Most beatboxers know the path they need to take in order to grow in the community. And that is because of the organizations and events that define the beatboxing life cycle. But how did that come to be?
Hear the stories of the Grand Beatbox Battle, the biggest annual event in the beatboxing world, DKoy, the 17 year old mastermind behind Beatbox Talk, the Lormont Battle in France, and VBeatbox in Vietnam.
2019 Grand Beatbox Battle
Lormont Loopstation Beatbox Battle Final
Austin from Vietnam – 5th Beatbox Battle World Championship
My favorite moment in B-Art vs. MB14 (watch until 3:42 to see all the amazing camera work)
SpeshFX Guests Playlist
Email Us: SpeshFXPodcast@gmail.com
Tani: Back in the day I had dreams of making it to Major League Baseball. I was going to pitch or play shortstop for the Red Sox one day, but even when I was a little kid, I knew there were a lot of steps in between. I'd start at little league, and move up in the youth baseball system to a middle school and high school team. At the high school level I'd go to showcases where scouts could see me, and eventually I would play in college, the minors, and the Major Leagues. At each level I would have coaches and umpires and teammates who invested in me and in youth baseball as a whole. But I would thank them and move past them, not forgetting them, but moving up to higher levels of competition.
Last I checked, I'm not a Major League Ballplayer, but that growth mindset never left me. So, when I started following beatboxing I asked around to see if they had the same basic community structure.
Tani(In interview): Ten years have passed and you've reached all your beatboxing dreams, what does that look like?
Elisii: I think my goal is probably just to have enough credit that, like I get asked to judge some competitions.
FootboxG: I can be a winner of a big battle in the beatbox scene like the Grand Beatbox Battle or the World Championship.
Tani: I came away picturing the structure of the beatboxing community as a three tiered pyramid. At the bottom we have the most people. People like me and my brother: fans and beginner beatboxers. Then in the middle we have beatboxers who have already begun advancing in some competitions. People like Tyla Dubya. And at the top it's the elite. The national champs, and the people who compete at the Grand Beatbox Battle and World Championships.
What FootboxG and Elisii were hinting at earlier is that the beatboxing life cycle is structured around specific events and organizations that define the beatboxing community as we know it. The national championships, the Grand Beatbox Battle, and the World Championships along with the organizations that run them. Episode 4 is about how these organizations have shaped the beatboxing community, and what can happen when they disappear. This, is SpeshFX.
[Intro Music: Fifty Fifty by Braden Mitchell]
Reeps One: I see myself as an ambassador of the culture. I care about everyone!
Tani: I want you to conjure up the image you have of the American Champs that you built in your mind during episode 3. Now multiply that image by a factor of five. The crowd is bigger, the beatboxers are all world class, the sound is pristine, and the video is exceptional. This bigger and better version is the Grand Beatbox Battle, Swissbeatbox and Pepouni's flagship event. This is no knock on the American Champs, that’s a great event too. But the GBB is the paradigmatic beatbox battle, and it sets the template for all other beatbox events to aspire to. That's the GBB now. But originally, the Grand Beatbox Battle was a small part of a bigger project.
Pepouni: It was part of a festival, the biggest club festival, called B-Scene in Switzerland. I just spoke with this friend of mine that is organizing it Claudio Rudin.
Tani: In 2019 Swissbeatbox is known in the beatboxing community for putting on amazing events, and production value. But Pepouni learned how to organize, promote, and run an event under Claudio Rudin at B-Scene until he was ready to do it himself.
Pepouni: They had a very good service, they had food, they had a good venue, they had security. I didn't have to think so much about it. I just said okay, you Claudio, you run the event, I bring some beatboxers. Then like, everybody came.
Tani: The biggest twist of all though, is that for the first two years of the Grand Beatbox Battle, it wasn’t an international battle. The 2009 and 2010 Grand Beatbox Battles were nearly entirely comprised of Swiss Beatboxers. It was only in 2011 that they decided to invite other international beatboxers to compete.
Kazu: They expanded to an international battle, cuz there was plenty of european beatboxers right around the corner willing to come over and compete.
Tani: Still, Swissbeatbox gave out a "best national" award in 2012 and 2013 for the best Swiss Beatboxer, which makes me think they weren't fully sold on the idea of the Grand Beatbox Battle as an international event. But when eventually, Swissbeatbox had the best beatboxers in the world coming to their event, Pepouni knew they had to scale up.
Pepouni: We said okay let's add some looping in it, I think we were the first ones that did loop station battles. We added also tag team battles later. In 2013 we got better camera teams. In 2014 we started to get proper good sound. In 2015 we tried to find another innovation, then in 2016 as well. Then '17 we tried to do something new, so every year something new is happening. Something that can top what happened last year.
Tani: Spoiler alert: the work paid off. The vast majority of Swissbeatbox's most popular videos are GBB videos from 2016 on. If you search "beatbox" on youtube, GBB videos are almost half of the first 50 videos you’ll see. I was texting with Pepouni and he told me that he sold around 1700 tickets to the 2019 GBB, and he would have sold more if the venue had space for it. That’s a ton of tickets for a beatbox event. The GBB is scaled up. I know it, you know it, and Kazu surely knows it.
Kazu: It eventually just became - literally it was considered the yearly world championships.
Tani: Amatuer hour at the Grand Beatbox Battle is over. Instead of performing in front of small Swissbeatbox banners from Kinko's, today's Grand Beatbox Battlers perform in front of a massive screen with their faces and a timer projected behind them. In the past, random YouTubers would rip off Swissbeatbox's videos to make highlight compilations. Now Swissbeatbox makes their own compilations. This year in 2019 Swissbeatbox had SEVEN different camera angles for their youtube videos. I mean, come on!! that's crazy. They captured battle scenes that looked so cool, I almost wondered if they were staged. My favorite is the beginning of B-Art's first round against MB14. You’ve gotta check it out. It's impossible to look at the GBB and come to any conclusion other than, this is a well oiled, professional machine. Up and coming beatboxers view Swissbeatbox and the Grand Beatbox Battle as all that and more. Their goal, their pinnacle, their MLB.
Still, that’s just one level of the beatboxing pyramid. All of the rest of the beatboxing events, local get togethers, online practice battles, those events have their own leaders who do their best to follow in Pepouni and Swissbeatbox's footsteps. They want to host professional events, bring in community leaders to judge, and give a space for their community members to showcase their skills. I discovered that it's not so easy for smaller beatbox organizations to host events. Swissbeatbox's success is often hard to replicate on a smaller scale, and it's even harder when you are constantly retraining new leadership. DKoy, Brez, and Trung Bao told me all about their experiences hosting events, and building community in their scenes.
[End of part 1. Transition music: The Baddest by Richard Smithson]
Tani: Battling is key for beatboxers to progress in their careers. That's why the beatboxer's life cycle revolves around them. Still, Kazu pointed out to me that few beatboxers cap their goals at battle victories. Most of them want to have their own shows and perform for broader audiences. The last step in their life cycle. But in order to get there, battles are step one.
Kazu: Battles is just prepping you to become a better performer. The whole point of battling, you know you're judged on musicality, originality, technicality, stage presence. All that stuff is to prepare you to perform anywhere else in the world. If you can be original, you're not just a cover band. If you're musically talented you know, or you have the musical skills you can like, entertain a crowd. You're technical, meaning you're clean, you’re not sloppy. if you have stage presence people watch you and are just amazed. These are all qualities that you want in a performer.
Tani: Unfortunately, it's hard to find space for up and coming beatboxers at major battles like the GBB. The competition to get into the battle itself is fierce, and even the side competitions are hard to break into if you're not already a star. Airloom Beats explained what it was like at World Beatbox Camp.
Airloom Beats: It's like “okay, we're gonna have these battles and anybody can join the battle” right but you just have to like get chosen by the judges in the cypher. Okay. So I'm in the cypher. But I'm in a cypher with Alexinho and B-art. I’m not getting on the stage with those sorts of beatboxers. I'm like where are the opportunities for people who are trying to become better?
Tani: DKoy and Beatbox Talk fill this void by hosting online battles for novice beatboxers who want to level up. Remember what DKoy said back in Episode 2.
DKoy: the server's grown to over 7,000 members. and we have battles 2 times a week and other events.
Tani: I checked the server as I wrote this, and it looks like they are up to 3 battles a week now. I asked DKoy how much work this takes, and I was shocked when he told me the server sustains itself for the most part.
DKoy: Well to be completely honest for the Discord server right now I don't even have to do much, and that was honestly one of my goals. To have a self-sufficient community that doesn't need you know supervision 24/7 is what shows that it's a strong community.
Tani: I am tremendously impressed by DKoy. He's a high school kid right now, building and sustaining an international community of thousands. When I was 17 I was busy building and sustaining a mess on the floor of my bedroom.
Tani(In interview): Among the leaders of the assorted beatboxing organizations you are far and away the youngest. Is that weird for you?
DKoy: I don't know. I don't really think about it to be honest. yeah, I think I was always kind of steering my interest towards like management. I always felt like I had a way to organize a group of like-minded people with a similar goal. Out of my friend group I was the guy that was like running servers whenever we were playing video games and I was making sure that like everyone was having a good time.
Tani: DKoy gives and gives. By all accounts, people really do have a good time on his server. But at what cost?
DKoy: When I first started the server, I was hosting every single battle and I was hosting them every single day and that's a two to three-hour commitment. I was so like stuck on beatbox talk. My life was pretty much revolving around that.
Tani: For someone who is about to apply to college, spending all this time on something that isn't school is risky business.
DKoy: I did suffer a good bit with my grades because of how stuck I was on beatbox talk. I was so passionate about it that homework was not the priority and many times I did Beatbox Talk as soon as I came home till midnight. And then get like 3-4 hours of sleep and have school the next day. I had none of my homework done, but I was doing Beatbox Talk which I was so passionate about.
Tani: As much as college admissions offices value real life experience, they also value completed homework. Dkoy, or actually, David Tverskoy will have a wild college application. His GPA might not be what he thinks he could have achieved without Beatbox Talk in his life, but his essay is for sure gonna be fire. He has impacted so many people, and many of them are willing to vouch for him. Here's one such person you know well: Abdulla.
Abdulla: DKoy for example, who runs a server on discord and he's the nicest guy and he actually convinced me to come to this event. Cuz he heard one of my routines online and he said, “hey, you can compete with this. You should submit a wildcard.” And then I started thinking, why don't i submit a wildcard? That's a great idea!
Tani: Beatbox Talk's genius is that it supports a spot in the beatboxing lifecycle that no other organization does. DKoy and Beatbox talk are at the ground floor, before the national championships and everything else that follows. Sure, there are really high level beatboxers who participate, but Beatbox Talk is all about new talent. But there's one part of the story I've conveniently glossed over.
DKoy: Beatbox Talk had a server back on Ventrillo, but of course at that time I was like six or seven. There was a long period of time before I joined in September 2017.
Tani: When DKoy took over Beatbox Talk in 2017 he overlapped with the prior owner, so there was a smooth transition of leadership. And after hearing the story of VBeatbox from Trung Bao, it was obvious to me that continuity can make or break a beatboxing scene.
[End of part 2. Transition music: The Baddest by Richard Smithson]
Kaila Mullady: If you truly love beatboxing, then you should truly appreciate the people that paved the way, and respect them and honor them.
Tani: Let's throw back to episode one for a second. The first 20 or 30 years of beatboxing were comprised of distinct moments. Rahzel performs on MTV. Doug E Fresh releases The Show. But these moments rarely built on each other. The gaps in between the beatboxing moments held the beatboxing community back. When I spoke with FootboxG from Belgium he spoke about his tag-team with Supernova in the context of growing the dormant Belgian scene.
FootboxG: Actually, the Belgian scene was one of the biggest communities in the world when beatbox was an old school thing. but now that it evolved, Belgium faded away a little bit. But now I feel like it's coming back again. We feel that Belgium should be more represented at the international scene, so actually that's what we tried to do for the moment.
Tani: I came across two more stories about opposite ends of this spectrum. One is about the French community, where the beatboxers stay in touch, and help each other grow the scene, and the other is about Vietnam where the leadership simply stepped away, and left the next generation of beatboxers with nobody to guide them. I was shocked when I discovered that Trung Bao isn't a Veitnamese champion. He's the best Vietnamese beatboxer ever, so I never even considered the possibility that he wasn't a champion.
Trung Bao: We have a big community in Vietnam but it's a very young community. The older guys all retired and they don't really beatbox anymore.
Tani: With a dearth of Beatbox leadership in Vietnam, Trung Bao had to choose between competing in a failing competition or stopping to compete in his national champs and run them himself.
Trung Bao: I just ended up organizing the championship because no one did anymore.
Tani: On the flipside, Brez has been active in the beatboxing scene in France since 2009. And when he was preparing for the 2018 world champs, Brez was presented with an opportunity to take a leadership role in the french scene for the first time.
Brez: I always rehearse in this place, in lormont. I rehearse there like almost every week, and the thing is they give me all their materials for free. I can go there whenever I want to train or anything. I have this room with speakers, I have materials, so the deal was I can use their place like whenever I want but on the other hand I must do something for them. And they, they're really into hip hop and they really like beatbox also so they asked me to organize a beatbox battle for them.
Tani: Unlike Trung Bao, Brez had nearly a decade to participate in the battles himself before moving into leadership, and when he did, he had no trouble assembling an awesome event.
Brez: That's the advantage of the french beatbox community. everybody knows each other so it's easier to get in contact with people and to tell them to be part of your event. There's a lot of beatbox battles in france but not loopstation. So my thing is loopstation so I was like ok let's organize a loopstation battle. So I just contacted all the beatboxers and everybody was ok for it. When I saw like Rythmind, Pulmon, Supernova, Alexinho, The Brain, everything. It was a really good lineup and I was really happy about it. The judges were Beasty from Berywam, Saro, and Tioneb, so great judges yeh.
Tani: Brez was able to bring in world champs, national champs, and GBB champs to compete and judge in his battle. No biggie. Trung Bao, on the other hand, had to scrap together content starting from nothing, all while he was living across the globe!
Trung Bao: I established a brand for the community. It's called VBeatbox. And I run all the content, like the online content. And at the time I already went to America, so I was staying in America and organize everything going on in the beatbox scene in Vietnam remotely.
Tani: Trung Bao lives on the west coast of the United States and runs the Vietnamese beatbox community despite a 14 hour time difference. Then he goes back to Vietnam during his summer breaks to host events.
Trung Bao: I get a lot of respect from the beatbox community in Vietnam so I came by, and I started making workshops, and I organized battles to run some things there, you know? So it's like, spark some flames in the community, so I did it. This year actually (summer of 2018) I organized the first official Vietnamese champ ever in the history, and we have a champion and we brought him to berlin to compete in the world champs.
Tani: When I asked Trung Bao if all the effort was worth it, there was no doubt in his voice.
Trung Bao: I just want to give the community in Vietnam, like, the thing that I didn't get when I started out in Vietnam.
Tani: Everything in the beatboxing scene lives in the GBB and the World Championships' orbit, so if you don't have a national championship to compete in, you're kinda screwed. It's nice to imagine that the best beatboxers will be noticed, no matter what institutions are in place, but as an independent creator, I can assure you that nobody is going around looking for all the talented people in the world to showcase them. Either you market yourself, or you have to be lucky enough to be in a community that will give you a platform to highlight your skills. Trung Bao understood this, so he plugged into the American scene in order to grow. He competed in the 2016 American Beatbox Championship and he propelled himself to the highest level of beatboxing by making the finals and earning the title Vice-American Champion.
[Outro Music: Fifty Fifty by Braden Mitchell]
Tani: In the beatboxing community there are organizations to help new talents progress along the beatboxing lifecycle. Swissbeatbox, Beatbox Talk, and VBeatbox are three among many, and they each cater to a different segment of the beatboxing community. But the thing is, beatboxing is not just for quote unquote beatboxers. It's for everyone. In episode five we will explore the many ways beatboxing has already permeated mainstream popular culture and pop music. I think you'll be shocked by how much you already know!
You can find links to Brez's Lormont battle, Beatbox Talk, the 2019 Grand Beatbox Battle, and Austin from Vietnam at the 2018 World Championship in the show notes. Don't forget to follow SpeshFX on Instagram and to check out the website www.speshfx.com. Please rate and review on Apple Podcasts, they really make a difference. Thanks to the many listeners who gave ratings and reviews SpeshFX spent three weeks on Apple Podcasts' New and Noteworthy lists, and I can't thank you enough. Until next time, I'm Tani Levitt. Esh!