A facile way to look at the development of beatbox extraordinaire Beardyman’s career would be to pose the question: was it all more impressive when it was just him and a microphone, the traditional model for a beatboxer? These days, Beardyman (more lightly stubbled, although that wouldn’t have the same ring to it), alias of London-born Darren Foreman, uses a huge array of looping technology and computers to create his vast sound. But if there are still any lingering naysayers who consider this ‘cheating’, the question we’ve posed is a fundamental misunderstanding of what Beardyman is seeking to achieve through music. He definitively proved several years ago that he is one of the best there is when it comes to creating a beat with just a pair of lips, lungs, and a tongue (winning the UK Beatboxing championship two years running). He now answers a higher calling: his astonishing talent for creating anthemic music entirely spontaneously.
And while he’s been doing that with just himself and his complex looping set-up for some time, tonight the people of Brixton are treated to something just that extra bit special. Beardyman has assembled his ‘dream team’, and has taken it upon himself to create (in the strongest possible sense of the word) an album entirely from scratch, totally unplanned, and totally improvised. The only source material is a bucket at the front of the stage, into which audience members have dropped song title suggestions.
After making his entrance, and the obligatory bit of beatboxing to get everyone warmed up, Beardyman introduces us to his dream team one at a time. The first of which is, to most people’s surprise, a drummer. The self-aware beatboxer addresses this counter-intuitive seeming decision, and completely justifies it by challenging him to a beat battle, which erupts into an outrageously entertaining three-way when female beatbox champion Bellatrix joins them on stage. Eventually, the dream team is assembled, with a cellist, violinist/saxophonist, DJ, two freestyle MCs, and Bellatrix switches to double bass (as you do).
They are tasked with creating songs with just the audience suggestions as inspiration, and how the opening album track is so good despite the dire name, Three Reasons for Cheese (or something like that), is beyond me and everyone in the room.
What follows is nothing short of spectacular. While each member of the dream team make great contributions, make no mistake that Beardyman is the focal point of it all. Stood behind his Star Trek-esque workstation, his ability to wield genres and such a plethora of sounds using his vocoders, loop machines, and synthesizers is essentially musical alchemy. When I’m not afraid of Clowns is drawn from the bucket, he lays down a twisted, bouncing circus style bassline. Against all odds, this also translates into a huge sounding song. MCs Leen and Dizraeli do a very impressive job of freestyling all of their lyrics the whole evening, and the trippy split-screen visuals behind the stage keep everything nice and bizarre.
Work is a shit drug, but I need it is probably the best song name offered (“that actually makes total sense”, Beardyman remarks), and also ends up being a real highlight amidst a set of very different genres spliced together and all blurring together beautifully.
As the madness ends, Beardyman urges everyone to go and pre-order this spontaneous masterpiece on their way out. Even if the music had not come off well, you would still have to admire these musicians for such a daring idea. But Beardyman has genuinely created spur of the moment anthems, that never would have occurred in different circumstances. Anyone who listens to the album upon its release who wasn’t here tonight, will have their listening tinged with knowing they weren’t part of its magical conception.
Review by Adam Protz (5/5)