Written by Tomohisa Mochizuki
Introducing to you SO-SO. The only Asian contestant to enter and make it through to the 2019 “Grand Beatbox Battle”.
SO-SO shared with us the influences that shaped his career, his experience battling against the top beatboxers at the “Grand Beatbox Battle” and on his upcoming projects and goals.
SO-SO’s career started as a result from watching the legendary beatboxer REEPS ONE’s “MOVE”. Before being introduced to beatboxing, SO-SO was signed to a theatrical company, his personal playlist mostly of musical soundtracks and J-POP. But after discovering REEPS ONE, the way he absorbed music changed and he started to listen to dance music.
Another key person that has influenced SO-SO is the 2017 champion of the “Grand Beatbox Battle - Loopstation Division” and legendary beatlooper SARO.
“I was surprised to see how much more could be done with beatboxing after watching SARO’s videos”, SO-SO says as he looks back on his memory of SARO. “I wanted to do something that was different from my character. There were a lot of people overdubbing in acapella, but almost nobody beatboxing using a Looper. I was excited thinking about doing things that were more interesting than ever before.”
In the “Grand Beatbox Battle”, a 3 minute performance is done in two turns and the winner is chosen by seeing who can rile up the crowd the most. The winner is chosen between 5 judges. The battle’s system is similar to the style of battle “Red Bull 3Style”, but the contestant can only use sounds that come out of their mouth and no use of pre-recorded sounds.
“On Youtube, I often see comments second guessing how much of it isn’t pre-recorded, but I only use 100% of what is recorded on the spot.”
The final tournament of the "Grand Beatbox Battle 2019" would be the worst combination of contestants for him as he battled 3 of the top Loopers in the world. The semi-finals where he battled the looper Rythmind would be the battle he lost chance at the championships.
“Right after I lost to Rythmind, it was a series of battles without breaks in-between for me. One of my opponents INKIE had rested for 1 battle and because the odds were in their favor, I couldn’t do my best performance”
On the contrary, SO-SO reflects on the battle before as his best performance yet- competing for the first time with previous champion Beatness.
“I knew that I would be battling Beatness a few days before and I knew that he would be preserving his strength, so I took that as an opportunity”
His plan came through- emphasizing the importance of strategizing in a battle.
If you look back on videos of SO-SO’s performance, you can see that he performs at maximum from the very beginning.
“I specialize in battle. I keep in mind that I need to keep the crowd going for the full 3 minutes. Don’t you think it’s better if the audience can enjoy the full show as well?”
SO-SO holds originality of the sound the most important. His specialty is being able to use the “edge voice” technique loudly.
He mentions that sounds he hears from his every day life are a great source of inspiration. He also mentions that he’s often inspired by game sounds from Nintendo, sharing that he loves the games “Kirby’s Dream Land” and “Super Mario”.
“Lately, one of my favorite sounds is the sound from turning off a Dyson. I often use sounds that are naturally made from doing every day things.”
He then performed making a sound similar from writing with a pen, then crinkling and throwing away a paper. When I listened back to the recording of this interview, the sound he makes really sounds like writing on paper. Sounds like these that seemingly have nothing to do with music also play an important role in the production of his battles.
“World tournament audiences are tough, but they go crazy when something unexpected happens. In other words, being able to do what the audience doesn’t expect is important. That’s why I always aim to find new ways to incorporate new sounds.”
After going against Europe’s top performers, the question is who is SO-SO’s biggest rival? Unexpectedly, it’s Japanese and same-age beatboxer SHOW-GO.
“SHOW-GO doesn’t see me as his rival. That’s just how I see him. He gained a lot of attention at the “Grand Beatbox Battle” the year before I participated. Because we’re the same age, there are feelings of jealousy, longing and respect towards him. I’ve never really talked about this before…” SO-SO laughs. “I really want to surpass him. SHOW-GO is such a good person and probably doesn’t care about the number of followers he has unlike me,” he continues.
From SO-SO words, I could sense the rivalry similar to of one you might see in a manga. But after the publication of this interview and appearances on popular Japanese media, his Twitter followers have now surpassed SHOW-GO’s.
The tournament that only had a solo battle division 10 years ago, eventually added a 2VS2 tag battle division, a multiplayer battle division where crews compete together and other variations of the two. The most recent division is the “Loop Station” and at the next competition there are plans to add in a tag battle division “Tag Loop” that uses the Loop Station.
What was once a hip-hop centered breakbeats, has been changed to include dance music thanks to REEPS ONE. Now there are many beatboxers that base their beats around dance music such as house and drum and bass. Even with this change, the question is what will be the next beatboxing trend?
"I think we're in the transition to the next trend right now. Until a few years ago, musical performances with an emphasis on melodies and harmonies were preferred, and now incorporating more complex beats is the mainstream. The techniques and trends we’ve had up until now are all merging together. I feel that there are many songs that intentionally remove the beat and BPM from the grid. Right now there is no beatboxer who does that in beatboxing and it’s something I’d like to challenge.”
Expressing complex sounds and tunes created digitally as physical and new sounds has great significance in beatbox battles. SO-SO himself seems to be looking forward to the evolution of beatboxing.
SARUKANI is the beatboxing group including SO-SO, RUSY, KAJI and Kohey. The forming of the group was the result from the “Grand Beatbox Asia Competition” where they were randomly placed together as roommates at the hotel the competition provided. They officially started the group right after covid started, making the track “SARUKANI WARS” remotely.
Their name comes from an assignment that Kohey had as a university student where he was told to rewrite the story “SARUKANI (The Crab and the Monkey)”.
With SARUKANI's latest song "ULTRA POWER”, they had hopes to produce a high quality music video. However, because there wasn’t enough to cover the production costs, SO-SO thought of starting a crowdfunding for the project, which reached it’s goal amount quickly.
SO-SO emphasizes that as SO-SO he focuses on the quality of the music and battles while SARUKANI focuses on entertainment, but no matter what, the root of both projects is beatboxing.
Another thing that he emphasizes is that he won’t be doing any cover tracks and that he wants to only express his music through the sounds he makes 100% on his own.
“I think that selling my original music and then having my tracks covered would be much cooler.”
His collaboration track “I Scream” with Trekkie Trax artist Masayoshi Iimori has inspired him to do more collaboration projects.
“This year, I have collaboration projects in line with a lot of artists, so please look forward to them.”
As we come to the end of the interview, SO-SO wraps up with his thoughts on his most recent track “Interview 2.0”.
“With this track I wanted to show that I’ve developed as an artist. I used my new skills and remade every aspect of the track except the robot voice part.”
Of course, all the sounds used in the track are all sounds he recorded on his microphone using only his mouth.
“My goal is to win the “Grand Beatbox Battle”. Because of covid the tournament has been postponed, but I’ve been gathering ideas so that I can win when it resumes”
Listen to SO-SO's "Interview 2.0" here: https://linkco.re/pCSxatGM/
*Disclaimer: Some portions of the interview have been altered and shortened in order to provide the most accurate translations.