Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 interview: Beardyman
The beatboxer extraordinaire discusses his new creation, Beardytron 5000, and his first ever TED talk
This article is from 2014.
Beatboxer Beardyman has spent the last few years working on a bespoke system (‘two laptops, loads of buttons, knobs and touchscreens’) to translate sounds from his brain to his listeners’ ears. He reasons it’ll forever be a work-in-progress but he intends to showcase his Beardytron 5000 in his new show One Album Per Hour. ‘It feels like I have a superpower now,’ he reckons. ‘I feel like Iron Man and I’ve got this crazy bodily extension where my music brain now extends into the real world. I’m a kind of music cyborg.’
In February last year, Beardyman was invited to present his creation at a TED technology conference talk. He recalls the experience with childlike wonder. ‘That was probably the craziest week of my life doing that. What few people know about TED is that everyone there is a multimillionaire, if not a billionaire; most of them Silicon Valley, many of them very publicly minded and community spirit-led and into progressive thinking.’ He modestly plays down his contribution to the world of electronic music, incredulous that he was invited to take part. ‘I’ve done the weirdest things. I started out as a beatboxer in my bedroom and then a TED talk?! I’ve never saved a single dolphin; I’ve not invented a better battery; yet they gave me that stage.’
As the show’s title suggests, Beardyman challenges himself to create a whole album of music within an hour, taking in suggestions from the audience and a special onstage guest from the world of comedy. ‘I can make any kind of music pretty much in realtime, which is a bold claim, I know,’ he says. ‘But it’s been my dream ever since I was a kid to be able to have the music in my head just pour out without having that process fettered by conscious manipulation.’
As well as his astonishing talent at beatboxing and boundary-pushing technical nous, Beardyman is also consumed by the psychology of creation and his desire to make that process as pure as possible. ‘We all improvise all the time, and that, to me, is the core of creativity. All that sort of high-flown bullshit aside, it’s a very funny and engaging show.’ Humour is a key instrument in Beardyman’s repertoire. ‘I think things generally are funny,’ he says. ‘Unless you’re talking about Iraq, cancer, the threat of thermonuclear apocalypse, global warming or Isis. Everything other than that is funny. Death is really funny. Hilarious.’
So what does he see as the next step in the fusion of man, music and machine? ‘There is actually a guy called Onyx Ashanti who busks for Bitcoins and he’s a genuine cyber warrior,’ he marvels ‘He’s got a robot arm that dances along with him, copying his movements. He is genuinely a cyborg. I suppose I’m just a dude standing in front of this giant control stage that looks like a spaceship. But we’re all cyborgs now with our mobiles and whatever.’
Beardyman: One Album Per Hour, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 15–17 Aug, 11.15pm, £14 (£13).