Shlomo is a beatboxer. Little Bastard talks to him about working with Björk, being crowned the World Loop Station Champion, and writing a beatboxing score for The Little Mermaid.
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‘Shlomo is my middle name. If I went to Israel it would not be novel, I’d may as well call myself Dave the Beatboxer.’
I first came across beatboxer Simon Kahn, AKA Shlomo, when he appeared on Björk’s a capella album Medulla. He performed on my favourite song, ‘Oceania’. Seeming to come completely from nowhere, I was astonished by his beatboxing skills even on record, and finally got to see him live last year at Electric in Brixton (formally the famous ‘Fridge’ nightclub), and his performance blew me away. With heavy use of Loop Station, a device used to record and loop a sound over and over (used by many solo music artists such as KT Tunstall and Imogen Heap) Shlomo manages to create entire songs right in front of your eyes, adding vocals as well as beats and instrumentation, and over the years has become one of the biggest international names in beatboxing for this reason. And it all started with a call from Bjork.
Being asked to record with Björk was a big shock, as it was my first major break. I was working in a call centre typing out lonely hearts ads when I got a voicemail from her asking me to come to London to record my beats. After that collaboration I got really inspired about my music and took it a lot more seriously, and since then I’ve got to work with amazing people like Jarvis, Imogen Heap and the Mighty Boosh. I’d love to work with Stevie Wonder though, he’s just God to me and my muso friends!
Loop Station features a lot in your work, and it’s easily what sets you apart from your average beatboxer with a microphone to being a full on beatboxing superstar (and, in fact, you were once crowned the World Loop Station Champion). How did your use of Loop Station come about, and how did it feel becoming a World Champion?
Immediately after my session with Björk I decided to start creating my own songs rather than just imitating well known Snoop Dogg and Jay Z beats, and I saw a clip online of someone beatboxing through a looper. I went and bought a cheap loop pedal and never looked back. I only entered the looping championships for a laugh but ended up World Champion! It felt amazing.
Despite such high accolades and acclaim, when Shlomo got his first break beatboxing, with hip hop outfit Foreign Beggers, that wasn’t his original life plan.
I was studying Physics with Astrophysics, so I probably would have been a geeky scientist like my Grandpa. I started beatboxing when I was a kid because my parents wouldn’t let me play my drums at night and I’d always want to practise the drum beat from Top Of The Pops which was on at 7pm.
As well as beatboxing on other peoples songs, you have also ventured into theatre, and are currently touring the UK with your new one man show ‘Human Geekbox’. What has prompted this move into theatre?
Beatboxing is a live art form in its nature, in that it’s more than just the music, and you have to witness it live to really get it. But it’s also prone to being seen as a gimmick or a novelty act. So I wanted to take it a little deeper than just saying “and for my next trick, I’ll do a million rewind sounds per second whilst juggling fireballs on my head” and take it to somewhere a bit more meaningful.
And meaningful it certainly is. Loosely based around the story of his Grandfather Professor Khan, a scientist who had a planet named after him, Shlomo’s follow up to his sell out Mouthtronica show is once again more one man theatrical extravaganza than your average one man beatboxing show.
I made my first solo show Mouthtronica a couple of years ago about my maternal grandparents who were Iraqi Jews, and it was all about the amazing parties my Nana would host, and the Arabic food, belly dancers and music from my childhood. Everyone seemed to love the personal nature of it, so this time I wanted to revisit the story of Professor Kahn, my paternal grandfather who, as you say, was one of the biggest brains in our history!
During the current tour, you are making an album to raise money for War Child with some interesting collaborations. Tell us more about that.
I wanted to set myself a challenge, and what I came up with was ridiculous and totally terrifying: to co-write, perform and release a new song in 2 hours with a different local artist in all 13 towns on the tour. After each show, I release the bleedingly-new song in aid of War Child. I’ve now done 10 of the 13 collaborations and I’m really fond of all them. Some of them came out a little wobbly in the live performances, but that’s all part of it I guess.
As well as your successful one man shows, you are currently composing the musical score for the Bristol Old Vic production of The Little Mermaid, which will be at the prestigious theatre over Christmas. Was this a daunting prospect?
I first decided to get into theatre a few years ago, and decided I wanted to make a beatboxing version of Stomp. I met up with Tom Morris who at the time was running the National Theatre and now runs Bristol Old Vic, and he kind of took me under his wing. He asked me to create a beatboxing score for The Little Mermaid which I’m doing right now. It has not been without it’s challenges, and I’m not getting too much sleep at he moment, but we open in just over 2 weeks and I think it’s going to be truly magical.
Would you like to do more theatrical composition?
I would LOVE to do music for more theatre. I’m doing more and more composing at the moment, I’ve been commissioned to write a beatboxing piece for the National Youth Choir next year, and I’ve just accepted a commission to write a piece for a duet between a beatboxer and the Organ at the Royal Festival Hall.
I’ve heard you say in interviews that the music you listen to is a lot more chilled out then the rave orientated music you make live to get the crowd going – what do you listen to when you’re relaxing and not thinking about work?
Lately I’ve been loving albums by Submotion Orchestra and Volcano Choir, but my 2 year old is always requesting “bumping house mixed with White Music” by which he means Disclosure, so we rave out to that most evenings before bath time!
I must make a mental note to refer to Disclosure like that in the future … so what does the future hold in store for Shlomo?
Working on my new album, which will be out next year, plus furiously composing to get through my backlog of commissions! Loving it.