Expert Beatbox Artist Talks Music And The Honesty Of Monochrome

London based Reeps One took the opening slot of our new music series, ‘Your Bedtime Music’. Follow The Plus for an original short film series in which we pick the brains and the beats behind some of the music industry’s most interesting rising talents.

Lone wolf, competitive spirit, with an insatiable drive for pushing the boundaries of where his award-winning beatboxing skills can take him, Reeps One is a modern-day polymath. Although his audiovisual live shows and success in beatboxing championships have earned Reeps One (AKA Harry Yeff) international recognition, perhaps more interesting is the breadth of his artistic interest. From Harvard guest lecturer, to creator of complex and stylised visual art, from canvasses to body-decoration, Reeps One is voraciously expanding the field of beatbox culture.

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His visual work is abstract, with an inclination towards the conceptual.“I like the idea that you can make things that have never come to fruition before – abstract work really connects me in that way,” he shares with us at his London studio.

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It’s this conceptual fascination which has led him to leap from beatboxing, to artwork, to chess playing, to the study of linguistics: a focus on decisions, on pattern, and on form, rather than on colourful embellishment or on the simplistic restrictions of musical genre. Among his influences are those producers who don’t bend to anyone’s rules – Venetian Snares, Aphex Twin – and we got the chance to take a first-hand look at the artistic result.


The Plus: You have done so many beatboxing performances, some mixed with live visual art performances. How did you mix the two and why?
Reeps One:
Sometimes I use a process called cymatics, which in simple terms is the use of vibration to manipulate things. We’ve used it in all kinds of ways, from photography to the live shows, which is what we did at the iMax. It’s made using my voice in water, and the sound I use looks like the work because the visual and the sound are the same thing, working together. It becomes a whole new piece of artwork. And instead of using a programme, I’m just using physics – so technically God is my programmer, which is a good thing to have on your side.

Medallion 1
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TP: Your cymatics work is much more abstract then your illustration; what’s attracted you to that style?
RO:
Abstract work really connects with me. I think abstract works are very musical, in the same way that if I make a sound, someone can ask ‘what does that mean?’ – you can’t say what it means, but you can definitely make people dance and feel something. I don’t do any work without understanding why, it’s all concept-driven.

TP: In your art you work a lot in black and white – why is that?
RO:
Because you can’t hide behind colour. Colour is a beautiful thing, but when it’s just lines it has to be more interesting, and interesting just with the boldness of it. In the same way I’ve always been very percussive in my music: you can’t hide behind colour and other sorts of beauty, it’s just your artistic decision and that’s it.

We couldn’t resist requesting a percussive bar or twelve from Reeps One in his London studio – and he kindly obliged:

TP: Turning to your beatboxing – having an instrument always to hand makes beatboxing attractive for a music enthusiast, is how you got started?
RO:
Yes, it started just from simply wanting to do music all the time: you’re freer with beatboxing than you are with most instruments. There’s no limitation. Personally, I just started to speak,speak, speak, and then slowly speaking became “what does a drum actually sound like?”, and then over the years my sounds became more precise.

TP: How do you keep up your skills?
RO:
It’s a bit of a strange answer, but stopping sometimes is definitely a way of improving. I could be trying to do a pattern and I can’t quite do it, but if I leave it alone for a few days, when I come back it’s more internalised. So it’s learning to make sure that you stop and give your subconscious a chance to process everything that you’re doing.

TP: You’ve won acclaim for you beatboxing, pushed the boundaries with your shows, and lectured at Harvard – how do you handle so many projects?
RO:
I do more than what is logical: part of my personality is that I take lots of different shapes and forms, and I like that – I like to exist as many different things at the same time. You need to keep thinking, keep working, keep pushing.

Reeps One’s live shows are an exercise in atmosphere control:

TP: So has your beatboxing affected other parts of your life?
RO:
It’s made me hyper-aware of my voice and my body – I’m very aware of projection. That’s why I can go into a business environment: my voice becomes slightly lower and I talk from my belly, and it has this intensity. I have control over those little things because I’m aware of them. I affect my social surroundings with my voice, and being able to make certain sounds gives me a social effect: it’s a part of me.

TP: You’re always working on new projects – what drives you? What drives the beatboxing community?
RO:
I don’t know whether it’s because I have a complex or something, but I like what I’m working on to feel unique from the beginning. I’m interested in what new things can be explored. I think that’s Reeps One: I’m always looking for more, I’m always searching for more, and I’m seeing more and more artists doing the same. So we’ll see where the culture goes.

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