The Beatbox Collective are an incredible group who've toured sell-out shows, played world class music festivals such as Glastonbury and written and produced a five-star Edinburgh Fringe Show.
Described by UK chat show host Jonathan Ross as "absolutely incredible", The Beatbox Collective are an essential act to catch.
Here The Beatbox Collective members Bass6, Hobbit and Zani talk to Mandy News about music, influences, touring, running an agency and getting to where they are today.
Tell us who the Beatbox Collective are, what you do, how you ended up gigging and making money doing what you love.
Bass6: My name is Bass6. I’m the founder of the Beatbox Collective, owner of the Fifth Element agency and the UK beatbox championships. We, as a collective – Bass6, Ball-zee, Hobbit, BFG, Experimental, Bellatrix, Zani – formed about seven years ago.
Bellatrix is an original female world champion. I mean she’s a Guildhall musician, incredible, outstanding double bass, founder of the Boxettes, so she’s already been and done something like this, but with an all-female group. You’ve got Ball-Zee, who’s a three-time UK Beatbox Champion as well as multitudes of international awards. Hobbit, the 3-time UK team champion and 2-time UK Loopstation champ. MC Zani, the 2008 UK Beatbox Champion. Bass6 and Experimental, both UK finalists over the years and BFG, who isn’t a battler but was a judge at the 2012 UK Beatbox Champs.
We’ve all been doing it professionally for about 10-15 years. We’ve done a lot over the years, whether it is workshops, musical therapy, team-building sessions, shows, voiceovers or sound effects. We’ve found that the voice is unlimited.
Zani: The way that I started beatboxing might sound very cliché, very obvious, but I heard Rahzel first. He was a guy that beatboxed and took it from a side act to being a main thing. Through meeting these guys and battling and discovering a website called humanbeatbox.com back in the day – a platform for people like me who could communicate all across the world – I came to be a part of the community. I always thought it was just me that liked beatboxing but then when I found the community it really allowed me to be like ‘Yeah, it’s cool, I can just beatbox and it’ll be fine,’ even though no one else I knew beatboxed.
Then I won the championships in 2008 it really made my family realise that ‘Wow, it’s a serious thing’. Coming from an Asian background, they wanted me to follow the academic route.
Hobbit: I met Ru (Bass6) and Zani through the battling scene, and the other guys in the collective pretty much through battling and then got invited to play Shambala festival. I think there was about 12 of us then, or something crazy. After that first show, we were like ‘this is something that we’d love to do more of,’ and it was really fun, and we realised that certain things worked and that our jams actually made tracks and people were enjoying it and people were bouncing.
Then obviously, the logistics of getting 10 or 12 of us in a room together was not viable and so it kind of whittled down. Now we have a seven-member crew, and we’re kind of performing all over. In 2015 we decided to go out to the world beatbox champs and won, which was pretty cool. I think we had one rehearsal in Belle’s apartment in Berlin.
Bass6: We were meant to have about 15 rehearsals, and there was only one two hour session where we came together and rehearsed two routines. We did the second one going, ‘Shall we just make a second one in case we get to the finals?’ Then when we got through it was like, ‘Right, to the car park, let’s go.’ We just rehearsed it and then, yeah, beat Under Kontrol (the defending champions) and won the finals!
Wow! How did you develop working as a group?
Zani: I think because we’ve been performing together for so long, we really understand each other’s strength and weaknesses now. We’ve got a full wall of sound that covers the full spectrum of frequencies. So we say to each other ‘You can do bass on this’ or ‘your bass would be good for this track’ or ‘your specific sound or your tone or your harmony.’ It’s taken years. It’s come from free-styling our whole show to doing specific tracks now. It’s been amazing how it’s developed and it’s a journey that’s always evolving.
Hobbit: A lot of it’s developed. Beatboxing is, when you’re with other beatboxers, jamming on stage. Maybe you’re at a festival and Zani’s there and I’m like ‘yeah, I’m doing this show, do you want to come and jump up on stage?’ and you jam and then some cool things happen.
We used to do jams and now those jams have turned into tracks. We didn’t necessarily sit down and say ‘We’re going to make this track’. It just came from jamming. It’s quite unique in that respect. We’re now at a point where when Ru raises his left eyebrow I know he’s going to do the bass, and that Zani’s doing something else or when he’s moving his hand I know he’s going to do the beat.
Bass6: We have built our vocabulary around each other, and as much as we are all are influences on each other, the communication with the worldwide beatboxing has been the biggest influence. We are advancing it so quickly because there’s so much amazing stuff on Youtube and because you can type “How To” into Google or can watch your favourite beatboxers. It’s just watch, repeat, watch, repeat, watch, repeat and practice and your muscle memory builds.
Tell us a bit about interacting with the industry as a beatboxer.
Zani: I think because beatboxing is still considered a young artform, people don’t really necessarily know how to gauge it. So now, but especially 10 years ago, if you asked a promoter or someone to book a beatboxer, they wouldn’t know what a good beatboxer is. Even now a lot of people can’t differentiate what an average or good beatboxer is.
That’s what we’ve learnt over the years – and how to deal with clients. I’ve learnt – instead of being just on the performance side – about being on the business side of it with Hobbit and Bass6. We’ve learnt how to talk to different clientele, how to specify what beatboxer is right for the job and what type of event it is and how to talk to them the right way about the budget. And we’re now bringing in the next generation of beatboxers, trying to pass them the torch and show them this is how you should conduct yourself with clients.
Bass6: Yes. It’s like trying to tell the difference between a £10 bottle of wine and a £100 bottle of wine, are you going to get the £10 bottle of wine? If you can, well, impress your guests and show them the real profession. A lot of people get taken advantage of in this world. There are a lot of jobs where people will suddenly walk up to someone on the street and go “we’re going to make you famous!” give them a tenner, a pat on the back and suddenly they lose their visual and audio rights to something absolutely huge. So, we make sure that we keep control of the market.
We also make sure we communicate and help any beatboxer, give them a free consultation, as well as obviously helping any clients by ensuring we find the correct person to do the best job. Because who doesn’t want to have a win, win, win, win?
You run a beatboxing agency and the UK Beatbox Championships, right?
Bass6: Yes. Two years ago Jack (Hobbit) and I took over the Fifth Element agency. They’ve been running for 10 years. I’ve been running it for six years and we’ve now actually got a full course running for the whole company and this is where the beatboxing movement in the UK is growing and growing. And yes, the UK Beatbox Championships.
Zani: It’s got all the different categories. When I started battling it was only one-on-one. Now you’ve got the tag team category, the looping category, the under-18s category. The branches have spread so far. There are so many sub-genres of beatboxing too; the technical beatboxer, the musical beatboxer, a hype beatboxer.
Bass6: There is no best, but the younger age groups are fantastic. We’ve been teaching for 15 years and there are now 13-14 year olds who will blow your mind. There was a 12-year-old from Japan who won the world DMC championships the other day. The tools are out there for people to learn, from a young age. There are also people with all sorts of conditions, you know, Autism, Aspergers who do it too. There’s lots of people within the scene, actually, who show various characteristics of ADHD, and beatboxing is a loud, animated, attention-seeking skill.
One of the things that we want to try and do is show that it is something that everyone can do, and if you train at whatever you do, you can excel at it.
So how did you actually start and how did you push the idea of yourselves as a collective to start getting regular gigs?
Bass6: A lot of us got thrown in at the deep end at a young age, I think Zani toured with Jay Sean, Hobbit toured with bands, lots of us toured and did solo things in so many different places, even at a young age, because there weren’t that many beatboxers. We were unique. I mean, it was only about 15-20 high-level beatboxers in the UK. I used to do a lot of hosting roles at festivals and, as you do, you make links and people call you back.
As a collective, we tried to pitch this to loads of people and, initially, people never really bit onto it. So, finally when Shambala offered it, and I think it was even through Chai Wallah, we were like ‘that’s what we’ve been thinking and wanting to do, yes!’ When you’re given a date and a platform, that’s when stuff happens. Like the world champs. Given a date and a target, we will get things done, we will get rehearsed. Since doing that I’ve always been left with the ethics of: “every show you do, you get another booking.”
Zani: Festivals definitely were the kind of launch pad. The first couple of years we really got a lot of festivals.
Bass6: We used to do 25 shows on the weekends at festivals. There were times when we really didn’t enjoy it but we pushed ourselves and we showed our commitment.
Zani: Just to move on from that a little bit, what I realised a lot is that you have to be proactive. You have to be proactive, because I used to be so complacent when it came to getting gigs. I used to just wait for gigs to come, wait for the email, wait for the phone call.
A good example is that I went to a company’s event and, afterwards, kept getting emails from them about their next events. I thought, “you know what? I’ll email them.” So I emailed them, saying “my name’s blah blah blah and I went to one of your events and saw your live acts, this is what I do,” and they emailed back saying they had an event and would I like to come down and try out. They couldn’t pay anything, but said I could do a 5-10 minute show and see what happens. So I did a 10 minute performance and off the back of that they’ve booked us for four more high profile shows.
If you put yourself out there, you’re guaranteed to get something back if you just keep pushing. Keep knocking on the door and you’ll get your foot in. Keep knocking and you’ll get an arm and a leg in, and then soon you can just break down the door.
Bass6: Yes. And, even though we still do that, we’ve done incredibly well just off incoming enquiries. Either from word of mouth or a video that goes viral but it has been generally from doing a show. We try to pool our resources. Hobbit studied web development at uni, I used to work in sales, Zani as well. We put all of our resources together and that’s how we run the company.
But the beauty of it all, even when we perform, even if no one has ever seen us, everyone’s on the front row by the time we’ve finished our sound check, because people are looking at the stage going ‘What the hell are they doing?’ This is still the effect of beatboxing, it’s very engaging and mysterious.
Hobbit, we know you did some work on the children’s BAFTA award-winning cartoon The Amazing World of Gumball. Could you give us a breakdown of the different things you’ve randomly done?
Hobbit: The thing with beatboxing that I’ve realised over the years is that it’s super adaptable. As you said I’ve done a voice on the Amazing World of Gumball TV show. I’ve also done theatre shows, worked with bands, worked with acapella groups, teaching, done adverts, done all sorts of different things.
Bass6: Bar mitzvahs, weddings, there’s a whole range. We do awards shows, we do Bestival, we do clubs, we have done so many random things, but even better, when we do get together, there are a lot of shows where we get to customise what we do.
The last two years, we’ve done Young Voices, which is a sell-out arena tour. It was the most incredible experience to be part of. It was one of the biggest shows we’ve done. 20,000 people at the O2 arena, Manchester arena, Sheffield arena, Birmingham, the Genting Arena. It was absolutely amazing.
Basically we were given a platform to do what we liked using lots of our skills and ideas. We thought ‘We’ve got 20,000 people, shall we do the world’s biggest beatbox battle?’ and did it! We do try to customise a lot of our shows.
But at the beginning of the year, everyone is on tours around the world and then, as it comes towards May, I think that’s when people start opening up a lot of awards and conferences. Summer is generally festivals and then we focus a bit of time on the UK Beatbox Championships in Autumn and then it’s Christmas season. If you get a Sunday off in a year, you’re really lucky. If you look at the calendars, there might be three days every two or three months that all seven of us are in the same city together.
We try to alternate. Everyone has multiple things going on. But, everyone can see the massive effect of when we do get together. We would like to string together a whole year tour.
What does a typical year look like?
Hobbit: I’ve never had a year that has been exactly the same. I’ve never had a week that’s been exactly the same. That’s the great thing about it. Today we could be doing this interview, and then doing a show tomorrow, and then Monday we could be doing a pitch for an advert and then Wednesday Zani’s teaching beatboxing at a hospital, and then next we’re off to Germany.
Everything’s always so different. Next week, we’re not doing anything, and I’m just sitting in my room watching animé. I think that’s the beautiful thing about what we do, we have this amazing versatility in what we’re performing and what we create, and then, like Rupert said, when we have the time together and we say ‘Let’s create something!’ Last year we got together and made a seven-minute hip hop mix. It was amazing.
Bass6: Last year, we wrote and directed a show, took it to the Edinburgh Fringe, and we got five stars, award, sell-out shows. Again, all self-written, self-produced. We set up rehearsals ourselves, we make sure that everyone gets accommodation and travel and everything, and all the joyous paperwork and all that sort of thing. While we were there, Hobbit was touring with the Magnets, Ball-z was probably with Gobsmacked!, Zani and Experimental and I were out on the streets promoting.
We keep each other going and make sure that we keep each other’s energy up. But we also do respect each other’s time with other groups or when people want to do solo things. It’s frustrating if one member can’t make it, but at the same time the whole idea is that everyone does respect how busy everyone is, professionally.
Tell us what you’ve got coming up that people can check out.
Hobbit: We’ve got the Beatbox Championships on Sunday November 26 at the Garage in Islington and that’s the biggest beatbox event in the UK diary and pretty much one of the biggest events in Europe, actually, on the beatbox calendar. Go to www.ukbeatboxchampionships.com and you can see everything there.
Bass6: Along with that, we are looking to set up a small run of ‘What’s your sound?’, our five-star Edinburgh fringe show. Hopefully that will be at the BAC in 2018, so please look out for that. Come and check it out because that is all of us putting our imaginations on stage and exploding with energy.
What advice can you give to an aspiring musician or beatboxer?
Zani: The advice I’d give to an aspiring musician is be professional. Be professional, be on it, don’t be afraid to take whatever opportunities are there, and just be you. And enjoy yourself 100% of the time.
Bass6: Pursue your passion, and make sure you know your work. Whatever you do, if you’re confident that you have good ability, then that is worth something. There are times when there are opportunities, there are cash, credit and kudos. ‘Yes’ is a really good answer. It’s great to get your foot in the door. It’s all about climbing. Keep climbing, keep climbing.
Zani: Another one – don’t be a d***head. It’s true.
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