Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box

Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box


Reviewed by: George Williamson

A funky breakbeat tune kicks in, full of sampled squelches and the essential scratching sounds of a hiphop tune. Then you realise there is no drummer, no keyboard player, and no turntablist. All this is coming from one man with a microphone, the vocal percussionist, the human beat box.

Reminiscent of the cool styling of Stacy Peralta's Dogtown And Z-Boys, Breath Control aims to give us a concise and focused look at the development of human beat-boxing, from its roots in African culture and impoverished New York artists to its underground presence today.

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Referred to as Vocal Percussion, in an attempt to give the art form respect, human beat boxing now goes much further than someone creating drum sounds with their lips. The best artists can produce two or three simultaneous sounds, emulate turntables complete with scratching and reversed lyrics, and even produce synthesizer and sampler style sounds.

We are shown bands that are made up of several artists, each creating a personal part of the tune, being an individual instrument, joining together to create original music. We see the future of hip-hop.

Shot in an interview style, Breath Control is not particularly revolutionary. Visually it reminds you of a low-budget MTV documentary. However, what really sets it apart is the director's love of his subject. It's clear that he really cares about the artists and the genre, taking a serious look at its cultural and social roots, without, in any way, trivialising the performer's work, which some see as nothing more than a fad, easy to criticise for it's street roots and purported lack of artistic credibility.

Although this isn't the best documentary I've seen this year - To Be And To Have wins that award so far - it is very entertaining and extremely interesting. Taking an obscure subject and thrusting the viewer deep within, to emerge satisfied is difficult. Joey Garfield manages to do so with ease.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2002
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Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box packshot
The phenomenon of human beat boxing revisited as a documentary.

Director: Joey Garfield

Starring: Doug E Fresh, Rahzel, Biz Markie, Fat Boys, Stetasonic, Emanon

Year: 2002

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2002

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