you just made for your date--if she doesn't like it, she's gone. Well, the audience wasn't going anywhere because they were immediately awestruck. After jamming with straight beatboxing, YasSon brought out the didgeridoo and took their set to a whole new level. Boris FX soon went up, and this guy was incredibly talented; being a native from California, I know a surfer when I see one. Boris most certainly reminded me of some friends back home, but I couldn't discern whether or not he was a surfer. Probably not. But his beatboxing was as polished as a new pair of leather dress shoes. He was fast, energetic, and amazingly precise with his timing.
Beatbox veteran, Eliot, got the chance to bless the stage with his raw old school beats; he also collaborated with Inja, a very talented emcee. Another impressive duo set was done by the Beat Warriors; these two guys from Finland were funny as well as very skilled with their beatboxing. They danced on stage, did heavy hip hop beats to famous tunes, and made the audience laugh. Even off-stage, these guys were constantly beatboxing and impressing other beatboxers with various sounds. And then there was Ball-Zee. Oh, who could forget Ball-Zee. Either suffering from lack of sleep or having a little too much of his herb, this guys' red eyes were slightly frightening. But his beatboxing was sure as hell comforting. He did a range of hard-hitting beats and was able to produce a vocal bass sound that I had never heard before (I hope it doesn't cause damage to his throat). There were many other very talented beatboxers who performed Saturday; among them were: Marv-ill, Addy P, Waxybox, D-Rop, RamZ, Lytos, Azeem, Daq, Pie Man, Fat Tony, Contrix, and more.
In between many of the beatboxing acts, Hobbit did a very well done beginner's beatboxing workshop. Considering that he hadn't slept well the previous night and was doing constant shows, he did an incredible job beatboxing and sustaining his energy as a performer and host. For the workshop, he first gave a brief overview of the history of beatboxing and then taught the audience how to produce various sounds. Interestingly, none of the adults in the crowd were brave enough to hop on stage and try to beatbox--cowards! But fortunately, some young kids were eager and more than happy to beatbox on stage. These young kids were fun to watch, and they'll most likely be the next generation of beatboxers, making all of us look old school.
After Hobbit's workshop, there was an amazing performance done by the PeteBox; he stirred a lot of buzz in the room, and many folks couldn't stop talking about him. I had seen this guy's name bouncing around on the HBB forums for the past few years, but I had no idea what style of beatboxing he had. He was the first taste of "live looping" that the audience got to witness; he did three energetic, beat-thumping songs that had everyone hypnotically nodding their heads. Not only was he a badass beatboxer; was could f***ing sing as well, smashing the place apart with his cover of the Basement Jaxx's 'Where's your Head at?'. The day ended with a few more amazing showcases, and later that evening, Shlomo performed with the Mad Professor on the main stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Sunday, April 20
The final day of the convention was certainly the most hyped and anticipated; it was a day that would be jam-packed with open mics, a short film, a workshop, and a final beatbox concert. Despite the lack of sleep, heavy drinking, and massive jamming that most of the beatboxers had experienced, it didn't stop them from wanting to be part of Sunday's extraordinary event.
The open mics, short film, and workshop took place in the same open space as Saturday's event. After a welcoming message from Archangel and Hobbit, the day was kicked off with an awesome set from Hobbit and the Austin Francis Connection; they combined Hobbit's beatboxing with some guitar playing and singing, creating a lovely fusion of human and acoustic sounds. After these guys, another impressive group performance was done by Ommm; this group was comprised of Waxybox and some of his friends from France. This male and female group was strictly a cappella, and they produced beautiful harmonized music that was carried by Waxybox's smooth beats.
After these group performances, there a bunch of showcases, many of which were done by the beatboxers from Friday's and Saturday's event. There were some new faces as well, particularly Minimus and Skiller, who did some of the most technical and fast beatboxing I had ever heard! Some surprise guests came through, like Bee Low from Germany--for those who don't already know, this guy is one dedicated organizer of beatboxing and is extremely passionate about it. I had the honor of jamming onstage with Bee Low and Nino G, who are two very talented and veteran beatboxers. There were other jaw-dropping collaborations, like the one with Danjamouth and Effected, and YasSon and D-Rop, who both beatboxed into their panpipe instruments! Now that was truly awesome!
After some open mics and showcases, a mini documentary called Sciencebox: The Science of Beatboxwas shown; this documentary examined the effects that beatboxing has on the human throat and if it causes any damage. It was produced by Shlomo and was very well done. There weren't any scientists or doctors present, as originally intended, but it was still very cool to learn something new about beatboxing; most of the beatboxers in that room, including myself, had no idea what our throats do when we beatbox!
The highlight of the afternoon event was a live looping workshop done by Kid Beyond. Kid Beyond is a veteran beatboxer, who's been beatboxing for ever twenty years. He uses an advanced setup that involved a custom-programmed foot pedal, a laptop, and Ableton Software that allows him to loop himself onstage in real time. He demonstrated how he loops his beats, and he performed a few songs. One of the most entertaining parts of the day was when he brought Jude Law's son Rudy on stage and beatboxed with him. Little Rudy seemed to be having a blast with Kid Beyond, and the two exchanged beats. The afternoon ended with a MASSIVE beatbox jam that was incredible. Seeing five or six guys alone is impressive enough to watch, but when there are at least twenty guys passing around the microphone and others beatboxing in the background, it really is amazing.
After the day time event, there were a few hours until the final concert. The anticipation for it was very high, and everyone was hoping for the three-day event to end with a bang. And it did. The final concert took place on the main stage of Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the room was HUMONGOUS. It isn't your average club- or bar-like venue; this place is the real deal, it and seats several hundred.
The first to perform was Nino G, who was the perfect opener. Anyone who's seen this guy knows how talented of a beatboxer he is. I got the chance to meet and hang out with him throughout the weekend, and I had no idea he's in his thirties! When he stepped foot on stage, wearing his custom made white Nino G outfit, he slowly looked into the audience with a small grin. Then, all of a sudden, he unleashed a crescendo of sounds that were all rhythmically in synch. His energy was constant for the ten minutes he performed, and he integrated many theatrical elements into his set, such as pretending to wind himself up and down like a toy, and spray painting his name to a beat. He ended his set with his signature baby cry and trumpet tune that the audience just loved.
Up next was the female group The Boxettes from the UK. These lovely ladies were one of my favorites of the night because they were far different than any other female a cappella group I had ever heard. The beatboxer of the group, Bellatrix, led the group with her beats while the other ladies sang an amazing range of beautiful vocals; their style was reminiscent of nu-jazz with the broken rhythms that they would do. At one moment, they would be soft and gentle; at another, they would be loud and powerful. The Boxettes clearly have a strong understanding of rhythm and harmony, and this was reflected in their amazing performance.
And then there was Beatsick JP. Beatsick what? Beatsick JP! (You know, the duo from Japan?). Well okay, maybe you don't know. So allow me to fill you in. These guys are undoubtedly one of the best beatbox duos in the world, if not the best. I've seen and heard a lot of beatboxing, but I felt like I was a first-time listener of beatboxing when I heard these guys. They started beatboxing before they came on stage, and each guy came in from a different side of the stage. For nearly twenty minutes, these guys impressed everyone with their solo smooth interweaving of solo material and beatboxing together. Their wide repertoire included popular radio jams, sound effects, heavy hip-hop beats, scratching, and so much more. Not only were these guys extremely talented, but they were very down-to-earth too; they were so happy and honoured to be part of the convention, and that made them all that more admirable.
After the buzzing energy from the previous acts, Nathan "Flutebox" Lee came on stage and rejuvenated the audience for the second part of the show. He first did some solo beatboxing and played the flute simultaneously! Not only was it at the same time, but it was executed very smoothly too. After doing some solo material, he brought a guitarist on stage, and the two jammed out and produced very zen-like, lovely music. The guitarist was a very nice touch to Nathan's performance, but it didn't end there. He then brought kick-ass beatboxer, WanDan to the stage, and the two jammed out to some heavy beats. It was a really cool to see a flutist collaborating with a super-hyped, energy-driven beatboxer like WanDan. There aren't many beatboxers who play the flute, let alone who are good at it; but Nathan is certainly a very talented musician, and it was great to see someone--other than my good friend Tim Barsky--who can beatbox and play the flute simultaneously.
After a short intermission, it was my turn to perform. I was nervous, excited, and honoured to share the stage with such extraordinary talent; it truly was a humbling feeling. When I first started beatboxing seven years ago, I had a recurring vision of one day beatboxing at a large venue in front of people who I hoped would connect with and appreciate my music. As I stepped foot onto the main stage that evening, I felt like I was fulfilling my recurring vision. There was something in particular about BoxCon that was electrifying; perhaps it was the fact that the show was so well produced, or perhaps it was simply the fact that the range of talent in the room was something I had never seen before. For my performance, I did some of my routine material, fusing percussive rhythms with fast beats where I'd manipulate my breath control. After that, I used my vocal effects processor and incorporated some delay and pitch shift in my routine.
The star of the night was Beardyman. Even though he wasn't the main featured performer, he stole the show with his absolutely incredible use of his Kaos Pads (Korg's performance sampler). This man is truly unsurpassed in his craft; he loops himself live onstage but does so in a manner that makes him seem like a DJ--literally a f***ing DJ!!! His fifteen minute set was comprised of improvised, hard-hitting, head-nodding beats that had everyone yelling and throwing their arms up constantly. Every single beat this man produced was something new, something fresh, and he was very calm & collective about it. The audience certainly didn't know what was in store for them, and most likely, the beatboxers didn't as well. I know I didn't. Beardyman did a lot of trance-like rhythms where he would morph his sounds and smoothly transition into a new beat. Thinking about right now it gives me goosebumps.
After Beardyman performed, Shlomo stepped onstage and introduced the final and feature performer: Kid Beyond. Many know Kid Beyond as the guy who did the Ableton video on YouTube; yes, he did that video. But he's also done so much more, like inspire most beatboxers to loop themselves and experiment with digital effects. Kid Beyond started his set by first doing some raw solo beatboxing to which the audience responded with strong enthusiasm. After that, he did several songs from his album Amplivate, and he also did some new ones as well. Among the songs he performed were "Wandering Star," "Cathedrals," "Deep Inside," "Alive," and more. By the time Kid Beyond was well into his set, the audience seemed tired, and some even started to leave. Perhaps two loopers were too much too handle, but nonetheless, those who stuck around greatly appreciated his music. It was interesting to see two different loopers that evening; Beardyman created more dance beats, whereas Kid Beyond made music that connected with the soul and was very spiritual.
To wrap up...
Being part of this convention was such a great experience for me. It's not often that I get to travel abroad and connect with other beatboxers; now that I'm a full-time student, it's difficult to pursue certain opportunities and do my beatboxing full-force. But it's events like BoxCon that make me remember why I started beatboxing in the first place--it's a form of expression, and it simply makes me and others feel good.
I have to give a very special thanks to Jim Wilde aka Archangel for graciously giving me the opportunity to write this review. This man puts in so much time and effort into beatboxing, it's unbelievable. He would rather give someone else stage time instead of himself because he believes that much in providing an outlet for beatboxers to be heard.