Ok, so last week was one helluva ride. The cataclysmic US election, the mind boggling panorama of things that could now go terribly, horribly wrong, the feeling that every single thing I have fought for and believed in might be reduced to a pile of ash, coupled with troubling instability on both personal and professional fronts has made for the kind of environment where it is tempting to quietly lock up, leave a little note that says “So long, and thanks for all the fish”, and make my way gently into parts unknown. Vanishing into some alternate ether seems like a bang up idea right now. On a grander stage the question would be where that mist might lie, but in the interim Long and I had planned an adventure that seemed like just the right panacea – the 2016 Canadian Beatbox Championship. That may seem facile, but the idea of listening to loud, bass heavy beats erupting from the mouths of babes in the company of someone I genuinely like, admire and respect seemed like exactly the right thing to do.
For those unfamiliar with beatboxing check out this video by Scott Jackson, the MC of the event and a beatboxing champion: Scott Jackson Beatbox Freestyle.
The competition was held at Lee’s Palace and Long got there early enough to snag seats with a clear site line. It’s been a long time since I was last at Lee’s – both Long and I separately spent enormous amounts of time here watching bands in our respective youths – and it seems smaller than I remembered. I know they did a renovation but clearly decided against putting any kind of comfortable seating. The ledge that we were perched on seemed based on the polar opposite of an ergonomic design. Despite the disparity in out relative heights, neither Long nor I could find an angle to sit on that did not perilously cut off blood flow to our legs.
The competition began with a showcase of the sixteen finalist beatboxers, who had 90 seconds to show off their technique and then they were paired off against one another to determine the champ. When I mentioned “from the mouths of babes” I was not exaggerating. While one or two looked like they may be in their late 20s most were younger and a few probably not out of their teens. Though the age range was small you could perceive the skill arc through from the newbies to the more established talent. I suspect is might be almost impossible to actually describe the techniques, so I have linked videos to the beatboxers who have them along with some style notes.
Long and I watched the solos and a couple of the pairings. We certainly had our favourites. I liked a guy called Spectrax, a stylish bearded man from Montreal wrapped in a deep orange scarf. He wasn’t just working the mic – he commanded the stage and gave a full body performance.
Long favoured a guy from Barrie named Hybrid who had excellent tattoos and looked to be one of the older people in the competition.
We both acknowledged that Heat, a slightly portly kind of goofy looking guy would probably take the prize as his work was really slick. Some of the competitors worked snippets of singing in to their sets I determined for myself what I like in a beatboxer. I really prefer the deeper, bassier work. Maybe because it seems to channel the deep dissatisfaction that had been lurking in the dark corners of my mood.
It was Remembrance Day and between the sets Scott took the stage and asked the audience for silence. He asked us to consider all the people who have served for our country (his brother is in the military) and advised us to thank the next person we see in uniform for protecting the freedom of a country where beatboxing is allowed to flourish, and he lead the crowd in the singing of the national anthem. It was a touching and heart-felt tribute, made even more poignant in these troubled times.
Long and I stayed for a couple of the round robin pair offs. My fave Spectrax won his battle, and the next one saw the pairing of Homeboy, a bespectacled young kid with his head half shaved and sporting a nervous rash against Heat.
The kid way trying really hard and Long mused that amongst his peers he should be revered as a God, but he paled compared to Heat. I was delighted to see the more experienced beatboxer treat his young counterpart genuine respect. He was dancing to Homeboy’s beats, throwing in some encouraging raps and demanding the crowd applaud the kid’s efforts. Again, a honest sliver of kindness, a ray of good in what I would have thought an unlikely forum.
After a couple of rounds Long and I slipped out to have a tea and some dessert and to dissect what this past week had meant to us. Indeed, these are dark times, and there may be darker days indeed in the future. But we had just witnessed rays of respect and kindness in a community of the young, vibrant artists. I guess my lesson it to take joy where you can find it and try to find hope, even if it is in a dark bar, with the circulation showily being cut off in your legs.
Here’s the line up. Long and I called it – Heat did indeed win the championship.
BBK – two time champion
HEAT – this guy was great, and went on to win the competition
FENG – Sweet, cherubic face wit a tonne of low end work
MTO – Young, incorporates a lot of singing in his beats (and he doesn’t have a great singing voice)
ELISII – This kid sounds more “human”, and is an under 18 champ
BLACK – Skinny, nerdy and awesome
NIVE – Another first timer who looked young as hell. This one has a great future
JAEGER – I was neutral on this guy
CHRIS FERNANDEZ – truly tiny, with HUGE beats
VEKO – Another skinny kid from Montreal
ETHAN C – this kid seriously looked about 12 (on the video he IDs himself as 14. I am SUCH an underachiever!)
A-PPER – The first beatboxer to take the stage (and the first to be eliminated). It was his birthday. I hope he enjoyed his bar mitzvah. It would have been fresh in his memory. I could not find a video for him.
HYBRID – From Barrie and looking a little older than much of the crew this guy had great tattoos. I think Long’s fave
RUBIK – Another first timer, he looked like he weighed about 100 lbs and a stiff wind could carry him away
HOMEBOY – From Montreal, this kid looked like he just busted out of a 24 hour Grand Theft Auto binge
SPECTRAX – Cool French dude with style and more stage presence than most