Beardyman‘s newest release, Distractions, comes three and half years after his debut I Done a Album. Distractions has been created on his Beardytron5000 mkIII, a completely customised and unique system that allows Beardyman to create, record and produce music live in real time.
In 2011 Beardyman found himself frustrated with the technology available and started to build his own machine from scratch. The Beardytron has been completely coded by Beardyman alongside two “genius” software coders Sebastian Lexer and Dave Gamble.
“I started using a loop pedal and then introduced chaos pads but I just got frustrated with all that so I threw it out,” he remembers. “I started making my own samples and presets which I have ordered by genre that I access through an iPad. The reason I did this was so I could access anything instantaneously, if there are loads of samples it takes a while to load up even if you use a super-fast computer.
“I can almost do everything I want to on it. I can record live beatbox samples on to my drum pad which gives me a new, live, drum machine. These go in to patterns which gives me 256 different combinations that I can control and alter to give me a new composition of drum samples I just made.
“I built-in a multi sampler to my keyboard which reacts to the pressure I play each key, I can make my keyboard sound like a live piano. On top of this I built in a programme that makes sure every note I press is played in time.”
The Beardytron could confuse most, but when you see Beardyman playing it is so effortless and coordinated, he is able to showcase different styles seamlessly and builds cohesive songs rapidly rather than simply laying a melody over a drum loop and bassline.
“If anyone wants to try replicating this I wish them luck!” he says. “It will take them years and years and shit load of time and maybe cost them a marriage. It’s bonkers, it constantly amazes me how to do this. The dream is for me to be able to go on stage and just do whatever I want.
“It was a long slog and it took me a year to just find the right developer after Dave stopped working on this because it was simply consuming all his time, we both worked on it day and night for six months and he had other projects to work on. There are loads of coders out there who are smart and know what they are doing but this is nuts, this is building and maintaining a major piece of software.”
Beardyman’s act and philosophy is based on improvisation and the ability to consistently conjure something new, with the system focused on originality in every live performance. Can the Beardytron also work in the more methodical and time consuming process of producing an album?
“For my last album I built a crazy Ableton rig and I just threw loads of stuff together in two weeks,” he answers. “The ideas were too concept driven and the whole thing came out completely weird, and that is besides the fact that the system wasn’t good enough. The album was full of parody and comedy which represented what my live act was at the time. Some shows I was just beatboxing in monkey suit.”
The musical content has matured ad infinitum and the two albums are barely discernible from each other barring the name of the artist. Distractions is a more cohesive and thorough project, a complete album rather than a slightly sporadic collection of songs with different concepts.
“For Distractions I tested and configured the system before doing some recording, jamming for an hour and then taking the best bits and mastering them, sometimes re-recording the vocals. There are no skits or comedy, and there are fewer tracks. I am still beatboxing and vocally generating material but that is not as prominent because of the Beardytron. I am still focused on doing things in real time because that is the most exciting thing for me, creating something authentic and impromptu.”
Beardyman showcased the Beardytron on his One Album an Hour concept, which was filmed live and recorded and the Google HQ in London. One Album an Hour was an interactive concept that reversed the song making process, Beardyman took song title suggestions and created a song to fit the title. The four episodes were filmed with a live audience and guest producers, such as Jack Black, streamed on to a monitor from the USA.
“What I wanted was a really creative atmosphere, and we achieved that but we had some technical issues. The show took different routes depending on who the producer was. When Tim Minchin was playing I sampled him and with Jack Black I would beatbox but he would ignore the beat and start singing, so to the studio and audience it was synchronised despite the time delay in the stream.
“I will do it again, it will be free and loose and everyone in the audience participating. What I really want to do is create an environment where inspiration just comes to me and everyone is involved in the creating process.”
There is so much going on during a Beardyman live performance, where he is constantly balancing the music creation and production, improvising vocals as well as his typifying crowd interaction. The effort put in to create the Beardytron are bordering on obsessive in what is an effort for the ultimate improvised and unique live dance act.
“Stylistically there is very little to compare between my new and old material, when I go over my old performances I see all the errors and the things I was doing wrong. At times I was having to crowd-hype to buy time as I was spending too long finding a preset that was buried deep in the menu.
“The ideal situation is that I don’t need to think about it, that’s the reason I make all my equipment easy to use. There is no one in the world, until now, who can completely improvise dance music and there is no ulterior motive to that. I just desperately want to have this system in existence for my own enjoyment, when I am making live dance music the feeling and atmosphere is just incredible.
“I am aware I have gone through extreme lengths to get here, and the complexity in these machines is mind-bendingly insane. The point is now I can do the things I wanted to do when I was pilled off my nut, listening to live music and thinking ‘this is good but it would be better if I could add a different drum beat or synth over the top.
“Its that basic feeling of playing and making music and creating that on an instantaneous setting and it’s the most fun I can have without drugs or a naked girl. There is a real rush and it is exhilarating.”
“It will. Really we need to fight ISIS and Ebola but I chose to sit around and make music. It will stop Ebola, everyone will be so busy listening to the album over and over again they will be effectively quarantined. Isis will hear the album and realise fundamentalism is a tedious waste of time. I can’t do anything about global warming I’m afraid.”