Exclusive Interview

NMP Live Meets SK Shlomo

Guinness World Record breaker, Glastonbury favourite and award-winning beatboxer SK Shlomo joined us at NMP Live for an exclusive interview on teaching CEO's to beatbox, his struggles with mental health and his world record. 

Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.

In conversation with SK Shlomo

How did you get into beatboxing?

I started making beatbox noises from a small age. I didn't know that it was called beatboxing, it was just a way of practicing drums.

Basically, I wasn't allowed to practice my drums if it was this time of day or this day of the week and it was too much, and I was super inspired watching the drummers on Top of The Pops. So, I’d start practicing the rhythms with my body or with my voice and then it just evolved when other people heard me doing it.

I was only doing it for myself, but I found that when other people heard it, they'd say, ‘whoa what is that? that sounds cool’ and I’d think ‘oh okay.’ Then I started to refine it and then realised I could use it as a way to get praise, attention and free food.

What is beatboxing?

Beatboxing is the ancient art form; when I say ancient it dates from the early 1980s, of making music with your mouth [beatboxes] and it kind of evolved.

I tell a story in my family show about how, in the early 1980s, we're on the streets of New York and everyone's having a block party and the music’s coming from a ghetto blaster, which if you're beyond a certain age that's 1980s for a battery-powered sound system that you carry around with you and it's like [beatboxes].

So, all of a sudden, the batteries run out and the ghetto blaster fails, and hip hop almost never happened, honestly, they all nearly walked away and went and did something else completely. But luckily one person stepped forward, nobody knows who it was, but legend has it one person stepped forward and said ‘I think I can do it all with my mouth,’ and he started doing some old school ‘80s beatboxing which sounds like this [beatboxes]. That's how they used to do it! And then everyone started rapping and breakdancing again and so hip-hop was saved.

Anyway, this is a story I tell. I’m sure that's not how it really happened but it started in the 80s, it became part of hip-hop, but then as hip-hop went super mainstream and then almost died as well, towards the end of the 90s, beatboxing almost disappeared. Then it was in the noughties, I had this new wave of energy which luckily I was there at the right time, 2002, 2003, I was 18/19 and I was this bright fresh-faced kid just saying ‘check this thing out.’ So, I got to surf that whole wave.

Beatboxing is an incredibly powerful way to make music with just your mouth [beatboxes].

Can anyone learn to beatbox?

Anyone can learn to beatbox. I have taught kiddies all the way up to grannies to huge business executives, international stars and I’ve taught them the basics in a really quick time. Then as long as I teach them to do it from their heart and with conviction it always amazes the people listening.

There's a really easy way that I teach it. There's three letters you've got to learn P, T and K. P is the kick, T is the hi-hat and K is a snare so it's like this [beatboxes], that's P [makes sound], that's T [makes sound] and that's K [makes sound]. You put them together P, T, K and then you just learn to mess around with it [beatboxes].

You can take it really far or some of my favourite moments are when I’ve trained someone up in secret, like at a conference or something and I’ve got the lead of the executive and I’ve just given them 3/4 minutes of my time and then I’ve handed them the mic on stage and then they've just done that. And when you do that through a huge sound system it sounds amazing, and then the team are like ‘what?!’ it's really fun.

What is live looping?

I got into live looping a long time ago now, about 2004, 2005 and I did a collaboration with Bjork, the singer, songwriter and that was the first time someone had seen beatboxing as more than just a trick and a way to impress people, including myself. She saw it as a musical tool, a creative tool just like any other musical instrument. And that made me think ‘I need to take this more seriously because I am a musician, I’ve been doing this for fun but maybe I could do this as a way to express myself.’

So, I’ve got a looper and a lively. If you don't know what live looping is, it's when you can record anything but I record my voice and you make a phrase of it which would loop and then it means you can put another layer on top and another one on top, another one top. It means I could make a beat and then add a bass line and then I could start singing and then I could sing a harmony with myself and kind of create an orchestra of Shlomos which might sound awful to you but to me that's just the best thing ever!

That started getting a bit of attention and enabled me to start touring on my own and then I won the World Looping Championships and I thought ‘oh my gosh maybe I’m quite good at this.’ After that I started getting sent all these different loopers and different technology because people wanted me to use it and for their kit to be seen but none of it was quite right. I was patching all of these different pieces of kit together until I had about 15 machines on the table all fighting with each other and I decided I wanted to make my own thing.

So, I threw all that away and I started using a laptop and I learnt how to write my own software which I hadn't done before, which is why my machine barely ever works, it's called Beast. It means that if I’ve got an idea, I can find out a way to make the technology do it. I have so much fun with it because I can sample the crowd and turn them into music in real time and it's really powerful and really playful, so I get a lot from that.

When are you at your most creative?

I think I’m my most creative under pressure which isn't always the kindest way to work. With the Vocal Orchestra we announced it before I even made it and that's been a bit of a pattern for me. I’ll put myself under this massive pressure to achieve this goal of doing stuff that's never been done before or doing stuff in a new way and then that's when I’m most creative because it's almost motivated by fear.

That has actually led me to some real troubling times in the past but it's still a thing; for me creativity comes when I know I have to be creative.

What are your music festival highlights?

I think festivals are a real big thing for me, for a lot of people. The first time I ever went to a festival was at Glastonbury, I was playing in one of the little small stages and I stayed for the whole weekend and I thought ‘this is me from now on, I’m going to get on that stage, I’m going to get on that Pyramid Stage.’ From that point I just lived for it, I wanted to get as many festivals as I can.

So, highlights for me, I did some crazy hip-hop festivals out in Europe when I was younger where we opened for Snoop Dogg and just played to thousands of people. But I think coming back to Glastonbury; it's kind of a Mecca for me and a lot of people, it's quite spiritual in terms of the connection to music that me and so many people have.

Can you tell us about your struggles with mental health?

I think it comes back to what we were talking before about, I’m most creative under pressure and I feel like I had this really early success with being creative under pressure and I started to believe that that was the only way I’d be good enough. So, I started putting more and more pressure on myself to produce more and more amazing work and it was unsustainable.

I’d set myself a challenge to play on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and it took me three years from first going to the festival to playing on the Pyramid Stage and I walked off and I thought I’d feel amazing, I thought I’d feel like ‘okay cool I’ve done it now’ but I didn't, I just felt empty. I just felt like I wasn't good enough because what I was doing wasn't good enough, because why wasn't I feeling fulfilled. So, I’d just end up piling on more and more pressure.

I’d never told anyone that, I wouldn't tell a soul, they'd all see me as this perfectly, not just happy, not just successful, but this superhuman character and that was what I portrayed to the world and I was so frightened of being found out, I felt like I was this fraud character.

So I came off the road to make an album, I’d been touring my whole life really, it was how I put money on the table, it was an addiction, I’m not going to lie I was addicted to success which sounds ridiculous. But that's how it felt because when I came off the road to make the album, without that distraction of validation from thousands of people, all of this pain came out and I got really sick with mental health and I didn't want to live for quite a while.

It got really bad, I couldn't work I could barely leave the house and it was awful but it was also a huge turning point for me because to be able to admit to myself that I was battling depression and then months later to be able to talk to other people and eventually talk publicly about it, it transformed my life. Because people suddenly saw me differently, they looked me in the eye and they'd be able to talk to me in a real way, talk to me about what was happening in their life, but it also meant I could stop this constant pressure on myself and I could understand that I was good enough with or without success.

That was a big deal and when I did head back out on the road I started talking about mental health and I created a live streaming series about mental health. I’d have people like Jason Mraz and Bill Bailey, loads of really famous people, came on to talk about mental health during that window when I was in recovery and that really helped me. And then it ended up, I made an album about mental health awareness and I made a stage show about it which I took to Edinburgh Fringe this year and it got nominated for the Mental Health Award.

As soon as I came back out on the road that success was still there, but it was different because I didn't feel like I had to hold on to it just to be okay. Now I feel like it's lovely to be successful but also, I can just go home and do the washing up, be a dad just be a normal human and that was huge for me.

What themes and topics do you speak about?

I’ve done so many different types of performance at conferences and events for businesses so a lot of the time I’ll come in and do an energizer performance. It's maybe the beginning of the day or the end of the day where I want to wake everyone up and remind everybody how creative the world can be and that might be a short thing. But often I do like much longer things like a keynote where I talk about my whole journey with creativity and technology.

More recently I’ve been talking a lot more about mental health, so I’ve been asked to come in and talk about how creativity and mental health link together. How, if your team wants to be more creative and higher achievers, how making sure that they have a healthy mental outlook and a healthy community is absolutely key to them achieving that creativity and that kind of top-level achievement.

I do all kinds of stuff. I like to work with a team to help them express their own creativity so I help them create a song or a performance or a video or something like that and I really love it because you're connecting with humans, you’re helping people tell a story and that is so joyful for me, I love it every time.

Tell us about the world record you broke with Google?

I first broke the world record for the largest beatboxing group on a TV show where they break loads of TV records and then someone broke it, I was furious! So, I lost my Guinness record.

Then I had a call from Google and they were doing a massive conference with 1500 people maybe, a lot of people, and they said ‘can you think something really cool’ and I said ‘do you want to break a world record!’ It's quite hard to break a world record officially, Guinness have to send someone, and you have to have it all planned months in advance. I’d been trying to do it off my own back and I couldn't so I thought if Google can't do this then no one can do it.

I can't remember the exact number but it was a thousand and something people all beatboxing together and we broke the record in Dublin; although someone has now broken it again so I’m going to need to get an even bigger tech giant to help me do it again!

If you're interested in booking Sk Shlomo you can enquire online, email us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our experienced booking agents. For further information about SK Shlomo view his profile here.

 

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