First up, we had the pleasure of chatting with KIMMY BEATBOX, who you may recognise as the dazzling host of the Creative Coalition Festival earlier this year. An unstoppable force in the beatboxing scene, Kimmy shares their love for busking, the freedom that came with identifying as non-binary, and how you should always take opportunities to break out of your comfort zone. Kimmy uses they/them pronouns.
When did you first realise you wanted to become a beatboxer, and what were the driving factors to making it a reality?
I first realised I wanted to be a beatboxer when I heard my big brother do it, because he used to beat me at everything, so I wanted to have him at something. I started when I was 15 I think, so crikey, 15 years ago! But I was shocking for the first three or four years. I didn’t think you could be a beatboxer, I didn’t think that was something that I could live off, or even get accomplished at. I’ve always loved music and rhythm, so beatboxing for me seemed like a no-brainer. I fell in love with it, and then busking is what opened all the doors for me. Not just work-wise, but personally as well. It’s taught me so much about how to be and build on my people skills because obviously on the streets, you meet every type of person, and you find yourself in all sorts of social situations. In the beginning, it turned into a full-time job, busking. No matter what the weather was, for my own mindset and to give me purpose for that day, I would at least go out and try to find a sheltered spot even if it was chucking it down. Because then if I don’t try, then I’m not doing anything with my day. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it was not doable. But if I’d made it out the door with my speaker and the intention was there, then that was good enough.
The nice thing about busking is there’s really no pressure. It can be scary to start off, but once you adopt the mindset that no one’s bought tickets to come see you, no one knows what your best or worst performances are, they want to pause and watch you doing what you love outside, that’s the real reward. If someone gives money, sweet. But for me, it wasn’t just about that. It’s the feeling it gives you when you connect with people that you wouldn’t usually connect with otherwise. Especially in London where I live, you get people from every country visiting, so where there might be a language barrier, the music connects you. That’s what keeps me going back next time. I’ve never put pressure on myself in any situation, I like to see what happens and it just so happened that I fell in love with it [beatboxing] and I haven’t stopped doing it since.
How do you champion Pride in your work?
As a queer person, you kind of champion Pride every day whether you choose to or not. I’ve always been a big believer in being your authentic self. I mean, it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was gay when I was younger because I didn’t know any gay people in the environment I was in. I remember saying to myself, ‘I didn’t get brought up to be gay, I can’t be gay’, but here we are, and I’m very proud about it.
I get such nice messages from people when I’ve been busking on the street, or after giving beatboxing lessons to kids, I’ve had heart-warming emails from parents saying, ‘thank you, because my kid really idolises you and you’ve helped them to come out to us, which is a massive thing’. Hearing stuff like that – it’s amazing, it’s the most wholesome feeling. I don’t even feel like I’m doing anything different, but from doing what I love, from just being me, the fact people connect with that and gain a safe space to be themselves as well, makes me so happy.
What value do you believe diversity, inclusion and representation brings to the Creative Industries?
Diversity, inclusion and representation are so important to everything creative-wise, it’s what makes the world go around. We all listen to music, we all watch films or TV, and if I’d seen a gay couple on the screen more regularly for example, it would have done so much for me and would probably have helped me become comfortable with who I was before I was comfortable with who I was. Having exposure to different identities is such a vital part of representation for communities that aren’t the ‘norm’. Everyone should be doing the most to diversify their surroundings, diversify who they spend time with and support creatively. And to think of others and not just yourself. If you’re in a position where you can create that diversity, that inclusion, do it all day, every day, because it’s so important to be seen – that’s all we want. We just want be understood and seen like everyone else.
Is there more that needs to be done to ensure LGBTQIA+ creatives and talent have equal opportunity on the beatboxing scene?
The beatbox scene is already quite an open space to everyone and anyone because everyone has their own story as to why they got into beatboxing. No one’s style is the same. But it is very much a male-dominated industry, and I don’t have any answers as to why that is because we all have a voice. We’ve all got the instrumental capability to beatbox. Going back to your last question, I think that’s why representation is so important in the beatboxing scene, and why I love going out busking so much – then you’re inspiring the next generation or little girls or little they -thems to get involved. When I first started, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get as low as the guys because I don’t have as deep a voice as them, but actually it’s nothing to do with that. It’s just air. LGBTQIA+ wise, I know five female or non-binary beatboxers – one of them is called Bellatrix and I’ve done a couple of bits with them – and we’re all queer. So, I suppose our community is represented to some degree, there’s just not many of us
It was scary coming out as non-binary because I didn’t know how people would take it, and I didn’t want people to feel bad when they got my pronouns mixed up. There have been tiring times when people don’t fully listen or try to understand your identity – they say ‘how is it offensive to you when you’ve been she/her your whole life? How have you just got used to this they/them thing now?’ – well, it’s because I didn’t have a word to describe how I’ve felt my whole life. I understand it might be harder to comprehend [pronouns] if you don’t have queer people around you, but all we ask is for open-mindedness and consideration for how we feel, how we identify.
Saying that, everyone in the beatboxing scene has been so supportive of me, of who I am. I’ve met my best mate, BeatFox, through beatboxing and it’s really refreshing because in my experience, predominantly male-dominated industries might not be as open-minded or as aware of the realities of women or non-binary people. But the boys I’ve hung out with in the scene are so respectful and mindful of our experiences. Plus, it’s kind of nice that they have me to educate them on things which they can then take into other sectors of their life and share in different circles. It’s like a domino effect. Since coming out as non-binary, I’ve felt the most ‘me’ than I’ve ever felt in my life. And I feel like I’m so much more open with others because I’m more open and more authentic in myself.
PC: Garage Brunch
Do you think the Creative Industries can be the solution to societal challenges? And if so, how?
I think so. The Creative Industries hold so much influence, people engage with different art forms and find meaning in them. For example, if a big organisation or brand or artist, shared work on climate change or presented their support for things that matter, people who support them are gonna listen to what they have to say. If you’re in a position, or if your company is in a position, where you’ve got a loyal audience that you inspire, and that tune in to what you do, then it’s important to use your platform for good.
Give a shoutout to an LGBTQIA+ creative or organisation that makes a difference in the world.
I want to give the biggest shout-out to someone called Munroe Bergdorf. She is all that is good, so authentic, so inspiring. She talks about everything that we need to be talking about in the queer community and beyond, and she’s opened my eyes to so many valuable things. As a trans black woman, she’s had to be that voice which some people find tiring to be, but in doing that she’s done a lot for our community and for other communities as well. I’ve followed her for quite a few years, and she helped me come to terms with myself in that time.
This year’s theme for Pride is ‘Looking Back and Moving Forward’. What does this evoke for you?
That’s such a good phrase that. It’s important to look at history otherwise how are we going to move forward with progress? We should see the struggles [of the LGBTQIA+ community] and take that with us to learn from. Every queer person has been affected by something from the past, which is why Pride is still a protest. But not everyone knows it as that, they’re just turning up to party. Yes Pride is something to be celebrated, of course, but it hasn’t always been so easy to celebrate, even 20 or 30 years ago. And it’s still not easy to celebrate or be openly queer in so many places around the world. So it’s crucial to be aware of what’s happened before in our community, to enable us to move forward with it and celebrate it how we do today.
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity is the best form of self-expression for me. It enables me to connect with people, to connect more with myself, to feel every type of thing. Especially with music, every emotion comes from music for me. I can listen to a particular set of chords and cry my eyes out, or I can put on a loud, lively beat [proceeds to beatbox] and it can make me happy immediately. Creativity is my livelihood, it’s how I make a living, it’s how I take time for myself.
What benefits does being part of the Creative UK network bring you?
It’s taken me out of my comfort zone! I said yes to hosting this year’s Creative Coalition Festival without really knowing what it was, and presenting is something I’ve never done before. But the encouragement and the love I felt from the Creative UK team during that time was gorgeous; my brain works a little bit differently, but everyone was so accepting and genuinely understanding so I felt really comfortable in the role even though it was new for me. You’ve [Creative UK] helped me learn new things and if anything, it’s given me more of a kick up the ass to say yes to even more things.