When exceptional talents reflect on ‘how it all began’ it generally involves either heartbreak, LSD, war, an eastern pilgrimage or the death of a pet. Tom Thum, on the other hand, had a broken stereo.
This 28 year old from Brisbane began making beats with his mouth over a decade ago when his b-boy crew needed a drop to breakdance to. Now, his hobby-turned-career comes with a very serious artistic aim; to legitimise the musical form as a complex instrument rather than a five-minute party trick. “I don’t want to be bogged down by the stigma of beat boxing”, says Thum.
Heading to Sydney Festival this January, Thum wonders, “How the fuck am I going to make a 50-minute solo beat box show?” But with a trumpet, a turntable scratcher, a guzheng, a didgeridoo and a Berlin techno club stuck in his throat; we only wish it would go for longer. This Aussie b-boy clearly does things differently, so in preparation for his mighty six-day run at the Circus Ronaldo Tent; we discover 10 ways to lock it down like Tom Thum:
1. B-boy life:
Growing up practicing the hip-hop trifecta (graffiti, breakdance and skating), beat boxing was a natural progression for the younger Thum. “One of my friends started beat boxing when we were breaking because we didn’t have a stereo”, he says. “I’d never heard it before and it blew my mind. I pretty much spent the next 13 years annoying the shit out of people.”
Musically limited to American work; Thum was relieved to discover the homegrown capabilities of Hilltop Hoods, Resin Dogs and Lazy Gray in 2005. “hearing these people use their own voices and accents made me realise there’s other people out there!” says Thum.
“I am trying to shy away from standing on a stage with just a microphone doing a gimmicky thing,” says Thum with belief that alternative uses of the human voice should be respected on par with singing. “I want to show people the entire range of the voice and how it can be employed to make composition and layers and loops,” he says.
This musician like to travel for his creative stimulation; “When I’ve got a week either side of something, I would prefer to pour my money in to a holiday than a savings account,” he says.
“I spend a lot of time looking through crates and listening to a lot of old vinyls to find samples to create beats,” says the young producer. Aside from beat boxing, Thum makes actual beats with drum machines too.
Thum ensures that he is no exception to the human race. “The instrument is literally attached to your face”, he asserts. “It’s just practice and experimentation. Some people might not be able to do a certain thing because of the way their teeth are sitting but they would probably create another sound that I couldn’t do.”
Beat boxers are not dissimilar to magicians, according to Thum; “They’re not actually making rabbits disappear and we’re not actually singing at the same time.” He uses the song Sing it Back by Moloko for reference: “It’s got a lot of Bs and Ks which are the snares and the kicks. It’s all about fitting the drums in between words to create illusion.”
8. Rest and Hydration:
“My particular style of beat boxing is reliant on the fact that I can access my full vocal range,” says Thum. He is also very attentive to caring for his tool. “Steam has been my saviour so many times, hot showers and lots of vocal warm-ups and rest. Not smashing the piss the night before I have to do a show is good too.”
9. Patience and passion:
“If you’re not passionate about it then you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” says the learned beat boxer. “A lot of people are going to tell you it sounds shit until they start paying you so do not take on negative criticism,” he says on growing up with understanding family and friends. “If I did that, I would have stopped the day after I started.”
10. Video tutorials
Thum praises the advantage young music makers have with accessing YouTube. “We didn’t have it when I was growing up,” he says. “Now it is a very important tool.” You can see Tom Thum’s own channel: youtube.com/user/tomthummer
Tom Thum will play at Sydney Festival at the Circus Ronaldo Tent in the Festival Village:
21-26 January at 8pm
Tue–Sun at 8pm
Sat at 2pm and 8pm