If you know anything about beatboxing, you’ll know Beardyman and his heir apparent Reeps One. The former single-handedly elevated the art form from novelty talent-show curiosity to the big leagues, shoved a bunch of effects and loop pedals on it, and manifested his very own genre. Reeps, once the young pretender, took on the mantle and, with a superficially less tech-heavy setup, has been drawing big festival and clubland crowds for half a decade now.
At this summer’s Boomtown festival the lads received a last minute callup to fill a plum Friday Night slot vacated by a sickly Blackalicious – and the collaboration beatbox fans have been itching to see for nigh-on a decade actually took place. We caught up with the boys backstage, right before it all kicked off...
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Well this is pretty exciting...
BEARDYMAN: Yeah we’ve wanted to collaborate for a long time now. It’s been an intense process; for the past three days, since the call came – which, by the way basically went “do you guys wanna do something nuts?” – we’ve been planning, jamming. I think we’ve come up with something pretty mad.
REEPS: It’s been a hectic process. The past few years I’ve been doing club sets; solo, in a way, but always with Linden Jay, my producer. It’s a unique live setup. It’s different to Beardy… but the fact the two setups can come together for a show like this, I’m really excited.
Do you, Beardyman, agree that Reeps is your heir in the beatboxing world? That he picked up the torch from you?
BEARDYMAN: You’re doing an awful lot of work there to not say ‘he’s better than me’. But he is. He’s better than me in lots of ways. He’s a consummate solo beatboxer. A beat master.
REEPS: I was 15 when I met Beardy, he’d just won a battle, I was just some little ruffian from a council estate who wanted to beatbox.
BEARDYMAN: And I was like ‘you shall go to the ball!’
So is your set tonight 100% worked out, or are you going to make it up as you ago along?
BEARDYMAN: We sort of know how it’s going to start, and we’ve talked about how it might end. There’s a couple of things we’ve practiced that we’ll hopefully get around to. It'll be largely a seat-of the pants affair though. Honestly, that, to me, is what’s so tasty about beatboxing, and looping… the improvised thing. I’m proud of that.
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Is it going to feel radically different to your usual setups?
REEPS: Definitely. Because we’re both so used to doing it all ourselves…
BEARDYMAN: [joke posh voice]…filling the rhythm matrix, utilising the entire temporal and sonic planes…
REEPS: …but in this context it’s more like a game of chess. Constantly listening to the other person, filling in when they drop out, dropping out when they’re doing something crazy. That’s key, because if we don’t listen it will sound like a mess.
BEARDYMAN: We should come up with a safeword. In case our sound-fucking gets too much for people.
How are you different, do you think, as showmen?
BEARDYMAN: I tend to swerve towards jokes more. Reeps is more relentless… his tech is more subtle, but he can drive the whole thing constantly for like an hour. It’s a more serious kick, maybe.
REEPS: Mike Patton [Faith No More] told me recently “Never give a fuck what the audience want. You know what you want – do it! The ones who want to come with you, will come with you."
What’s the current state of the beatbox scene, in your view?
BEARDYMAN: I’ll always say the flexibility it brings, as an artist, is like nothing else. Whatever you can think of, you can manifest – in real time. Having two of us takes that to another level again. Having Reeps is like having a live drummer, so i’m free to turn my voice into like a synth, or a guitar, and play off him, in real time.
REEPS: And there’s a massive explosion of new shit happening right now. Too many beatboxers, in the past anyway, were like ‘look at me! look at this new idea!’, just crowbarring shit in, and the fact people like the novelty factor carried it. But now – and Beardy started this – kids are really mining the flow and musical dynamics of it. It’s streets ahead of other instrumentations.
BEARDYMAN: There’s so many new artists now doing looping in a new way as well. I remember seeing Jamie Lidell when that scene was brand new. Now there’s a Loop Station championships and it’s massive.
You sound pretty optimistic about the state of things.
REEPS: Definitely. There’s a moment in every culture when a new season begins. When the new kids come up with stuff that makes OGs like us look slow. What we’re doing tonight is the crest of a wave…
BEARDYMAN: …cos we’re not even on the frontiers of beatboxing any more, you should check out D-Low, or NaPom, or Thông Báo –
REEPS: …and yeah. I’m properly gassed.
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Words: Andy Hill