Beatboxing. It’s the black sheep of the musical family. Really, many musicians don’t even acknowledge it as an artform at all.
It tends to be one of those skills that also doubles as a nice party trick. Whip it out, impress some friends, and show off that you don’t need an instrument to be musical. But beyond the realm of hip hop circles, it’s thought of as little more than a parlor trick.
So what makes it music?
Its origin story lay in the DIY 1980s club scene, when innovative emcees began mimicking the sounds of drum machines with their mouths. It’s about creating rhythms and noises solely with your mouth, most dating back to the likes of Doug E. Fresh and Leonardo Roman. Who needs two turntables and a microphone? Beatboxing allows artists to strip hip-hop down to its bare bones.
There are still groups pushing for the revival of a skill that has descended near oblivion. Gone from the radar in most areas, Columbus’s beatbox community is still breathing. Shut Your Mouth and Beatbox, a group that sponsors the Midwest Beatbox Battle August 2 at Strongwater, is dedicated to raising awareness of the artform and bringing beatboxers to the stage – not as filler events or an interesting opener, but as the main event. About 30 people are registered at the third annual battle, with the winner heading on to the 2014 American Beatbox Championship.
Here’s what some of Columbus’s local mouth machines and near-future competitors have to say about the art and culture of the beatbox.
Lou “LethalFX” Nicolaidis
Where do you think beatboxing’s place in the music community is?
“Right now, I don’t think it’s taken near as seriously because it’s not seen as often, but I definitely think it has more of that “wow” factor over most bands because if you are at a festival and you see band after band after band…obviously there’s going to be a few headliners that are going to stand out more. But when you see a beatboxer, that’s going to stand out in the sense that it’s one guy doing all this stuff with his mouth.”
What is the goal of Shut Your Mouth and Beatbox?
“There are new beatboxers coming out and everyone is putting them down and saying, ‘Hey you suck, you haven’t been doing it as long as I have,’ and our thing was to encourage these beatboxers. These are the future of beatboxing, and we are seeing these younger beatboxers and they are getting better and better.”
Jordan “BBX the Beatbox Extraordinaire” Reid
You’re new to the beatbox scene. What was the education process like?
“I would watch YouTube videos, preferably beatbox battles, and I would watch the guys battle, and I would beatbox their routine on point with them and that’s how I would learn.
“I was always the insecure kid. I was always the kid in the back of the class. No one really thought anything of me. I didn’t really aim for that. I didn’t really aim to be cool and then one day I found beatbox.”
Bjorn “Bloomer” Hunstad
Where did beatbox begin with you?
“Starting when I was really young, I always liked learning sounds because my dad whistles and he made Donald Duck sounds so I was always interested in that, and then when I was 9, I started taking drum lessons because I wanted to get involved with some sort of instrument. When I was 14, I heard one of my brother’s friends beatboxing, just messing around with some sounds, and just the mixture of mouth sounds I had already been making and speaking the drum rhythms with my drum teachers…I just wanted to beat box.”
How would you describe beatboxing to someone who only hears it as a bunch of noises?
“It’s making music with your mouth. It’s plain and simple, whether it be replicating something or making weird sounds.”
How do you think the rest of the music community sees beatboxing?
“As individuals there are more beatboxers finding success in performing, but as a whole, the music scene, at least where I am and places I’ve gone, doesn’t quite yet recognize beatboxing as a market that is as big as someone like a rapper or a rock band.”
August 2, Strongwater Food & Spirits