by Florian Städtler
This story begins in the middle of 2010. On our way to another European a cappella network meeting, Tobias Hug (Black Forest-raised & London-based bass with The Swingle Singers) told me of a new all-female vocal group he discovered in London.
OK, this pic does NOT show the band, but four Swingle Singers (Tobi’s the one on the right) with an unknown die-hard fan.
Where was I…ah yes…Tobi, the world’s greatest vocal and a cappella networker and also a highly talented scout told me of Bellatrix, the female beatbox world champion.
This video of Belle Ehresmann, Guildhall doublebass student, has gone viral quite a while ago. But Belle is not only a human beatbox and lipbuzz virtuoso, Tobi told me. She put together a five-piece all-female, vocal beatbox group. “You’d better check out these insanely talented girls before someone else does”, that’s what Mr. Hug told me. But I was busy as always and already taking care of booking for five international a cappella top acts, so I just didn’t manage to follow up right away.
But my old choir buddy Tobi can be persistent if he really thinks that something is worth being like that. And so he kept me updated on a regular basis until I searched the web, found rough, but fascinating videos of The Boxettes and was finally hit by their sensational video single “Free” . That was – if I remember it right – in the beginning of January, and I had decided much earlier to do two things: See and meet the group at the London A Cappella Festival (12-15th of January) and bring them to Germany’s top showcase events, the Kulturbörse Freiburg.
To make a long story short, it was a great night at King’s Place: Neo, Alyusha, Harriet, Yvette and Bellatrix are young, sexy, charismatic (despite their age) and most importantly: truly talented and musically original. We have nothing like this in the EU. Nor in the States. Probably not in Asia, Australia either. Well, to be honest, their show is far from being perfect. This group is a raw diamond yet. But the singers are 100% authentic and there is only two ways that you can leave a Boxettes concert: Confused because this doesn’t fit into your world of vocal and a cappella music. Or enthusiastic that there is a band that seems to bring a whole new groove and sound to this art form. I generally love artists who make at least 20% of the audience look like living question marks and shake their heads in doubt and disbelief. Because these are the same bands that make 80% of the people dance and bang their heads in pure joy. That’s what the Boxettes will soon be doing to many more people all around the world. And probably/hopefully they will reach a much broader, pop audience.
Speaking of a vocal group aiming at a mainstream pop audience, there’s one group that has been going that way for years and is probably today’s most successfull vocal group: Naturally 7, led by vocal music mastermind Roger Thomas. What happened after my London A Cappella encounter with The Boxettes (+ The Swingle Singers, The Real Group, Witloof Bay and many more aca-people from all over Europe), is a kind of fairy tale. Or maybe a science fiction. Yes, it reminds of the incredible space ship “Heart of Gold” in Douglas Adams’ cult novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The engine of the ship is based on a technology called “The Infinite Improbability Drive”, which makes it possible to cover unbelievable distances in no time. But it has a second effect. On their journey from the place where the Earth used to be (before it was destroyed to build a hyperspace byway…) to “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, the most improbable, unbelievable and mind-boggling things happen.
Why am I telling you that? Well, read on what happened.
When we were checking our diaries to make The Boxettes’ continental premiere happening, I discovered, that on the two days before the Freiburg showcase, Naturally 7 had two gigs very close to Freiburg. When I told Tobi about that, he acted very quickly. Of course he and Roger Thomas met before (there’s a video on YouTube with N7 singing a song backstage at a Michael Bublé show at the O2 in London – the The Swingle Singers being their audience) and so Tobi tried to get in touch with Roger right away. But nothing happened for 5 or 6 days. We had to book flights as they became more expensive every day…and right after we had booked the air tickets from London to Basel/Freiburg Tobi forwarded me THE E-MAIL. It said: “The girls can do a half-hour show at Denzlingen and Stuttgart opening for N7.” Well, rarely did I change flights so happily…
The rest, they say, is history: The Boxettes flew into Basel, met the boys and more than warmed-up the Denzlingen crowd. After the show we celebrated Roger’s birthday with a very special birthday cake (no alcohol, no nuts) served by the ultimate N7 fans Vera Yu and @Laydee_Tea who probably saw their 693rd show of Roger and the boys. On the next day I had the pleasure to be the band bus driver to Stuttgart where the girls rocked the sold-out house and jammed with Roger backstage before saying Farewell around midnight. We arrived in Freiburg around 4 am, knackered but happy. Find many more pics and a backstage video of the Naturally Boxettes meeting at the Vocal Blog Facebook group. And be sure to check out the blog post Roger Thomas dedicated to The Boxettes shortly after the two shows in Germany.
Finally the group had the opportunity to present their show at the Kulturbörse Freiburg in the 1st A Cappella Special presented by SpielPlanVier and magenta concerts. The triple showcase featured Freiburg local heroes Acoustic Instinct, a beatbox-impro-comedy duo, The Boxettes and Dutch a cappella comedy pop act, iNtrmzzo (currently participating in the Dutch version of The Sing-Off). What a night! The house was packed, the stage looked great and the audience was enthusiastic how different and colourful contemporary a cappella can be. It goes without saying that this all ended up in a nice little Dutch-German-British after show party.
On our way home we were so hungry that we stopped at the nearest fast food restaurant and when we had eaten, we realized that the girl’s wireless equipment was gone…you should have seen Trevor’s face at that particular moment. But two phone calls and a friendly chat with a Freiburg cab driver later made him all smiles. All the stuff was found and returned, which meant that The Boxettes weren’t broke before their career took off.
And that’s the end of this first chapter of my Boxettes story – great stuff (quote Neo)! And thanks so much, Tobi, for keep pushing me. Let’s keep pushing vocal music to ever new areas and helping talents like Neo, Yvette, Belle, Alyusha and Rhiannon to get on with their careers.
Have you seen The Boxettes live? What do you think makes them special? Would you call their music a cappella at all?
Let me know what you think, I’m looking forward to your comments!