Vanessa Caspersz is an up-and-coming artist from the Blue Mountains, home of Australian hip hop sensations Hermitude, Urthboy and Thundamentals. Starting off performing acoustically, Vanessa branched out into developing her beatboxing skills when she moved to London in 2011. She worked closely with well-established beatboxing artists Reeps One and Shlomo, and joined the London Contemporary Voices choir, incorporating vocal percussion into their performances and touring at festivals across the country. Beyond her tight beatboxing skills, Vanessa has a hauntingly striking voice and plays a mean ukulele that captivates her audience and brings her beats to life. She competed in both the UK and Australian beatbox championships, and is currently performing and collaborating with various artists in Sydney.
We chat to Vanessa about the unique life of a beatboxer, her experience battling in beatboxing championships, and the emotional roller coaster of being a musician. Ayla Dhyani writes.
You started off performing acoustically. Where did your love of hip hop emerge from?
It happened in my last couple of years of high school. I just began to appreciate the technicality of the music. It was an interesting journey. I was never necessarily a person who hated hip-hop, but I guess I didn’t really like it or understand it when I was younger. And because I wasn’t brought up on it, I think I’m able to understand where other people are coming from who don’t really appreciate hip hop. So from that, I guess, I can bring people together with the technical side of beatboxing and the musical side of singing.
How did you originally get involved in beatboxing?
I moved to London and got involved in the Beatbox Academy run by Battersea Arts Centre in South London, aimed towards encouraging young musicians. It was great because a lot of really famous beatboxers would still come and volunteer. The beatbox community is so equal in that regard. Everyone is the same, no matter how successful you become. There’s always a strong community feeling. Everyone is still so passionate and keen to get involved, especially Reeps One. He does so much. He takes the time to meet up and chat, even though he’s so successful and has so many fans. The beatbox community is quite small in a way, but we’re slowly getting bigger. It’s quite an interesting life being a beatboxer, because in a way you don’t really do much more than the beats. So we do depend on connecting with other musicians for jams and free-styling. It’s all about the community in the end.
Have you experimented with rapping and free-styling?
Not really. I mean I’ve done a lot of spoken word poetry. I guess when I was in London I learnt the tools of beatboxing and now I’m just playing with them. Sometimes I do a bit of loop-peddle, but I don’t like to use it too much because I like to keep it raw. It is great at times, because it means I can do a lot of solo beatboxing, which I guess is a little bit more of a novelty. Now I’d like to explore other skills like writing and free-styling.
You’ve mentioned some struggles that you’ve experienced as a musician. Would you care to elaborate?
Well, it’s just a very up and down life. You do need to work a lot to get to the performance level. Not only on your set, but also work on a lot of mental strength. And I think I’m learning that you need that strength just as much as your skill. I feel so great and comfortable on stage and love the feeling of everyone vibing off you. The days leading up to that, sometimes I get a lot of anxiety or feel unprepared. But as soon as I’m on stage, it’s like a second home.
Tell us about your experiences in the UK and Australian beatbox championships.
The UK beatbox battle in July 2013 was so inspiring to me as a musician, as there were probably 500 beatboxers there and I think 65 beatboxers competing, including 8 ladies! I really got to see the potential of beatboxing skill and technicality and was just overwhelmed by how big and supportive the beatbox family is. For me it's not about the battle, but more about showcasing your unique style. The Australian beatbox battle was very different but equally as awesome- there were only 8 people in the finals and I was the only girl! So battling against guys was interesting for me because I am more musical then technical.
Who has made a strong impact on you in your musical career?
I feel quite lucky that I have parents who are musical. They understood my passion and supported me and encouraged me. Dad has been involved in the same band for nearly twenty years, so he always had band practice and was always jamming. It was just great growing up seeing him incorporate music so much into his life. That definitely had a big impact on me, as well as the guys in Sydney, Big Village Records and Elefant Traks. They’re just so good and tight. The hip-hop scene can be very unorganized and all over the place, almost notoriously, but it’s just so good to see the art form so polished and clear. Their work is just so digestible, and I just love that so much. They’re also just so active and always getting involved in the community.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
It’s a good time to be a musician in Sydney at the moment. There’s a lot going on. I’m just focusing on doing a whole lot of collaborative work and gigging and slowly putting my music out there. The Sydney beatboxers are really involved within the hip hop scene, especially people like LC Beats and Morganics. I've been lucky enough to support some of the Big Village guys in Sketch the Rhyme, and last month supported the Thundamentals, which was my biggest gig yet. Every second Thursday there is a beatbox night at Play Bar in Surry Hills. I'm also collaborating with some of the Sydney beatbox guys where I take a break from the beats and just sing, which is exciting!
What stimulates your soul?
People I love. My boyfriend. I guess that’s a big one. He’s pretty inspiring. I think my experience with music would be very different if I wasn’t in a relationship. Just singing songs about him, seeing him in the crowd, and knowing that he’s there to support me.
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