Creative Genius From the Edge of Madness with Beardyman
Geoff D. Taylor


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Creative Genius From the Edge of Madness with Beardyman

"There is still a lot of music out there, which I can't believe people are making because they like it."

British beatboxer Darren Foreman is known globally as the producer/performer Beardyman. After winning the UK Beatbox Championship back-to-back in 2006 and 2007, he recorded the zeitgeist-affirming "Eat Sleep Rave Repeat" vocal on Fatboy Slim and Riva Starr's 2011 release "Get Naked". His 2013 Ted Talk, "The Polyphonic Me", has been viewed almost 1.5 million times.

Currently touring North America in support of his second album Distractions, it's his live set that steals the show. It's a bright showcase of virtuoso vocal talent and electronic interface innovation. Beardyman uses custom Max patches for Ableton Live to quantize and layer in real time, and raw sounds finessed into danceable virtual soundscapes. Beardyman does with vocals what Seattle's KJ Sawka does with the drums—triggering an entire instrumentation with what used to be considered a single instrument. He does stand-up comedy amidst high-intensity dance music, engaging the entire audience with irreverent humor to take the edge off a serious onslaught of dark drum and bass.


This month, Beardyman took the stage at Vancouver's balconied Alexander bar. But before he took to the stage, Beardyman was donning a wizard's hat and announcing that he had just eaten a bunch of acid. Quite a sweaty set later, we caught up with him in the green room after his show.

THUMP: Were you joking about eating acid before your performance?
Beardyman: I was joking. Did it seem like I was on acid? I could never do acid and play a set. But I feel a strong affinity with acid people, or mushroom people—anyone who has been tipped over the edge. I know what that's like because I've been tipped over the edge myself.

You often have a dialogue with yourself about that 'edge of madness'. You will interrupt yourself mid-performance and talk about whether you're going crazy. Is that a regular part of the show for you then?
No, that was just something I said tonight. That was quite funny. I might do that for the rest of the tour if it works well for me.

You talk about having the tools to express any sound in your head with your voice as the instrument. This, coupled with your technology; and yet, we always come against the limitations of our interface…
Well, limitations aren't always bad. Limitations can be very good for creativity. These days, if you're a producer and you want to take your show out on the road, and you don't want to just DJ, then you end up being a musical inventor. So I've had to do a lot of interface design. There are things on my interface that were spec-built for me, things that didn't exist in any other application because I needed to try and squeeze all this functionality into something that I could operate with two hands. You've only got ten fingers and you're not going to use all ten. You've really only have two—or just one. So things are heavily macro-ized in terms of builds and drops. It's very much designed with the purpose to make live dance music. Yet I'm constantly finding new things that I can't do, that I want it to do. So it's very easy to get lost in that kind of inventor space. It's true of anyone really. You can buy as many plug-ins as you want, if you're a producer. Or you could just satisfy yourself with the plug-ins you already have and learn how to use them like a fucking ninja.


Tonight, there was an arc to your performance. You were vocalizing more at the beginning, then you were almost satisfied to groove out in a drum and bass zone for a while. You interrupted yourself with some comedy before ending with beatboxing, which brought it back to vocals.
Most people that come to my show come to see me beatbox. It's what I'm known for. But it took me a long time to realize that I could end with beatbox. For years I was doing beatbox at the beginning and then segueing onto the machines. It was always a bit of a let-down. I thought, 'why is it a let-down, when I go with the machines?' The reason is because there is stuff you can do with beatbox that you can't do any other way. It's scrappy, it's simplistic, and it's not subtle or multi-layered— but there's an immediacy. You're forced to be creative in ways that are very unique. It is complete creativity and no finesse, which makes it raw and unique. So now, I like to save it for the end. It's the best way. People leave the show having just watched the thing that they came to see in the first place. That's what you see with bands?•they play their hit last.

I imagine it must open you up to a very wide audience, even if they might not otherwise be into a genre like dubstep or hip-hop or drum and bass.
Yeah, a lot of people say 'I don't like that kind of music normally, but I liked yourshow.'

How do you feel about the music business? How you support yourself with your art?
I'm essentially unemployable now, for ten years. I have basically been pursuing this twisted ideal that I have, that it's okay for me to do whatever the fuck I want in life. There is still a lot of music out there, which I can't believe people are making because they like it. If you get a buzz out of pop music, then you'll love making pop music. But I think music that's made cynically is bad. Yet, I don't want to bemoan pop music because it doesn't really exist anymore. It's gone—which is really interesting to me. But it still seems that people like Calvin Harris, I mean—really? David Guetta—really? Really? Ariana Grande—really? I really want to have sex with Ariana Grande and I quite like one of her songs because I want to have sex with her. But does she love the music that she makes? Does she? Maybe she does.

Maybe you should ask her.
I'll never meet her.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Ariana Grande. On the sole proviso that after we'd collaborate musically, we could also collaborate sexually.

Beardyman is on Facebook // SoundCloud // Twitter