Dressed in T-shirt and jeans, a scruff of facial hair, beatbox supremo Beardyman just had to slouch onto the stage for the full-house at Pleasance Grand to start whooping it up. Starting the show 20 minutes late helped build suspense, but for the uninitiated in Beardywiredness - such as myself - it quickly becomes clear why people go crazy for him. The Beardyman has a serious talent for marrying vocal mimicry with technical nous to create awe-inspiring music on-the-fly.
Dropping in on the Edinburgh Fringe for a short three-day run, Beardyman promised tonight to create a whole album in one hour (with the aid of his new, custom-built music mixer, the Beardytron_5000mkII). As the crowd formed outside the Pleasance Grand, we were asked to write down a song title on a slip of paper. Inside, Beardyman drew the papers out of a hat and with occasional suggestions from the crowd (a la Whose Line Is It Anyway) proceeded to invent new songs on the spot.
Irrespective of how much of the night’s tracklist was pure invention, and how much was riffing on old ideas, the quality of the mix of different parts and complexity of the sounds he creates knocks your socks off. Listening to some of the compositions, you’d easily conclude that this was not the instantaneous work of a single person. But there he is the lone Beardyman in a cloud of dry ice and swirling light show - singing, plugging away at the keyboard, pumping the air - while the auditorium throbs with a wall of electronica.
Building a song from scratch, he’s like a mad scientist of sound at the lab bench. As he spits, pops, jabbers, and performs numerous verbal contortions into his mic, his hands travel across a pile of kit, tapping screens and twiddling knobs, capturing, processing, and layering sound upon sound. Pretty soon he’s in a flow, whether it's on keyboard or singing/vocalising over a rich tapestry of sound.
Beardyman has found a natural following with the rave generation, this beered-up, Saturday night audience lapping up his heavy drum ‘n’ bass tracks. An Orbital-funk crossover was tremendous, with other tracks often transitioning tempo or style - from say ambient to hard rock - with impressive smoothness.
He does a pretty good line in impersonations. For example, David Attenborough and Stephen Hawkings were slipped effectively into a number called "Utopian Mammals". And he came up with a perfect visual joke in the track called “Semaphore Rock” when he suddenly broke off from the wall of sound to go through flag waving motions in silence.
Some of the more basic comedy tracks went down less well: a Dragon’s Den parody about “Weddings From Hell” and the toilet humour of a track called “Love smells like you" ("Even your colon will do”). But that’s the nature of improv, innit? Some of it's golden. Some of it's...well, you know.