In a relatively short music career to date, West Country vocal sculptor, beatboxer and double bassist Bellatrix has explored more individual styles and embarked on more collaborations than many will attempt across their lifetime’s songbook. Her solo guise makes spellbinding use of looping technology similarly to her contemporaries, such as Beardyman, whose band she’s also recently performed with on tour. After achieving the accolade of UK Beatboxing Championships finalist on her first attempt, aged only 17, she persevered to claim the World crown in 2009 and was subsequently invited to judge future contestants.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Bellatrix then sought people to create music with, beginning with joining Shlomo’s Vocal Orchestra and then forming vocal groups with The Beatbox Collective, BURD and The Boxettes, while yet another string to her bow is the double bass, honing her skills both playing with Dizraeli and the Small Gods and completing her jazz degree.
She shares her name with the feminine form of the Latin word for warrior, and part of the battle is to be proactive enough to tread new ground in a fast-moving industry. Her next step is a crowdfunding campaign which is due to launch imminently, and we can catch her live show in Manchester almost as soon – on Wednesday 21 September at Gorilla for Pen:Chant’s largest cabaret show to date.
Before that, Bellatrix took time out from it all to answer our questions.
How much did you take from the experience of touring with Shlomo at 17, and how has it shaped where you are today?
I had a lot of fun playing with Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra, it was a great first experience for me as a professional musician and got me comfortable on large stages from really early in my career. I’m lucky to have toured and collaborated extensively with so many incredible artists all of whom have had a contribution towards the 2016 shaped Bellatrix. But I’d say that most of my shaping has come from everyday experiences: friends and family and randommers met on busses, and late-night candlelit jam sessions in basements.
Do you prefer making music with a larger group or the freedom to shape your own solo sets?
Both of these bring me great joy. I think I’d be sad if I had to choose one over the other. The places that a group of minds can travel to is like a mysterious labyrinth peppered with twisted and beautiful coves you could never find alone. I will always play with other people. And also, at the moment I’m having a lot of clarity in my own vision, and am really enjoying having total freedom to express this in my solo music without compromise.
What has your experience been of crowdfunding for your debut EP?
I’m literally just about to launch my campaign with Pledge Music, and am really excited about getting stuck in to it! The money is gonna pay for me to have the EP mixed by an amazing mix engineer, and for PR to get the music out there to folks who it might not otherwise reach. And then for the physical copies to be made.
Which of your musical styles do you prefer to practise?
My practice is pretty fluid and changeable. Unless I have a specific thing I need to be practicing for, I generally practice whatever I feel like practicing at the time and there is an ebb and flow to it. One month I might get really into practicing my double bass, and just want to do that with every spare moment. Then I might go a couple of months only playing my bass half an hour a day, and spend the rest of the time writing lyrics and crafting songs, or experimenting with my voice. I have no overall preference, I just have the preference of the moment, and it’s changeable!
If you could plug into the Matrix, which new instrument would you like to learn instantly?
I’d love to be amazing at the mbira; I find it such a mesmerising instrument.
What advice would to give to youngsters trying to develop their beatboxing technique?
I’d say that really there is no secret to getting good, other than practice. Be interested, and willing to experiment. Don’t be afraid to sound silly, and if you aren’t surrounded by a supportive network, take other peoples’ negative comments with a pinch of salt. You need to be ferociously committed to your practice, and know that the skills are within reach for everybody!
Bellatrix is set to perform at Gorilla on Wednesday 21 September, 2016, as part of Pen:Chant’s largest show to date. Also performing are Soweto Kinch and Gein’s Family Giftshop.
Tickets are available for £6 (supported rate), £9 (standard rate) or £12 (sponsored rate) from penchant.org.uk